Last Updated on 15 Feb 2021 by Jim
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:
- Which public transit routes to take to get to Golden Gate Park, Golden Gate Bridge, Palace of Fine Arts, and/or Crissy Field’s Golden Gate Promenade.
- Which Apps to use on your smartphone to pay fares, view transit maps, and track transit vehicles.
- Bus stop locations.
- Fares, Muni Passport, and more ways to pay.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
|Single Ride Fares||Cash or Metro Ticket||MuniMobile or Clipper Card|
|Cable Cars – All Ages||$8.00 (no transfers)||$8.00 (no transfers)|
|Day Passes (Passports include cable cars)||Paper Passport||MuniMobile 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|
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.
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.
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 (CADS)||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.