San Francisco: magic, romantic, unique.
It’s easy to fall in love with San Francisco: it must be the hills, the Victorian houses, maybe the aroma of fortune cookies that lingers in the air or the hippie atmosphere, but there’s something that really makes you fall for it.
Many tourists who plan to visit the city for the first time wonder if they should drive or not.
Trust me, you don’t want to drive around San Francisco: traffic is a nightmare, finding a parking spot is like winning the lottery, and even if you find one, have you ever tried parallel parking on a steep hill?
Plus, we all want to be sustainable, right?
Luckily, San Francisco is a well put-together city with a wide array of public transportation networks that really makes it easy to leave that car home.From buses to cable cars, metro and light rail, let’s check your options out one after the other.
Here it’s a comprehensive guide to San Francisco public transportation: visiting San Francisco without a car will never be a problem again!
- Ferries to Alcatraz
- Ferries to Sausalito
- Ferries to Oakland and Alameda
- Ferries to Angel Island
- Ferries to Tiburon
Like any other city, if you are planning on relying on public transportation while in San Francisco, it helps to be located in a central, well-linked neighborhood. With so many things to do in San Francisco, you will move a lot.
You might want to look for a hotel in Union Square or Fisherman’s Wharf so it’ll be easier to move around than if you were located for example, near Van Ness, Lombard Street or the Golden Gate area.
San Francisco is like any other big city, and some neighborhoods are safer than others: this is just common sense, but avoid going to rough places after dark and listen to your guts whenever and you won’t have any problems.
Pay a little more attention at night time: if you are a girl alone and/or you feel uncomfortable, you might want to sit or stand closer to the driver.
It might be hard at first to figure out which bus to take and where to take it: a tool I find very useful to see how to get from place A to place B is the 511 Transit Trip Planner, which allows users to plan their trips.
If you prefer to dowload an app to use on the go from your smartphone, check out this list of San Francisco Transportation Apps.
Another option, Google Route Planner on Google Maps does the trick as well (pss! it works all around the world!).
HOW TO RIDE THE MUNI NETWORK
The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which is normally referred to as Muni, is the main San Francisco public transportation agency, and the one that most tourists use to get to their destinations.
Its huge network of trolleybuses, buses, cable cars and streetcars makes it possible to get around easy and quickly around the city.
Passengers who prefer to pay cash for the Muni use will have to ask the driver when about to board the bus, streetcar or a trolleybus.
Tickets must be shown to fare supervisors when requested; you are liable to a fine if you’re unable to show proof of payment. Passengers who pay cash for the cable car use will be issued a receipt too, and this also serves as proof of payment.
The Muni also offers ‘Passports’ that range from 1-day ($17), 3-days ($26) to 7-days($35).
These passports give you unlimited rides on trolleybuses, San Francisco buses, cable cars and streetcars for the purchased number of days.
If you’re planning on moving around a lot, the use of passports offers some convenience as you can jump on the bus or the streetcars anytime of the day (and trust me, after trying to walk up and down those hills for a day, you’ll want to take the bus!).
Pay attention though! Remember that Muni Passports are good on Muni only: they are not valid on BART, other transit systems, or for transportation to or from San Francisco International Airport (SFO).
If you’re planning to stay in the area for a while, order a Clipper Card ($3), which is the all-in-one transit card for the Bay Area. It holds transit passes and cash value, and it’ll allow you to save money on one-way tickets.
There’s also a 50 cent discount off an adult single ride for passengers who need to transfer to Muni from the following agencies when using a Clipper card: Alameda/Oakland ferry, Golden Gate ferry, Harbor Bay ferry, Golden Gate Transit, BART, Vallejo Ferry.
THE BUS and CABLE CARS NETWORK
MUNI CABLE CARS
Any tourist coming to San Francisco for the first time wants to ride a cable car!
We all have those romantic images from the movies on our mind…
These particular sets of cable cars are very unique due to the fact that they might just the only ones of their kind still operating in the whole world.
The first cable cars were made available in 1873 by an entrepreneur by the name of Andrew Hallidie and kicked off operation 1912, so yeah, more than 100 years ago!
But no worries, it’s safe 🙂
There are 3 cable car lines: Powell-Hyde, Powell-Mason and California.
At the crossing of Powell and Market streets there is a cable car turntable where tourists can see how cable cars work. This is the starting point for both the Powell-Mason and Powell- Hyde lines. The two Powell cable car lines are very popular with visitors to San Francisco city and it’s usual to see long queues at the terminals.
The Powell-Mason line begins at the Powell/ Market and finishes at Bay Street at Fisherman’s Wharf.
The Powell-Hyde line ends near Ghirardelli Square, passing through Nob and Russian Hill. The line traverses the most arduous hills of the system, not far from the north of the well-known crook stretch of the Lombard Street.
Both the Powell-Hyde and the Powell-Mason lines end near Fisherman’s Wharf, but the routes are quite different: read the signs on the cable cars to understand what will be the final destination.
The California line runs East-West from the Financial District to Van Ness Avenue, passing through Chinatown and Nob Hill.
A single ride will cost you $7.00, while children under 4 ride for free.
A quick tip: if you want to avoid the long queues, just catch a Powell or California line that’s already en route, along the road.
It also helps to know that cable car lines are not quite so busy in the early mornings and late in the evening, and the experience is definitely more enjoyable.
Nonetheless, no matter the cable car line you decide to take, enjoy the breeze, the sights and of course the bell ringing!