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Cable Cars Are One Way To Be Car-Free In San Francisco

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It’s a pretty easy city to get around in if you stick to the core.

There are some cities I’ve been to like Portland where you can enjoy most of the sights and sounds of the city just by walking to them.  Not so San Francisco, there is plenty to see by foot but to really see everything you’ve got to get off your feet and into a car, bus, trolley, street car or subway. I took them all and I still saw myself walking about 15,000 steps a day, and some of those steps were up the famous San Francisco hills. Don’t rent a car when you visit San Fran unless you absolutely have to, you’ll just be paying for parking and the rate per day at most hotels I saw was over $40. That can add up very quickly so do what I did and try out the various modes of transit in San Francisco and if there is an adventure that requires you drive, just rent the car for that trip. Without a car you can use the Street Cars, Buses & Trolleys at ease. If you buy a San Francisco CityPASS, it gives you unlimited access and it even gets you into some great sightseeing attractions as well. It was the perfect way for me to navigate the city during my 30 Days In SF adventures.

Riding the famed Cable Cars of San Francisco

Vancouver Golf & Travel Show Feb 14 & 15th
A little bit about the CityPASS. At a cost of $86 for adults or $64 for kids under 12, you get 7 days of unrestricted access to San Francisco’s Muni Transit and to the famed Cable Cars that run throughout the city. On top of the transit benefits, the pass also gets you into the California Academy of Sciences, the Blue & Gold Fleet Bay Cruise, the Aquarium of the Bay or Monterey Bay Aquarium, and the Exploratorium or De Young Museum. In this book is a whirlwind tour of San Francisco that would cost you over $160 if you were to visit each independently. It’s a pretty good deal if you ask me and one that I took advantage of.

San Francisco City Pass

So how do you get around San Francisco without renting a car? Let’s start with getting to and from the Airport via BART or the Bay Area Rapid Transit.


Most of my time in San Francisco I stayed in the downtown area of Union Square, the Embarcadero or Nob Hill. The best way and cheapest I might add is to take the BART from the Airport right to the Powell St Station or the Embarcadero Station. It’s just like the Skytrain or the Canada Line back in Vancouver but with one difference. On the BART you don’t buy a ticket you load a transit pass and that transit pass is then scanned at the BART station fare gate when you enter and leave. It cost me about $12 and 30 minutes to get from to the Airport from Powell Street, a pretty good option if you ask me and I was lucky I even made a new friend on the journey who gave me some good tips on getting around.

BART map

Powell St BART & Muni station

Made a new friend on the BART ride to San Fran


I know this is an obvious one but honestly I walked everywhere. I set the pedometer each morning and clocked my steps. On average I achieved over 15,000 steps a day which I hope helped me to not gain too much weight as I was eating my way around the city. While I was staying at the Intercontinental Mark Hopkins I even walked up and down Mason Street. It doesn’t sound like much, but trust me it’s a steep climb that left my calves aching and my lungs a puffing. I don’t even want to share with you the thoughts I had as a local runner sped past me like it was nothing….

One foot in front of the other

I walked up and down Mason Street


The Muni as it’s referred to in San Francisco includes the buses, streetcars and the Metro Light Rail. It also includes the Cable Cars but I’ll save that. If you are in the downtown area or any of the major neighbourhoods of San Francisco then the Muni is probably going to be your major transit use. If you pick up the CityPASS all you do when boarding any Muni is wave your book and your waved on. It’s that easy.

The streetcars run regularly and are quite easy to use once you figure them out. You board the streetcars from the middle of the street at intersections. It is normal for this to happen so don’t worry about getting run over by cars on the outside lane, they are used to it. I didn’t take any buses during my adventures because everywhere I was going the streetcars were running but the buses work exactly as you’d expect them to.

San Fran streetcar with people boarding her in the Casto district

Streetcar tracks along the streets of San Fran

The Metro Light Rail is perfect for longer journeys though town like a visit to the San Francisco Zoo. It’s part of the Muni and you board at the same stations downtown that the BART is located at. Again with my CityPASS I wave it and I’m through. I took the MLR from the Embarcadero all the way to the Zoo and it was fast and easy. About 40 mins in length from start to finish and I was there. Just like riding the SkyTrain back home. Check the maps for complete routes but this is a great option for longer journeys with less stops than the buses.

Map of the SF Metor lines

Munit Metro entrance San Francisco

Taking the Metro Light Rail to the SF Zoo

Cable Cars

Of course no trip to San Francisco is complete without riding the famed Cable Cars. You won’t be the only person wanting to ride them so I discovered a trick to help cut down on your wait times to board. There are 3 Cable Car routes you can take, the Powell-Hyde, the Powell Mason and California Street. The two Powell lines are very popular and if you want to ride the Powell-Hyde from beginning to end chances are you’ll be in line for at least 30 minutes no matter which end you start from. I found the California line to be less popular yet equally stunning, especially as it climbed up to Nob Hill. If you really want to ride the Powell lines though here is the trick, wait at the 2nd stop and not the beginning. They always leave a few spots to pick up passengers and by doing this you can easily save yourself some standing around. Just look for the Cable Car signs on the route and you’ll know where they stop to pick up. If you buy the CityPASS the Cable Cars are free to ride!

Cable Car going up California Street

Leaning out of a cable car going up California street

Look for the Cable Car stop signs

So you see, you don’t need a car to get around San Francisco. Even if you decide on a side trip to Napa Valley or Sonoma there are ways to get there without renting a car. If you book a ride on the Wine Train they have an option where you can sail or bus from San Fran to Napa and it’s all taken care of for you. Where there is a will there is a way to not rent a car if you so choose.

As I got used to the city and with unlimited access thanks to the CityPASS I walked a little less and used the streetcars and Cable Cars to my advantage. Why walk Mason Street up to Nob Hill when you can Cable Car it instead. I’m not lazy just smart Smile

30 Days In SF Over the course of 30 posts I’m exploring Where to Stay, Where to Eat and Drink and What to Do in San Francisco and the Bay area. I won’t get to everything awesome but I welcome your suggestions and if I don’t get to it on this visit there is always the next time!

Vancouver Golf & Travel Show Feb 14 & 15th

The Vancouver Golf & Travel Show takes place on Feb 14 & 15th at the PNE. It is the largest consumer golf & travel show in Western Canada and will have over 125 exhibitors, travel destinations, manufacturer’s representatives and demonstrators giving you everything you need to know about golf and travel. There will also be presentations from Golf professionals, PGA Tour Pro Bryn Parry and Sports Journalists. Tickets are only $12 for Adults and kids 17 & under get in for free. If there is a golf lover in the family this makes a sweet Valentines Day gift and while they are all about the golf you and the kids can explore all the travel options on site. Perhaps your next vacation inspiration is just waiting for you to discover it. The 2015 Vancouver Golf & Travel Show is BIGGER BETTER & LOUDER

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About Author

Marc Smith is a former event planner turned vagabond adventurer. He loves strong Americano's, great wine, cold beer and zip lining over tree tops. Formerly of Vancouver, most of Marc's time when not travelling is in Canada's largest city, Toronto. Follow along on his nomad adventures and discover places to stay, things to do and where to eat & drink as he explores the world one city and region at a time.

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