San Francisco is the cultural, commercial and financial centre of Northern California. A popular destination for tourists, the city is world famous for its steep rolling hills, eclectic architecture and historic landmarks including the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary, the bustling Chinatown district and a vast network of cable cars allowing visitors to see San Francisco’s delights in a style unique to the city.
With a population of almost 900,000, San Francisco is the second most densely populated US city, traffic on the roads and overcrowding on public transport can be an issue. Our transport guide to the city of San Francisco will help you explore this beautiful part of the USA with ease. San Francisco’s transport system includes a range of options for natives commuting to work along with tourists exploring the city. With many different types of public transport available, from streetcars to cable cars, city buses to ferries, navigating the city’s system can be intimidating and confusing. Our simple guide to getting about in San Francisco can help ease stress and open up a world of possibilities to explore this beautiful place.City buses (Muni) and Streetcars (Muni Metro)
Muni operate both a network of city buses and a fleet of streetcars across San Francisco (locals refer to the buses as ‘Muni’ and the streetcars as ‘Muni Metro’.) Alongside the standard streetcar fleet, which covers most of the city, there is also a rail line serviced by antique street cars from other cities that runs from the Castro District to the Ferry Building and down the Embarcadero to Fisherman’s Wharf.
The city’s buses and streetcars are very affordable, and children under 4 go free. If paying with cash, keep in mind that you must have exact change to make payment. You can also pay with your mobile phone and it’s possible to buy visitor passports for 1, 3 or 7 days along with monthly passes and plastic cards that can be pre-loaded with credit (known as ‘clipper cards’.) None of the passes can be bought onboard the transport and should be purchased online or at kiosks and various retail locations across the city.
Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) is a fast-moving public transportation system, consisting of a heavy rail and subway system that connects San Francisco and Oakland with both urban and suburban areas in neighbouring counties. For more than 45 years, the system has provided quick, reliable and affordable transportation to San Francisco’s residents, between offices, shopping centres, tourist attractions, entertainment venues and universities, along with a range of other Bay Area destinations Operating seven days a week, it’s easy to plan your journey with a simple system map of lines and stations. Overland train and subway car schedules are available from the BART website, along with information on real-time arrivals and departures.
Children under 4 ride free on BART, but everyone else must have a valid BART ticket or Clipper Card. Ticket vending machines are located at most stations and take all US coins and dollar bills up to $20. It’s worth noting that BART is moving towards a Clipper Card only system, with some stations already operating on this basis.
The BART website has a handy fare calculator to help you work out how much your journey will cost before travelling.
The iconic San Francisco cable car system (built over 150 years ago) is the world's last manually operated cable car system, offering transportation up the super steep hills of the city. From Union Square to the crest of Nob Hill, a thrilling and memorable cable car journey may be one of the highlights of your visit.
The cable cars begin running at 6 a.m. and continue through until midnight. Cars generally run around every ten minutes. The SFMTA website has a range of maps and schedules along with pricing information for the cable car system. Payment options include a visitor passport, the MuniMobile app, Clipper Card or cash (exact change is required.)
The stunning panorama of San Francisco bay is visible from the deck of the city’s fleet of ferries which travel from the historic Ferry Building at the foot of Market Street to sunny Sausalito, Tiburon and Larkspur in Marin County. Passengers can enjoy views of the San Francisco skyline, Alcatraz, Angel Island and the Golden Gate Bridge while getting around on the ferries.
Ferries depart regularly and fares are reasonable, with discounts offered for families travelling together. All boats have both indoor and outdoor seating, a full licensed bar, room for bikes and good accessibility for wheelchairs and pushchairs.
If you are visiting the Presidio park, work or even live in the area, there is a free shuttle service to Downtown (outside of peak commuting hours). In peak hours the service requires a paid pass, but outside of these hours it offers a convenient and free way for residents and visitors to visit this popular recreational spot in the city. Presidio Park is a former military post, that now comprises of varied parkland, beaches and attractions. It’s varied landscape, stunning views of the Golden Gate bridge and central location in the city make it a great escape from the hustle and bustle of city life.
From the bustling downtown and waterfront districts to a wide range of neighbourhood and world-class parks, San Francisco is also a great place to discover on foot, and the city has taken great steps to provide a safe and pleasant environment for pedestrians. Recent improvements to protect walkers have included an increase in red visibility curbs, painted safety zones and high visibility crosswalks.
With all the hills you’ll get a good workout walking the streets of San Francisco, it’s also a fantastic way to experience all the sights and sounds that the city has to offer.
If you’re moving to San Francisco from the UK, speak with the experienced US moving and shipping team at Cadogan Tate.