There is so much to do and see in San Francisco from iconic sights like the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz to cable cars, parks and gardens, museums, performing arts, major sports venues, parades, festivals, and even urban hiking trails. While these are always great things to see and do, getting to them can be a hassle because traffic can be hectic and parking is scarce and expensive. The city’s transit system, SF Muni, makes San Francisco excursions easier and less expensive.
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.
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.
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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, 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:
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, it’s easy to get to on public transit:
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:
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.
Map with Public Transit Stops
The purple icons on the image below, show the locations of transit stops recommended in this post. Open the interactive Google map, by clicking the image caption.
Fares and Ways to Pay
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.
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.
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.