How much do you know about San Francisco’s public transportation? Many Californians rely on personal cars to get around, but SF has some excellent infrastructure for car-free commutes, including bike paths, well-connected buses, and much more. Read on to discover some solid car-free alternatives for getting from point A to point B in the city.
San Francisco’s Muni network consists of countless bus routes, light rail metro trains, and more that are worth mastering for simple transport across the city. Single rides are generally $3 and are payable at a metro ticket machine or on surface transportation with exact cash (Fare is $1.50 for seniors 65+ and free for kids under 19). You’ll get a discount if you use MuniMobile or a Clipper Card, and there are a variety of day passes available. Learn more about Muni fares here.
Muni Metro is the city’s popular light rail service, which covers over 70 miles off track across the city. There are also hybrid buses available, which run on a mix of diesel and biodiesel. Core service is 5am-12am, and there is a reduced night Owl service from 12am-5pm. Buses and metros come every 5-20 minutes depending on the line, which you can consult via the Muni Trip Planner.
Muni is also responsible for San Francisco’s fleet of historic streetcars. These vintage vehicles are an experience in their own right and are a symbol of pride for many San Franciscans.
You can follow the available streetcars via a live map provided by the Market Street Railway, and be sure to read up on San Francisco’s impressive collection, including the Boat Tram.. Streetcar fares are the same as regular Muni bus and metro fares.
Did you know you can charter your own historic street car or cable car? If you have a celebration coming up, this is a fun way to inject some extra SF history into your day.
3. Cable cars
SF’s famous cable cars are a quintessential tourist experience, but even locals enjoy experiencing the history behind the cars, which date back 150 years. They’re easy to take on the Powell and California lines, but they cost more than other Muni services at $8 for a single ride.
There are 2 types of historic cable cars in service in San Francisco today: 12 California cars, which are larger and may be operated from both ends; and 28 Powell cars, which are slightly smaller and operational from one end only.
Did you know you can actually visit the carpentry shop and watch these national landmarks get restored before your eyes? Learn more about it here.
Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) is a good option if traveling to the East Bay or South Bay as far as Millbrae, San Jose, Antioch, and Pleasanton. If you have a Clipper card for Muni, you’re all set to take BART – but be advised that BART has phased out paper tickets, so if you don’t already have a Clipper you’ll need to buy one for $3. Fares range from $2.50 to $11 per ride, and you can calculate them using BART’s fare calculator.
Train frequency is about every 15 minutes on weekdays and every 30 minutes on weekends and holidays. Service is available 5am-midnight on weekdays, 6am-midnight on Saturdays, and 8am-midnight on Sundays.
Many commuters in San Francisco use the Commuter Shuttle Program, through which some employers provide complimentary shuttle service to their employees. Muni regulates the service of these shuttles, and there are 12 service providers throughout the city.
The free Golden Gate Park Shuttle just got a makeover, and is now daily through the park. Catch it every 20 minutes on weekdays from 12-6pm or every 15 minutes on weekends from 9am-6pm. This is an excellent way to get to and from Golden Gate Park’s most popular attractions.
The Bay Bridge bike shuttle is also a good one to have on your radar. For only $1, you can get from the MacArthur BART station in Oakland to Pier 30 in San Francisco.
Biking around SF has increased 184% since 2006 thanks to improved infrastructure for cyclists. Be sure to check out this full map of SF’s bicycle network, which shows streets with separated bikeways, bike lanes, bike paths, and other options.
SFMTA provides multiple bike racks and corrals around the city, especially at parking garages, which you can find on this map of parking locations. If you find yourself looking for a bike rack in any given spot in the city, you can even request one yourself.
If you’re new to biking around the city, consider taking a bike class from the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, which will teach you the rules of the road, how to lock your bike, and best routes. And whether or not you’re an avid SF cyclist, it’s worth brushing up on bike security and locking for the best chance at avoiding bike theft.
7. Shared vehicle services
San Francisco has a well-connected bikeshare program mainly operated by Lyft’s Bay Wheels program. You can become a member for $13 per month, which will get you unlimited 45-minute rides around the city. Alternatively, single trips cost $3 to start, with an additional 30 cents per minute after 30 minutes.
Car share services are abundant in San Francisco, making for easier trips when moving, running large errands, or getting groups of people around town. Popular providers include Zipcar, GIG, and Getaround for cars; U-Haul for vans; and Truqit for pickup trucks.
Revel is a company that provides shared electric mopeds in the SF Bay Area. SFMTA provides a parking permit program that exempts these vehicles from certain street parking regulations including time restrictions and payment. You only need an active drivers’ license to drive the mopeds, and 2 helmets are provided with the rental. They cost $1 to unlock, 50 cents for insurance coverage, and an additional 46 cents per minute of the ride. There are ride passes and day passes available.
8. Ferries and water taxis
San Francisco Bay Ferry operates plenty of ferry services connecting San Francisco to the rest of the Bay Area. Routes include daily service to Oakland, Berkeley, Alameda, Richmond, and Vallejo; as well as weekday commute service to Harbor Bay and South San Francisco. Fares range between 50 cents and $11, depending on the zone, and are Clipper-compatible. San Francisco’s Ferry Building is the main port for Bay ferries.
If you need a more specific route through the Bay, there are also water taxis available. Tideline is an on-demand water taxi service operating on behalf of the Port of San Francisco, and it’s swankier than the ferries with wifi, beverage service, and TVs on board. There are commute options for $16 each way between Berkeley and SF, and $20 each way between Tiburon and SF.
We can’t discount walking as an easy, free way to cover short distances in San Francisco. The city has incorporated a spectrum of programs including high-visibility raised and continental crosswalks, painted safety zones, improved signaling, strategic parking zones for improved visibility, and more.
The Slow Streets Program, which limits car traffic on certain residential streets, was implemented as a result of the pandemic. Many residents are now pushing to make several of these slow streets permanent, specifically at Golden Gate Avenue, Lake Street, Sanchez Street, and Shotwell Street.
10. Unconventional rides
Even with all of the aforementioned transport options, we’d be remiss not to mention these other fun and unconventional rides available in San Francisco.
You may have seen these bright yellow GoCars zipping around the city. This is a super fun option for a unique tour through city landmarks, and there are a variety of tour options for different neighborhoods or all-day passes. Prices range from $150-355.
Driverless taxis are making an appearance in San Francisco in the form of Cruise and Waymo. In fact, Cruise just opened a sign-up page for people in San Francisco hoping to catch a free ride in one of their cars.
Featured image: @thetahoeguy via Shutterstock