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by Jill Loeffler •
Published: April 5, 2023
Do you need advice on how to get to and from Union Square in San Francisco?
My detailed guide offers tips and advice to get to and from this district and SF International Airport, Alcatraz Island, Fisherman's Wharf, and other top attractions around town.
You'll also find tips on how to get to other top districts, Oracle Park, the Chase Center, and more.
My guide offers information on getting to each destination by public transportation, how long it will take by car or taxi, and a few other transit tips.
If you are coming to Union Square from these destinations, simply go the opposite of the recommendations to get to this popular SF neighborhood.
Disclaimer: I receive a small commission from some of the links on this page.
"How do I get from San Francisco International Airport (SFO) to Union Square?"
This is a question I get a lot, so I'll start with information to help you get to your hotel in Union Square from the San Francisco airport.
You can take BART, a Taxi, Lyft, or Uber, or hire a private driver.
I created a full guide for this one because there are a number of things to consider before you select the best way to get between these two destinations.
>> Read my insiders tips to get to and from SFO and Union Square
This section includes recommendations for getting to and from Union Square to San Francisco's top attractions. I've included details such as how far away they are, which stops to get on and off public transportation, and other tips.
I've also included the Hop On Hop Off Bus stops just in case you plan to use this as your transportation resource for a day or two.
My recommendations for driving include how long it will take and some rough estimates of how much it will cost. This does not include taxes or tips, unlike many other countries. Just so you know, if I have a good experience, I typically tip 15% to 20%.
However, if you decide to take a taxi, Uber, or Lyft, be aware that these prices will increase a bit during certain times of the day. This is called "Surge Pricing." This may happen during rush hour (roughly 6 am to 9 am and 4 pm to 6 pm), when it's raining, or a big event in town.
You'll always want to confirm the final price before you book your ride to ensure it's the amount you want to pay.
These are alphabetically ordered, so you can easily scroll down to find the one you need.
The 16th Avenue Steps are in the Inner Sunset District. You will find them along Moraga at 16th Avenue.
The easiest way to get to these colorful mosaic steps is to take the N Muni from Powell Street Station. You will take it to the corner of Judah Street and 16th Avenue. From here, it's about a half-mile walk, and the first two blocks are uphill.
However, the cool thing about walking from this stop is that it takes you up a set of stairs called the Hidden Garden Steps. This set of mosaic stairs is also gorgeous and offers a garden theme. Therefore, you will get to see two sets of stairs in one trip!
You will then continue along 16th Avenue for about three blocks and be at the bottom of the 16th Avenue Tiled Steps.
This takes about 40 minutes, but make sure to leave a little extra time to explore the Hidden Garden Steps.
If you don't want to walk, you can also take the N to the Judah Street and 9th Avenue stop. From here, you will transfer to the 66 bus. Exit the bus at 16th Avenue and Moraga Streets.
You will then be at the bottom of the steps.
This option takes about 35 minutes.
Driving between these two destinations takes about 25 minutes. The cost is about $20 to $25.
>> Learn more about the 16th Avenue Tiled Steps
If you need to get between Union Square and Alcatraz Island, your best option is to take the F Streetcar from Market Street.
You can pick it up at:
It will take you all the way to Pier 33, where you'll find the ferries to Alcatraz. You'll exit at the Embarcadero and Bay Street stop.
This takes about 20 to 25 minutes.
Driving between these two places takes less than 15 minutes. It costs around $12 to $18 for a taxi.
>> More tips for visiting Alcatraz
The Chase Center is a great concert venue and also where the Golden State Warriors play.
You can take one of the following transit options:
Both options take about fifteen minutes.
Driving between the two takes about 15 minutes. While this might be a good option to get to the Chase Center, it can be challenging after a game or concert due to traffic issues.
The last time we tried to get a Lyft after a concert from here, the wait was more than 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, our ride was not where in sight. So, I'd recommend using public transportation after an event.
NOTE: You can also use your ticket to your event as your train or bus ticket, so the ride is free.
You can take a bus and walk or two buses to get to Coit Tower.
The first option is to take the 8 from the corner of Kearny and Geary Streets to the corner of Columbus Avenue and Green Streets. From here, you will need to walk about a half mile. However, it's almost completely uphill, so make sure you are prepared for this climb if you decide on this option.
This option takes about 25 minutes, but it depends on how quickly you walk up the hills.
The second option is to take the 8 to the corner of Columbus Avenue and Union Street. Walk back to the southwest corner of this intersection and wait for the 39 bus. This will then take you to the Coit Tower parking lot.
This option takes about 25 to 30 minutes.
If you hire a driver, this route takes about 15 minutes. It will cost about $15 to $18.
>> More about visiting Coit Tower
The Ferry Building is another popular spot to visit in San Francisco. This historical building is where the ferries from around the Bay Area arrive and depart. The interior of the building is also full of gourmet shops, restaurants, and a wine-tasting bar.
This attraction is along the waterfront and is about a mile from Union Square.
I think the best way to get between these two places is to walk. You can walk along Market Street, and it's mostly flat the entire way. This walk will take about 15 to 20 minutes.
You can pick up a bus, light rail, or streetcar along Market. The 6 and 9 both pick up at Market and Stockton Streets and stop you off across the street from the Ferry Building.
You can also head to Powell Street Station, pick up the J, K, L, M, or N light rail trains, and take them to Embarcadero Station. You'll then walk across the plaza to the Ferry Building.
It's stop #4 on the Big Bus Hop On Hop Off Tour.
Driving takes less than 10 minutes and costs $12 to $15.
>> More about visiting the Ferry Building
The Golden Gate Bridge is another must-visit on your stay in San Francisco. It's about five miles northwest of Union Square.
If you want to take the bus, your best bet is to take the 38 and then transfer to the 28. You'll pick up the 38 at Geary and Stockton Streets and take it to the corner of Park Presidio and Geary Blvd.
Here you will transfer to the 28 and get off at the stop in front of the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center. This option takes about 35 to 45 minutes, and you can use the Muni Passport for this trip.
Driving takes about 15 minutes (outside of the evening rush hour, which can take up to an hour). The cost is usually about $25 to $35.
You can also reach the northern viewpoint on the Hop On Hop Off Bus. It's stop #11.
>> Tips for visiting the Golden Gate Bridge
>> Walking tips for the bridge
Golden Gate Park is a fun place to spend a few hours or a full day. It's home to the California Academy of Sciences, the Japanese Tea Garden, and the Conservatory of Flowers.
The fastest and easiest way to get here from Union Square is on the N-Judah light rail train. You'll pick it up in the underground Powell Street Station. Take it to the stop at 9th Avenue and Irving. You'll then walk one block north to enter the park.
In this area of the park, you will find most of its biggest attractions. This route takes about 25 minutes.
Driving takes about 15 to 25 minutes and costs $15 to $20.
This is also stop #10 on the Hop On Hop Off Bus Tour.
>> What there is to see and do in Golden Gate Park
Lands End is part of the California Coastal Trail and offers sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean, the Marin Headlands, and the Golden Gate Bridge.
You will also find the Sutro Baths near its western trailhead. Here you will find the ruins of an old and fabulous indoor swimming facility from the late 1800s until it burned down in the 1960s.
To get here from Union Square, you will want to take the 38R (R means rapid, and it has fewer stops). You'll pick it up at Geary and Stockton Streets. You'll take it all the way to its final stop at 48th Avenue and Point Lobos. You'll then walk about 5 minutes to the trailhead.
Driving takes about 25 to 35 minutes. It costs about $35 to $45.
>> More about visiting Lands End
>> What you'll see at the Sutro Baths
Lombard Street offers a beautiful brick-paved street with eight tight hairpin turns. It's a fun place to visit, and check out this historic street and city views.
The best way to get here is to hop on the Powell-Hyde cable car. You'll take this to the top of Lombard Street, so you can slowly walk down on the staircases on either side.
This ride takes about 20 minutes.
A taxi, Uber or Lyft will take about 10 to 15 minutes and cost $15 to $20.
An hour north of San Francisco is one of the most amazing Coastal Redwoods Parks in the state: Muir Woods. The best and easiest way to get here is by a guided tour.
You will find three different types of tours:
The first two allow you to explore this gorgeous monument for about 90 minutes. The last one gives you 60 minutes since you will be heading north to wine country after your visit.
You can also take public transportation, but you'll need to book these in advance.
I don't recommend taking an Uber/Lyft. You can easily get there, but there is no cell service, so you'll have no way to get home.
>> Learn more about how to get to Muir Woods from SF using my detailed guide
Oracle Park is home to our San Francisco Giants professional baseball team and numerous concert events. You will find the park in the city's southeastern corner in the South of Market District.
The easiest way to get here is to use the T light rail train. You'll pick it up at Union Square and Market Street Station and head southbound. You'll exit at the King and 4th Street stop. This route takes about 15 minutes.
Driving only takes about 10 to 15 minutes, but it is a huge hassle after the game or other events here. Pricing varies so much as there will be surge pricing in effect, which could be double or triple the normal price.
>> More about seeing a Giants game at Oracle Park
The famous Painted Ladies of Alamo Square are a quick bus ride from Union Square.
The best option is to take the 5-Fulton bus from Market and Powell Streets to the corner of McAllister and Pierce Streets. You'll then head south (up the hill) along Pierce Street to find Alamo Square Park. This ride takes about 30 minutes.
This attraction is #8 on the Hop On Hop Off Bus. It drops about two blocks away from them.
Driving takes about 15 to 20 minutes and costs about $15 to $20.
>> More about visiting Alamo Square
>> More about checking out these and our other Painted Ladies
Painted Ladies Tour: This is an awesome tour if you want to step inside one of these beauties. It's the blue one in the picture above that you will have a chance to visit. Here are the tour details.
One of our best free attractions is the Palace of Fine Arts. This historic gem is the only full structure still standing from the 1915 Panama Pacific Exposition.
The easiest bus option is the 30 bus. You'll pick it up at Sutter and Stockton Streets and take it to the corner of Mason and Yacht Streets. This stop is just across the street from this attraction.
This journey takes about 40 to 45 minutes.
It's stop #12 on the Hop On Hop Off Bus.
Driving here takes about 20 to 30 minutes and costs $15 to $20.
>> More about visiting the Palace of Fine Arts
Pier 39 is a famous spot in Fisherman's Wharf. This renovated pier is home to dozens of restaurants, shops, and some of our famous sea lions.
You have several options to get from Union Square to Pier 39.
The option that is most fun is the Powell/Mason cable car. It takes you through Union Square and North Beach, stopping about a 10-minute walk from the pier.
The second option is hopping on the F streetcar along Market Street. It will drop you off right in front of Pier 39.
The 8 muni bus is a great option as well. You will pick it up at Kearny and Geary Streets and exit at Kearny and North Point. You will then walk about two blocks over to Pier 39.
All of these public transportation options take about 25 to 30 minutes.
You can also get a taxi. This will take about 15 minutes and costs around $12 to $15.
>> What there is to see and do on Pier 39
The Presidio is a popular attraction that is an old army base. You can check out some of its museums, do a little hiking, or soak in the views of its neighbor, the Golden Gate Bridge.
You have a couple of options by bus.
Driving takes about 15 to 25 minutes and will cost around $15 to $20.
>> More about visiting the Presidio
Twin Peaks offers some of the best-unobstructed views of downtown San Francisco and all around the SF Bay.
You will want to start by picking up the M or K trains at the Powell Street Station at Powell and Market Streets. Take this so the Metro Church Stop. This is where you will transfer to 37 Corbett.
Take 37 Corbett to the stop at 74 Crestline Drive. You will then need to climb up the hill to reach the bottom of the two hills at Twin Peaks.
It is a bit of a steep 10-minute hike along a dirt path, so be ready for that. There are also some steps.
This will take you about 40 minutes.
Driving takes about 20 to 30 minutes. By Uber or Lyft, this will cost around $25 to $30.
The San Francisco Zoo is on the far west side of the city. It's a wonderful place to visit for those traveling with kids.
You will take the M or the K line to the West Portal Station to get here via public transit. From this stop, you will transfer to the 23 and exit at Sloat Blvd. and 47th Avenue.
This route takes about 45 minutes.
Driving here takes about 25 to 30 minutes and costs around $35 to $45.
You can also easily access other top districts from Union Square. These are some of the most popular options.
The Castro is our famed LGBTQ+ district. You will find some great things to do here, wonderful restaurants, and an all-around lovely atmosphere.
The easiest way to get here is by taking either the M or K light rail trains. You can pick them up at Powell Street Station and take them to Castro Station. Once you exit, you will be in the heart of the district. This takes about 10 to 15 minutes.
Driving here take about 15 to 20 minutes and costs around $15 to $20.
>> Things to see and do in the Castro
You have a few options to get to Chinatown from Union Square.
The first option is to walk. It's about a 15-minute walk from the heart of Union Square to the Chinatown Dragon Gate.
You can also take the T Third Street light rail train. You'll pick it up at Union Square/Market Street Station and head northbound. You will take it to Chinatown/Rose Pak Station. This takes about 10 minutes.
You can also take a taxi. It's less than a mile to the Chinatown Gate, so it will only take about 5 to 10 minutes. This will cost around $10 to $20, depending on where you plan to go within Chinatown.
>> More about visiting Chinatown
You have four great options to get to Fisherman's Wharf from Chinatown.
It's stop #1 on the Hop On Hop Off Bus Tour.
You can also drive. If you take a cab or taxi, this option will take around 15 minutes and costs around $12 to $20.
>> Best things to see and do around Fisherman's Wharf
Another popular place to visit is the Haight Ashbury District. It was the heart of the action in San Francisco in the 60s and is full of fun things to do.
It's easy to get here on either the 6 Haight/Parnassus or 7 Haight/Noriega buses. Both have stops near Market and Stockon Streets. Take them to the stop at Haight and Masonic, which is the eastern end of this district. This takes about 20 to 25 minutes.
It's stop #9 on the Hop On Hop Off Bus Tour.
Driving is easy as well. It takes about 15 minutes and costs $15 to $20.
>> More about visiting the Haight
This section will help you get from other transit carriers to Union Square.
The first on my list is the Bay Area Rapid Transit, also known as BART. This system takes you from the airport, Peninsula, or East Bay into San Francisco.
If you plan to use BART to get into SF, you can exit at one of two stops.
The main Caltrain stop in San Francisco is in the South of Market District at 4th and King Streets.
You can pick up the T Third Street train right at the station. Just follow the signs or ask an attendant to get to this stop. You will then take it to the Union Square/Market Street Station stop. This takes about 15 minutes.
Driving takes about 10 minutes and costs $10 to $15.
The Cruise Ship Port is along the Embarcadero at Pier 27. This is where most cruises from Mexico, Hawaii, Alaska, and places around the world dock during their visit to San Francisco.
If you have some time and want to head to Union Square from your cruise ship, it's easy to do.
You will simply head across the Embarcadero and then jump on the F streetcar. It arrives at Embarcadero and Sansome Street, right across the street from the cruise terminal.
This ride takes only about 25 minutes.
You can also drive, which takes about 10 minutes and costs around $15 to $20.
You will also find many options to get to places all around the SF Bay Area. Here are tips on some of the most visited locations.
Napa Valley is one of the most popular wine regions in Northern California. You can head up on your own by renting a car, head up on public transportation, or go on a guided tour.
If this is your first time, I highly recommend a guided tour. This will allow you to get a feel for the area, you can taste without having to worry about driving back, and you can learn all about this interesting region.
The guided tours usually take you over the Golden Gate Bridge on the way north. They typically stop at the bridge's northern end for a quick photo opportunity and continue north. It usually takes about two hours to get to your first winery.
These tours offer a lunch break (that you will need to pay for on your own). They usually drop you off in the Sonoma Plaza or a similar location where you can find your own lunch based on their schedule.
After stops at three or, sometimes, four wineries, they will drive you back to your hotel in San Francisco. These tours usually last between eight and ten hours.
This is one of my favorite guided tours.
If you drive on your own, it takes about an hour to reach the southern end and about an hour and a half to reach the northern end of the region.
>> Find out more about visiting Napa Valley
>> Find out more ways to get from San Francisco to Napa Valley
You can also visit Sonoma to do a little wine tasting. It's spread out a little more than Napa, and you will find both big-name brands and dozens of small, local wineries.
You can also get here via a guided tour, public transit, or by driving.
The guided tours usually offer a stop in Sonoma and Napa. That allows you to see both regions. These usually last about eight to ten hours. This is one of my favorites.
Driving is another good option if you have a designated driver. You can visit Dry Creek Valley, Russian River Valley, or one of the other regions where the wineries are a little further away from each other.
You can also reach Sonoma by public transit, but you will then need to find a way to get around once you arrive.
>> Find some of my favorite wineries in Sonoma
Oakland is right across the SF Bay from San Francisco and is easy to access via our Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART). From Union Square, you can pick up the train at Powell Street Station and take it to one of the stops in Oakland.
Make sure to do your research, so you get off the train at the right stop.
If you arrive at Oakland International, you can also take BART into San Francisco. You'll first need to take the connector BART train from OAK to the station at the Coliseum, which connects you to the main BART train lines.
From here, you will head into San Francisco and exit at either the Montgomery or Powell Street Stations. Again, you'll want to look at your destination to determine which is best for you.
Getting to and from San Jose is now quite a bit easier with the T Third Street light rail train. You'll pick it up in the heart of Union Square. Take this to the Fourth and King Street Station, which is where you will hop on Caltrain.
This train will take you all the way to San Jose. To get from Union Square to the Diridon Station, it will take about an hour and a half. This is your best option during the week.
On the weekends, I recommend taking BART to the Berryessa/North San Jose Station and transferring to the Rapid 500. This option is faster on the weekends. It will also take over an hour and a half to reach San Jose.
The best way to get to Levi's Stadium from Union Square is to take BART to Milpitas Station. You will then transfer to the Orange Line VTA. Get off at the Great America Station Stop, and it's about a 5-minute walk to the stadium from here.
This entire journey takes about an hour and a half, but make sure to leave a little extra time. These trains and buses are crowded before the games, so you might need to wait to get on a later bus that isn't as full. I'd leave at least two and a half hours for this journey.
It's easy to get from Union Square over to Sausalito.
You can take a ferry from the Ferry Building, take a ferry from Fisherman's Wharf, or take the bus.
All the ferries only run a few times a day, so you'll want to check that day's schedule before heading off to one of these ferry terminals.
To get to the Ferry Building, you'll simply hop on the F streetcar and take it to the stop right in front. To get to the ferries at Fisherman's Wharf, simply stay on the F streetcar and get off at the Beach and Stockton Streets stop.
Each ferry takes about 30 minutes to get to Sausalito.
If you need to get there earlier or you need to stay after the last ferry leaves, then you can take the 130 bus run by Golden Gate Transit. This bus picks up along Mission Street, which is about a 10-minute walk from Union Square.
This bus ride takes about an hour. The closest bus stop is at Mission and 4th Streets.
>> Find out more about visiting Sausalito
The last option on my list is Tiburon. This small town along the waterfront is a fun place to spend a few hours or an afternoon. Sam's is a popular place to eat along the water and one of Tiburon's busiest places on a sunny weekend day.
To get here, you can take a ferry from the Ferry Building or two buses.
If you decide to take the bus, you'll first take the 130 bus from Mission and 4th Streets. You will take this to the Seminary Drive Bus Pad. From here, find the stop for the 219. This will then take you to the heart of downtown Tiburon.
>> Find out more about the Tiburon ferry and its current schedules
Comments? Questions? Suggestions?
I would love for you join me in my private Facebook group!
It’s a great place to interact with me and others that know the area well.
You can ask questions, get advice for your upcoming stay, and then share your photos and advice with others when you return home. It’s a great community and the fastest way to get answers to those nagging questions about your visit!