San Francisco Excursions Using Public Transit

I love the walk-on-walk-off freedom of public transit and the ability to mix walking and riding. I get more exercise, see more, experience more, and move about more freely. San Francisco is compact and densely populated, 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. The city’s transit system, SF Muni, makes San Francisco excursions easy and inexpensive. It also solves the twin problems of driving and parking in a very busy city.

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San Francisco Excursions are Easy on Public Transit

Armed with a Muni Passport or a Clipper Card for hassle-free payment and a a smartphone with transit apps like Pocket MUNI and/or NextBus, you can move around San Francisco with ease, and, as we travelers often claim, the journey is half the fun.

A red historic streetcar runs along the Embarcadero in San Francisco stopping at Pier 39

Historic streetcars, like this one at Pier 39, add to the adventure of San Francisco sightseeing

I’ll get to Apps and Maps and Ways to Pay shortly, but first, here are directions and options for taking public transit to Golden Gate Park and to the Golden Gate Bridge.

Pin San Francisco Public Transit for your citybreak planning!

Places to go and how to get there on San Francisco Public Transit:

Golden Gate Park

Golden Gate Park on public transit where there are lots of things to see and do

Visit Golden Gate Park and walkover the Moon Bridge in the Japanese Tea Garden

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 two options:

Getting to Golden Gate Park

SF Excursions Using Public Transport to Golden Gate Park

Option 1: Take the #5 Fulton bus on Market Street (or catch it along McAllister or Fulton Street) to Fulton at 8th Avenue. Walk into the park.Step 1 – Board a #5 bus (outbound to Ocean Beach) wherever it’s convenient and exit on Fulton at 8th Avenue. The outbound #5 Fulton bus travels along Market from Main Street to McAllister. It continues on McAllister to Central where it jogs left one block to Fulton. It continues on Fulton almost to Ocean Beach. Some #5 buses only go to 6th Avenue, and that works too but adds 2 blocks to the walk.

Step 2 – Cross Fulton, enter the Brown Gate, and follow the sign to the Music Concourse. Then you will see a second sign to the museum. It’s only 0.3 miles (0.5km) to the de Young museum. The Tea Garden is just beyond the museum and CADS is on the opposite side of the Music Concourse.
San Francisco MUNI (Transit System)

MUNI System Map

Golden Gate Park Guide
(Click the GGP Map button)

Free Golden Gate Park Shuttle

de Young Museum

California Academy of Sciences (CADS)

Japanese Tea Garden

Conservatory of Flowers
Option 2: Take the N-Judah Muni Metro to Irving at 9th. Walk into the park or take the #44 O’Shaughnessy bus.Step 1 – From any of the four MUNI/BART Stations on Market Street, take Muni Metro’s N-Judah (light rail) toward Ocean Beach. Exit on Irving Street at the 9th Avenue stop.

Step 2 – Turn right on 9th Avenue and walk 0.5 miles (0.8km) into the park, or find the #44 O’Shaughnessy bus stop on 9th at Irving and take the bus in the inbound direction toward 7th and California. Exit the bus at the California Academy of Sciences (CADS) stop. If your destination is the de Young Museum or the Japanese Tea Garden, walk across the Music Concourse.
Return trip: To get back where you started, simply reverse the trip, or, live it up and take a different route back.To return via the #5 bus (Option 1), walk back to Fulton Avenue at 8th. Catch an inbound #5, heading downtown to the SF Transit Center.

To return via the N-Judah (Option 2), walk to 9th and Irving or catch the outbound #44 at the stop between the de Young museum and the Japanese Tea Garden, take it to 9th and Irving, and transfer to an inbound N-Judah.

Golden Gate Bridge

A Golden Gate bridge visit is one of the top things to do in San Francisco

San Francisco excursions, like visiting the Golden Gate Bridge, are easy on public transit, and it’s a great way to visit this world famous bridge

Its design, its 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 the bridge, take a path to Fort Point below the bridge, and even walk under the bridge. And amazingly, it’s free. The only complication is parking because the small lot by the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center is almost always full. Luckily, you can get there on public transit, and here are two ways to do so:

Getting to the Golden Gate Bridge

SF Excursions Using Public Transport to Golden Gate Bridge

Option 1: First, take the free PresidiGo Downtown shuttle from downtown to the Presidio Transit Center. Then take the Crissy Field shuttle from the Transit Center to the bridge.The PresidiGo Downtown shuttle is only available to the general public between 9a and 4:30p (non-commute hours), but take it if you can; it’s free, fast, and comfortable.

Step 1 – Take the PresidiGo Downtown (Express Presidio) shuttle from the stop on Drumm at California (in front of the Hyatt Regency) or the stop at Van Ness and Union to the Presidio Transit Center.

Step 2 – Take the free Crissy Field PresidiGo shuttle from the Transit Center to the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center.
Free PresidiGo Shuttle

San Francisco Muni (Transit System)

MUNI System Map

Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center

Presidio Visitor Center

Presidio Places to Visit

Walt Disney Family Museum
Option 2: Take the #30 or #47 bus to Van Ness at Northpoint. Then take the #28 – 19th Avenue bus to the bridge.Step 1 – Take Muni buses #30 or #47 to the stop on Van Ness Avenue at North Point Street:
• The outbound #30 Stockton bus (toward North Point or Jefferson Loop) travels through Chinatown on Stockton Street, then through North Beach on Columbus Avenue, and by the Wharf on North Point Street before turning left onto Van Ness.
OR
• The #47 bus (toward the CalTrain Station) begins at the Wharf at Powell and Beach Streets and travels west on North Point Street before turning left onto Van Ness.

Step 2 – Once on Van Ness at North Point, take the Muni #28 – 19th Avenue bus (outbound toward Daly City BART). Hop off at the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center.
Reverse the trip to get back where you started.For Option 1, catch the Crissy Field PresidiGo shuttle and take it back to the Transit Center. If you arrive back too late to take the Downtown PersidiGo, no worries, just take a #43 Masonic bus from the Transit Center toward Fort Mason. This will get you to the Marina District where you have more options (#22, #28, or #30) depending on where you wish to go next (see the Muni System Map).

For Option 2, take the #28 – 19th Avenue bus (inbound toward Van Ness/North Point).

Palace of Fine Arts, Crissy Field, and the Golden Gate Promenade

The Palace of Fine Arts, a faux Roman ruin, built for the 1915 World’s Fair, is a favorite site for wedding photos

The Palace of Fine Arts was built for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition

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:

Getting to the Palace of Fine Arts, Crissy Field, and the Golden Gate Promenade

Public Transport to the Palace of Fine Arts, Crissy Field, and the
Golden Gate Promenade

Take the #30 Stockton bus toward Jefferson Loop.Step 1 – Board a #30 Stockton Jefferson Loop bus wherever it’s convenient and exit on Broderick at Beach street (in the Marina District).

The outbound #30 Stockton bus to Jefferson Loop goes from the CalTrain Station to the Marina District. From the CalTrain Station, it travels along 3rd Street (SOMA), crosses Market onto Kearny (Montgomery BART Station), jogs on Sutter to Stockton (Financial District), travels through Chinatown on Stockton, turns left onto Columbus (North Beach), left onto North Point (the Wharf), left onto Van Ness (by Fort Mason), right onto Chestnut, and right onto Broderick (Marina District and Palace of Fine Arts):

Step 2 – For the Palace, walk 1 block west to Baker Street. For the Promenade, follow Baker Street toward the Bay. Continue through Little Marina Green and turn left on the trail.
San Francisco Muni (Transit System)

MUNI System Map

Palace of Fine Arts

Crissy Field

Golden Gate Promenade
Return trip to get back where you started.Walk to Divisadero at Chestnut and take a #30 Stockton bus inbound toward CalTrain (from Baker and Beach, in front of the Palace, it’s 6-blocks to Divisadero and Chestnut).

Apps and Maps

Apps Pocket MUNI and NextBus (or NextMuni as it’s often called)

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 have two apps, which let me view and track Muni routes: Pocket MUNI and NextBus. I like Pocket MUNI best for planning; it lets me quickly select a route and direction (inbound or outbound) and view all of the stops along the route. I like NextBus best when I’m actually en route. By simply clicking the “Nearby” tab, this app lists all nearby transit options and when/where each will arrive. 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 Muni Transit Map shows all transit options and routes for everything operated by SF Muni, including cable cars and streetcars. The map can be viewed on your smart phone, but ignore the too small, too blurry version of the map on the opening page and, instead, click the link to the PDF (click on the words “Muni System Map” just below the words “Map PDF”). The PDF version is expandable and stays readable. On a computer, you can also download and print the PDF copy or purchase a paper copy at the Cable Car Ticket booth for $3.

The San Francisco transit map shows all the Muni routes and serves as a tourist map, a cable car map and streetcar map

This screenshot, taken on an iPhone, shows one corner of the San Francisco Transit Map. The full map shows all the Muni transit routes

Fares and Ways to Pay

Basic Fares on San Francisco’s Muni System

For more details go the Muni’s website.

SF Muni Fares for Streetcars, Buses, and Muni Metro

Fare GroupCashClipper Card
Senior (65+)2.752.50
Adult (19-64)1.351.25
Youth (5-18)1.351.25
Child (0-4)FreeFree
Cable Cars - All Ages7.00 (no transfers)7.00 (no transfers)

Ways to Pay

SF Excursions on Public Transit (Ways to Pay)

CashYou can almost always use cash, but drivers on buses, streetcars, and Muni Metro (light rail) cannot make change. If you pay cash, take a transfer; it’s your proof of purchase and gives you 90 minutes of use on all Muni transit except cable cars.MUNI Fares & Passes
Visitor PassportIf all of your transit needs are in San Francisco, consider getting a Visitor Passport. There are 1-day ($22), 3-day ($33), and 7-day ($43) versions available, and they can be purchased at the cable car ticket booths and some stores. The Visitor Passport gives you unlimited use on all transit operated by Muni: cable cars, historic streetcars, light rail, and buses. Since it costs $7 every time you hop on a cable car, the passes can save you money.

The name of the Passport is confusing. On the official Muni website, it's a Visitor Passport; the actual passport is titled Muni Passport; the sign at the cable car ticket booth simply calls it Passport.
MUNI Visitor Passport
Clipper CardClipper is the all-in-one transit pass for the San Francisco Bay Area.

If you plan to take public transit beyond San Francisco; for example, a ferry to Jack London Square in Oakland, BART to SFO, or CalTrain to the Tech Museum in San Jose, the Clipper Card is very useful. Cards can be ordered online or purchased at most Walgreens and from Clipper Card machines in BART Stations. The card is $3 plus whatever cash value and/or passes you choose to load onto the card. Tag your Clipper Card on the card reader when you board. On systems that charge based on the distance traveled (trains and ferries) you also need to tag off when exiting.

The Clipper Cards purchased from stores and machines are adult cards and deduct adult fares. Senior (65 and over) and youth (5–18) cards are available, but they require going through an application process.
Clipper Card

BART
CityPASSCityPASS is an independent company which sells passes that combine a Muni pass with entry tickets to some attractions.CityPASS
On San Francisco public transit, the Clipper Card or (Visitor) Muni Passport take care of the fare and the NextMuni app provides routes and arrival times

The NextBus app, better known as NextMuni, provides routes and arrival times; paying the fare is easier with a Clipper Card or Muni (Visitor) Passport

Build your Own City Tour:

Once you’re equipped with Maps and Apps and Ways to Pay and gain a little experience with San Francisco’s transit system, you can build your own city tour and go where you want, when you want. 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 exit Crissy Field onto Mason Street and find a PresidiGo shuttle stop. The stops are marked on the sidewalk with big red circles labeled “Free PresidiGo Shuttle” and the shuttle will take you to the Presidio Transit Center.

Riding a cable car to Fisherman's Wharf and back is always fun

Riding a cable car to Fisherman’s Wharf never gets old

When Visiting San Francisco with Kids, Is Public Transit a Good Option?

I can’t speak for everyone, but my grandkids and great grandkids enjoy taking public transit to, from, and in San Francisco. Typically, we take the BART train to the city, and 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.

My grandkids love riding these historic San Francisco streetcars

San Francisco streetcars are painted to look like those from other cities. This car looks like a vintage streetcar from San Diego

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. Please leave a comment, and let me know how I can improve the information in this post.

What are your favorite things to do in a city?

 

 

About the Author

I am a native Californian and retired telecommunications manager who loves all aspects of travel, even the challenging stressful parts when arrangements don’t quite go as planned. I'm an avid sightseer and amateur photographer; my travel interests include history, art, language, food, and, of course, people. I've been to 43 countries on six continents — including 20 trips to Europe.

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3 Comments

    1. Rhonda, Thank you for your comment. I hope my post will help visitors to San Francisco get around on public transit, and I would love to get any suggestions you have to make this post more useful. I have a series of posts planned about great things to do in San Francisco that cost little or nothing — like walk the Lands End Trail or visit any of several free museums — and this transit post is an anchor for the series.

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