Getting Around San Francisco
Updated: Jan 20, 2019
Here's what you need to know about getting around the city whether you have a car, uses public transportation, or ride share services.
Having a car in San Francisco offers a freedom that’s undeniable, but it also comes with a lot of stress, like the nightmare that is finding parking (or paying hundreds of dollars to rent a space), parking tickets, street cleaning, and smash and grabs, which are very much on the rise.
Plus, San Francisco is incredibly walkable and bikeable, and also has a ton of great public transportation opens, as well as ride sharing, hourly car rental companies, and more. Here’s everything you need to know to get around the 7x7 without owning a car. There's also a few suggestions in here that will help you commute to work.
Make sure to use the links in the description for discounts!
Within San Francisco
There’s nothing people in San Francisco love to complain about more than Muni, but other than the occasional delay, lost overhead wire, crowded trains, weird smells, and somewhat sporadic crazy person, it can actually be an affordable and relatively efficient way to get around… depending on where you’re going.
You can find out pretty much everything you need to know about Muni here, including a trip planner to help you figure out which bus or train to take. But here’s some basic information to know before you ride.
Single Ride – Adult
Clipper Card: $2.50
Cash: $2.75 (change is not given)
Monthly – Adult
Clipper Card (includes cable cars): $75
Clipper Card (includes cable cars and BART within SF): $94
If you’re going to be commuting to work on Muni, then a monthly Clipper Card is the way to go. Even if you’re not, having a Clipper Card with a cash value will make it easier for you to hop on a bus or streetcar and not have to worry about exact change.
How to use a Clipper Card:
Just look for a card reader on the vehicle or fare gate. On busses and trains, there is one located at the front and by every door. You can order a Clipper Card online, or you can purchase one in-person at most Walgreens, Whole Foods, and Cole Hardware stores.
To the East Bay
If you’re looking to go across the Bay, then you’ll need to hop on BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit). The trains are in the process of being updated, but until that happens (it’s a gradual rollout), be prepared to time travel back to the 1980s.
BART fare varies based on your destination, and can be paid via Clipper Card (though you’ll need one that works on BART), or with a ticket that has a stored value. The machines in the BART station will tell you exactly how much your fare is, or you can put a bunch of money on a ticket and the correct fare will be automatically deducted.
BART is an affordable option to get to the SFO and OAK airports.
Trains stop running around midnight (even on the weekends).
Bikes are allowed on BART, but you must follow these rules:
Don’t take your bike on crowded cars
Don’t take your bike on the first THREE cars during commute hours (7am to 9am and 4:30pm to 6:30pm)
The elevators and escalators at BART stations are notorious for being out of service.
To the South Bay
Caltrain is a commuter train that goes along the Peninsula and South Bay. The main hub in San Francisco is at 4th Street and King Street. The fare is based on the number of zones traveled and tickets can be bought at a station ticket vending machine (before you board) or you can use your Clipper Card.
Bikes are allowed on the northernmost car, and one other designated car.
There’s always at least one restroom on the train, usually at the northernmost end.
Alcohol is allowed on the train.
Ride Sharing Companies
Ridesharing is incredibly prevalent in San Francisco, though not without its detractors. Studies have shown ride share vehicles amount to a fifth of all vehicle miles in the city, and Uber specifically has been plagued by scandals, both of which are topics that ruffle the locals’ feathers. Still, it’s an efficient and affordable way to get around the city, since rides usually arrive very quickly and payments are all handled through the app.
Request a ride from the app and get a ride from a nearby driver.
UberX: The least expensive option for four people or less. Generally an economy car.
UberXL: SUV or minivan that seats five people. Rates are a bit higher than UberX.
Uber Black: Luxury cars; driver must have a commercial license.
UberPool: Save money by riding with strangers heading in the same direction. You can request a Pool for up to two people. FYI: Three more passengers can board along the way and there is no guarantee of when you’ll be dropped off along the route, so it’s best to use when you don’t need to arrive at a specific time.
Express Pool: Like UberPool, only you get picked up and dropped off at Express spots. (The most affordable option.)
Tipping Policy: Optional and can be added to any trip in the past 30 days. Uber takes zero service fees on tips.
Request a ride from the app and get a ride from a nearby driver.
Lyft: The least expensive option for four people or less. Generally an economy car.
Plus: Seats up to six passengers. Rates are a bit higher than a standard Lyft ride.
Lyft Premier, Lyft Lux, Lux SUV: Higher-end options, with Lux being the most luxurious experience.
Lyft Line: Save money by riding with strangers heading in the same direction. You can request a Lyft Line for up to two passengers. FYI: Three more passengers can board along the way and there is no guarantee of when you’ll be dropped off along the route, so it’s best to use when you don’t need to arrive at a specific time.
Tipping is optional and can be added to any trip in the past 72 hours. 100% of tips go to drivers.
Use the FlyWheel app to hail the closest taxi.
While Uber and Lyft drivers tend to rely on navigational devices to get you to where you want to be, FlyWheel matches you with a professional taxi driver who most likely knows the best route and will charge you a regulated fare (in other words: no surge pricing). Locals know that when it rains or there is a huge event in town, it's almost half the cost using cabs so you should definitely have this app on your phone. #M2SFProTip
Tipping is optional, but expected since you’re taking a taxi. Use the Default Tip feature to set a standard percentage, which you can adjust within five minutes of completing the ride.
Other Shared Transportation and Rental Options
Ride a shared, electric, smartphone-activated motor scooter that you can pick up and drop off all over San Francisco.
How It Works:
There are 500 Scoot scooters (these are two wheeled, one-seat and go 30 mph) at over 75 locations in SF, each with two sizes of helmets stowed in the back (you are legally required to wear a helmet). Rides are one-way, and at the end, you park in one of 55+ garages, on the street in a Blue Zone (shown on the app), or at a motorcycle meter or between car meters.
It varies, but most rides are $4 for the first 15 minutes and 10 cents a minute after that. If you choose to end your ride by parking on the street, it will cost a little more than if you return the scooter to one of the garages.
Rent a car from people nearby or share your car to make money.
Unlock a nearby shared car from your phone to use hourly or daily. The rental includes renter insurance and 24/7 roadside assistance. If you own a car, you can earn money (up to $10,000) when you’re not using it by sharing it with others. This also gets you a dedicated parking spot, which might be more valuable than the money. Either way, the cost of renting someone's Prius for a couple of hours to run errands is often cheaper and more convenient than using ride sharing.
The hourly/daily/weekly rate is set by the owner of the car and starts at $5/hour.
Use the app to reserve a nearby car by the hour or the day whenever you want it, and pay only for the time you use.
Scooters & Bicycles
A family recent and controversial option, use the app to find a bicycle or scooter near you. Once you're done, just park it.
How it works: Once you've used the app to find the electric scooter or bicycle, you'll scan the barcode on the handle bars using the app. If you're going to depend on this option, I'd recommend using more than one service so here's a few to consider below:
Scoot and Skip are the two scooter companies that are allowed back in the city while Bird and Lime are more available in other locations.
Use this link for $6 towards Scoot rides with referral code AMITS2
Parking Garage Apps
If you're driving and need to park somewhere, there's a couple of apps that allow you to park in a garage or hotel at a discounted rate.