Leave the car behind and enjoy the walk-on-walk-off freedom of sightseeing using San Francisco MUNI. Getting around San Francisco is easy on public transit.
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There is so much to do and see in San Francisco from iconic sights like the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz to cable cars, the Wharf, parks and gardens, museums, performing arts, major sports venues, parades, festivals, and even urban hiking trails. While these are fun and interesting things to do, getting to them can be a hassle with heavy traffic and scarce and expensive parking. Fortunately, the city’s transit system makes getting around San Francisco easier and less expensive.
These subjects are covered in this post:
- Which public transit routes to take to get to Golden Gate Park, Golden Gate Bridge, Palace of Fine Arts, Crissy Field, and the Golden Gate Promenade.
- Which Apps to use on your smartphone to pay fares, view transit maps, and track transit vehicles.
- Links to Muni’s San Francisco Transit Map and a Google map with the transit stops pinned.
- Using MuniMobile or Clipper Apps
- Fares, Muni Passport, and more ways to pay.
- Getting to San Francisco from San Francisco International Airport (SFO)
- Answers to questions like: Can you walk across the Golden Gate Bridge and which Cable Car line is best?
Why Take Public Transit?
Most people will arrive by air, and even though there are lots of things to do in San Francisco Airport, you’ll want to get out and see the city. San Francisco is a compact and densely populated city, so it is well covered with public transit. In addition to the popular cable cars and historic streetcars, there are 6 Muni Metro (light rail) lines and more than 60 bus routes. San Francisco’s public transit solves the twin problems of driving and parking in a very busy city.
Of course, taxis and ride share services are always an option, but I prefer public transit. It’s better for the planet, and I love both the walk-on-walk-off freedom and the ability to mix walking and riding. I see more, experience more, move about more freely, and get more exercise.
Getting to San Francisco’s Top Attractions on Public Transit
I’ll get to Apps and Maps and Fares and Ways to Pay shortly, but first, here are directions for taking public transit to Golden Gate Park, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Palace of Fine Arts, and Crissy Field in the Presidio.
Getting to Golden Gate Park on Public Transit
Golden Gate Park is huge and is packed with trails and gardens and world class sights. It’s home to the California Academy of Sciences, de Young Museum, the Japanese Tea Garden, the Conservatory of Flowers, and much more. It’s easy to get there on public transit and here are the two quickest, most direct options:
Getting to the Golden Gate Bridge on Public Transit
The Golden Gate Bridge is a stunning site in an already gorgeous location at the entrance to San Francisco Bay. Its southern footing is in Presidio National Park where it arches over historic Fort Point; its northern footing is next to Fort Baker in Marin County. Presidio National Park, Fort Point, and Fort Baker are all part of the Golden Gate National Park system.
The bridge is a great place to visit. You can walk and bike on or over it, and you can get below the bridge by following the trail to Fort Point and Crissy Field. Amazingly, it’s all free, except for parking. The small parking lot by the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center is not free and is often full — two more good reasons to take the bus.
Can you Walk Across the Golden Gate Bridge?
Yes you can, and walking across the Golden Gate Bridge is a great thing to do. The bridge is 1.7-miles (2.7 km) across (1-way). There is no public transit back, so unless you arrange a way to get back or continue on to the Sausalito Ferry Terminal, walking is the only way back. It’s a 3.4-mile (5.4 km) roundtrip.
If the fog rolls in, it can also get breezy and cold. On my last trek across the bridge, my granddaughter got really cold. Luckily, the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center had a really nice selection of jackets.
How to Take Public Transit to the Palace of Fine Arts, Crissy Field, and the Golden Gate Promenade
The Palace of Fine Arts is a restored faux Roman ruin in a beautifully landscaped setting. It’s a very popular San Francisco photo op, especially for wedding and graduation photos.
The Palace was built for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition — A World’s Fair, which celebrated the completion of the Panama Canal and symbolized San Francisco’s recovery from the 1906 earthquake.
Crissy Field was used as an airfield by the Presidio Army Base during World War’s I and II. After the base closed in 1994, the Presidio was reborn as Presidio National Park, and Crissy Field was restored to a pristine wetland with a wide, flat, waterfront trail running through it called the Golden Gate Promenade.
Here’s how to take public transit to the Palace of Fine Arts and/or the east end of Crissy Field and the Golden Gate Promenade:
San Francisco Transit Maps
San Francisco Muni Transit Map
The San Francisco Transit Map shows all transit options and routes for everything operated by SF Muni, including cable cars and streetcars. The map is viewable even on a smartphone’s tiny screen. You can also download a PDF copy.
Map with Transit Stops
The pins on the image below, show the locations of transit stops recommended here. Click to open the interactive Google map and zoom in to see more detail; click the pins for more information.
San Francisco Transit Apps: MuniMobile and Clipper
Armed with either the MuniMobile or Clipper app you can move around San Francisco with ease. Both apps have these features:
- work on all public transit options operated by San Francisco’s Muni system, including cable cars, street cars, buses, and Muni Metro (light rail)
- provide hassle-free payment
- provide cheaper fares (versus cash)
- work on both Apple and Android smartphones
- have features that allow you to discover routes and stops and to track transit vehicles
Which App is Best: MuniMobile or Clipper?
- MuniMobile is best if all your transit use is in San Francisco. It’s great for families because you can load multiple tickets/passes/passports on the same device. You can also load discounted tickets for seniors (65+ with I.D.). Youth (18 and younger) ride free on all Muni transit except cable cars.
- Clipper is best if you plan to take public transit beyond San Francisco because you can pay all of your fares with one device. It’s the all-in-one transit pass for the San Francisco Bay Area, and it works on all buses, ferries, light rail, BART, and Caltrain. The Clipper app can accommodate discounted fares for Seniors and Youth, but you need to apply for these discounts on the Clipper website.
Follow the Money
Both apps can be linked to Apple or Google Pay or to a credit/debit card, but the two apps work differently:
- With MuniMobile, you’re purchasing tickets/passes to use now or activate later when you’re ready to ride. Any of the payment methods can be used, and the tickets are in the app on your phone.
- With the Clipper App, you pay as you go and you can only pay fares with your phone if it’s setup to pay from Apple or Google Pay. The Clipper app is new and features are still being added and improved.
Clipper App vs Clipper Card
While the Clipper app is new, Clipper has been in use for several years in the form of a plastic card. The card is strictly for paying fares. It does not have the trip planning, and vehicle tracking capabilities of the apps.
You can purchase Clipper Cards (for $3) from machines in BART Stations and in some stores (Walgreens). Load money on the card with cash or with a debit or credit card or get a Clipper Account and set it up to autoload the card.
Fares, Muni Passport, and more Ways to Pay
Fares on San Francisco’s Muni System are cheaper when added to MuniMobile or Clipper. 1, 3, and 7-Day Visitor Passports are a lot cheaper when added to the MuniMobile App.
Youth Ride Free on Muni (except Cable Cars)
Beginning August 15, 2021, ALL youth (age 18 and under) ride free on all Muni transit except cable cars. There’s no application process or payment proof required. Youth just get on and ride. Will this last forever? Who knows? But it’s official Muni policy now.
Ways to Pay
Here are the ways to pay the fare when riding San Francisco’s Muni transit system. These options apply to the entire transit system, including buses, historic streetcars, cable cars, and Muni Metro (light rail).
- Cash: You can almost always use cash, but drivers on buses, streetcars, and Muni Metro (light rail) cannot make change. Take a transfer; it’s your proof of payment.
- MuniMobile App: Download the app to your smartphone and link it to a credit or debit card or to Apple or Google Pay. Purchase tickets and passes in advance or as you need them. The app accommodates discounted fares for seniors and youth, and it’s perfect for families because you can purchase and use multiple tickets and passes on the same device.
- Clipper App: Easily pay fares with your smartphone by downloading the Clipper app and linking it to Apple or Google pay. It can also link to and load cash and passes onto plastic Clipper Cards.
- Clipper Card: The plastic Clipper Card has been around for several years. Purchase the card for $3 and load it with cash or with a debit or credit card or setup a Clipper Account and set it up to autoload the card.
- Visitor Passport: There are 1, 3, and 7-day versions of the Visitor Passport and they provide unlimited rides on the entire Muni System, including cable cars. You can add the Visitor Passport to your MuniMobile App or Clipper App/Card or buy a paper version at Cable Car booths and some stores. The Clipper Card/App and paper versions cost more than MuniMobile (see Fares).
- CityPASS: This is an independent company which sells passes that combine discounted entry tickets to some attractions.
Purchase Paper Tickets, Passports, and More Online
This is a new service from SF Muni. If you want five or more items, you can order tickets/passports online and receive them by mail. Options include:
- 1, 3, and 7-Day Muni Passports ($24, $36, and $47 each)
- Cable Car Single Ride tickets ($8 each)
- Muni Transit Map 2019 version ($3)
How to get from San Francisco Airport (SFO) to San Francisco
San Francisco airport is 13-miles (21 km) south of the city. You can take a taxi or service like Lyft or Uber or you can take the BART Train. I take train because BART has a station at SFO; it’s convenient, fast, and cheap.
- Convenient: The SFO BART Station is connected to the International Terminal.
- Fast: BART runs on a dedicated track and doesn’t have to deal with heavy freeway traffic. The trains take 30-minutes from SFO to downtown San Francisco and they run about every 15-20 minutes.
- Cheap: The one-way fare is $10.
How to Take BART to San Francisco
Getting to the SFO BART Station: the station entrance is in International Terminal G. If you’re in the International Terminal, it’s an easy walk. If you’re in terminals 1, 2, or 3, walk or take the AirTrain to Terminal G. Look for the signs to AirTrain and/or BART.
How to pay the fare: get either the Clipper App or a Clipper Card:
- Clipper App: Download the app to your smartphone and follow the instructions. You’ll need to connect the app to Apple Pay or Google Pay
- Clipper Card: Purchase the Clipper card from a machine in the BART Station. The plastic card is $3; add money to the card with a credit/debit card or insert cash.
If your travels involve a layover at San Francisco Airport, there are several interesting things you can do in the airport. There’s an Aviation Museum, an observation deck called Sky Terrace, and a lot of art on exhibit. See our post about things to do on a San Francisco layover.
Which Cable Car Line is Best?
I love all three lines, but my favorite is the Powell-Hyde Line because it travels a bit further and goes higher up Nob and Russian Hills with more views and interesting sights. There’s often a crowd posing for photos at Hyde and Lombard; it’s the top of San Francisco’s crookedest street.
Tip 1: Ride early in the morning to avoid long lines and crowded cars.
Tip 2: The single ride cable car fare is $8 for everyone (except kids 4 and under) with no transfer or hop-on-hop-off privileges, but the 1-day Muni Visitor Passport is only $13 when purchased with the MuniMobile app. The passport is good all day on cable cars, streetcars, Muni Metro, and buses.
San Francisco Transit Center Sales Force Park
If your travels on public transit happen to take you to the SF Transit Center, take time (or make time) to take the elevator or escalator to the 4th floor where you’ll find an incredible 5.4-acre park. It covers the entire roof of the nearly 4-block-long building. There are over 50 species of trees and 230 species of plants arranged in 11 small botanical gardens representing different parts of the world.
A 0.6-mile trail loops around the entire park. On the westside, the trail is parallel to a 1,200-foot-long granite fountain with 247 water jets that intermittently operate in sequence. It’s called the Bus Fountain because the dancing waters are driven by the movement of buses on the 3rd floor. The Transit Center website has a great downloadable SalesForce Park Garden Guide.
Is Public Transit a Good Option When Visiting San Francisco with Kids?
My grandkids enjoy taking public transit to, from, and in San Francisco. Typically, we take the ferry or BART train to the city. While we’re there, we ride historic streetcars, cable cars, buses, and Muni Metro (light rail). Then we take a ferry back home. They love it, and I do too.
Convenient Links to Additional Information
This post mentions several popular sights but does not include descriptions or details like purchasing tickets, operating hours, and current conditions. For these, it’s best to go straight to the source. The table below provides links to the sights and San Francisco transit websites.
|Links to Sights in this Post||Links for Transit Information|
|Golden Gate Park Map|
|San Francisco Muni System Map|
|Free Golden Gate Park Shuttle||San Francisco Muni (Transit System)|
|de Young Museum||Muni Fares & Passes|
|California Academy of Sciences||MuniMobile App|
|Japanese Tea Garden||Muni Visitor Passport|
|Conservatory of Flowers||Where to Buy Muni Visitor Passports|
|Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center||Clipper Card|
|Palace of Fine Arts||BART|
If you’re not already a public transit user, I hope you will try it next time you visit San Francisco. It’s not perfect. There can be delays and other annoyances, but you’ll see more and experience more of the city. I hope you enjoy the city and the ride.
About the Author
Ginny Vail is a travel writer who loves travel planning, sightseeing, photography, and videography. She’s visited all 50 states and traveled around the world. Her articles focus on discovering places to go, sights to see, and details about when and how visit them.