What is public transportation like in San Francisco?

Answers from Our Experts (3)

Marianne Wong
  • Marianne Wong

  • Concierge, Mandarin Oriental, San Francisco

  • San Francisco, California

San Francisco has great public transportation and navigating it can be challenging for visitors that aren't used to traveling around in this fashion. There are five different modes of public transport: two underground subways, cable cars, electric and diesel buses, trollies and ferries. San Francisco is small enough that taxis, which are relatively cheap, are often the less time consuming and easier option to take one way or both ways to major sights. The easiest solution is to dial 311 to get a live person to help figure out which bus or transit to take to where you want to go.

Katie Sweeney

The city of San Francisco offers locals and tourists several public transportation options. The MUNI is a bus and underground service that runs 24 hours, 7 days a week. MUNI operates 80 routes that cover the entire city. Tickets are $2 each.

The Bay Area Rapid Transit, or BART, runs under the streets of San Francisco. It extends to parts of the East and South Bays, making it an ideal transportation choice for people who need to leave the city. The Caltran is a train service with daily routes from South San Francisco to Silicon Valley and San Jose. Fares for both the BART and Caltran depend on how far one is traveling.

For a fun, old-fashioned ride through downtown San Francisco, Chinatown, or North Beach, hop on the Cable Car. The outdoor trolley costs $6 per ride.

Cabs can sometimes be hard to find, but with a little luck, you can hail a YellowCab or Desoto Taxi. Ordering an Uber car is another easy option. Simply download the app on your smartphone and go from there.

Maria Hunt

Public transportation in San Francisco is plentiful, it covers a vast area and mostly user friendly. The most storied part of the system is the San Francisco Cable Car, which is the last manually operated cable car in the world. You’ll see long lines of people waiting to board it at the foot of Powell Street; a better ides is to hop on the California line at California Street and Van Ness Avenue. Rides cost about $6 each way.

The San Francisco Muni is a system of light rail, buses and heritage street cars that mostly operate above-ground, 24 hours a day. Popular places to take Muni include along the Embarcadero and over to the Giants stadium. Things have gotten better lately, but Muni retains a reputation for running off-schedule at times, so it may not be the best choice if you’re in a big hurry. Rides cost about $2.

Visitors to the city will definitely want to use Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), a system of speedy trains that run throughout the city, as well as across the Bay to Oakland and Walnut Creek, down the peninsula to San Jose. BART is also the best way to get to either airport in San Francisco or Oakland as long as you don’t have too much luggage. Consult the color-coded maps to figure out which line you need to take; the BART Trip Planner is also quite useful.  The only downside to BART is that it stops running at midnight. Fares vary depending on the distance; going from central San Francisco to Oakland is about $4; a trip from downtown to the SFO is about $8.50.

It seems the most confusing part of the trip for many visitors can be figuring out how to use the machines that dispense tickets for the Bay Area Rapid Transit trains and the Muni light rail. Here’s a quick primer on how to buy a BART ticket: dip your credit or debit card into the slot and the machine will offer to print a $20 ticket. Use the button on the top left to subtract $1 at a time until you reach the ideal amount. Then push the button on the top right to print your ticket.

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