Like any good metropolitan area, San Francisco has a variety of public transportation options ranging from buses to ferries. Compared to some cities, though, the city’s transit system remains relatively primitive: expect long waits and frequent delays on Muni and BART. Basic one-way tickets for inter-city routes will cost you $2.75 in cash or $2.50 with the Clipper Card, which can be purchased at underground Muni and BART stations or at Walgreens. Trips across the Bay are priced according to distance. If you want to avoid the hassle of learning a new transit system, with only seven square miles to cover, San Francisco is easily traversed by bike (you’ll find public bike share stations throughout the city) or on foot.
Public transport options in San Francisco
Muni, which includes buses and streetcars that move both above and below ground, is the primary form of public transportation in San Francisco. Of the two, the bus is the most widespread with a few dozen lines scattered throughout the city. On busier routes, keep an eye out for “limited” buses (signified with a L behind the number) which move more quickly and make fewer stops. Streetcar lines are identified by letters and can be boarded at above ground stops on a few major thoroughfares including Market Street, the Embarcadero and Judah Street. All underground Muni stops are located downtown or on the south side of the city. A one-way ticket is good for 90-mins of transit, including changing Muni lines or switching to BART.
BART, Bay Area Rapid Transit, doesn’t have a whole lot of stops inside the city but it is the easiest way to get to the East Bay and the San Francisco International Airport. Four lines (blue, green, yellow and red) can get you from the city stations, stops range from Balboa Park to the Embarcadero, to Oakland, Berkeley and beyond. On weekdays BART runs from around 4am to approximately 12:30am; on the weekends, service begins around 6am.
During the day, ferries are a convenient way to travel from San Francisco to Oakland, Alameda and Sausalito—and the views are nothing to sneeze at. Most ferries leave from the Ferry Building Terminal on the Embarcadero but if you’re planning a trip to Angel Island or Alcatraz Island, you’ll embark at Pier 41 near Fisherman’s Wharf. Trips between San Francisco and Oakland’s Jack London Square or Alameda Island’s Harbor Bay Terminal on the San Francisco Bay Ferry cost $6.80 (one-way; $3.40 for youth 5-18). For trips to Marin (including Sausalito, Larkspur and Tiburon), take the Golden Gate Ferry from the Ferry Building Terminal.
Despite the hills, San Francisco’s compact size makes it a great city for navigating on two wheels. Back in the day, you could only rent a bike in San Francisco from a brick-and-mortar shop like Blazing Saddles or Bay City Bike near the city’s major parks. These days, Ford GoBikes are stationed just about everywhere. Sign up online to unlock any bike at one of 540 stations throughout San Francisco and four other Bay Area cities. One-way trips cost $3 or buy a $10 day pass for unlimited exploring.
San Francisco’s historic Cable Cars are used almost exclusively by tourists but if you need transportation from downtown to Fisherman’s Wharf, Nob Hill or Russian Hill, they’re an impressive (if expensive) way to travel. Two Cable Car lines can be boarded at the intersection of Powell Street and Market Street near Union Square—you can’t miss the massive line waiting for their turn. The third line goes from Market Street and California Street downtown to Van Ness Avenue past Nob Hill. Buy a ticket from the conductor ($7, exact change needed) or use a Clipper Card.