Getting Around in San Francisco

Traffic in San Francisco, on the Golden Gate BridgeGetting around San Francisco is relatively easy regardless of whether an expat chooses to drive themselves or to take advantage of the city’s public transportation.

The city is only about 50 square miles (150km²) in size, so many of the places that people want to visit are within walking distance. Expats should, however, keep in mind that San Francisco is a city of hills, some of which can be very steep. This is worth paying attention to as new arrivals begin to orientate themselves. Aside from the way this impacts walking, some people may feel uncomfortable driving up and down the city's steepest hills as well as parking on those hills.

People who enjoy walking are likely to find it easy to walk through most areas of the city but may opt to take public transportation in the areas where the hills are at their steepest.

Many expats living in San Francisco do own cars, but it's possible to get by without one.

Public transport in San Francisco

There are many public transport options for expats living in the city. Most residents use buses and trains for getting around San Francisco on a day-to-day basis. However, making use of the city's famous cable cars and ferrying across the Bay make for a nice change when enjoying a leisurely day out in the city.


Buses is San Francisco run throughout the city on a fairly regular schedule. It generally only takes one or two buses (with minimal walking) to reach most destinations from anywhere in the city.

Tickets can by purchased onboard any bus or at a vending machine. MUNI passes are also valid on cable cars in San Francisco.

Services are fairly frequent during the day when buses stop at six to 15 minute intervals, depending on the particular route. 'Owl' services which run through the night are, however, slightly more limited.

Buses vary in how crowded they are and will occasionally pass a waiting commuter if they get too full, which is the only major inconvenience for someone using them as their primary mode of transportation. 

Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) 

BART is the light rail system that moves through the city. It is a quick and easy method of reaching destinations that are located in San Francisco’s Financial District as well as in the city’s popular Mission neighbourhood. It is also one of the best modes of transportation for travel to nearby suburbs and cities.

The rate of pay depends on the distance of the journey. Unfortunately, there are no discounted weekly or monthly passes available for BART, although there are discounts for students and pensioners. Children under the age of four also travel for free.

BART trains travel at regular intervals of two to six minutes, depending on the route and time of day. 

Cable cars 

San Francisco is famous for its historic cable cars, which have a history going back to 1873. Although they are most frequently used by tourists, expats living in the city may also enjoy riding these officially designated National Historic Landmarks. 

Travelling by cable car in San Francisco is expensive. However, monthly MUNI passes also work on the cars, and they are convenient for reaching certain destinations such as Chinatown and Fisherman’s Wharf.


There are two ferry stops along the Embarcadero in San Francisco. These provide a fun way of getting to the North Bay or the East Bay, although they are generally too pricey for regular use.

Taxis in San Francisco

It is easy to find taxis in San Francisco, including the traditional yellow cabs as well as eco-friendly green cabs. 

Taxis is San Francisco are reasonably priced, especially since travel distances around the city tend to be short. Frequent use of taxis does add up in cost but they are a great way to get somewhere quickly and efficiently. 

It is safe and easy to wave a cab down on the street or they can alternatively be called in advance. Taxis are available at all hours of the day and night. It is expected that passengers will tip the driver 10 to 20 percent.

Driving in San Francisco

Getting around San Francisco in a car is fairly simple, although expats living in the urban city centre will certainly encounter some traffic problems. For instance, when travelling in the same direction as the flow of rush hour traffic, expats are likely to find that they will get stuck waiting in some areas.

One of the things to get used to when driving around San Francisco is the large number of one-way streets in the city. There are many areas of the city where drivers cannot make left turns off of major streets so they have to make a series of right turns instead. This can be frustrating when first adjusting.

The major problem for most people who own cars in San Francisco is not driving but rather parking. Parking lots in the city are expensive. Most areas allow street parking for free but only for two hours at a time. Expats will find that their best bet may be to purchase a parking permit for the area in which they live so that they don’t have to move their car every two hours when they are at home in San Francisco.

Car sharing in San Francisco

Expats who get a driver's license in San Francisco can also participate in the City CarShare programme. There are cars located in parking lots throughout the city, which can easily be rented by members by the hour or by the day.

This is much cheaper than owning a car in San Francisco for expats who only plan to use a car a few times per week or less.

Car crime and transport safety in San Francisco

Public transport in San Francisco is considered to be safe, but as in all major cities, pickpocketing may occur on crowded buses and BART trains, but it's relatively rare. Provided commuters stay aware of their surroundings they should be fine.

For expats who do decide to drive in San Francisco, it is important to be aware of the risk of car crime. Violent crimes such as carjackings are very rare; however, car theft in San Francisco is higher than the national average for the USA. Additionally, car break-ins and vandalism may occur when parking overnight on certain San Francisco streets. To minimise this possibility, drivers should look for well-lit areas to park their car.

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