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San Francisco Public Transportation

cable car

San Francisco public transportation is famous the world over. Who hasn't heard of the historic cable cars that run up and down the hills? The sheer amount of options available makes it easy to get where you need to go. Along with the trolleys, there are several other modes of transit you can use to get around.

Cable Cars and Buses

The entire public transit system is known as Muni, short for Municipal Railway. It includes the following:

  • Cable Cars - This trolley system gets its name from the fact that they are actually attached to cables that run underneath the road and move at seven miles per hour. A pulley system, which is operated by each car's driver, keeps the cars on track and slows them down as needed. One of the best parts of taking the cable cars is watching the manual turnaround near Fisherman's Wharf. The operators literally turn the cars by rotating a disc at street level.
  • Trolley Buses - If you would like a less touristy option, consider these electric trams that run thanks to overhead wires.
  • Historic Streetcars - While some streetcars are modern and sleek, these are decorated to look as they did in an era gone by. They are similar to light rail trains you may find in other cities. If you'd like an extended photo op, they are available for charters of at least two hours.
  • Buses - The gas-powered bus system is fairly extensive. You can tell which route a bus is on by looking at the LED display on the front and sides of the bus.

BART and CalTrain

While not officially part of Muni, BART, or Bay Area Rapid Transit, is an important way to get around the city, and also to reach outlying areas in the East Bay including nearby Oakland and Berkeley. This subway system is a good choice for getting to and from the Oakland and San Francisco airports. CalTrain travels south, taking you from San Francisco to Silicon Valley.

Navigating San Francisco Public Transportation

You may find yourself confused by all the options available to you, but it gets simpler the longer you're in the city. To get started, you can find your location on one of the Muni system maps. In most cases, you can buy tickets to San Francisco public transportation as you board. The exception to this is BART, which has ticket kiosks in the stations. However, if you don't have exact change, you're better off getting tickets ahead of time.

If you're simply visiting the city, your best option may be to buy a Muni Passport, which covers all Muni travel for the entire day. If you're staying for a week, consider a San Francisco CityPass, which will get you where you need to go for seven consecutive days. It can also save you money on some of the more popular attractions. You can buy these passes at cable car turnarounds, and you may be able to purchase them at your hotel.

Public Transportation Safety

Like any major city, San Francisco has its share of crime. It's important to keep an eye on your belongings when using public transportation. Be wary of people offering you directions that are not official MUNI employees. They may expect payment in return for their assistance.

San Francisco Public Transportation