San Francisco is a fantastic city full of amazing sites and attractions but getting around San Francisco without a car can seem a bit of a challenge. However, there are extensive public transport options so you should have no real issues. Read our guide on how to get around San Francisco and you should have no problems at all getting anywhere you may want to go to in the city.
San Francisco is not a large City. As such much of your adventures around the City can be covered on foot. The main area of the city is nestled on top of the San Francisco peninsula. This has a landmass of only 7×7 miles. Of course, 49 Square Miles is still a vast area to cover on foot, However, most of the points of interest are concentrated in a much smaller area. With large parts of the peninsular for residential purposes mainly.
While it is often advantageous to use one of the following options at least some of the time, Walking is often the quickest method to get between a lot of locations, By the time you have worked out the best option, got to the bus stop, or hailed a cab you could simply have just walked there.
We often find heading out on foot, to begin with then getting transport back works very well, or the other way round for that matter. Walking gets you into the spirit of San Francisco and you see a lot of great things at eye level.
Of course, San Francisco’s world-famous hills are not to be sniffed at though. Some streets are very steep and walking these can be quite a workout. This should be factored into any journey you make on foot.
San Francisco’s world-famous Cable Cars are a fantastic attraction and great fun to ride. However, they are not the most functional forms of transport. While the trip across town is quite short and direct the issue lies in the 1hr+ (on a quiet day) queue to get the Car.
We read a lot about getting a Cable Car from a couple of stops down where there will be next to no queue. This is frankly terrible advice. Forget it. Why? Well, when the queues at the terminal stations are 1hr+ Cables Cars don’t leave the stations unless they are full. Not many people queue 1hr+ to go one or two stops (that would take 5mins to walk) so by the time the Cable car gets to the first few stops it’s still full and will not stop to pick up passengers. This is born out by the forlorn looks on people’s faces as they stand at these stops arms out as the cars drive by.
The only real way to Ride the cars without queueing is either to just ride from around halfway, which is hardly great value for your $8, or beat the queues by getting the first few rides of the day. Queues are often much smaller in the early morning.
Maybe a local on their own may get lucky and snag a ride but really it’s a fool’s errand. Should you be halfway along a route sure you may be able to catch a ride, but near a terminal stop, it’s highly unlikely. So you need to either queue or take an alternative.
Fortunately, there are many options.
Pricing is steep at $8 for a single ride, but well worth it for a fun ride. However, all cable and streetcars are included in the MUNI day and week passes which are far more reasonable see below for a more detailed guide to the MUNI system.
Bus – MUNI
The San Francisco MUNI is the primary transport network around the peninsular. It is a network of Buses, Street Cars, Cable Cars, and Light Rail. the coverage of the city is comprehensive and prices are quite cheap. We find it easily the best method for getting around the city. Especially when combined with a good dose of walking.
You will find this is how most locals go about their journeys and will be sharing the buses with many locals.
Due to the extensive coverage the bus maps can be a little confusing however with a little thought you can quickly and easily identify which route you need and where to get the transport from the SFMTA website has a constantly up to date map and any information you may need.
The map is a downloadable PDF so you can download it to your phone before your trip so you can bring it up quickly when you need it, rather than hunt around for a bus stop with a map.
Fares are reasonable. A single trip costs just $2.50-$3.00 Alternatively, you can buy visitor passports. These allow unlimited travel on all MUNI routes including Cable Cars and historic streetcars.
- 1 Day – $24.00
- 3 Day – $36.00
- 7 Day – $47.00
If you use MUNIMobile these Prices are Slashed!
- 1 Day (without Trams) – $5.00
- 1 Day – $13.00
- 3 Day – $31.00
- 7 Day – $41.00
+$3 for a Clipper Card
Using the MUNIMobile is easily the cheapest option for getting around. While you can still get paper passports from many locations around the city But we see no reason to pay more when they are so much cheaper when Using the Clipper Card or MUNIMobile app, Muni wants you to use these, and as such, the pricing is designed to ensure you do. $13 for full days transport including Cable car Rides is staggering value when a single ride is $8!
You can also Buy a San Francisco City Pass which also includes a 7-day pass plus access to a number of top attractions. See the City Pass website for more details.
The BART system is the transport for the wider area and what you would need if you want to explore a little further. See the BART website for routes, maps, and Fares. It’s also the best way to and from the Airport. See below for more info.
As with all American Cities Taxi’s in San Francisco are readily available and reasonably cheap. But still, it’s going to be the most expensive mode of transport you will use. Assuming you don’t normally get about by helicopter. Taxis can be hailed from the street or you can get your hotel to call you a cab. It’s all very quick and efficient however you will be paying for this convenience.
- Example Fair: Fisherman’s Wharf – Union Square $19 in normal traffic.
Traffic in San Francisco is normally Fairly light by US City Standards, but can obviously grind to a halt at busy times. as the City lacks any sort of Subway System (Apart from the BART) you are really at the mercy of the traffic whatever transport you choose.
We tend to limit Taxis to evenings when we just want to quickly get to and from an evening out the cost is easily absorbed into the night’s cost.
Uber / Lyft
Uber was founded in Silicon Valley and has its headquarters in San Francisco so it’s unsurprising to find a large Uber Presence. And Lyft one of Uber’s Rivals also has a large representation in San Francisco.
The Ridesharing Apps are almost always cheaper than hailing a cab, however, we feel you should be used to using them. A new city is not the place to be experimenting with new Tech. But if you are comfortable and happy using the apps then jump right in as San Francisco is very well served.
- Example Fair: Fisherman’s Wharf – Union Square $12 in normal traffic.
It is in no way required to have a car in San Francisco, but of course, a lot of people do like the convenience of having a hire car. Also if leaving the peninsular either as day trips or part of a road trip, having a car is very useful.
Traffic is not as severe as in other cities so a car is certainly a very practical option. However as the city is rather compact parking can be an issue, hard to come by and expensive. That said the convenience of being in charge of your transport is a big plus. Really though a car is only needed to see things away from the main parts of the city.
When we use San Francisco as a launchpad for a road trip (a very good place to start!) we tend to leave the car at the airport and see the city without a car, before heading back to the airport and starting our road trip from there.
San Francisco is served by all major car hire firms that you would expect from a major US city.
Getting To And From The Airport?
Getting to and from the Airport is relatively painless without a car. You have a number of options from Shuttle Bus, Taxi, or train (BART). All are quite quick and not too expensive. Read our guide on getting to and from the Airport.
Have Your Say
Feel free to comment below if you would like any help on getting Between any particular points in the city. We are happy to give advice on any specific routes. As always if you have any other comments or questions please feel free to comment below. We would love to hear from you.