San Francisco Public Transportation: Complete Guide (2019)

The long, curvy streets and steep hills of San Francisco pose a threat to those hoping to get around on foot. A car isn’t the best choice either – traffic is terrible and you might just rip your hair out trying to find parking in the city. Luckily, there is an abundance of San Francisco public transportation (and non-public) options. This beautiful city offers streetcars, cable cars, a rapid train, ferries, shuttles, and other unique transportation services.

Getting around can become confusing with so much to choose from. This guide will share all of the different options, prices, passes, free options, alternatives, and more. 

San Francisco Public Transportation Options

City Buses + Light Rail

You can always rely on city buses or light rail buses to take you anywhere. The regular San Francisco city buses are called Muni – you can find bus routes, fares, and maps on their website. The trip planner section makes it easy to plan out your route. There is also Muni Metro light rail buses. 

Golden Gate Transit 

In addition to Muni, Golden Gate transit is another San Francisco public transportation system. It provides bus and ferry services for the North Bay (Marin County and Sonoma County, north of the Golden Gate). Within the city, their buses run from downtown SF to the Golden Gate Bridge.

Cable Cars

San Francisco Public Transportation guide

Cable cars are an iconic and exciting way to get around the city. These views from these cars are some of the most beautiful in the US!

Although the F-line can get crowded, you have to ride these antique cars at least once in your lifetime. To avoid long lines, you can try hopping on a couple blocks away from the starting point or ride them at night. The California line is also less crowded.

In addition to the regular streetcars that travel all over the city, San Francisco transit has a rail line with antique streetcars from other cities that runs from the Castro District to the Ferry Building and down the Embarcadero to Fisherman’s Wharf. 

Fare Prices:

Adult & Youth: $7.00

Senior/Disabled: $7.00 from 7 am – 9 pm, or $3.00 from 9 pm – 7 am.

B.A.R.T trains (Bay Area Rapid Transit)

BART is a public transit train system that runs through San Francisco, out to other cities in the East Bay, and down the Peninsula. The fare prices depend on the distance you’re traveling, and tickets can be purchased with cash or a credit card at the stations. If you already know your route, you can calculate your BART fare on their website. 

Make sure to purchase a ticket for this Bay Area transit – you need it to get on the train! You can also purchase an “A” Fast pass for unlimited rides on BART within San Francisco (including Embarcadero to Balboa Park stations). It also includes all Muni buses, trolleys, and cable cars. This costs $94 and can only be used with Clipper Cards, which is their transit card that costs an additional $3. 

BART isn’t the best choice when trying to get to tourist areas, but it’s great for the SFO, Mission Dolores, and the Mission District. 

Ferries

Some of the ferries are more of a sightseeing trip, but they can take you to some destinations across the water and entertain you at the same time. 

The two public ferries take Clipper Cards, but the private ones don’t. Also, the San Francisco transit passes don’t include ferries except for the SF City Pass, which includes a ride on the Blue and Gold ferries. 

  • SF Bay Ferry – Goes to East Bay towns (including Oakland, Richmond, and Vallejo). It leaves from Pier 41 and the Ferry Building. Since this ferry is public transportation, it takes Clipper Cards. They also offer ferries to Oracle Park when the SF Giants are playing home games. 
  • Golden Gate Ferry – Goes to Marin County towns (including Sausalito, Larkspur and Tiburon, and Angel Island). This is also considered public transportation, so it takes Clipper Cards. Leaves from the Ferry Building.
  • Blue and Gold Ferry – Private ferry from Pier 41 that goes to Sausalito, Tiburon, and Angel Island. They also offer bay cruises and tours. 
  • Alcatraz Cruises This private ferry is the only one that actually goes to the Alcatraz island for tours – the others just pass by it. A reservation is needed for this ferry, all of the others are first-come, first-served. They sell out quickly, so book in advance. 

PresidiGo Shuttles (Free)!

This free San Francisco transportation service is provided by the Presidio Trust, a federal agency associated with the National Park System. There are three shuttle routes available – Downtown, Crissy Field, and Presidio Hills.

The Downtown shuttle runs from downtown San Francisco out to Presidio, then connects with the two other shuttle routes. Buses run daily (every 30 minutes). The times vary depending on the route and day of the week. 

The Presidio Hills route will take you to Baker Beach, while the Crissy Fields route can take you to the Golden Gate bridge. The PresidiGo schedules share times and live bus maps for the three routes.

How Much is San Francisco Public Transportation?

One-Way Tickets

  • Adults: $3.00 (Clipper Card or MuniMobile: $2.50)
  • Seniors: $1.50 (Clipper Card or MuniMobile: $1.25)
  • Kids (5-18): $1.50 (Clipper Card or MuniMobile: $1.25)
  • Age 4 and under: free

SF Day Pass 

  • Everyone: $5 (cable cars not included)

SF Visitor Passports 

These passes are for Muni buses, trolleys & cable cars.

  • 1 day: $24 ($13 with MuniMobile or Clipper Card)
  • 3 days: $36 ($31 with MuniMobile or Clipper Card)
  • 7 days: $47 ($41 with MuniMobile or Clipper Card)

San Francisco CityPass

Adults: $94

Kids: $74 (ages 5–11)

Includes:

  • 3-day transit pass (unlimited travel on buses, trolleys and cable cars)
  • Admission to the Aquarium of the Bay (at Pier 39)
  • Admission to California Academy of Sciences 
  • One-hour cruise on SF Bay
  • Admission to either the Exploratorium or SF Museum of Modern Art.

Monthly Muni Pass

The San Francisco public transportation monthly passes are valid for Muni buses, trolleys & cable cars. 

  • Adult “M” Pass: $81 – Unlimited rides on SF Muni buses, trolleys, and cable cars
  • Adult “A” Pass: $98 – Unlimited rides on SF Muni buses, trolleys, cable cars & BART within SF
  • Discount Pass: $40 for disabled people, youth ages 5–18, and seniors 65+ – Unlimited rides on SF Muni buses, trolleys, and cable cars

Public Transportation Alternatives

san francisco public transportation – taxis

Taxis, Lyft, and Uber

You can always rely on good ol’ Uber and Lyft (or regular taxis) to get you where you need to go. Uber and Lyft are typically cheaper than regular taxis, but they can still add up. 

In the city, Lyft and Uber offer discounted “pool” rides that partner you with other riders going the same way. 

Side note: If you’re debating between a San Francisco airport shuttle versus Uber or Lyft, make sure to check Shuttlefare first to compare prices. 

Hop-On, Hop-Off Buses

There are two tour companies in San Francisco that offer Hop On Hop Off bus tours. The 1, 2, or 3-day passes let you explore most of the major attractions in the city. It’s great for first-time visitors who want to see everything the city has to offer. They include a city tour, plus a tour across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito. There is also a night tour of the city. 

Go Cars

These definitely aren’t as cheap as San Francisco public transportation, but they’re worth mentioning. These little yellow cars are a unique and exciting way to explore the city. They come with GPS guided tours that tell you where to go and interesting things about the sights you’re passing. 

You’re in complete control of the car and can go anywhere you’d like (aside from bridges and freeways). Plus, the tiny size makes them easy to park. 

Pedicabs

Pedicabs are available on the waterfront along the Embarcadero, from the Ferry Building to Fisherman’s Wharf. They will take people on rides to Chinatown, North Beach, AT&T Park and Union Square. These cost $20 per mile for 2 people.

Water taxis 

These little boats run between the Ferry Building, at Pier 1.5, to the end of Fisherman’s Wharf at the Hyde Street Pier. They operate from 10:30 am to 6 pm – it’s about a half-hour journey. Tickets cost $10 for adults, $5 for kids (5-17), and are free for kids under 5. 

Moped + Electric Scooter Sharing

Scoot offers a new moped sharing service (they also have electric scooters). With hour-long rides that cost under $10, it’s an extremely convenient way to get around the city. The company also offers electric scooters for rent. If you’re a low-income household, you can qualify for their discounted ride prices. 

San Francisco recently allowed electric scooter sharing platforms to return after banning them! These allow you to transport San Francisco quickly and with ease. 

san francisco public transportation

Bike Sharing

Bikes are a big deal in San Francisco. There are plenty of spots where you can rent regular bikes to get around. Not only are they inexpensive, but you’ll get a great workout in!  

Flying into SFO 

Before we finish up, we had to mention airport transportation. This is often the most expensive ride you’ll buy! 

If you don’t want to take public transportation trek from the airport, consider an SFO shuttle. They’re more comfortable than a small Lyft or Uber, especially if you’re traveling with multiple people and luggage. Our shuttles from SFO start at $17 and can take you to any nearby areas. We compare prices for multiple shuttles to provide you with the best. 

When in need of parking at SFO we highly recommend a site like Instapark which will provide you all the options available to you at SFO.

 Overall, there are so many San Francisco public transportation options to take advantage of. You won’t even miss your car. You’ll save money, see beautiful tourist destinations, and get to your destination quickly!

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