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Getting Around the San Francisco Bay Area

When in the downtown area, traveling by foot will afford you much better views than you will get from inside a car. Experience the sights, sounds, aromas and energy of the city by strolling the streets. When you are worn down, hop onto one of San Francisco's many public transit options. The cable cars, light rail and buses are all great ways to get around San Francisco. Click on the section headings below for more detail.

For information about getting from San Francisco Airport to downtown and all Bay Area cities, see our airport transportation page.

Driving on city streets is challenging in the downtown areas of San Francisco, San Jose and Berkeley. We strongly discourage driving in the city. The confusing array of one way and two way streets, steep hills and narrow lanes all conspire to make driving an unpleasant experience at best. Parking in downtown is challenging and/or expensive. There is little or no free parking.

Outside of downtown, an automobile becomes a virtual necessity and driving is easier. Freeway travel in the Bay Area is less challenging than in the downtown areas but it can be congested during commute times and at most hours around downtown San Francisco.

Public Transit in the San Francisco in operated by the Muni. It operates a system of light rail, buses and the cable cars. Public transit in the Bay Area is available through a variety of systems. Unfortunately, they are not well interconnected and so traveling throughout the Bay Area can require you to transfer from one form of transit to another. If your visit will be limited to a small area, especially a downtown area, then the local transit may be adequate. If you plan to visit a wider area, such as day trips to Bay Area attractions, beaches or the Napa Valley, then a rental car will likely be a necessity.

Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) is a light rail system that runs 7 days a week, with service from four a.m. to midnight. It connects SFO and OAK airports to San Francisco. BART runs from SFO north to San Francisco then crosses the bay and runs east to Berkeley/Oakland, east to Dublin/Pleasanton, north to Richmond/Walnut Creek/Concord and south to Fremont. It is clean, reasonably priced, fairly on-time and occasionally crowded (especially during commute hours and during special events). However, it has a limited number of stops which means you will probably have to transfer to bus unless you are lucky enough to have a destination near a BART stop.

Caltrain is a rail line that runs the length of the Bay Area's peninsula from San Francisco south to San Jose, and during commute hours, beyond to Gilroy. Caltrain provides a connection at the Millbrae station to BART for transportation to SFO airport (requires a separate ticket). In San Jose, Caltrain connects with a free airport shuttle to SJC airport at the Santa Clara stop. Caltrain also connects with Amtrak and Santa Clara VTA light rail system. It is clean, reasonably priced, fairly on-time and occasionally crowded (especially during commute hours and during special events).

Santa Clara VTA Light Rail system runs through Santa Clara county including Silicon Valley and San Jose.

Bus routes cover most of the Bay Area. However, there are five major bus systems running in the counties ringing the Bay Area. Buses may be suitable when traveling within one county. When traveling through two or more counties, transfers between systems can add a lot of travel time. Depending upon the day and time, bus service may by very limited in some areas.

Taxis can be hailed on the street in the downtown areas but you may be better off calling for one in advance. Outside of the downtown areas and airports, calling to arrange for a cab will be necessary.

Door to Door Shuttles & Limousine Service are available on a prearranged basis. Shuttles may be a cheaper alternative to taxis because the ride is shared with other passengers. However, travel time can be longer while each passenger is each dropped off at their destination. Limousines are also an alternative to taxis and their rates are very competitive for anything but very short trips.

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