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Getting around San Francisco is relatively easy regardless of whether residents choose to drive themselves or take advantage of the city’s public transportation.
The city is small in size, so many of the places that people want to visit are within walking distance. It's best to keep in mind, though, that San Francisco is a city of hills, some of which are steep. This is worth paying attention to as new arrivals begin to orientate themselves.
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 in the city. Most residents use buses and trains for getting around San Francisco on a day-to-day basis, but 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.
The Bay Area Rapid Transit, or the BART, is the rail system that moves through the city. With six lines and nearly 50 stations, it's a quick and easy way to travel.
The BART trains arrive every 15 minutes on weekdays and every 20 minutes at night and on weekends. Service begins at around 5am on weekdays, while service starts slightly later on weekends. Train service ends at around midnight every day.
Bus services are run by Muni. Services are fairly frequent during the day when buses stop at six- to 20-minute intervals, depending on the particular route and time of day. Owl services run from 1am to 5am and arrive every half hour. It generally only takes one or two buses (with minimal walking) to reach most destinations from anywhere in the city.
Taxis in San Francisco
Taxis in 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 around quickly and efficiently.
It is safe and easy to wave a cab down on the street, or they can be called in advance. Taxis are available at all hours of the day and night.
Ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft are also available in San Francisco.
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.
One of the things to get used to when driving around San Francisco is the many 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.
The major problem for most people who own cars in San Francisco isn't 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.
►For info on getting around nationally, see Transport and Driving in the USA
"I thought I could get away with not owning a car and just using buses and trains. I was wrong. I live outside of the city proper though so if you're in SF itself you could probably get away with it. The bus services on the weekends are really reduced so you spend a lot of time waiting and a lot of money on transport. For me it was much easier and more economical to get a second-hand car. I find the transport options strange here. They are owned by private companies and don't link up very well. If you're catching a Caltrain to then grab the BART to SF, you'll be stuck waiting for up to an hour between services. Very annoying. Using Muni can also be confusing I find, but I'm sure you'd get used to the system if you used it often enough."
Read more about Aussie expat Katherine's experiences in San Francisco.
Are you an expat living in San Francisco?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to San Francisco. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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