San Francisco Excursions Using Public Transit

Last Updated on 15 Jan 2021 by Ginny Vail

San Francisco excursions are easy and fun on public transit; leave the car behind and enjoy the freedom of sightseeing using San Francisco MUNI.


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 San Francisco excursions easier and less expensive.

This article provides the information you need to visit popular San Francisco sights using public transit; it covers these subjects:

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.

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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. 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.

Temple Gate in the Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco.
Temple Gate in the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco.

How to Take Public Transit to Golden Gate Park

Golden Gate Park is the largest city park in America and it’s packed with trails and gardens and world class sights. It’s 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:

Infographic with instructions for taking public transit to Golden Gate Park in San Francisco.
A girl stands on the living roof of the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco.
On the living roof at California Academy of Sciences.
The Golden Gate Bridge is partially veiled as fog starts to roll into San Francisco Bay.
Golden Gate Bridge in the fog. The brick building tucked under the bridge’s arch is historic Fort Point.

How to Take Public Transit to the Golden Gate Bridge

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, which is part of the Golden Gate National Park system.

A Golden Gate Bridge visit is one of the top things to do in San Francisco.
Take a Muni bus to the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center; it’s a great way to visit this world-famous bridge.

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. Here are two important details to know:

  • The small parking lot by the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center is often full, which is another good reason to take the bus.
  • You can walk across the bridge and it’s free, but unless you’ve planned a one-way trek or made some arrangement to be picked up, you’ll have to walk back. It’s 1.7 miles (2.7 km) each way.
Infographic with instructions for taking public transit to the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.
The Palace of Fine Arts is a faux Roman ruin built for the 1915 World’s Fair and is a popular San Francisco Sightseeing stop.
Visit the Palace of Fine Arts; it has an interesting history and it’s a beautiful spot for photos.

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:

Infographic with instructions for taking public transit to the Palace of Fine Arts, and Crissy Field in San Francisco.
Going to the Japanese Tea Garden and walking over the Moon Bridge is among the many reasons to visit Golden Gate Park.
Moon Bridge in the Japanese Tea Garden.

Apps and Maps

Apps MuniMobile and NextBus (also called NextMuni)

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 both MuniMobile and NextBus.

  • MuniMobile is great for purchasing Visitor Passports and other passes and for paying fares. Its Trip Tools tab connects to Nextbus for arrivals times.
  • NextBus provides arrival times for nearby routes and also has a Transit tab that lists all the routes and stops, which is super useful for planning routes. NextBus also works in several other cities and on other transit systems, including some ferries and light rail systems.
Use a San Francisco Visitor Passport to take this 5R Muni bus to Golden Gate Park.
This #5R (or 5) Muni bus stops at the 8th Avenue entrance to Golden Gate Park on its way to Ocean Beach.

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.

A historic red, white, and cream San Francisco streetcar is stopped at Pier 39.
This historic streetcar at Pier 39 is painted like a vintage streetcar from Saint Louis.

Map with Public Transit Stops

The purple icons on the image below, show the locations of transit stops recommended in this post. Click the image caption to open the interactive Google map where you can zoom in and see more detail.

Image of interactive map showing public transit stops for San Francisco sightseeing.
Open in Google Maps.

Fares, Muni Passport, and more Ways to Pay

Fares and Passports on San Francisco’s Muni System really are cheaper when added to the MuniMobile App or Clipper Card. The 1-Day Visitor Passport is a lot cheaper. I purchased a 1-Day Passport last year and rode cable cars, streetcars, and buses all day. That’s how I shot the video clips for the video in this post.

Use Public transit for sightseeing with a San Francisco transit map and MuniMobile App, Clipper Card or Muni Passport.
Find routes, stops, and arrival times with the NextBus App and pay fares with MuniMobile or a Clipper Card.

Fares

Single Ride FaresCash or Metro TicketMuniMobile or Clipper Card
Adult (19-64)$3.00$2.50
Senior (65+)$1.50$1.25
Youth (5-18)$1.50$1.25
Child (0-4)FreeFree
Cable Cars – All Ages$8.00 (no transfers)$8.00 (no transfers)
Day Passes (Passports include cable cars)Paper PassportMuniMobile or Clipper Card
1-Day Visitor Passport$24.00$13.00
3-Day Visitor Passport$36.00$31.00
7-Day Visitor Passport$47.00$41.00
1-Day Pass (excludes cable cars)$5.00 MuniMobile only
It’s true! Passports really are cheaper if you add them to the MuniMobile App or Clipper Card.

Which is best: MuniMobile App or Clipper Card?

Both are easy to use and have the advantage (versus cash) of cheaper fares. Here are their differences and other advantages:

  • MuniMobile is the best choice if all your transit use is in the city of San Francisco. It’s easy to get and easy to add tickets. It’s great for families because you can load multiple tickets on the same device.
  • Clipper Card is best if you plan to take public transit beyond San Francisco because you can pay all of your fares with a Clipper Card. For example, you can take a ferry to Jack London Square in Oakland, BART to SFO, or CalTrain to the Tech Museum in San Jose.

Ways to Pay

Here are the ways you can pay your 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. 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 Card: This 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. The plastic card costs $3 and can be linked to a credit card and/or loaded with cash. You can add a Visitor Passport and other passes and also add cash to pay as you go.
  • Visitor Passport: There are 1, 3, and 7-day versions of the Visitor Passport and it provides unlimited rides on the entire Muni System, including cable cars. You can add the Visitor Passport to your MuniMobile App or Clipper Card or buy a paper version at Cable Car booths and some stores. The paper version costs more (see Fares).
  • CityPASS: This is an independent company which sells passes that combine a Muni pass with entry tickets to some attractions.
Historic streetcars like this on the Embarcadero make San Francisco Excursions even more fun.
San Francisco streetcars are painted to look like vintage streetcars from other cities.

Is Public Transit a Good Option When Visiting San Francisco with Kids?

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.

San Francisco excursions should include riding a cable car to Fisherman's Wharf.
Riding a cable car to San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf never gets old.

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 PostLinks for Transit Information
Golden Gate Park Map
(Downloadable)
San Francisco Muni System Map
(Downloadable)
Free Golden Gate Park ShuttleSan Francisco Muni (Transit System)
de Young MuseumMuni Fares & Passes
California Academy of Sciences (CADS)MuniMobile App
Japanese Tea GardenMuni Visitor Passport
Conservatory of FlowersWhere to Buy Muni Visitor Passports
Golden Gate Bridge Welcome CenterClipper Card
Palace of Fine ArtsBART
Crissy FieldCityPASS
The beautiful copper-clad exterior of the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco.
The art exhibits at the de Young Museum are amazing and so is the 360º view from the top of the tower.

Conclusion

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.

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