How To Get Around San Francisco
San Francisco is undeniably a great place to visit. Whether you're in town for business or pleasure, you'll find no end of things to do here. San Francisco is a city where jaw-dropping scenery combines with cultures and cuisines from around the world to make something truly unique. And if you're wondering where to find the best shopping in San Francisco, we can help you with that too.
But in this notoriously hilly city, you're going to need to know how to get around. Luckily, San Francisco has many different public transportation options that can make your visit easier. And of course, dropping off your unneeded bags at luggage storage in San Francisco is always a good idea. Traveling light will help you maneuver your way through San Francisco public transportation and make it far easier to see more of the city.
How to get around San Francisco by train
San Francisco is without doubt a major city, and it's also a place with a long history that goes back to pioneer days and even beyond. As result, you might expect it to have good rail connections. Unfortunately, you'd be wrong. San Francisco doesn't have a central Amtrak station, so if you're arriving in the city by train, you'll probably need to make use of a commuter rail service, San Francisco taxis, the Muni Metro train system, or the city's buses to bring you to Union Square or anywhere else in downtown San Francisco you need to go.
Emeryville and Hayward are the train stations closest to San Francisco, and you'll likely end up at one or the other of them on your way into the city.
Emeryville is where you will end up if you take the Coast Starlight trains to the city, along with the Capitol Corridor routes that run from San Jose to Auburn. The Capitol Corridor trains also stop at Hayward station, so you can choose which is easier for you. Usually, though, Hayward isn't the best option for travelers, since from there, you'll need to take a taxi or make use of one of the many rental car companies in San Francisco to get downtown. On the other hand, Amtrak provides a bus from Emeryville station that will take you to downtown San Francisco. You could also ride the Hollis bus line to MacArthur BART Station, then take the Yellow N line to Montgomery Street, close to the Ferry Building and Fisherman's Wharf.
Learning that San Francisco lacks a central train station may put you off using this method to get into the city. But it's important to note that Amtrak trains provide a connection between San Francisco and Oakland International Airport. However, this is more useful for people heading out of the city than those heading into it. If you've landed at Oakland and are trying to get into San Francisco, you'll be glad to know that the light rail trains that run to several BART stations across the Bay Area stop close to Oakland International. Trains run every six minutes throughout the day, and the ride to San Francisco takes around 21 minutes.
What if you're landing at San Francisco International Airport? Well, there's a BART train for you too. Bay Area Rapid Transit, to give it its full name, runs a route from San Francisco Airport into downtown that departs between three and four times per hour and takes around half an hour to make it to the city. Given San Francisco's near-constant traffic problems, it's both the cheapest and the fastest way to get into the city.
Alternatively, if you're struggling with heavy bags, getting around San Francisco might be easier if you rent a car or use a ridesharing service. Then again, the easiest thing to do is simply drop off your heavy bags at a convenient Bounce luggage storage so you don't have to worry about what you're carrying.
The BART system, as the name implies, serves not only San Francisco but several of the surrounding towns. Lines connect San Francisco with Daly City, Oakland, Richmond, and Fremont. If you plan to explore the wider Bay Area during your San Francisco trip, you'll probably get very familiar with the numerous BART stations of this light rail network.
If you plan to use BART a lot, a Muni Passport can save you a lot of money. Passes are good for one, three, or seven days, and allow unlimited rides on all Muni transportation. That includes BART, all the Muni buses, and even the city's cable car routes. Plus, you can get a San Francisco City Card that includes a Muni Passport, but also gives you reduced-price admission to many of the city's top attractions.
How to get around San Francisco by bus
If the BART won't get you where you need to go in San Francisco, there's probably a Muni bus that will. The integrated public transportation system of the city makes it easy to get around, because a single card can give you unlimited Muni travel. As well as operating buses, Muni runs the Muni Metro light rail trains, which is different from BART, and also operates San Francisco's historic streetcars which run along the Embarcadero close to Pier 39 and are as much of a tourist attraction as they are a part of the city's overlapping transit systems.
You can buy Muni passes at San Francisco tourist offices, train stations, corner stores, and ticket machines throughout the city. You can also buy tickets with an app on your phone, which is probably the easiest way to pay if you have a credit card. Plus, buses run late into the night, making them ideal if you're planning to enjoy some of the unmissable things to do in San Francisco at night.
Muni may be the main player in San Francisco's public transportation options, but they are not the only option. Golden Gate Transit buses also operate in the city, connecting it with the North Bay region, including Marin County. As result, these buses are often popular with tourists, since they can get you out of the city to experience some of the region's incredible natural beauty. Golden Gate Transit only operates a few routes in downtown San Francisco, but their buses let you explore Marin County, Santa Rosa, and the less developed areas north of the city. Interestingly, Golden Gate Transit also operates a regular ferry service across San Francisco Bay. The San Francisco Ferry sails from the Ferry Building to Larkspur, while the Sausalito Ferry allows you to enjoy stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge on your way to this beautiful artist's colony. There's also a ferry that will take you to Angel Island State Park, which is a fantastic place to explore not far from the city itself.
How to get around San Francisco by cable car
The historic cable cars of the city are more of a tourist attraction than they are a way of getting around San Francisco. But the cable cars were created as a way of traveling through the hilly terrain of San Francisco. And even though only a few cable car lines remain, you can use the cable cars as an efficient way of getting through the city - so long as you don't mind putting up with crowds of tourists.
Your Muni Passport will work on the cable cars, and you can avoid some lines by already having your ticket before you board. In fact, you must have your ticket with you before boarding at the busy cable car stops at Powell and Mason, Bay and Taylor, and Hyde and Beach.
There are three cable car lines left in the city: the Powell Hyde line, the Powell Mason line, and the California Street line. The two Powell Street lines follow a similar route until Jackson Street, when one takes Hyde to Beach Street while the other takes Mason to Bay Street. Both lines stop at Fisherman's Wharf, which makes them the most popular cable car lines in the city. If you're planning to visit Pier 39 anyway, this can make them a useful way of getting around San Francisco.
The California line, on the other hand, runs from the intersection of California and Van Ness to Market Street. Although still busy, this cable car route is often quieter than the others, and the views of the city it offers are no less spectacular. Additionally, from Market Street, you can hop on one of the city's well-preserved historic streetcars and take a ride along the Embarcadero. It's all included on your Muni Passport.
How to get around San Francisco by car
Getting around San Francisco by car isn't easy. Traffic in this popular town is more or less constant, and that's not helped by the near-continuous construction going on in the city. Plus, Californian gas prices tend to be some of the highest in the United States, and the parking rates at top locations in San Francisco, such as Fisherman's Wharf, might seem more expensive than your hotel. Plus, since San Francisco has such a great public transportation network, it's better for most travelers if they do without a car and focus on getting around San Francisco and the Bay Area by transit instead.
With that said, if you intend to explore areas outside the city, renting a car might not be a bad idea. If you really want that iconic drive along the Golden Gate Bridge, it might be worth it. If that's the case, you'll find plenty of car rental agencies at San Francisco International Airport, Oakland Airport, and throughout the city. Still, if you're staying in the city itself, it might be better not to bother with a car at all.
Can I get around San Francisco by foot?
Although it would be inaccurate to call San Francisco a small city, many visitors find it's a lot smaller than they expected given its worldwide fame. The truth is, San Francisco is a great city to explore on foot. The weather is usually quite mild, and most of San Francisco's main attractions are quite close to each other. Getting around San Francisco on foot is perfectly possible, and when you add in the multiple transit options, including cable cars, street cars, and the San Francisco Muni, it starts to look more and more feasible.
Possibly the only downside to walking in San Francisco is the number of hills you'll have to climb. Then again, that's how you get incredible views. Plus, if you do get tired, it's not hard to hop on a bus or cable car and take a break. Just make sure to leave your heavy bags behind in a Bounce luggage storage before you hit the streets.
San Francisco has an excellent transit network that makes the city a pleasure to get around. Plus, it's virtually unique in the United States for having transit infrastructure that is in itself one of the city's main attractions. Cable car rides are one of the most iconic experiences you can have in San Francisco, and the historic streetcars are also well worth checking out.
With no shortage of public transportation options in San Francisco, you're almost spoiled for choice. So grab yourself a bus ticket and drop off your bags at a convenient luggage storage so you can explore.