Transport Tips for Travelers in San Francisco

Make getting around San Francisco easy with these tips from a local nomad.

Photo © Getty Images/RICOWde

Riding San Francisco's Cable Cars

San Francisco’s cable cars might be iconic, but they aren't the most efficient way to get around the city as they only run along three short routes in and around Downtown. Tickets can be bought onboard for around US $7 to ride one way.

Safety standards onboard the cable cars are historic, too. Ride on the open platform at your own risk, and hold on tight, especially be ready for sudden stops and starts.

Driving Around San Francisco

San Francisco's one-way streets and confusing road signs make driving around the city rather daunting. First-time visitors might feel a little overwhelmed taking a rental car around town, but perhaps you're up for the challenge.

Even if you are a brave, patient driver when the time comes to find parking in the city, good luck; parking in San Francisco is a nightmare.

You might spend up to an hour searching for a spot. When you do find a space to leave the car, you might be required to parallel park on a hill with a near vertical incline, and insert US $7 into a parking meter for one measly hour – most of which will be spent walking to the destination. If you park with your wheels turned in the wrong direction, you’ll find a US $60 parking ticket tucked under your windscreen wiper when you return. Your front wheels need to be angled towards the curb, to prevent your car from rolling.

Public Transport Options in San Francisco

Locals call all bus, cable car, and light rail transit "the Muni", and it's a cheap and reliable way to get around the city.

The public transit route maps can be confusing to newbies. If you’re willing to give it a try, download the free app called Routesy, which gives real-time estimates about the next arriving bus or train. Tickets can be bought aboard the Muni bus or Muni light rail. A ticket for a single ride and any transfers within a 90-minute period on the bus or rail will cost US $2.75 for adults or US $1.35 for youth and people with disabilities. 

Try to have the exact change for your transport fare available, and make a point of keeping coins and small bills on you at all times. Check pricing on the Muni website. One, three, or seven-day Visitor Passports can also be bought at ticket kiosks and are good for unlimited rides on Muni buses, light rail, and cable cars. Muni tickets and passes are not valid for travel on BART.

BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) is the regional rail service connecting the city center with some areas of the city as well as other major destinations in the Bay Area, and is great for day trips to Oakland or Berkeley. It's a bit crowded during peak-hour travel, but they're making improvements.

BART tickets can be purchased from vending machines in every BART station. They can be purchased with cash, credit, or debit cards. BART fares are calculated based on distance, ranging from about US $2 to US $8. Day passes are not available, and riders can only receive discounts by applying for a special ticket in advance. 

San Francisco Ferries

San Francisco is located on a peninsula with the Pacific Ocean to the west and the San Francisco Bay to the east. Many people travel to the city by ferry. Travelers can also use the ferry to make trips to other cities in the Bay Area, especially if searching for cheaper accommodation. A one-way ticket on the ferry costs only a few dollars per ride, depending on your start and end destinations. Ferries to Vallejo, Oakland, and Alameda leave from the Ferry Building in downtown San Francisco. Ferries to Sausalito and Angel Island leave from Pier 41 near Fisherman's Wharf.

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