How To Take Alternative Transportation In San Francisco This Summer

SF Streetcar and Cyclist on Market Street San Francisco

You’re planning a trip to San Francisco but are you also getting a rental car for transportation? Maybe you should think about the costs. After all, rental car prices are through the roof, even without a sunroof. What’s more, local gas prices are among the highest in the nation. This is also not to mention that crowds are now at pre-pandemic levels, along with its predictable traffic. The solution to that then, is to consider using public transportation.

Why Public Transportation?

If you’re traveling with family members, that could present its own challenges. But use this handy guide to see what options you have, to see everything you want to see. And don’t forget that parking spaces are at a premium – Sometimes so high that you will get sticker shock. Don’t forget that hotel parking prices are among the highest in the country.

San Francisco Public Transportation

BART train at an underground transportation hub under Market Street
BART Train Under Market Street (credit: Randy Yagi)
BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit)

If you’re flying into SFO, you can rent a car that could cost $100 or more a day. Instead, you can save money by taking a shuttle or better yet, use BART. This high speed rail service has a direct line from SFO to downtown San Francisco.

Transportation From BART Stations

To make planning easier, try booking a hotel within walking distance from a BART station. Alternatively, you can use rideshare services like Uber and Lyft from a station. Please note that due to the pandemic, BART service ends at 9 p.m. In other words, the last train departs the end of the line at 9 p.m.

San Francisco Ferry Building
San Francisco Ferry Building (credit: Randy Yagi)
Attractions Near BART Stations

You can also use BART to get to popular destinations in San Francisco. For instance, BART stations are within walking distance from places like the Ferry Building, Chinatown and Union Square. Among other attractions are Asian Art Museum, Contemporary Jewish Museum and SFMOMA.

 

Related: Pet Friendly Hotels In San Francisco

 

San Francisco Muni

San Francisco Muni manages the public transportation system within the city. This includes bus routes and Muni Metro light rail. San Francisco Muni also operates the city’s iconic cable cars. However, cable car service is temporarily out of service until early August. Face masks are still required onboard all forms of public transportation until further notice.

Temporary Route Changes/Suspensions

Due to the pandemic, several routes have been temporarily suspended until further notice. Click this link for the latest information. Here is additional information on routes that are in service.

Fare

San Francisco Muni accepts cash for fare on “surface transportation”. However, like other transit agencies across the country, Muni has adopted cashless fare systems. Cashless fare allows Muni to operate more efficiently as cash will slow down a transit vehicle. Moreover, those who use cashless fare will pay less for rides.

Cashless Fare

The three cashless fare options are a Clipper card, Clipper app on your smartphone and the MuniMobile app. Clipper cards can be purchased online or at selected locations. Discount fares are available for senior citizens, youths and people living with a disability.

SF Muni Trolleybus on Market Street
SF Muni Trolleybus on Market Street (credit: Randy Yagi)
Buses

Muni operates 44 routes, serving extensive sections of San Francisco. However, please note that service has been reduced due to the pandemic. On a vacation, not many bus routes may have to be used. Still, BART and the light rail don’t cover some spots that you might want to see.

Suggested Bus Routes For Visitors

Suggested bus routes are Routes 5, 7, 30, 38 and 45. Route 5 serves Golden Gate Park while 7 serves Golden Gate Park and the Haight-Ashbury district. Bus route 30 serves Chinatown, Fisherman’s Wharf and the Legion of Honor. Bus route 38 serves Japantown and Land’s End while 45 serves Chinatown and Fisherman’s Wharf. Please that service has been reduced until further notice.

Bus Service To The Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Transit offers three bus routes (30, 70, 101) from downtown San Francisco to the south end of Golden Gate Bridge. Buses can be picked up at the Salesforce Transit Center or designated stops along Market or Mission streets. Golden Gate Transit also provides bus service to Fisherman’s Wharf. Muni’s closest stop to the Golden Gate Bridge is at Crissy Field on Route 30.

Muni Metro light rail at an underground transportation hub
Muni Metro Light Rail (credit: Randy Yagi)
Light Rail

Muni Metro light rail is one of the fastest ways to get around San Francisco. But service is limited to certain portions of the city. Nevertheless, if you want to visit Oracle Park, the Embarcadero and Chase Center, this is the way to go. Metro can also take you to the Castro and Mission districts, as well as Ocean Beach. There’s also a route to the San Francisco Zoo but requires a transfer at West Portal.

Powell-Mason Cable Car
Powell-Mason Cable Car (credit: Randy Yagi)
Cable Cars

San Francisco’s iconic cable cars will resume service in August. During this month, Muni will be providing free rides while the cable cars are being tested. Schedules are said to be close to normal during the testing period. On September 1, regular service will resume with paid fares required.

SF Streetcar near Fisherman's Wharf
Historic SF Streetcar (credit Randy Yagi)
Streetcars

Service on the city’s historic streetcars has resumed on Market Street and Fisherman’s Wharf. On weekends, it can get very crowded in both directions from the Ferry Building to Fisherman’s Wharf. F Market further provides service along Market Street to the Castro District. The E-Embarcadero line south of the Ferry Building is not running until further notice.

San Francisco Rideshare Driver
Rideshare (credit: Randy Yagi)

Rideshare

Uber and Lyft are both headquartered in San Francisco so it’s not surprising to see an abundance of rideshare vehicles. However, these vehicles have contributed to increased congestion in downtown. Because of this, public transportation is oftentimes a faster way to a destination. Still rideshares are often convenient although fares have gone up. Another challenge is to find a suitable place to get picked up.

Taxis

Although the preference is to use rideshares, SF taxis deserve consideration as well. Taxis in San Francisco can red lanes, which are designated as for transit vehicles only. This is something ride hailing services can not do. Moreover, there are several designated taxi stands and vehicles use alternative fuels. Additionally, there are mobile apps for taxi service, through Flywheel and YoTaxiSF.

Magic Bus In Union Square
Magic Bus in Union Square (credit: Randy Yagi)

City Bus Tours

For those who prefer tour buses over transit, San Francisco has plenty of options.

CitySeeing Bus in Union Square
CitySightseeing Bus in Union Square (credit: Randy Yagi)

Hop-On, Hop-Off Bus Tours

Among the most popular are hop-on hop-off tours. These buses allow you to literally hop on and hop off and many of the city’s most popular attractions. This includes leading spots like the Golden Gate Bridge and Fisherman’s Wharf. Suggested tour operators are CitySightseeingSan Francisco Deluxe Sightseeing Tours and Big Bus Tours.

Standard Bus Tours

Gray Line

Gray Line offers several tours, including a grand tour by bus and wine country tour. There are additional options like a tour to Muir Woods and Sausalito and sunset tour. Gray Line also has walking tours and combined boat-bus tours.

Additional Bus/Van Tours

A handful of small tour operators like Magic Bus provide unique options to see San Francisco. Among the other best rated are SF Love Tours, Dylan’s Tours, Painted Ladies and Vantigo.

Blue & Gold Fleet ferry boat
Blue & Gold Fleet Ferry Boat (credit: Randy Yagi)

San Francisco Boat Transportation

As summer kicks into high gear, there’s already increased interest in boat tour. Fortunately for you and other visitors, there are many options to choose from. This includes ferry tours to Alcatraz, passenger ferries, sailing charters and high speed boats.

Red & White Ferry Passing Alcatraz Island
Red & White Ferry Passing Alcatraz Island (credit Randy Yagi)

Ferry Boats

Ferry Tours

Among the most popular ferry tour operators are Blue & Gold Fleet and Red & White Fleet. But the only ferry service to Alcatraz Island is CityCruises by Hornblower. Blue & Gold has the largest fleet, with tour options like Angel Island and Oracle Park. Red & White Fleet is the city’s oldest operator, with very popular bay cruises and more. Reservations for any tour ferry service should be booked online in advance.

San Francisco Bay Ferry Docked at Larkspur Terminal
San Francisco Bay Ferry Docked at Larkspur Terminal (credit: Randy Yagi)

Commuter/Tour Ferry Services

Fare Prices

Fares can be paid in person, with a Clipper card or via the Clipper app. San Francisco Bay Ferry also accepts fare from the Hopthru app. Discount fares are available for seniors, youths and people living with a disability.

Golden Gate Ferry

Commuter ferries like Golden Gate Ferry allow visitors more options to see the city as well as other places along the San Francisco Bay. However, service is currently weekdays only to Larkspur and Tiburon. Furthermore, the very popular service to Sausalito has been temporarily suspended. Instead, bus transportation is being provided to Sausalito. Ferry service is expected to resume at any moment’s notice.

San Francisco Bay Ferry

San Francisco Bay Ferry provides service to points in the city and communities in the East Bay. Current service is restricted to weekdays only, with some service temporarily suspended. However, major changes to the schedule is expected to start in July. This includes a reduction the price of fare and additional service.

San Francisco Water Taxi

San Francisco Water Taxi provides a variety of services including hop-on/hop-off and one-way rides. The water taxi has hop-on/hop-off stops at Pier 1.5 near the Ferry Building, Pier 15 at the Exploratorium and Pier 39. Reservations can be booked online with discounts for children under 14. The water taxi also provides express service to Oracle Park and the Chase Center.

Additional Boat Tours

Visitors have over a dozen other options for local boat or sailing tours. Among the best are San Francisco Whale Tours and CityCruises. For the more adventurous, Adventurecat and Bay Voyager are taking reservations.

Shared bikes on rack on Market Street in San Francisco
Shared Bikes (credit: Randy Yagi)

Bicycling

Bicycling can be a remarkably affordable option to get around San Francisco. However, traffic can be highly congested in certain areas like Union Square and along Market Street. If bicycling is a preference, cyclists should wear helmets and be alert at all times. The city’s top resource for biking is the San Francisco Bicycling Coalition.

Shared Bikes

San Francisco is part of the bike sharing program Bay Wheels, that covers heavily populated regions in the Bay Area. Managed by Lyft, Bay Wheels offers classic and e-bikes, with prices starting at $3 for 30 minutes. Several bike locations are available throughout San Francisco, as detailed in this map. Please note that bike helmets are currently not provided.

Blazing Saddles Bikes
Blazing Saddles Bikes (credit: Randy Yagi)

Bike Tours

Several bike tour groups operate in the city of San Francisco. Bicycles can rented by the hour or on a guided tour. Both e-bikes and conventional bikes are available, including hybrids and road bikes. Some businesses like Blazing Saddles and Unlimited Biker also offer tandem bikes as an option. Among other reputable bike tour businesses are Bay City, Dandyhorse and SF Bike Rentals.

 

Related: 25 FAQs For First Time Visitors To San Francisco

 

About The Author:

Randy Yagi is an award-winning freelance writer who served as the National Travel Writer for CBS Local from 2012-2019. More than 900 of his stories still appear in syndication across 23 CBS websites, including CBS New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco.

During his peak years with CBS, Randy had a reported digital audience reach of 489 million and 5.5 million monthly visitors. His other stories have appeared in the Daily Meal, CBS Radio, Engadget and Radio.com. He is a Media Fellow of Stanford University, U.S. Army veteran and lifelong resident of Santa Cruz County, California.

Posted by

Randy Yagi is an award-winning freelance writer covering national/international travel for CBS Local and all things San Francisco for CBS San Francisco. In 2012, he received a Media Fellowship from Stanford University. He is also a member of the Freelance Council of the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW).