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This article is written in a Q&A format to Guide visitor with the Public Transport options while visiting San Francisco. Due to expensive parking, shortage of parking, and a city which has its unique hilly streets and unsual parking laws, most would recommend visitors NOT rent a car during the SF part of their vacation.
The article also brief explains cityPass which is a "package" deal that covers SF MUNI transport and some museums within SF.
1. What is MUNI and what is BART?
Muni is the San Francisco local transit which runs all the local streetcars (referred to as Light Rail by google maps) . the famous San Francisco cable cars and buses within the city of SF. MUNI can take visitors to all the popular attractions from Fisherman's Wharf to the Golden Gate Bridge to the Alcatraz Ferry to Union Square and many other locations.
BART is the local train which cover more than just San Francisco and runs from SFO (San Francisco Airport) through the Peninsula, to San Francisco and to destinations in the East Bay from Berkeley, to Richmond to Fremont. BART can also be used to get to and from Oakland International Airport and the Oakland Athletics Baseball Stadium
BART Tickets are separate from SF MUNI Tickets and SF MUNI Passport
MUNI Website SF MUNI
BART Website BART Train Website
MUNI tickets and BART tickets are sold separately. For short term visitors, there is no advantage in trying to find a card that includes both fares. Please purchase your BART ticket and your MUNI ticket or MUNI Passport (explained below) separately.
Visitors staying in San Francisco generally use BART only to get to or from SF Airport (known as SFO) which is 13 miles south of SF to San Francisco (Powell street or Embarcadero Stations). BART is also an option to get to SF from Oakland Aiport (OAK) or to the Oakland A's Baseball games
Visitors can then use MUNI Buses, Streetcars and Cable Cars to travel within San Francisco. MUNI goes to all the attractions and neighborhoods within the city and it is a convenient and easy way to travel around town.
Google Maps offers directions by public transit. Enter the destiination, click on the "bus" icon and enter the date and time to get routing and schedule information.
2. What is the difference between a Cable Car, a street car and a bus ?
A picture is worth a thousand words
The World Famous San Francisco Cable Car is below There are three routes described at SF Cable Car Routes Carry-ons, Bags, Strollers are not advised/permitted on Cable Cars. They stop along the route just as any bus would but as seen below, many of the stops are in the intersection. For safety reasons, you should wait at the cable car sign and then enter the interesection only when the cable car has stopped. No food or drink is permitted on board. Long lines are seen at the Powell street and Fisherman's wharf Terminus so plan accordingly.
The Historic Street car - F Market/Wharves shown below goes from Fisherman's wharf along the Embarcadero to Market street and to the Castro. There are various cars from all over the world in service on the F line. Up to 20 different cars can be seen on any given day and they are all slightly different and have different colors. Streetcar Sketches are here
SF's other streetcars shown below. The N, K/T, L, M, J lines which run underground on Market and then above ground in some areas and go to various parts of town such as Ocean Beach, Close to Golden Gate Park, the Zoo, The Castro
SF Muni has buses that run on electicty as shown below. Others buses that run on Diesel or Alternative fuels will not have the electric connectors shown on top of the bus as shown below. (This bus is stopping above an underground BART station in SF)
2. BART. How much does it cost from SFO and how do I take it?
From Terminals 1 and 2 and 3 Take the free AirTrain to the SFO Garage G/ BART station stop. If you are in the International Terminal you can walk to the BART station which is actually in that Terminal on the G Garage side. Just look for signs once you exit the customs area. BART tickets are available at automated kiosks at the station. It is ok to get on BART with luggage as SFO is the starting point for the SFO line. The cost of a ticket on BART is based on the distance traveled so a ticket from SFO to SF is cheaper than a ticket to say Oakland. BART tickets act like a debit card or a stored value card. You load up the fare on the ticket and it is deducted based on the station you disembark at. It may be easier to purchase a round trip ticket on BART.
Video of a BART Vending Machine Worth a quick look to help you figure out how to purchase the exact fare ticket.
Adult one way fare -- Check the BART site for the latest fare
Children under 5 - Free
Children 5 - 12, or Senior Citizens over 65, or People with disabilities -- Before you get to the BART station, purchase a RED or GREEN ticket at the SFO information counter at any SFO Terminal. You can get a discounted card. Check discounts here
Map of SFO SFO Airport Terminal Map
3. BART from OAK (Oakland Airport) Details
BART from OAK is a two step process.
Step 1. Take AirBART bus to the Coliseum Station
Step 2. Take the BART train to SF.
One has to take the AIrBART bus from the airport to the BART Oakland Coliseum station and then get to SF on BART. AirBART Bus takes exact Cash. Unless one has a BART ticket with the exact value, please pay cash on the AirBART bus or the ticket machine will swallow the ticket and any extra money on that ticket is lost.
Visitors can purchase a BART ticket to SF at the Coliseum Station .
Map of Oakland Airport and more info is here BART Oakland Airport Information
4. SF MUNI fares and Discount Passes (MUNI Passport) for visitors ?
MUNI Mobile -- Electronic tickets for single ride or Passports are available via the MUNI Mobile App on the App store on on Google Play. This can be used by the entire family or by an individual.
MUNI sells 1 day, 3 day and 7 day passports that are valid on all SF MUNI based buses, streetcars and cable cars as well as the Presidigo shuttle. The passes are valid for those calendar days. One scratches the start date on the Passport and a 7 day passport, for example is valid for 7 consecutive days from that day and will expire midnight on the 7th day. Considering a single ride on the cable car is $6.00 the pass can can quickly pay for itself.
Alternatively, one can purchase a single ticket for a ride on a bus or a streetcar. The ticket is valid for a transfer to another bus or streetcar for 90 minutes after purchase. You will need to pay the exact amount as no change will be given on a bus or a street car. Single tickets for seniors cost 1/3 of the regular fare (10/27/2014 $2.25 vs $0.75). Visitor passes at senior rates are not available. In most cases, it is not cost effective for seniors to buy passes.
A cable car ticket can be purchaed on the cable car . If one choses to get off and see a sight enroute and board another cable car, one has to pay the single ride fare again. If visitors are in town for just one day, one can purchase a one day pass on the cable car for unlimited rides on all SF MUNI transport. The Cable car has a conductor who sells the singe ride ticket or the one day passport and can give change. Exact fare is not necessary to purchase a ticket only on the Cable Car
Here is a link to places where you can purchase a passport MUNI Passport Purchase A convenient location to purchase Passports for visitors arriving at SFO (San Francisco Airport) is the Information desk at each terminal.
MUNI Mobile Muni has introduced an iOS and Android App that lets you purchase single ride or Passport tickets via the Mobile App. This is valid for one person or an entire family. If your smartphone has a data plan, this is a good option to use in SF.
5. How do Visitors get around SF on MUNI ?
Google Maps is a great way to find your way around town. You can add your start and end location as indicated on that link and find your way around town. Please remember it is an automated system so it may use a lot more logic (exact distance, midpoint) and at times it may not be the most humanly logical route. You will get to your destination but a local may give you an alternate route
Getting from UNION Square to Major Attractions A great article written by SF Destination Experts to help you get around town.
6. What is CityPASS? How is that different from a MUNI Passport?
CityPass is a pass which covers certain Museums and attractions within SF and it also includes a MUNI 7 day Passport. One can purchase CityPass online and then redeem it in SF for the actual citypass booklet. There is an option to include Alcatraz with CityPass but one needs to phone Alcatraz cruises to purchase that option. Details on the CityPass Website.
Citypass rates for adults and kids and information on the attractions covered is at the CityPass website
Difference between a MUNI Passport and the CityPass is in this table. Note that Citypass includes the 7 day MUNI Passport and if you are in town and are plan on going to the museums or to Alcatraz and want to use MUNI, then you may want to purchase a CityPASS.
The SF CityPass also includes the option to visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium. This may be a good option for visitors planning to see SF and Monterey in 9 days (The pass is valid for 9 days from the first day of use at any attraction included in the Pass and for 7 days on MUNI, so please see if the pass will work for visitors based on their plans )
7. What is Caltrain ?
Caltrain is the second Bay Area Train System and it runs from SF (4th and King) to San Jose and with some service to Gilroy. One can get from SJC to SF using a free shutte from SJC to the Santa Clara Caltrain station and then taking Caltrain to the last stop at 4th and King in SF. Caltrain is great during the rush hour as there are frequent trains but service during the non rush-hour period and on weekends is infrequent. Caltrain Website has more information Visitors can use Caltrain to get to Palo Alto (Stanford University) or to San Jose (SAP Center) for a San Jose Sharks game or a concert or to SJC (San Jose Airport)