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How to Get Around San Francisco: Transportation Basics

Follow these tips and you’ll be the transportation hero of your San Francisco adventure.


San Francisco is made up of 49 square miles of long boulevards, curvy streets, hidden alleyways and lots of hills. But have no fear: follow these tips, along with some of our app recommendations, and you’ll be the transportation hero of your San Francisco adventure.

You'll find zipping around the city without a car is not only easy and affordable, it's actually more convenient 99% of the time (driving in the city and searching for parking can be challenging and parking fees are costly). All details on public transportation, ridesharing and taxi cabs are below. 

Getting to San Francisco

Flying into San Francisco International Airport
After you’ve picked up your luggage, look for signs for the free tram service, AirTrain. The AirTrain Red Line takes passengers to all the terminals, garages and BART, while the Blue Line does all that plus the rental car center. Take either line to the Garage G and BART stop and hop on the BART train going towards Pittsburg/Baypoint. On a BART map, it’s signified as the yellow line.

BART costs are associated with how far stations are; the further away, the higher the fare price. At each machine in the station, there are price charts displaying costs to and from stations. Buy your ticket, pass through the gates by slipping your ticket through, and get to the boarding areas. Don’t worry If you run out of funds when you exit; you can always add more inside the station.

Keep in mind that all BART services close at midnight and resume at 4 a.m. on weekdays, 6 a.m. on Saturdays, and 8 a.m. on Sundays.

Flying into Oakland International Airport
After you’ve picked up your luggage, look for BART signs. Taking BART from OAK is the convenient, fast, low-cost way to get to San Francisco, as well as other surrounding cities. The sleek, new automated people movers go from OAK to the Coliseum station where you take a train to your final destination. OAK trains depart every 5 minutes from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. Service is less frequent at other times. Round trip BART fares from OAK to San Francisco ($20.10), downtown Oakland ($15.70) or other East Bay cities are less than half the cost of taxis or shuttles to the same destination. If you’re visiting friends or relatives, we suggest taking BART and having them pick you up at a station in their area.


Amtrak offers a convenient and enjoyable way to get to San Francisco. The city is served via thruway bus connections at Emeryville. From the North, take the Coast Starlight from Seattle and Portland, or the Capitol Corridor from Sacramento. From the South, the Coast Starlight travels daily from Los Angeles, and the San Joaquin offers departures from Bakersfield and Fresno. From the East, the California Zephyr travels from Chicago and Denver daily. Ride in comfort with the convenience of amenities and picturesque scenery right outside your window as you explore what the Bay Area has to offer.

Getting Around San Francisco

Muni/San Francisco Municipal operates buses, trains, cable cars and the F-line heritage streetcar. The Muni buses remain above ground while Muni Metro runs on rails and sometimes go underground. Bus stops come in many forms; small bus shelters, yellow paint on street poles, and white paint on streets. Metro stops can be found on an island in the middle of the street and stations. Using the Metro Map, find the nearest Metro to your locations.

Tips: For all Muni times and buses you can call 511. In addition to this there are also many different smartphone apps that provide maps, routes and times. 

Cable Cars
Cable cars and street cars are San Francisco’s historical public transit cars. Cable cars are located downtown and run on three lines; Powell-Hyde, Powell-Mason, and California Street. The F-Line streetcar runs up and down Market Street all the way to Fisherman’s Wharf. For these, you may pay the conductor on board or purchase tickets at multiple locations. Exact change is your only option when you are onboard the vehicles. 

Ride Sharing
Uber and Lyft are car services operated by San Francisco locals. You must first download the app, register, and set-up a credit card payment system. With Lyft, you can request a private car service, or use the shared car service called “Lyft Line.” This is useful when traveling with another person because you get a shared discounted rate. Uber has a similar service called “Uber Pool” with rides running at a flat rate of $7. To use any of these services, set a pick-up location and end destination and within minutes, you will be matched with a driver. Make sure to communicate with your driver; call, text, or wave down their car and always confirm that you are getting in th correct vehicle. Get more ride sharing tips.

As is customary in most U.S. cities, visitors may hail a taxi directly or use a smart phone app.

Transportation Costs
If you are staying for more than one day, Visitor Passports and CityPASS are useful because they provide unlimited rides on Muni, Muni Metro, historic streetcars, and cable cars. There are multiple locations throughout the city where you may purchase tickets and day passes, including the San Francisco Travel Visitor Information Center, where the VIC staff and volunteers curate the San Francisco experience, providing one-on-one interaction with visitors from around the world. And you can easily find the VIC at the Powell and Market cable car turnaround at 900 Market St.

Single Ride Muni Bus/Train: $2.50 ($2.25 with a Clipper Card or the Muni Mobile App)
Single Ride Cable Car Ticket: $7
1-Day Visitor Passport: $21
3-Day Visitor Passport: $32
7-Day Visitor Passport: $42
Adult CityPASS: $94
Children ages 5-11 CityPASS: $69
BART costs vary by distance; sample fares as of Summer 2016:
SFO - SF downtown: roundtrip $17.90, one way $8.95
OAK – SF downtown: roundtrip $20.40, one way $10.20
Ride sharing (like Uber and Lyft) is typically under $15 for most trips around the city
Taxi cabs are typically under $20 for most trips around the city

If you are using public transit as your main mode of travel, as it should be, then the Clipper Card is an easy and fast way to use the various modes of transportation. Purchasing this pre-loaded card will give you access to all Bay Area transportation such as BART, Muni buses, Muni Metro, and cable car. When you board, hold the card over a scanner and listen for the beep and make sure that you have an adequate balance on your card to cover your fare. Fines are steep and Muni personnel check for fare evasion frequently. Cards can be bought at multiple locations and re-filled at Muni/BART stations.

See, not so bad right?

Photo by Louis Raphael