Lifestyle & Culture

Tips for Travel: How to Get Around San Francisco Like a Pro

Moving to San Francisco and worried about the costs? You’re not alone. Living in the country’s most expensive city for renters is no walk in the park, but luckily there are a few places where you can actually cut costs. SF’s network of public transportation, cycle lanes and pedestrian-friendly streets mean you can totally get around without a car. (Plus, those notorious hills make life a lot more…interesting.) If you’re new to the city, here are some tips from the locals on navigating SF like a pro.

San Francisco Public Transportation

For the nearly 33 percent of San Franciscans who use public transportation to commute, the Muni, Caltrain, and Bart are the life and blood of their everyday travels. Depending on where you frequent, you may want to invest some time researching which will work best for you.

Muni Transit

Run by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, Muni has an extensive network of public transportation including city buses, cable cars, and the historic streetcars and trolleys. Whether you’re traveling across town or just down the street, hopping on and off one of Muni’s modes of transportation offers plenty of options for cheap — just be prepared for the occasional delay or cancellation (or unexpected sight), warn locals.

“When we have friends visit from out of town, we give them one simple piece of advice with regards to Muni,” says SF resident and wine entrepreneur Mark Aselstine.

“Pretty much stay off it, unless you’re riding the streetcars. Really, when you use BART and the cable car network, along with an occasional Uber ride, you can get around the city with less stress than a Muni bus is going to give you.”

BART and Caltrain

BART, or Bay Area Transit, is another popular public transit option run by SFMTA. As the country’s fifth busiest heavy rail rapid transit system, the BART connects the heart of SF with numerous cities in the East Bay and suburbs in the south. Nearly half a million passengers commute using BART on weekdays, so it’s no surprise SFMTA has plans to update the trains to be cooler, more comfortable and less noisy, beginning in Fall 2016. Just remember: The locals have an unspoken code of conduct for BART riders — something you should definitely familiarize yourself with before you become that rider.

Finally, Caltrain is a another commuter train similar to BART, perfect for traveling between San Francisco and San Mateo and Santa Clara. This is your best bet if you’re trying to get to Silicon Valley from SF (whereas you might want to take the BART if you’re just going to Oakland). Fares for Caltrain vary depending on the zone you’re traveling between and the number of rides you need, so it’s a good idea to check before hopping on-board.

Other Options for Getting Around

And perhaps the best news about getting around is SF is you can reasonably forgo all modes of modern transportation if you want. With 3.4 percent of the city’s population who bike to work, San Francisco has among the highest percentage of cycling commuters in the country, according to the Census Bureau. Additionally, about 10 percent simply choose to walk to work. San Francisco has an extensive system of bicycle paths and lanes, some of which are parallel to traffic and shared with pedestrians — some that are completely separate from both.

With all the transportation options, it’s promising to know there’s at least one place where residents can cut costs, say locals.

“Test out this ‘multimodal’ lifestyle before committing to car ownership,” says Earl Kaing, a transportation consultant in SF. “It’s worked pretty well for me, and saved me a ton of money (that unfortunately over the years has gone to paying exploding San Francisco rents!).

“I’m all about using the right tool for the right job, so I take transit mostly for trips to and from work, when transit service is the most frequent and reliable. For all other trips, especially those that would require a transfer, I usually just take a cab, Uber, or Lyft.

By getting creative with the many modes of transportation in SF, Kaing says he’s come up with the perfect system for getting around swiftly and saving cash.

“If it weren’t for the robustness of car services in San Francisco, I would’ve probably bought a car a long time ago. With the money I’ve saved by not going that route, though, I’ve been able to cover my rising rents. Plus I never have to worry about looking for parking everywhere I go.”

Kaing points out that cities are built around roads, and while railcars and cable cars have their place, they work better in tandem with taxis. So, pick your fancy, folks!

What tips do you have for getting around SF like a pro? Drop ’em below!