San Francisco GeographyA little bit of knowledge about San Francisco can help you find all the attractions easily, make your San Francisco visit more pleasant and save you the embarrassment I suffered when I didn't know San Francisco as well as I do now. I once asked a cab driver to take me from Union Square to the Chinatown Gate, which he did - a ride of about 3 blocks! Use our map to learn where the major sights and areas are.
San Francisco seems big to many people because they've heard about so many things here, but it's really a small city (49 square miles), and most of the tourist attractions are in a much smaller area than that and you can go from Union Square through Chinatown and North Beach to Fisherman's Wharf, all in about a mile and a half.
Getting Around San Francisco on LandThe most laid-back people can get positively, red-faced, screaming mad driving in San Francisco, especially when trying to find a parking spot. Avoid driving unless you really need to, and think twice before renting a car. Parking is expensive, adding $20 or more a night to your hotel bill. Add another $10 or more per day for parking lots, and I'm sure you'd rather spend your money some more pleasant way.
The best way to get around is a combination of several options. If you plan to use public transportation often (buses, cable cars, trolley), save money and buy a Muni Passport. They're available for 1, 3 and 7 days. A Muni transfer (which you get when you pay) is both a receipt and a re-ride ticket. Check its expiration time (where it's torn at the bottom) before paying again unnecessarily.
- Bus Tours City Sightseeing double-decker buses stop at many of the most popular sights, and Cable Car Charters' Motorized Cable Car Tours are fun. Other similar-sounding services don't stop at as many places or offer as much flexibility. To save time and ensure that you won't find them sold out, order your tickets from Viator.com. They guarantee a price as low as you'd get on the spot, and you get a print-at-home voucher right away.
The Go San Francisco Card offers transportation as well as a number of sights. Use this handy guide to find out all you need to know about it.
- Walk whenever you can. Not only is it the best way to really see the city, it's good exercise and inexpensive. Despite San Francisco's reputation for hills, the waterfront is perfectly flat, and most of Chinatown and North Beach are an easy walk, too.
- Cable cars go to most of the popular destinations, especially Union Square, Chinatown, Ghirardelli Square and Fisherman's Wharf, but the wait to get on can be long. Ride once for fun and then find another way to get around. The California Line takes you to the Ferry Building, Chinatown and Nob Hill.
- City Bus System (Muni) goes everywhere, but it's crowded at rush hour and when school gets out. Use it to get to the Golden Gate Bridge, Golden Gate Park and the beaches.
- Historic "F" Line Trolley runs along Market Street and The Embarcadero from the Castro district to Fisherman's Wharf. It's a good way to get to Fisherman's Wharf, the Ferry Building and Union Square.
- Taxis may be a good option, especially if several people are traveling, but getting one can be a problem at peak times (in other words, when you really need one).
- BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) is a regional transportation system that covers much of the San Francisco Bay area. It's less useful than other options for getting around the tourist areas, but it does run to San Francisco Airport, Mission Dolores and the Mission District.