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 (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.
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
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
City Bus Tours
For those who prefer tour buses over transit, San Francisco has plenty of options.
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 CitySightseeing, San Francisco Deluxe Sightseeing Tours and Big Bus Tours.
Standard Bus Tours
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
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.
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.
Commuter/Tour Ferry Services
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.