Unlike other amercian cities a car is not the best transportation means in San Francisco. Therefore the public transport is excellent.
They have a very modern subway system called BART (Bay Area Rapid Transport) which connects also with surrounding cities in the Bay Area.
Another public transport system with buses and metros is the MUNI (Municipal railway) which brings you to all major sightseeing spots.
A sightseeing spot of itself is the Cable Car with it's historical waggons. This transport system was invented, when people looked for safer transport than the horse-drawn coaches. The steep hills were too dangerous for them. So they implemented a constantly rotating cable in a slot of the street-surface. The operators of the Cable Cars connect their car with this cable to be pulled by it.
The Cable Cars have been replaced by buses and stopped operating completely in 1982 until three lines were reinstalled in 1984.
There is also a CableCar-Museum at 1201 Mason Street. The admission is free.
Finding a cheaper room outside the city but close to a BART station is budget wise. Even so, BART is a bit expensive and not comprehensive enough for traveling within the city of SF itself. The Muni system itself can run up expenses if a good route isn't used in the city. Coming from the East Bay, take BART to the Embarcadero Station. From there, the healthy walker can easily walk to the Ferry Building for Bay Cruises, or continue on through the Financial District to Chinatown or Union Square. Last week, my Venezuelan niece and I had coffee and pastry at the Ferry Building weekend marketplace, and then meandered our way past mostly empty skyscrapers, walking along the tranquil Embarcadero Plaza Shopping area on the 3rd floor terrace level. We lunched in Chinatown, and climbed the grade of Nob Hill. later arriving at the Cable Car barn. We had skipped paying high prices for the Cable Car ride from the foot of Powell Street, but caught the Cable Car at the top of the hill for a FREE thrill ride back down to Market Street. From there, we plugged quarters for a $1.50 Muni transfer tricket. The Castro district is worth a walk around, window shopping and peering into the gay lives of the city. It's easy to walk east along 16th street in search of the Latino district of the city, until reaching the venerable Mission Dolores. Walking further along 16th to near the corner of Valencia, we took coffee and Creme de Catalan desert at a Spanish restaurant there. We then back tracked along 16th using a Muni electric bus, which at that time of the day was standing room only. At Church and Market, one can easily catch the antique trolley car back down to the Embarcadero, completing a one day visit of the city on a variety of transportation options. The Muni transfers have expiration hours on them, and you may run out of time; however, in the Mission district, at the corner of Mission and 16th, guys hang out and illegally sell transfers for $1- each. Watch your back for arresting officers though the transfers may be a good deal.
If you're planning on seeing more of the Bay Area than just the City by public transportation, then the only thing you need to know is this - 511.org. This is your one-stop shop for the meriad of transportation systems that operate in the area. It contains info, schedules, and links to every transit system in the region.
Particularly useful is the page where you input your location and destination, and it tells you which bus/train/ boat to take, when to take it, and how much it'll cost. This is a lifesaver if you're going to be travelling at odd times (like Sunday morning, when BART schedules are spotty).
If there is one thing San Franciscans love to do, it's talk about San Francisco. They love to talk about the history and the old haunts and what their favorite restaurants are and how to get around. And they will be happy... no THRILLED... to answer any questions you have about virtually anything to do with the City.
Sometimes it can be a little disconcerting... an open map is considered by San Franciscans to be an open invitation to jump in and give their opinions! Let them, and you'll make friends!
However, AND THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT, there is one group of folks whom you should NEVER ask for directions... and that is bus drivers! They are notoriously short with tourists, often give wrong directions (either unintentionally or on purpose), and sometimes speak such poor English that they can be impossible to understand.
Now, if I was a bus driver - and THANK GOD I'm not - I'd get pretty fed up, too. I remember one driver on the F-Market line who put a huge sign over the fare box that said "THIS BUS GOES TO FISHERMAN'S WHARF!!!" Guess what nearly every tourist asked when they got on the train?
Bus drivers have enough to deal with - with fare evaders, crazy drivers and cyclists and pedestrians, and the insane who ride the bus and insist on talking to them. Usually it's just at the moment when they get a little peace that some tourist asks them "How do we get to Market St.?" Honestly, you'd think some people had never ridden a bus before...
So, ask the person sitting next to you. You'll make a new friend.
Cars are just a pain in the arse to have in San Francisco. (read: no parking, cars get broken into often and the parking tickets, about $50.00 now, are written freely) While staying in the city, the public transportation and cabs is the much preferred method of transportation.
Cabs rides seem to generally be in the $7 to $12 dollar range wherever we go. We only use them late night, going to and from bars and clubs.
Busses and other public transportation cost $1 for about 90 minutes worth of usage – basically a one-way ride. Plus you get to see the characters of the city this way.
I loved to walk in San Francisco, the city is so beautiful that deserves to walk in many corners. The hills will be tough thought to going up and down for too long so here’s your alternatives when you want to save some energy:
1)renting a car in SF is stupid! There is huge traffic all the time, the parking spots are rare and if you find one you have to pay a lot. The only reason to rent a car is to go to Marin County which way out of the city anyway. Sometimes it’s better to rent a car just for the day, do your day trip and give it back. You will probably pay for parking near the hotel as much as the rental cost of the day!
2)using a taxi(pic 1) in SF is nice if you have a lot of time and money to spend because of the traffic
3)the BART train is useful only for the SF and Oakland airports or to visit the east side of the Bay (Oakland, Berkeley, Pittsburg etc). There are no BART stations at Golden Gate Bridge or at Fisherman’s Wharf so you won’t need it inside the city.
4)the beautiful Cable cars (pic 4-5) is a great way to see some areas but there are only 3 routes Powell>Mason and Powell>Hyde are the most famous but we tried also the one at California Street going through Nob Hill. The single ticket costs $5, too much I know, but you can use your CityPass and ride for free :)
5)The “Muni”, this will be your friend here, it’s the city’s bus and streetcar system. We used buses every day for every corner with no problem. There were many buses or trolley buses(pic 2) in almost every route and rarely we had to wait more than 5-6 minutes. The drives are very friendly and helpful. The bus stops were tricky though, some times it was just a yellow strip on a column (pic 3) with the number of the bus written on it!
The single ticket costs $1.50 and lasts 90 minutes (ask the driver for free transfer). If you plan to use MUNI many times (we did) it’s better to check the passes that give you unlimited rides on buses, cable cars(single ticket cost $5!), street cars, hybrid train etc There are 3 passes and you can find them at the airport or at central stations in SF:
1 day pass ($11)
3 day pass ($18)
7 day pass ($24)
Another good option is to buy the City Pass for $59 which also gives you free ride for 7 consecutive days. It costs more because it includes free entrance to several attractions that you want to see anyway like:Aquarium Of The Bay, Blue & Gold Fleet Bay Cruise, SF Museum of Modern Art, California Academy of Science, Exploratorium, de Young and Legion of Honor Museum. We visited all of them so saved a lot of money. We bought it outside the Powel Street Station at the SFO visitors bureau center. Go there first anyway to get city maps and any other info you need about the city.
The trams (or trolley buses - sometimes called) was the most fun transport in and around the city. But the buses was sometimes more convenient, depending where you got on and off.
We found a long queue at times from the Quay up to town so caught a bus back.
We bought an in inclusive pass for 3 days which was not expensive at all - sorry do not remember how much.
My wife and I were in San Francisco last November and purchased the 3 day Muni Passport for $20 each. The 1 day passport is $13. The passport allows you to ride not only the Cable Cars (which are $5 for each ride), but also any buses, trolleys or light rail in San Francisco. With those options you can literally ride anywhere in town. Even for 2 days the 3 day is the best value.
Everything you will want to see in San Francisco is accessible by any of those transportation methods. The only exception is that BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) which runs between San Francisco and the Airport and San Francisco and a number of suburbs of San Francisco is not included with the Muni Passport.
We picked up our Passport at the Visitors Center which is at the corner of Market and Powell. You can purchase the tickets at a kiosk right across the street from where the cable car turns around.
The cable cars stop at almost every corner and the cable car drivers will announce what is coming up at each stop. You can also pick up a cable car map when you buy your Passport.
The Muni Passport comes in 1, 3, and 7 day varieties and covers your fees on all Muni lines, street cars, and cable cars for unlimited rides during those days. The 3-day cost my wife and me $18 each and paid for itself within the first day. Basically, it will cover everything but cabs and BART.
SF is a small city, but with daunting hills and little parking. The bus/metro (MUNI) can get your most anywhere, if you have the little extra time. Calling 637-MUNI gets you "here to there" directions and nextbus.com even has real-time coverage of some routes. There are a variety of ways to pay (per ride $1.50) or getting a 1-, 3-, 7-day unlimited pass, or even montly. Check out the muni website below. Be aware that rush hour on some routes can be busy, and as always, there are lines for the Cable Car ($5) - there is a discount if you have an extended pass for the cable car. Not all lines are the cleanest, but generally it's safe. There are a lot of FUN walking tours however for those who can make it. My favorite is the comedian- led walking tour - foottours.com.
SF isn't a car town. I called my car "my baby" and gave it a name (Mr. Put Put) before I moved here, and now I NEVER drive it. However, SF doesn't have a fabulous public transportation system either. Although, maybe I'm spoiled cuz I'm comparing to other major metro areas... not counting LA because I just don't go there.
SF is a non-car city for residents , but, see, no one lives on the golden gate bridge, the curvy part of Lombard st or Fisherman's wharf. ....Ok, actually I guess people do live on Lombard st, but they are so rich they are more like Uper-People.
Bart : For a subway, Bart's pretty comfy. Which is great for the, like, 6 stops it makes in the city. It's a commuter train, so it just doesn't really go anywhere.
Muni Trains : Goes slightly more places than BART
buses : They go basically everywhere. But be warned about some lines. My friend used to take the one which goes through the TL and saw people fight, pee, throw up, carry live chickens etc. on the bus.
Foot SF is the reason I have giant calves
Bikes This is what the locals do, but may not be convenient for people flying here.
Cars Still probably the best option for tourists as far as convenience in going to see all the sites. (You can't take the train to the golden gate bridge, and the bus will get you there in about 2 days). Just be prepared to give your first born child to the department of transportation for parking. A better option might be to use public transportation, and then see if your hotel offers shuttles, or buy a one-day tour of the touristy sites.
Trolleys Trolleys go to the pretty places in the city, so lots this might be convenient for tourists. The best, though, is the Embarcadero trolley at rush hour: you'll see these dignified old commuters with their nice suits and leather breifcases get on the croweded trolley and hang off the outside, clinging for dear life to a pole --- like they're on a train in an movie about old-timey India. Hilarious.
San Fran has a network of buses,cable cars and Subways. It's best to get a map of these systems, know the fares, have a transit pass, etc. This will help you get around without having to take a cab as much to save $. If you aren't familiar it can be generally confusing, so figure it all out before hand.
I usually use google to guide me when I have a car in San Francisco. Without a car however, I had to find another means to determine the best way to go to a place, whether it's walking, using the MUNI, BART or any other transportation means.
If you have a smartphone, either Iphone, Blackberry or an Android (which was the one I have), download the hopstop application. It will allow you to use your phone to get the directions when Wifi is available and let's you save the results in your smartphone allowing you to view it even if the Wifi connection is no longer available. A map of the route is even included. I find it very helpful and quite accurate even on the bus and subway schedules. Don't get lost in San Francisco, download it now...
SFO is less than 15 miles from the heart of San Francisco, but keep traffic in mind. it can turn a 20 minute drive into an hour and a half. You can also take the train (Amtrak) but it stop across the bay in Oakland and they shuttle you over. You could also fly into the Oakland Airport and take BART over.
The bus system is called MUNI and it's pretty efficient. If you want more of a subway experience, take BART (stands for Bay Area Rapid Transit), which will even take you across the bay. You can also take a cable car! They are NOT trollies. They really are CABLE cars, as they are pulled around the city by giant cables under ground. You can also walk. =)
The best way to get around downtown San Fran is by foot, subway (BART), trolley, or bus. You can even skateboard or bike if you're adventuresome - there are lots doing it.
If you're looking to get out of the city, rent a Mustang convertible and travel up the coast, north of the Bay Bridge, or down the peninsula. There are beautiful forests to the south and wine vineyards north.
(Picture: one of the many trolleys in San Francisco - they're not all red!)