Interested in San Francisco?
We'll send you updates with the latest deals, reviews and articles for San Francisco each week.
Topics include Dining Scene, United States: For Foreign Visitors & more!
San Francisco may be one of the “biggest” tourist destinations in the United States, but it is surprisingly “small” in real life. Located on the tip of a peninsula, “the City” (as locals call it) constitutes an area roughly 7 miles wide by 7 miles long. Dense and compact, SF is easily seen on foot and public transit. This article describes getting around the City itself. For information on getting out of the City, see TripAdvisor’s Traveling Beyond the City article.
If you have a smart phone, you can use apps to plan your trip. There are many good free ones, such as Moove it and TripGo. The latter one covers multiple transport modes, from public to private.
In SF, your feet are your best friends. Many of the City’s most popular tourist destinations (Union Square, Chinatown, North Beach, Fisherman’s Wharf, etc.) are within reasonable walking distance of each other. Be sure to plan ahead in unfamiliar areas: The steepness of streets can vary dramatically from block to block. Pack a good map and wear a comfortable pair of shoes before venturing too far from your hotel—you’ll never know where you may end up!
When walking gets to be too much, SF has an extensive bus, streetcar, cable car, and subway network to get you to your destination. The primary transit provider is Muni, which operates all bus, streetcar, and cable car lines within the City limits. The primary regional transit provider is BART, which operates as a subway line through much of the City. For more information on these and other services, see TripAdvisor’s Public Transportation article.
Visitors planning an attraction-filled week should consider purchasing a Citypass, which is a Muni-and-attraction all-in-one pass. If you plan on visiting all the participating attractions, you will save over $50 using the Citypass.
If you are comfortable riding a bike in traffic, SF is especially accommodating to bicyclists. The bicycle is one of the fastest means of transportation in the City, and it is not uncommon to see bicycle messengers and bicycle commuters during the week and recreational bicyclists on weekends. Even bicyclists who prefer staying out of traffic will have little trouble finding paths and quiet streets to ride along the waterfront and in places like Golden Gate Park and the Presidio. A wealth of bicycling information is available from the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition.
Bicyclists should use common sense while traveling around San Francisco: Always wear a helmet, use front and rear lights at night, use hand signals when turning and stopping, and respect all traffic signs and controls. The stripping and theft of bicycles is very common in the City. Bicycles should be locked with a U-lock whenever left unattended. The bicycle frame, both wheels, seat, and any other removable components should be secured or removed to prevent theft of all or portions of the bicycle. In addition, bicycles placed on bus bicycle racks should be secured by locking the front or rear wheel with the frame. Never lock the bicycle to the bus.
If you are interested in renting a bicycle to get around San Francisco, or maybe just to get a good workout in across the Golden Gate Bridge and into Marin County, you can find all the major bicycle rental companies at Best Bike Rentals and Routes. There, you'll find links to bike rental companies that feature MTB, road, premium road, and all manner of hybrid and comfort bikes available for rent by the hour, day, or longer periods.
Taxis are a common sight in SF in all but the quietest residential neighborhoods. Taxis can be hailed anywhere on the street, picked up at taxi stands, or requested over the phone. Do be aware that taxis can be difficult to find in the Financial District (near Union Square) during the afternoon commute period, or anywhere around the time bars close (typically 2 am). If you are having trouble finding a taxi cab try the taxi finder app or and Uber app to help you hail a vehicle. Many hotels have taxi stands, and except during peak travel times, there usually is no wait. For more information on taxis, see TripAdvisor’s Taxis & Rental Cars article.
Getting around SF by car can be challenging, but parking (described below) is usually more difficult. There are three freeways (Interstate 80, Interstate 280, and Route 101) within the City, all of which are located south of Market Street. Market Street is the City’s main street, running diagonally from the Ferry Building to the southwest, through the Castro District, before winding into the central and western neighborhoods.
Northward and eastward links to surrounding Bay Area communities are provided by just the Golden Gate Bridge and Bay Bridge, respectively. Bridge access is limited, often resulting in congestion on roadway approaches to each bridge. The Bay Bridge in particular experiences heavy traffic congestion even outside of normal commute hours.
Most city navigation requires use of narrow or congested streets. Expect many one-way streets, especially in the northeastern quadrant of the City. Turn restrictions are common throughout all parts of the City, and left turns often require circling a block (making three rights) instead of just a simple left turn. Several busy streets also have time-restricted lanes where parking is permitted except during commute hours, when they are used for moving traffic. With that being said, visitors from busy, congested cities like New York and Boston probably will find driving in SF easier!
Parking is notoriously difficult in most parts of the City, and it is the primary reason why tourists should not rent a car while staying in town. Parking availability is limited, so expect to pay a tidy sum to park at any hotel (often $40 or more per night) or public or private parking garage (often $20 or more per day). Almost all business districts have metered street parking, and several neighborhood streets are so steep that only locals dare try to park on them. There is a plethora of parking restrictions by time of day and type of vehicle, so read signs carefully. Also be sure to check street sweeping times; nearly every street gets swept at least twice per month. Parking regulations, including street sweeping, are heavily enforced in all parts of the City.