Table of Contents
- San Francisco Excursions are Easy on Public Transit
- Places to Go and How to Get There on San Francisco Public Transit
- Apps and Maps
- Fares and Ways to Pay
- Build your Own City Tour
- When Visiting San Francisco with Kids, Is Public Transit a Good Option?
I love the walk-on-walk-off freedom of public transit and the ability to mix walking and riding. I see more, experience more, move about more freely, and get more exercise. 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. The city’s transit system, SF Muni, makes San Francisco excursions easy and inexpensive. It also solves the twin problems of driving and parking in a very busy city.
San Francisco Excursions are Easy on Public Transit
Armed with a MuniMobile app or a Clipper Card for hassle-free payment and the transit app NextBus to discover routes and stops and track vehicles, you can move around San Francisco with ease, and, as we travelers often claim, the journey is part of the experience.
I’ll get to Apps and Maps and Fares and Ways to Pay shortly, but first, here are directions and options for taking public transit to Golden Gate Park, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Marina District near the Palace of Fine Arts, Crissy Field, and the Golden Gate Promenade.
Places to Go and How to Get There on San Francisco Public Transit
Golden Gate Park
Golden Gate Park is home to the California Academy of Sciences (CADS), 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:
|Taking Public Transit to Golden Gate Park|
|Option 1: Take the #5 or 5R Fulton bus on Market Street (or catch it along McAllister or Fulton Street) to Fulton at 8th Avenue. Walk into the park.||Step 1 – Board a #5 or 5R bus (outbound to Ocean Beach) wherever it’s convenient and exit on Fulton at 8th Avenue. The outbound #5 and 5R Fulton buses travel along Market from Main Street to McAllister. They continue on McAllister to Central where they jog left one block to Fulton. They continue on Fulton almost to Ocean Beach. Some #5 buses only go to 6th Avenue, and that works too but adds 2 blocks to the walk.|
Step 2 – Cross Fulton, enter the Brown Gate, and follow the sign to the Music Concourse. Then you will see a second sign to the museum. It’s only 0.3 miles (0.5km) to the de Young museum. The Japanese Tea Garden is just beyond the museum and the California Academy of Sciences (CADS) is on the opposite side of the Music Concourse.
|San Francisco MUNI (Transit System)|
MUNI System Map
Golden Gate Park Guide
(Click the GGP Map button)
Free Golden Gate Park Shuttle
de Young Museum
California Academy of Sciences (CADS)
Japanese Tea Garden
Conservatory of Flowers
|Option 2: Take the N Judah Muni Metro to Irving at 9th. Walk into the park or take the #44 O’Shaughnessy bus.||Step 1 – From any of the four MUNI/BART Stations on Market Street, take Muni Metro’s N Judah (light rail) toward Ocean Beach. Exit on Irving Street at the 9th Avenue stop. |
Step 2 – Turn right on 9th Avenue and walk 0.5 miles (0.8km) into the park, or find the #44 O’Shaughnessy bus stop on 9th at Irving and take the bus in the inbound direction toward 6th and California. Exit the bus at the California Academy of Sciences (CADS) stop. If your destination is the de Young Museum or the Japanese Tea Garden, walk across the Music Concourse.
|Return trip: To get back where you started, simply reverse the trip, or, live it up and take a different route back.||To return via the #5 or 5R bus (Option 1), walk back to Fulton Avenue at 8th. Catch an inbound #5 or 5R, heading downtown to the Transbay (downtown) Transit Center.|
To return via the N Judah (Option 2), walk to 9th and Irving or catch the outbound #44 at the stop between the de Young Museum and the Japanese Tea Garden, take it to 9th and Irving, and transfer to an inbound N Judah.
Golden Gate Bridge
Its graceful design, bold color, and its location at the entrance to San Francisco Bay make the Golden Gate Bridge one of the most stunning sites in the world, and it’s a great place to visit. You can walk and bike on or over the bridge, and you can get below the bridge by following the trail to Fort Point and Crissy Field. And amazingly, it’s free. The only complication is parking because the small lot by the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center is often full. Luckily, you can get there on public transit, and here are two ways to do so:
|Taking Public Transit to the Golden Gate Bridge|
|Option 1: First, take the free PresidiGo Downtown shuttle from downtown to the Presidio Transit Center. Then take the Crissy Field shuttle from the Transit Center to the bridge.|
The PresidiGo Downtown shuttle is not available to the general public during the weekday morning commute (7a to 9:15a) and on some evening shuttles, but take it if you can; it’s free, fast, and comfortable.
Step 1 – Take the PresidiGo Downtown shuttle from one of these three downtown stops to the Presidio Transit Center:
• Transbay (downtown) Transit Center on Main at Howard
• Drumm at California (in front of the Hyatt Regency)
• Van Ness and Union to the Presidio Transit Center
Step 2 – Take the free Crissy Field PresidiGo shuttle from the Transit Center to the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center.
|Free PresidiGo Shuttle|
San Francisco Muni (Transit System)
MUNI System Map
Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center
Presidio Visitor Center
Presidio Places to Visit
Walt Disney Family Museum
Visit to the Disney Family Museum
|Option 2: Take the #30 or #47 bus to Van Ness at Northpoint. Then take the #28 – 19th Avenue bus to the bridge.||Step 1 – Take Muni buses #30 or #47 to the stop on Van Ness Avenue at North Point Street:|
• The outbound #30 Stockton bus (toward North Point or Jefferson Loop) travels through Chinatown on Stockton Street, then through North Beach on Columbus Avenue, and by the Wharf on North Point Street before turning left onto Van Ness.
• The #47 bus (toward the CalTrain Station) begins at the Wharf at Powell and Beach Streets and travels west on North Point Street before turning left onto Van Ness.
Step 2 – Once on Van Ness at North Point, take the Muni #28 – 19th Avenue bus (outbound toward Daly City BART). Hop off at the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center.
|Reverse the trip to get back where you started.||For Option 1, catch the Crissy Field PresidiGo shuttle and take it back to the Presidio Transit Center. Then take a Downtown PresidiGo back downtown. |
Some PresidiGo Downtown shuttles are not available to the general public during the weekday evening commute.
You can also take a #43 Masonic bus from the Transit Center toward Fort Mason. This will get you to the Marina District where you have more options (#22, #28, or #30) depending on where you wish to go next (see the Muni System Map).
For Option 2, take the #28 – 19th Avenue bus (inbound toward Van Ness/North Point).
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 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 and/or the east end of Crissy Field’s Golden Gate Promenade:
|Taking Public Transit to the Palace of Fine Arts, Crissy Field, and the Golden Gate Promenade|
|Take the #30 Stockton bus toward Jefferson Loop.||Step 1 – Board a #30 Stockton Jefferson Loop bus wherever it’s convenient (see route details in box below) and exit on Broderick at Beach street (in the Marina District). |
Step 2 – For the Palace, walk 1 block west to Baker Street. For Crissy Field and the Promenade, follow Baker Street toward the Bay. Continue through Little Marina Green to the waterfront and turn left onto the trail.
The #30 Stockton bus travels through some very interesting parts of San Francisco and is a great way to experience the city like a local. The outbound #30 Stockton bus to Jefferson Loop goes from the CalTrain Station to the Marina District. En route, it travels along 3rd Street (SOMA), crosses Market onto Kearny (Montgomery BART Station), jogs on Sutter to Stockton (Financial District), travels through Chinatown on Stockton, turns left onto Columbus (North Beach), left onto North Point (the Wharf), left onto Van Ness (by Fort Mason), right onto Chestnut, and right onto Broderick (Marina District) and Palace of Fine Arts.
|San Francisco Muni (Transit System)|
MUNI System Map
Palace of Fine Arts
Golden Gate Promenade
|Return trip to get back where you started.||Walk to Divisadero at Chestnut and take a #30 Stockton bus inbound toward CalTrain (from Baker and Beach, in front of the Palace, it’s 6-blocks to Divisadero and Chestnut).|
Apps and Maps
Apps NextBus (also called NextMuni) and MuniMobile
Smartphone apps not only help you discover routes and stops, they also track the vehicles and let you know when the next one will arrive. I use the NextBus app. The Nearby tab shows nearby vehicles and arrival times. The Transit tab lists all the routes and stops, which is really useful for planning routes and knowing where to transfer from one route to another. NextBus also works in several other cities and on other transit systems, including some ferries and light rail systems. I also have the MuniMobile app on my smartphone. It’s great for purchasing Visitor Passports and other passes and for paying fares, but its Trip Tools tab for arrival times or trip planning is not yet as fully featured as NextBus.
San Francisco Transit Map
The San Francisco Transit Map shows all transit options and routes for everything operated by SF Muni, including cable cars and streetcars. You can view the map on your smart phone, but ignore the small, blurry version on the opening page and, instead, click the link to the PDF “Muni System Map.” The PDF version is expandable and stays readable — even on a smartphone’s tiny screen. You can also download and print the PDF copy or purchase a paper copy at the Cable Car Ticket booth for $3.
Google Map with Public Transit Stops
Google map with purple transit icons marking the location of transit stops recommended in this post:
Fares and Ways to Pay
|SF Muni Fares for Streetcars, Buses, Muni Metro (light rail), and Cable Cars When Listed|
|Single Ride Fares||Cash||MuniMobile App or Clipper Card|
|Cable Cars - All Ages||$7.00 (no transfers)||$7.00 (no transfers)|
|Day Passes||Paper Passport (cash, credit, or debit)||MuniMobile App or Clipper Card|
|1-Day Visitor Passport-includes cable cars||$23.00||$12.00|
|3-Day Visitor Passport-includes cable cars||$34.00||$29.00|
|7-Day Visitor Passport-includes cable cars||$45.00||$39.00|
|1-Day Pass-EXCLUDES cable cars||$5.00 MuniMobile app only|
It's true. Visitor Passports really are cheaper if you add them to the MuniMobile app or a Clipper Card, rather than buy the paper version of the Visitor Passport.
|Ways to Pay on San Francisco Public Transit|
|Cash||You can almost always use cash, but drivers on buses, streetcars, and Muni Metro (light rail) cannot make change. If you pay cash, take a transfer; it’s your proof of purchase and gives you 90 minutes of use on all Muni transit except cable cars. If you pay cash on a cable car, it's $7 with no transfer privileges.||MUNI Fares & Passes|
|MuniMobile App||This is the easiest, and cheapest way to get around using San Francisco's cable cars, historic streetcars, buses, and light rail, but it does require downloading the MuniMobile app and linking it to a credit or debit card. With it, you can purchase tickets and passes in advance or as you need them, and the app accommodates discounted fares for seniors and youth.|
The MuniMobile App is perfect for families because you can purchase and use multiple tickets and passes on the same device.
Best of all, 1, 3, and 7-day Visitor Passports, which include cable cars, are significantly cheaper on MuniMobile than the paper versions. See Fares for details.
|Clipper Card||Clipper is the all-in-one transit pass for the San Francisco Bay Area. It works on all ferries, trains (except Amtrak), light rail, and buses.|
If you plan to take public transit beyond San Francisco, (for example, a ferry to Jack London Square in Oakland, BART to SFO, or CalTrain to the Tech Museum in San Jose), you can pay all of your fares with cash loaded on your Clipper Card.
Cards can be ordered online or purchased at most Walgreens and from Clipper Card machines in BART Stations. The card is $3 plus whatever cash value and/or passes you choose to load onto the card.
Tag your Clipper Card on the card reader when you board. On systems that charge based on the distance traveled (trains and ferries) you also need to tag off when exiting.
Clipper Cards purchased from stores and machines are adult cards and deduct adult fares. Senior (65 and over) and youth (5–18) cards are available, but they require going through an application process.
Like the MuniMobile app, Visitor Passports (which include cable cars) are a lot cheaper on Clipper Cards than the paper version. See Fares for details.
Cash and passes loaded onto a Clipper Card at stores or ticket machines are useable immediately, but cash and passes loaded online or by phone may not be available for 1-2 days. My Senior Clipper Card is setup to automatically reload cash from my debit card, when it gets low, so my card is always good-to-go.
|Visitor Passport||The Muni Visitor Passport provides unlimited rides on Muni's cable cars, historic streetcars, light rail, and buses. |
There are two versions of the Visitor Passport. A downloadable pass for the MuniMobile App or Clipper Card and a paper version that can be purchased at cable car ticket booths and some stores.
The downloadable Passport is significantly cheaper, but you do need to download the MuniMobile app and link it to a credit or debit card or have it loaded onto a Clipper Card. See Fares for details.
|MUNI Visitor Passport|
Where to Buy Visitor Passports
|CityPASS||CityPASS is an independent company which sells passes that combine a Muni pass with entry tickets to some attractions.||CityPASS|
Build your Own City Tour
Equip yourself with Maps and Apps and Ways to Pay, and build your own city tour to go where you want, when you want. Go to San Francisco Itineraries for suggested 1, 2, and 3-Day itineraries plus bonus lists of dozens of sights to help you customize the suggested itineraries or build your own.
One of my favorite things about public transit is that I can take a different route back to my hotel or home. This really matters if, for example, I visit the Golden Gate Bridge, then hike down the hill to Fort Point, and take the Golden Gate Promenade through Crissy Field. I don’t need to return to the bridge to get my car. I simply walk to the #30 Stockton bus stop on Divisadero at Chestnut, or I exit Crissy Field onto Mason Street and find a PresidiGo shuttle stop. The PresidiGo map shows the stops, and they are either posted on signs or marked on the sidewalks with big blue squares or faded red circles. The shuttle will take you to the Presidio Transit Center.
When Visiting San Francisco with Kids, Is Public Transit a Good Option?
My grandkids and great 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.
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.