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San Francisco is a compact city with an extensive public transportation network that makes getting around without a car the preferred method of seeing the City. The Bay Area does not have an integrated transit system, and most visitors will use services operated by more than one agency during their visit. Trip planning is available online anytime, and visitors can call 511 from any phone in the Bay Area and receive trip planning and other transit information. Within San Francisco, visitors can call 311 at any time from any phone and speak with a live operator for information on Muni and other City services.
Muni is the primary transit operator within San Francisco. Its extensive network of bus, trolleybus, streetcar, and cable car lines serve every tourist destination, shopping district, and residential neighborhood located within the City limits. Schedules and route maps for individual lines are available online only. System maps are available online and can be purchased at select retail locations. Many bus stops have posted system maps, and busy stops throughout the system have electronic NextBus displays that announce real-time arrivals.
Muni fares can be reviewed here. Cash-paying passengers should always ask for a transfer when boarding a bus, trolleybus, or streetcar. Transfers provide proof of payment, which must be shown to fare inspectors upon request. Lack of proof of payment may result in a fine. Cable car cash-paying passengers will be issued a receipt, which also acts as proof of payment.
In addition to cash, Muni fares can be paid with Clipper cards and MuniMobile mobile tickets. Clipper and MuniMobile are ideal for passengers who do not want to fumble with cash when paying fares. Clipper is recommended for travelers who will be using other systems, such as AC Transit or Golden Gate Ferry, while MuniMobile is recommended for smart phone users who will be riding Muni only.
Muni also has 1-, 3-, and 7-day Passports that are valid for unlimited rides on buses, trolleybuses, streetcars, and cable cars. Passports must be used for sequential days. Passports offer convenience similar to Clipper and MuniMobile, but unless your trip includes riding cable cars, they usually do not provide any meaningful discount compared to other options.
A word of warning about Muni service: Service is very slow, and it can be faster to walk, bike, or drive to many locations. Buses and Muni Metro are prone to running late, and gaps in service are not uncommon. However, despite these pitfalls, service is generally safe and provides a better level of service than what is available in most U.S. cities. And considering the parking and driving challenges in the City, Muni is still the best choice around--besides walking of course!
The unique cable cars are the only ones of their kind still operating in the world. First introduced in 1873 by entrepreneur Andrew Hallidie, Muni began operating cable cars upon its formation in 1912. In 1964, the cable cars were declared the first and only moving landmarks according to the National Register of Historic Places. The cable car system was completely refurbished in the early 1980's, reopening in 1984, and service is available every day of the year.
There are 3 cable car lines: Powell-Mason, Powell-Hyde, and California. The Powell-Hyde line traverses the steepest hill of the system just north of the famous crooked stretch of Lombard Street, but each line has unique offerings. The two Powell lines are wildly popular with tourists, and it is not uncommon to find long lines at the Powell, Hyde, and Mason terminals. For better luck avoiding the long lines, try boarding either Powell line en route, or catch the California line. Also, cable cars are not as busy during the early morning and late evening hours.
Regardless of the line you take, enjoy the sights, the breeze, and the bell ringing (each operator has a unique rhythmic style). Remember to watch out for traffic and other cable cars when hanging off the side. And don't forget to stop by the Cable Car Museum at 1201 Mason Street, where you can check out vintage cable cars and watch the cables hard at work!
The popular historic streetcar lines operate along the Embarcadero between Fisherman's Wharf and the Ferry Building. The F-Market & Wharves line continues from the Ferry Building along Market Street to the Castro, passing by all cable car terminals and near Union Square en route. The new E-Embarcadero line continues south on the Embarcadero and serves AT&T Park (Giants baseball stadium) and the Caltrain Station. Both lines feature restored streetcars from Milan to San Francisco and many cities in between. While the F-line in particular can get very crowded, there is a better chance of boarding the next arriving streetcar than there is boarding one of the cable cars to/from Powell Street.
The Muni Metro lines operate in the tunnel below Market Street. Muni operates on the first level of the tunnel while BART (described below) operates on the second level. The N-Judah train is most commonly used by tourists because it operates near the Haight and also has several stops a short walk from the south edge of Golden Gate Park. The N-Judah and T-Third lines serve the 2nd & King stop, which is at AT&T Park.
Buses and Trolleybuses:
Muni's buses (often diesel-electric hybrids) and trolleybuses (buses that operate on electrified overhead lines) operate everywhere the streetcars and cable cars don't. There are local, rapid, and express lines. Local lines generally stop every 1-2 blocks while rapid lines usually stop every 3-4 blocks. Express lines operate during rush hour only and primarily serve commuters traveling to/from the Financial District.
BART is the primary regional transit operator in the Bay Area. Its extensive train network connects San Francisco with Peninsula and East Bay cities and both area airports (SFO and OAK). For information on arriving and departing the airport using BART, see TripAdvisor's Arriving & Departing article and BART's airport connections guide.
Within the City, BART provides fast, convenient service between downtown San Francisco and the Mission District, a popular neighborhood with countless restaurants, bars, and live music venues. Within the East Bay, BART serves popular destinations including the Oakland Coliseum (Raiders football and A's baseball), Oracle Arena (Golden State Warriors basketball), and UC Berkeley campus. BART's destinations guide has more information on these and other points of interest.
Caltrain provides regular train service between San Francisco, the Peninsula, and San Jose. The Caltrain terminal in San Francisco is located at 4th & King, which can be reached by Muni's 10 and 47 (bus), 30 and 45 (trolleybus), N and T (Muni Metro), and E (streetcar) lines. Caltrain operates local, limited-stop, and Baby Bullet trains. If possible, travel on the much faster Baby Bullet trains, which reach San Jose in just 60 minutes. Baby Bullet and limited-stop trains operate during weekday peak periods only, plus 2 Baby Bullet trains in each direction (4 total) on weekends. Local trains operate all day (including later evenings, see schedule). Caltrain connects with BART at the Millbrae station, but most visitors to San Francisco will not need to use this connection.
San Francisco is well situated for ferry service, and several lines offer a scenic, practical way to venture out from the City. The most popular tourist destinations are Alcatraz and Sausalito. Additional ferries are available to Alameda, Oakland, Angel Island, Tiburon, Larkspur, and Vallejo.
Alcatraz: Advance reservations are required. Ferries are operated for the National Park Service under contract with Hornblower. Be sure to board at Pier 33, not Pier 41 or the Ferry Building.
Sausalito: Service is available from the Ferry Building (Golden Gate Ferry) and Pier 41 (Blue & Gold Fleet). This world-renowned ferry route is one of the most scenic in the world, with views of the SF skyline, Alcatraz, and the Golden Gate.
Alameda, Oakland, Vallejo: San Francisco Bay Ferry operates three ferry lines from the Ferry Building to the East Bay, with limited service to/from Pier 41 too. The first line connects Alameda (Main Street) and Oakland's Jack London Square. The second line provides commute service to Alameda's Bay Farm Island. The third line operates to Vallejo.
Angel Island: Blue & Gold Fleet operates from the Ferry Building and Pier 41 to Angel Island, home of Angel Island State Park and the newly restored U.S. Immigration Station.
Tiburon: Blue & Gold Fleet service is available from the Ferry Building and Pier 41.
Larkspur: Golden Gate Ferry service is available from the Ferry Building.
Note: Golden Gate Ferry and San Francisco Bay Ferry are public transit services. They take Clipper cards and usually provide transfer discounts with other services (Muni, etc.). Blue & Gold Fleet is a private ferry operator.
From San Francisco, additional public transit service is available to various points in the Bay Area. Other transit operators serving the City not listed above are:
AC Transit: AC Transit bus service is available to/from the East Bay (Alameda and Contra Costa Counties). All "Transbay" buses are lettered (rather than numbered) and start and end at the Transbay Terminal, providing frequent commute service to most East Bay neighborhoods. 24-hour service is available to Oakland, Berkeley, and other nearby East Bay communities. Note: Late-night and early-morning service is called Route 800 and picks up at bus stops located near all BART stations between 24th Street/Mission and Montgomery before serving the Transbay Terminal.
Golden Gate Transit: Golden Gate Transit bus service is available to/from the North Bay (Marin and Sonoma Counties). Golden Gate Transit buses operate along 3 different alignments in SF before stopping at the Golden Gate Bridge and serving North Bay communities. Service to the Golden Gate Bridge is much faster on GGT than it is Muni. However, fares are roughly double the Muni fare and no Muni Passports are accepted.
SanTrans: SamTrans bus service is available to/from the Peninsula (San Mateo County). SamTrans buses begin and end at the Transbay Terminal. During hours that BART does not operate, SamTrans provides the only public transit connection between San Francisco and SFO.
PresidiGo: The free PresidiGo shuttle circulates through the Presidio, serving such destinations as the Walt Disney Family Museum, Golden Gate Bridge, and Crissy Field. An express route to downtown connects the Presidio to the Transbay Terminal; some trips are free on the express route while others require a pass.