San Francisco Travel Guide

Getting Around

Navigating

Cross streets. As San Francisco streets are numbered (100 per block) from the beginning of the street, and even and odd numbers are always on opposite sides, it is best when asking directions to ask for a cross street or neighborhood name rather than relying on the address alone. For instance, addresses on Mission Street at 18th Street are in the 2200s, but one block away on Valencia at 18th, addresses are only in the 700s. This is because Mission starts at the Embarcadero, two miles farther east than Valencia's start at Market Street. Local residents rely on cross streets.

Numbered streets and avenues. San Francisco has both numbered streets, in the Mission, the Castro, and SoMa, and numbered avenues in the largely residential Sunset and Richmond districts. Mixing numbered streets and avenues when asking directions may leave you miles from your destination. This can be confusing, as San Franciscans will not say "Street" or "Avenue" unless it is required to avoid ambiguity. Thus, they won't say "I live on Fifth Avenue," but will say "I live near Fifth and Geary." Street signs generally don't have "Street" or "Avenue" either; they just say "GEARY" or "MASONIC", although numbered streets and avenues do.

Multiple street grids. One of the most confusing aspects of driving in San Francisco is the presence of multiple street grids, particularly in the downtown area where two grids intersect at an angle along Market Street. Even more confusing are streets in the middle of the standard blocks, like New Montgomery Street.

No left turns. Several key San Francisco arterial streets, including 19th Avenue and Market Street, do not have space for dedicated left turn lanes and therefore bear NO LEFT TURN signs at most intersections. As a result, you will be frustrated when you drive for miles on these streets with no opportunity to turn left. The trick, of course, is to go around the block with multiple right turns after passing one's desired street, which requires you to stay in the right lane, not the left lane.

On foot

Walking can be an enticing option to get from one neighborhood to another, so long as you are aware of where you are and keep your street smarts. San Francisco is a city of friendly neighborhoods, but it is also a big city so be aware of your surroundings and keep in mind the dangers that commonly accompany a city of San Francisco's size.

However, streets that often go straight up and down hills may make walking challenging when attempting the uphill portions (but provide good exercise). Driving can be difficult up and down hills but have breathtaking views. There are many stairway walks scattered throughout the city when the streets are too steep. You can find maps that include hiking trails, bikeways, and the grade pitch of all streets marked in varying colors by how steep each segment is, that can help you orient to city walks suitable to your ability and temperament, such as the downloadable map issued by the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition.

Note that locals rarely use the designations "street" or "avenue," even when differentiating the numbered streets and avenues. Numbered roads designated "Street" are located on the east side of the city, south of Market in Downtown, Castro, Noe Valley, and Mission. Numbered roads designated "Avenue" put you in the Richmond and Sunset districts on the west side.

By public transit

San Francisco has one of the most comprehensive public transportation systems in the United States—arguably the most comprehensive system west of Chicago—and is expanding its network with a regional transportation hub in SoMa and a new subway line going under downtown. Transport services within San Francisco are provided by several bodies, but transferring between them is easy now with a Clipper Card. Clipper is accepted on essentially every transit system you'll encounter:

Muni, +1 415 701-2311 — Subway, streetcars, buses, and cable cars within San Francisco proper. This is the main public transit system you'll use for getting around in San Francisco.
BART — Regional train services in the San Francisco Bay Area. You'll mainly use this to get in and out of San Francisco, but you may use it, for example, to get between downtown and the Mission. It overlaps with Muni along Market Street downtown. When you enter one of the stations downtown, be sure you get on the right system—either Muni or BART—for where you're trying to go. If not, you'll need to exit and beg the toll operators in the booths to refund your fare.
Caltrain — Commuter rail services to San Jose and cities in between, like Palo Alto (where Stanford University is located).
San Francisco ferries
AC Transit (buses in Oakland)
Many other regional bus systems in the Bay Area
Public transit payment
The Clipper Card was fully introduced in 2010 and is a contact-less, multi-agency fare card similar to Octopus in Hong Kong, EZ-Link in Singapore and Charlie Card in Boston. Clipper Cards can be purchased online, at any MUNI ticket machine as well as at select retail locations around the city, especially Walgreens.
*As of September 1, 2012 new cards now incur a one time $3 fee (except when purchased in online in conjunction and linked with a credit card for autoload). The cards themselves have no expiration date and can always be reloaded with cash or passes, so be sure to hang on to yours for future visits. Clipper can either be set up with pay as you go with all transfers calculated automatically, a passport (daily and weekly passes) or a monthly pass.
*MUNI has also created a single use "Clipper Ticket" as the new subway turnstiles no longer accept cash. You can still pay with exact change when boarding a streetcar above ground or a bus.
If you plan on using the Cable Cars during your visit, a MUNI passport is a great value. A one day passport (either as a scratch card sold at retail locations or loaded onto a Clipper Card) costs $14 and includes Cable Cars (normally $6 a ride) as well as all other MUNI rail and bus service. Three and seven day passports are also available at $22 and $28 respectively. Keep in mind that passports are not valid on BART, ferries, Caltrain, or any regional municipal bus outside San Francisco. You'll need to load cash onto your Clipper Card if you plan on using any of these services.
Without a passport, the basic Muni fare is $2 (75 cents for children under 18, seniors 65 and older and the disabled).
MUNI operates on a proof of payment basis, sometimes called an "honor system with teeth." Each fare paid is valid for 90 minutes of travel on the MUNI system (light rail, historic streetcar, or bus but not Cable Cars) including transfers and even return trips if they fall within the 90 minute limit. If you're using a Clipper Card, be sure you "touch on" at any of the readers located near the streetcar or bus door to pay your fare and start the 90 minute clock (you can board at any door as they all have readers). Likewise if you aren't using a Clipper Card (and don't have a passport) and pay cash, you must board at the front door and obtain a paper transfer ticket from the driver. The MUNI Saturation Team (fare inspectors) and sometimes the SFPD randomly and frequently patrol streetcars, subway stations and buses with handheld Clipper Card readers checking for proper fare - residents who ride MUNI regularly report being checked once or twice a week. The fine for being caught without proof of payment is $200, although tourists may be issued a warning if its their first offense.
Cable Cars are not included in these transfers and cost $6 per ride (one way, no transfers), or $14 per day. Before 7AM and after 9PM, seniors and disabled pay $3 for cable car rides. Muni Passports and FastPasses greatly reduce this cost, including cable cars in the regular daily, weekly or monthly fares.
Planning your public transit trip
Since there are multiple overlapping transit systems, the best way to plan your trip is to use an online service which integrates information from the various transit agencies (e.g., 511 or a third party service like Google/Yahoo/Apple/Microsoft maps).
Muni arrival times for many lines are available at the bus/train stop (look for an overhead LED display at bus stops) or online at NextMuni. The sites listed above integrate information from NextMuni. An unofficial site is RescueMuni.com, which often has information on routes that are not listed officially.
A portable wallet-sized map of San Francisco and all its public transit (MUNI, BART, Caltrain) is also available at stores around the city or through their website online. Many of the city's bus stops also have posted copies of this map with the location of the stop marked, a godsend for lost pedestrians.
Muni

Again, this is the main system you'll use when you're in the city. Muni consists of several types of trains and buses:

Muni Metro (Lines J, K, L, M, N, S and T) is a modern light rail and subway system. It connects many southern and western neighborhoods to downtown, where you can transfer to one of BART's four downtown stations and the Caltrain terminal at 4th and King. Outside of the Market Street and Twin Peaks subways, Muni Metro operates as a surface light rail system, running in the center of the street with stops every couple of blocks (note that many of these stops are not wheelchair accessible - check the map to see which ones are). Tickets can be purchased from ticket vending machines before boarding; if the stop does not have such a machine and you do not have a ticket, you must board through the front door and buy one from the driver or risk being fined by a fare inspector. MUNI Metro operates seven days a week from 4:30AM to 1:30AM. Between 1:30AM and 5AM, OWL Buses substitute for Metro service.
The Historic Streetcar F Line uses historic streetcars, in original colors from several cities in the US and Milan, Italy. The line runs from Fisherman's Wharf south along the waterfront Embarcadero to the ferry building at the foot of Market Street, then up Market Street on the surface to the Castro district. Board through the front door and buy tickets from the operator if you do not already have a transfer or pass.
The world-famous Cable Cars run on three lines in the steep streets between Market Street and Fisherman's Wharf: the north-south Powell-Mason and Powell-Hyde lines and the east-west California Street line. These cars are a fun ride, especially if you get to stand on the running board, if a bit impractical for everyday use (though residents of Nob and Russian Hills do, in fact, use them on a regular basis). The cable car is such an attraction that, especially on weekends, it takes longer to wait in line to ride up Powell Street than it does to walk the short but sloping distance. If you want to save yourself time standing in line at the turnaround, just walk up a couple of blocks to the next stop — the conductors save a few spaces for people boarding along the way; you won't get first choice of seats, but you'll save yourself a long time standing in line. Board through any door or just grab a pole on the running boards; tickets are checked and sold by a uniformed conductor. Do not buy tickets from anyone off the car except for clearly marked ticket booths — scam artists are common.
Both diesel and electric trolley buses serve the rest of city. Board through the front door and buy tickets from or show your pass or transfer to the driver. Service ranges from a consistent two minutes on many lines leaving Market, to a more sporadic 20 minutes for buses to Treasure Island and between outlying neighborhoods. Bus delays, leading to waits of 20 to 30 minutes, are not uncommon and are a source of much grousing among locals. MUNI operates 24 hours a day / seven days a week in San Francisco although late night owl service is limited in both lines and stops.
Other public transit options

These are mainly used for getting in and out of the city:

BART, the regional metro, has eight stations in San Francisco, making it a nice way to get between well-trafficked parts of the city, especially downtown and the Mission. BART gets you across the Bay to Berkeley and Oakland and to the airports of San Francisco and Oakland. BART Trains run over 107 miles (172 km) of track, serving 46 stations. BART trains operate on third rail power and accelerate to speeds approaching 80 MPH (130 km/h). BART operates seven days a week from 4AM to 12:30AM. On weekdays BART trains depart downtown San Francisco stations at two to three minute intervals. Outer stations in far outlying suburbs have a maximum wait of fifteen to twenty minutes between trains. After 12:30AM, AC Transit and other east bay transit providers provide late-night bus service, serving principal BART stations until about 6AM. BART routes are named for the two terminus stations, not by line color as denoted on the system map. For more information on BART, see the 'Get in' section above.
Caltrain has three stops within San Francisco. Other than the 4th and King terminal in SoMa, these are the 22nd St. Station and the Bayshore Station (off Tunnel Ave), neither of which are particularly attractive for visitors. Of interest to visitors who wish to travel outside of the city is the Palo Alto Station (at University Avenue), across the street from the campus of Stanford University, and San Jose Diridon Station. Caltrain operates fast frequent commuter rail service, seven days a week. Service generally runs from 5AM to Midnight. For more information on Caltrain, see the 'Get in' section above.
By bike

If you have strong legs and can tolerate traffic with intermittent bike lanes, bicycles can be a convenient form of transportation in San Francisco. Although it's dense, San Francisco is fairly small in land area—just 7x7 miles from north to south and east to west—so it's fairly quick to get from one end to the other. But much of the terrain is hilly and hard to pedal up. Do not be misled by maps depicting the city's strict, regular street grid, as even the straightest of San Francisco's streets might include steep hills or even staircases instead of a roadway. San Franciscans who bike frequently find ways to "wiggle" — taking winding routes to avoid hills — around the steepest hills in the city. You might try using this flat route finder. You can also put your bike on the front of the MUNI buses if you get desperate.

A classic and relatively easy ride is from the tip of Golden Gate Park's panhandle in the Haight, along paths and JFK Drive through the park to Ocean Beach. JFK Drive is lightly trafficked, and closed to cars on Sundays.

Downtown, SoMa, and the Sunset, and Richmond districts are relatively flat. There are a number of bike paths and bike routes on city streets; the San Francisco Bike Coalition keeps a lot of information about them. There are a number of bike rental companies in town, including Dylan's Bike Rental, Bay City Bike, Bike and Roll and Blazing Saddles Bike Rentals with locations in Fisherman's Wharf, and the Bike Hut and Pacific Bicycle in SoMa.

The Golden Gate Bridge has sectioned off pathways on each side for pedestrians and bicyclists. If you choose to ride a bicycle across the Golden Gate Bridge, be aware that walkers always stay on the east side of the bridge and bikes are often to ride on the west (ocean) side of the bridge. When the Bridge is closed to pedestrians during nighttime, you may continue to bicycle across by stopping to press the buzzer at the automatically closed gates to be buzzed in and out. It is a pet peeve of many locals to have to dodge bicycles while jogging or strolling.

By taxi

Taxis in San Francisco are, for a large city, surprisingly inefficient and expensive, starting at $3.10 just for getting in the door. You can get an idea of how much particular taxi trips cost in San Francisco using the San Francisco Taxicab Commission's webpage.

Except for near downtown business hotels, tourist destinations, and nightlife areas, taxis can be hard to find and hail—and calling for a cab can mean a 30-45 minute wait, if the cab shows up at all. In recent years, there has been considerable controversy in San Francisco about increasing the number of taxis, but the situation is getting better. Before coming to San Francisco, you should download apps for some popular alternatives to hailing a taxi (e.g. Uber, Sidecar, Lyft, and the taxi hailing app).

If you are heading to the airport, your best bet is to call ahead with a specific pickup time to one of the many taxi companies. You will also want to schedule your cab ahead of time because if you are going beyond 15 miles, you will end up paying 50% extra.

By car

You almost certainly don't want to rent a car. Perpetually-clogged traffic, steep hills, a confusing system of one-way streets downtown, expensive parking, and a fleet of parking control officers who enforce parking laws with zeal can make driving in San Francisco extremely frustrating; visitors to the city should seriously consider alternatives to driving when possible. Car rental is expensive, registration fees are the highest of any U.S. state, and because collisions are common, rates for liability insurance (legally required) are high as well. In addition, traffic from the Golden Gate Bridge uses surface streets either along CA-1, 19th Avenue or US-101 on Lombard and Van Ness. In short, a car is really only useful for visiting destinations outside of the city, and even then you may be better off using a taxi or other car sharing service.

The most difficult problem with your car in San Francisco will be parking. Parking throughout the city is extremely scarce. Garages, where they are available, are quite expensive ($20–30/day downtown), and San Francisco has recently begun a variable-pricing scheme which makes the most popular street parking more expensive. San Francisco has some of the strictest parking laws and enforcement in the country. For day trips into the city, consider a park-and-ride at a Peninsula Caltrain station, at a Peninsula BART station, or at an East Bay BART station.

When parking on a hill (and there are many of them in San Francisco), remember to always apply that parking brake and turn your wheels so that the car will roll into the sidewalk instead of the street if the brakes give out (i.e., when facing uphill, turn toward the street; when facing downhill, turn toward the curb). Failure to park properly doesn't just run the risk of having your car roll downhill, but it is also against the law and you may be ticketed.

Motorcycles and scooters are a common sight on San Francisco streets; in fact, San Francisco is known as one of the most motorcycle-friendly places in the U.S. Street parking for motorcycles is plentiful and relatively inexpensive ($0.30 to $0.80 an hour), but note that parking on sidewalks is usually illegal. There are several motorcycle rental shops, along with many dealers, service shops, and motorcyclist hangouts. As elsewhere in California, motorcyclists must wear helmets. Motorcycle theft is a problem; always use a disk lock or secure your bike to a stationary object using a cable or chain.

Segways are somewhat popular among tourists. If you'd like to blend in, you'll definitely avoid them. So far there is only one authorized Segway dealer that rents out Segways, though various tour operators (many of whom operate from Fisherman's Wharf) offer guided trips throughout the city.

source: Wikivoyage

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