Getting around in San Francisco

Getting around San Francisco is relatively easy regardless of whether expats choose to drive from point A to point B, or to take advantage of the city’s system of public transportation.
San Francisco Cable Car - Getting around San Francisco
San Francisco is only about 50 square miles in size so many of the places that people want to visit are within walking distance.

Expats should 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 you begin to orientate yourself. Some people may feel uncomfortable driving up and down the steepest hills of the city as well as parking on those hills.

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

Many expats living in San Francisco do own cars, but a lot of people also get by just using public transportation options in the city.

Public transport in San Francisco

There are lots of public transport options for expats living in San Francisco. Most residents of the city use buses and trains for getting around San Francisco on a day-to-day basis. However, it is making use of the city's ferries and cable cars do make a nice change when having 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 a little more limited.

Buses vary in how crowded they are and will occasionally pass you by if they do get too full which is the only major inconvenience of using them as your 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. Unfortunatley, there are no discount weekly or monthly passes available on BART. However, 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 

The city of San Francisco is famous for its historic cable cars.

Although they are most frequently used by tourists, expats living in the city may enjoy riding them as well.

They are convenient for reaching certain destinations such as Chinatown and Fisherman’s Wharf.

Travelling by cable car in San Francisco is expensive. However, monthly MUNI passeses work on cable cars as well. 


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. This includes traditional yellow cabs as well was eco-friendly green cabs. 

Taxis is San Francisco are reasonably priced especially since travel distances are short around the city. Frequent use of taxis does add up in cost but this is a great way to get somewhere quickly and efficiently. It is expected that you will tip the driver 10 to 20 percent.

It is safe and easy to wave taxis down on the street. Alternatively, you can call for a taxi. Taxis are available at all hours of the day and night.

Driving in San Francisco

Lombard Street - getting around san franciscoGetting around San Francisco in a car is fairly simple; although, expats living in the urban city centre will certainly encounter some traffic problems.

If you are travelling in the same direction as the flow of rush hour traffic then you may find that you 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 that the city has. There are many areas of the city where you cannot make left turns off of major streets so you 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. You will find that your best bet is to purchase a parking permit for the area in which you live so that you don’t have to move your car every two hours when you are at home in San Francisco.

Car sharing in San Francisco

Expats who get drivers’ licenses in San Francisco can participate in the city’s car share program. There are cars located in parking lots throughout the city; members can easily rent the cars by the hour or by the day.

This is much cheaper than owning a car in the city if you are only planning to use the car a few times per week or less.

Safety of transportation and car crime in San Francisco

Public transportation is considered to be safe in San Francisco. As with public transportation in all major cities, pickpocketing may occur on crowded buses and BART trains but is rare. Keep aware of your surroundings and you should be fine.

For expats who decide to drive in San Francisco, it is important to be aware of the risk of car crime. Violent car crime, such as carjackings, is very rare in the city. However, car theft is higher in San Francisco than the national average for the USA. Additionally, car break ins and vandalism may occur when parking your car overnight on San Francisco streets. Look for well-lit areas to park your car to prevent this problem.

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