We have VT members who are geniuses at spelling out metro transit procedures. I am not one of them. Thankfully, the SF MUNI system has an excellent website that will tell you virtually anything you need to know. Here are a couple of general tips to get you started:
• A MUNI ticket or pass book covers rides on buses, cable cars, subways, trams and streetcars within the system but not BART or ferries.
• You can buy a good map of the system for $3 at major stations and bookstores
• A single-ride ticket runs $2 (at time of this writing) for just about everything but cable cars - those are $6
• If you are in town for more than a day or two and plan to use the system at lot, a pass is recommended. They come in 1-day (usually not worth the price), 3-day and 7-day amounts and you must use multi-day passes on consecutive days. These cover you for unlimited rides on ANY mode of transport in the MUNI system (not BART or ferries.) With a pass, you don't need to worry about transfers (see below) or an additional cost for cable cars.
• If using a single-ride ticket, you may transfer to other buses or trams (not cable cars) as needed within a 90-minute period. Always request a transfer when you board a bus or streetcar as it's also proof that you paid your ticket so it's important to have one for random checks. When entering subways, your transfer will be automatically dispensed at the faregate once you insert your ticket - don't forget to take it!!
• The F-line streetcars are your friend. They run at frequent intervals along Market and Embarcadero streets from The Castro to Fisherman's Wharf with lots of stops along the way.
• Cable cars and F-line streetcars fill quickly at peak times of the day. If you're waiting at a stop and the one you want blows right by, it's full. Just wait for the next one or walk to a stop further up the line.
• Cable cars only cover a limited part of the city. To explore many of the neighborhoods, you will need to take a bus, tram, subway, streetcar or combination of transport.
• Not all MUNI lines run 24/7 so be sure to check operating hours
So, take a look at the website and post any questions you may have in the San Francisco forum - one of us will get an answer to you. I used my pass only when needing to get from point A to point B in a hurry, or when I couldn't walk one more step!
In the 1990s, during the start of the major refurbishment of the city, San Francisco re-opened old streetcar lines along Market St and the Embarcadero. The lines use a mixture of old streetcars from around the world, including some of San Francisco's old ones. Both streets are long and can have long intervals between plcaes to stop, especially the Embarcadero, the old waterfront street along the Piers. Thus, these streetcars can be not only a fun experience, but useful, too, after a day of walking. The foot of Market St. is essentially at the Embarcadero in front of the Ferry Building, so the two lines essentially come together there.
I should note that this is part of the Muni system, but is specifically the restored lines with old streetcars running on these two streets only. Also, as I noted on my general Muni tip, Muni is more expensive, and less efficient and frequent, than it should be and unfortunately, as of about 2011, they stopped providing free Muni transfer to those with ferry boat tickets. Hopefully, that will resume at some point.
San Francisco has several public transit systems that interconnect. I deal with these in separate tips but they include the buses and trolleybuses, the old streetcars on Market St and The Embarcadero, the Cable Cars from Market up to the piers near Fisherman's Wharf, and the light rail of the Muni, which I discuss here. In addition, these tie into the BART underground/metro/subway system that connects to other cities, but that is a separate system. These often have connecting stations at the same spots, primarily downtown along Market St.
The Muni trains are light rail trains that are underground downtown but further afield are mostly above-level streetcars with tracks either in the streets, as in the Richmond District, or separated out next to the streets, as down by Stonestown mall and San Francisco State University. One can get a ticket for a certain amount of time at the stations downtown, which one must do before getting on. However, in outer areas like the Richmond District, there is no gate to go through and one just gets on the train. One can get a ticket that is good for a certain amount of time, allowing one to ride the train repeatedly within that time frame.
A warning, though: do not try to avoid paying for a ticket even though it is physically possible in some areas to board a train and not pay for a ticket. The tickets are not expensive and there are police who board and patrol the trains and they penalize ticket-avoiders with a large fine. They also are vigilent. The last time I was on the N Judah Line, someone got on without paying and at a few stops down the line police were there to inspect. He jumped off but got caught.
Anyway, the system works pretty well and can be a nice way to ride out from downtown to other areas. Trains come fairly often, if not as frequently as in some cities in other countries which I have visited. I would note, however, that the Muni is not as efficient as it could, or should, be, and it is also rather expensive compared to public transit in a number of other places. Recently, and very annoyingly, they have also stopped provided free Muni transfers for those travelling to the city by ferryboat, which was very nice.
To get from Union Square to the wharf area I quickly found out that going to the start of Powell Street and catching a tram was the quickest and cheapest and what the locals use to do it. Though it avoids the hills and thus some of the scenery it's quicker and more efficient.
The picture isn't exactly the type of trams I caught; for some reason I never took a shot of one but this is similar and is another alternative, more for getting out in the suburbs.
There is a whole fleet of these cute trolleys in San Francisco. They run from Jefferson/Jones at Fisherman`s Wharf to Castro Street terminal in Castro District. It is called the F line.
ADVICE: Have your fare or valid transfer ready before boarding. Always ask for a transfer on all Muni lines except cable cars, even if you do not plan to transfer to another vehicle. Transfers are issued on request at the time the fare is paid.
Adults pay $2 (or Muni FastPass, Passport, token, transfer).
Youth streetcar fare (ages 5-17, valid ID required) is 50¢ (or Muni FastPass, Passport, token, transfer).
Senior streetcar fare (ages 65+, valid ID required) is 50¢ (or Muni FastPass, Passport, token, transfer).
Disabled streetcar fare (valid ID required) is 50¢ (or Muni FastPass, Passport, token or transfer or monthly sticker affixed to a valid Regional Transit Discount Card).
Children under 5 ride free.
Called Museum In Motion, they are from all over the world: Italy, England, Russia, Australia, Germany, Portugal, Japan and many US states. Quite an eclectic mix. Currently, there are 44 streetcars on the road.
San Francisco prides itself on its density, a fact that has also given rise to congestion problems on its relativly narrow, hilly streets. Like the great European cities it emulates in physical character, however, San Francisco has developed an efficient and extensive public transportation network utilising rail, buses, trolleybuses (buses using overhead electric wires), streetcars, ferries, and, of course, the famous cable cars. The main agency of concern is the San Francisco Municipal Railway, known locally as MUNI, operating the cable cars, buses, and trolleybuses within the city of San Francisco. It also runs several light rail lines (distinguised by letter) on surface routes radiating from the Duboce Triangle area, where they merge into a tunnel under Market Street. These light rail lines are known as MUNI Metro. One Metro line emerges from the foot of Market Street near the Ferry Building and serves the southern portion of Embarcadero, the waterfront boulevard, past the new PacBell Ballpark to the CalTrain station. MUNI Metro is primarily useful for visiting areas away from th central (northeastern) portion of the city, specifically to the south and west. Apart from MUNI Metro, the F Market line runs historic streetcars purchased from around the world on a surface line along Market Street between the Castro District and the Ferry Building, and then along the northern portion of The Embarcadero to Fisherman's Wharf. Use of any portion of the MUNI system to any location cost $1 (excluding cable cars) and you will recieve a transfer ticket good for a certain number of hours that day. Note the ticket does not apply to cable cars. For more information on the cable cars, see the cable car section above. Because of the traffic and parking situation in San Francisco and the unfamiliarity with the hilly and sometimes dangerous trrain, I recommend that for one's own safety and lack of frustration, the traveller to San Francisco thoroughlly utilise the public transportation options available to him or her.
I thought the F line streetcar line was just as cool as the cable cars, they use more than 30 authentic streetcars, trams, and trolleys from around the world, some dating back to the 1890s. These electric streetcars run for 6 miles, from Fisherman's Wharf along the Embarcadero to Market Street, going through Union Square, Civic Center, the Mission District and terminating in The Castro.
The F line is also included on the MUNI pass.
For a little more on the history of San Francisco's streetcars click here
We ended up using the bus quite a bit on this trip as the things we wanted to see were very spread out, according to the website below you can ride the bus and then transfer to any other Muni vehicle except for a cable car within a 90 minute to 2 hour time frame, in reality they were giving us transfers valid for 3-4 hours from our initial ride so we could use them round trip for most of the places we went. The fare was $2 per ride including the transfer, you need to have exact change and you pay on the bus, you can pay with dollar bills as well as coins. You can also use a MUNI pass for the bus.
Most of the bus stops had a small shelter with an electronic screen stating when the next buses were due, although they were never right, I'm guessing it was based on when they should be there. Some of the bus stops were just marked on poles. You can get transit maps at most hotels or they come in most of the free San Francisco guides.
The easiest way to get to the Mission/Castro district from our hotel at Union Square was to ride on board one of the historic F line streetcars. These are part of the regular San Francisco Muni (Municipal Transportation Agency) system, and therefore tickets only cost $2 (cash and Muni passes are accepted). The F line runs along Market Street, and the historic streetcars have been brought to San Francisco from all over the US, with some even coming from as far as Europe, Australia and Japan. To visit Mission Dolores, you can get off at the 14th and Church Station; otherwise, the line ends a few steps away from the Castro Theatre. It's yet another unusual and fun way to travel around San Francisco!
For a long time after the demise of the 19th century trolley and cable car rail transit systems, the Richmond and Sunset Districts were poorly serviced by MUNI, having only electrified buses, or worse, smoke belching diesel buses plying streets and avenues. Now, however, MUNI has become more committed to putting rapid and clean electric train lines to all edges of the city. The N Judah Line is fairly recent but very popular because it runs a J shaped route beginning at the CalTRain Depot at the foot of Potrero Hill in SOMA, where diesel-electric commuter trains connect the city to the Silicon Valley and San Jose tech factories. From there it stays above ground as it passes Mission Bay, the Giants ballpark, and SOMA, until it meanders right under the Bay Bridge and along the Embarcadero, providing the best bay views possible from any Muni train. Then, at the hook back inland, the train goes underground along Market Street, sharing stops with other Muni trains at the Embarcadero, Mongomery, Powell, and Civic Center BART stations before reaching its only underground MUNI only station at Van Ness Avenue. Traveling west, the train surfaces briefly along Duboce Street, before entering and speeding through the rather substantial Sunset Tunnel. Orginally built in 1928 for conventional trolley cars, the restored Sunset Tunnel connects the Duboce Triangle Neighborhood on the east with Cole Valley on the west, eliminating the need to climb the hill at Buena Vista Park. The N Judah Train exits the Sunset Tunnel to travel along Carl, Arguello, and Irving Streets, but at 9th street the route sharply zigzags to Judah, and then from their dead heads west through the Sunset district to La Playa. The N Judah is the easiest Muni Train to take for visiting Golden Gate Park from Downtown and SOMA. Get off at the zag at 9th and Irving Street, which is centered in the vibrant Inner Sunset, a commercial district of restaurants and bars. Then walk north two blocks, and you'll enter Golden Gate Park right at the center, very close to where the DeYoung Museum, Academy of Sciences, Japanese Tea Garden, and other attractions are located. Wikipedia reports that the N Judah is the busiest of MUNI's trainline, and this is evident by the crowd of young workers who take this train from Sunset to downtown, but also because the train passes right by the UCSF medical complex. This rail line is like all Muni a light rail system in that it travels mostly below ground near downtown, but within the Sunset District it travels along open avenues, with stops that may be little more than a sign and bench on the curb.
The Richmond District offers some of the best off-the-beaten path tourism in the city, but mostly because MUNI doesn't yet run a train line into the district. However, there are a number of good fast buses running between downtown and the outter Richmond. Prime among these is the #38AX, which runs along Geary, beginning at Bush & Van Ness, and terminating at the Cliff House. It has few stops, and commuters may will expect visitors to get on/off quickly. Paralleling this along Balboa Avenue is the #31AX, which is also pretty fast. More of a milk run from downtown into the Richmond District are buses #1 and #2, both of which provide good access to the Presidio and the California Palace of the Legion of Honor. These lines zigzag their way from downtown and within the Richmond District a bit. The #2 bus, for example, goes from Market street and over the hill along Sutter Street, zigzaging at Presidio (where transfer to bus #43 can lead to into the park itself) to continue west on California, then zigzags again at Arguello to continue west on Clement Street through the outstanding business district. Although these electrical buses may have a lot of stops, Japan Town, Presidio, Clement Street neighborhood, Palace of the Legion of Honor, and Cliff House, make these valuable transportation links. Make sure you have $1.50 in exact change, as neither the drivers nor machines provide change. Also, always ask for a MUNI transfer to allow a switch from train to bus and back again within a two hour period without additional fare.
The MUNI train, antique trolley, and cable car system only service a fraction of San Francisco, unfortunately, so the electric bus is the best alternative, and not really a bad one. For example, to get to the famed Haight-Ashbury intersection, one can walk up the rather steep climb of Haight Street, through the Lower Haight neighborhood, and past Buena Vista Park, or one can take the MUNI bus. We often like to walk, but through the Haight Street corridor, MUNI buses #6 and #7 run frequently enough for a visitor to get up and back from the Haight within an hour or so from the Civic Center Plaza area. The restored housing is certainly worth the work-out of walking.
Muni is a extensive and comprehensive local transportation system, I'd say one of the best in the nation. The ticket costs $1.50 a single trip, and valid for 90 minutes, unlimited tranfers. Ticket can be purchsed on the buses (coins / 1-dollar bills only) or vending machines at subway stations. Remember, these tickets are valid for Muni system only, they can't be used on BART or cable cars. I encourage people (tourists) to use this public transport sys, since it's convenient, safe, reliable, great bargain, and you don't have to deal with harder-than-finding-a-needle-in-the-haystack parking spaces!!
The San Francisco Municipal Railway, locally known as "Muni," operates a public transit network of buses, streetcars, and cable cars throughout the city of San Francisco. The adult fare on buses and streetcars is $1.50, with a free transfer that's good for 90 minutes.
The cable cars (which city residents really used as a means of transportation back in my student days) are, sadly, mainly a tourist attraction now. Tickets are $5 one way, and there are incredibly long lines at the Powell and Market Street turntable.
San Francisco is a compact city, and the downtown area can easily be covered on foot.
For those of you who are doing San Francisco on foot the Golden Gate Bridge is the one tourist stop thats a stretch to do on foot. The best and cheapest way to get to the bridge is by bus, its a total of $3.00 round trip and takes about 45 minutes. The easiest way to do it is to take the #30 bus from the bus stop at Stockton and Sutter St. When you board the bus be sure to tell the driver your going to the Golden Gate Bridge and get a transfer ticket. You want to get off on Chestnut Ave. and then go to the bus stop on Chestnut and Laguna and wait for the #28 Daly City bus. This bus will drop you off in front of the Golden Gate Bridge. To get back from the Bridge take the #28 Fort Mason bus from the same spot where you were dropped off. This will take you back to Laguna and Chestnut and then you catch the #30 back into town. It may sound difficult but believe me when I say its very easy and efficient and by the way did I mention it only costs $3.00 round trip? There is always a bunch of tourists so you will have company in case you get confused...don't be afraid to ask for help!