What you need to know!
This was a fascinating tour!! We had 3 more days in town, so we started with it in order to get the lay of the land. Our guide, Kevin, was so incredibly knowledgeable & was a perfect fit for what we wanted to accomplish. We traveled to & learned about places that we never would have thought of to check out. I can’t say enough about this great city & tour guide. It completely exceeded our expectations!!!
This tour was great! I wish we did it on our first day in SF instead of our last day, because our tour guide, Kevin, gave us so many suggestions for dinners & things to check out. I loved how we were able to take all the different forms of transit and see so many different things that you wouldn’t normally, if you were exploring on your own.
THE REAL DEAL
Our tour with Kevin was GREAT! He is a fabulous tour guide & shared all sorts of fun facts & hidden SF favorites. He didn’t rush us, but made sure the tour ran smoothly. His personality was extremely engaging & made the group feel like old friends. The tour was strategically designed to cover maximum highlights & built in breaks when we took public transit. This tour could not be any better!
BEST TOUR OF OUR USA TRIP
Tour is amazing. Our guide, Kevin, was knowledgeable, friendly, courteous & fun. He knows the insider tricks to get the best out of SF – from hidden stairwells, to lost tunnels, to the best street art. Also free fortune cookies :-). We got to ride historic cable cars, MUNI & BART. We got amazing views of the bay, hills, Golden Gate Bridge & many must-see sights, from unique vantage points beyond the reach of a bus tour. This tour is really good value – all transport is included.
How to Use Transit in San Francisco
In many ways San Francisco has a great reputation where public transit is concerned - our cable cars are world-famous and many tourists comes here wanting to ride one, it's part of the romance of S.F. However, unfortunately, using the system(s) and various modes of transport that are available - cable cars, trains, buses and ferries - is more complicated that it should be, creating ample opportunities for confusion and extra expense. Fear not though, we've written this handy guide on how to use transit in San Francisco, so you can easily navigate the city and make the most of your trip.
The fact is that San Francisco does have a good metro system, so we really wouldn't recommend driving your own car during your visit. There are so many one-way streets, numerous steep hills, usually awful traffic and unfailingly horrendous parking (both hard to find and expensive), that using public transport really is your best option.
So, the first thing to understand about using transit in San Francisco is that there are four different metro systems:
BAY AREA RAPID TRANSPORT - BART
A metro rail system, with fifty stations on 131 miles of track, covering several cities in the Bay Area, such as San Francisco, Oakland, Berkely and Alameda, across five counties. It's the biggest transportation system in the San Francisco region.
SAN FRANCISCO MUNICIPAL TRANSPORTATION AGENCY (SFMTA) - MUNI
This agency covers the city of San Francisco itself and includes light rail, buses and our famous cable cars.
Operates commuter trains from Santa Clara (Silicon Valley) to downtown. Check schedules as this is not a turn-up and go service.
SAN FRANCISCO BAY FERRY
Has numerous services out of Fisherman's Wharf and the Ferry Terminal to destinations across the San Francisco Bay, such as Richmond, Oakland, Alameda and Harbor Bay. Some ferry routes only operate in the early morning and late afternoon as commuter services, so be sure to check the timetable before getting to the wharf.
Having all these different agencies can be confusing and there is a proposal to combine the two main agencies, BART and MUNI. As it is several metro stations across San Francisco operate both BART and MUNI services and you can combine journeys using different systems pretty easily, especially if you use a Clipper Card (more on that below).
SO WHICH TRANSPORT AGENCY SHOULD I USE?
If you're arriving at either San Francisco International or Oakland Airports or staying in Berkeley or Oakland, for example, you'll need to use BART. It's a quick and easy option, as BART mostly operates a turn-up and go service, with trains arriving every 2-8 minutes at the busier stations.
If you're staying near the Bay, in Oakland, Richmond or Alameda, consider taking a ferry across the Bay. It's a great way to travel and it's cheaper than taking a tour boat ride.
If you're in San Francisco itself, then you'll most likely be using the MUNI system. There's a great network of underground light rail, buses and cable cars which can get you close to most places that you're going to want to go. If you're planning on taking a cable car just bear in mind that they're small and can get very crowded with all the other tourists. The most scenic routes are the California Street and Powell-Hyde lines.
If you're staying in San Jose, Mountain View, Palo Alto or Menlo Park you'll probably need to use Caltrain and then change onto MUNI or BART.
BEST WAY TO USE SAN FRANCISCO PUBLIC TRANSPORT
This bit's easy - get a Clipper Card. You can buy tickets individually of course, but that could get pretty expensive - a one-way Adult ticket for the cable-car is $7 alone. Clipper Cards are available in person at most stations for $3, but if you order online it's free.
With a Clipper Pass you're able to use BART, MUNI, Caltrain and San Francisco Bay Ferry services. You can either buy a travel pass or load a cash amount on your card (you can start with just $20, which would be enough for a few rides) and there are discounts for seniors, juniors and people with special needs.
A MUNI Pass is a good option if you're mostly seeing attractions in San Francisco itself. An Adult Pass is $13, which for S.F. is pretty reasonable.
- Staying in Oakland and want to visit San Francisco for the day? Take the BART train from Oakland and change onto the California Street Cable-Car at Embarcadero Station to visit Nob Hill.
- Staying in Berkeley and want to have lunch at Fisherman's Wharf? Take the ferry across the bay from Richmond to the Ferry Terminal, then take the L-OWL Bus right outside the terminal. Taken in the other direction the bus goes through Chinatown, past the Civic Center to the Castro.
We hope you found our guide to using public transport in San Francisco helpful. We look forward to meeting you on one of our tours soon, all of them start and end at a train station or bus stop, so they're really to do using either BART or MUNI.