Getting around in San Francisco

Planning your transport in and around places is San Francisco is really quite easy. Once you are downtown, you’re better off without a car, parking is expensive and traffic is, well a bit traffic-y and you really don’t want to be sitting in a car instead of getting about.
San Francisco is hilly

One thing you need to remember. San Francisco is a city of ups and downs. Don’t worry about missing your gym, you’ll get a workout just walking around. But beware, if hills bother you, you need to plan for them, and they are significant.

Photo Credit: By Tony Webster from Portland, Oregon, United States – San Francisco Hills, CC BY 2.0,
The (infamous) cable cars

If you want to know how to ride the San Francisco cable cars the first thing you need to know is that it is a tourist trap, and getting on and off can be a challenge. Ride one from Union Square over to Fisherman’s Wharf which hits three must do tourist things in one. By the way, all the operators have their own bell ring, so listen out to hear the different ring styles. And be careful, if you do decide to hang on to the side, it is dangerous.

Photo Credit: By Frank Schulenburg – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

The Street Cars

San Francisco has two historic streetcar lines as well as seven other modern ones. The historic streetcars run the length of the Embarcadero from Fisherman’s Wharf all the way down the Giants Baseball Stadium. (The place is called AT&T Park, but it used to be Candlestick Park and locals liked it being called that. The official name is one thing, but locals don’t use it.)

The streetcars come from anywhere they could be found including Milan so they’re worth a ride just for the heck of it.

Photo Credit: By Steve Morgan, CC BY-SA 4.0


Patois for San Francisco Municipal Railway is the backbone of transport in the city. Muni runs metro rail, the buses the cable cars and the historic streetcars. Get a 1,3, or 7-day Muni passport for unlimited travel – but be aware that unless you plan a cable car ride, the passport isn’t really a deal, it is more convenience.

There Metro is also run by Muni and is one of the easier ways to get to the Haight, though you can take the bus there. Getting to the Haight from downtown includes one of the really sizeable hills by the way.
You want to go to Oakland

The best way of heading out to Oakland for the day is BART, which stands for Bay Area Rapid Transport. BART is fast efficient and clean too, it is a great way to travel until you realize you’re going through a tunnel under the bay right in the middle of the San Andreas fault. It sounds freaky but as attested by hundreds of thousands it is the best way to get in and out.

BART for the airport

BART also extends from Airport to San Francisco to Oakland Airport. If your connections require both, this is probably the fastest way to get from one to the other or any place in between.

Seeing the tourist spots

If you have the legs for it and you want to explore San Francisco by bike, there are much worse ways of doing it. San Francisco has a great bike path network- you can get a map of the bike paths from the muni website, and really nothing is so far apart that you couldn’t get there on a bike. Going TO Golden Gate Park on a bike is hard work, but coming back into town… downhill all the way baby!

Photo Credit: GFDL
The Ferries

No surprise the ferries in the Bay Area are frequent, fast and reach far and wide. The San Francisco ferry building is the arrival and departure point for most, but not all. So check out one of the many maps for travel to Sausalito and Tiburon, if they’re on your list.

Photo Credit: By Dennis Jarvis from Halifax, Canada – California-05789 – San Francisco Bay Ferry, CC BY-SA 2.0

Is Palo Alto on your list?

Then you will need to use CalTrans it is a little further out, but a nice ride down the peninsula and there’s a great strip to browse in Palo Alto as well as the Stanford campus if you wish.

Short rides and getting airport options

Uber, Lyft and taxis are all over the place as you’d expect from a major metro city, and can help fill the gap if you set out for a big walking day and now just need to get back to the hotel and put your feet up.

San Francisco is a little way out of town (14 miles and at least half an hour with good traffic). Getting to and from the airport needs a bit of planning. BART is one route and probably the least expensive. Another option is the many airport transport buses.

These are private companies and they carry multiple passengers at once at a shared cost. The advantage is that it is cheap but not as cheap as BART, the disadvantage is it can take up to an hour.