A Tourist's Take on the Best of Bay Area Public Transit

Planning to go car free on a visit to the Bay Area? No sweat! This crown jewel area of the Golden State is awash with public transit options that can fill your visit with tons of everyday adventure, with a healthy dose of convenience. Take a peek at this Bay area outsiders go-to menu of public transit options when visiting San Francisco and Oakland.

Quick disclaimer: This list only includes public transportation means that I personally used more than once and they are listed in the order that I most used them on a recent trip. Options not discussed here – yet still totally valid and useful for folks – are car ride shares and local bike shop rental.

So let’s get you ready for your Bay Area BART-Boat-Bike-a-Thon! And what better place to start then with stating the obvious…

  1. A borrowed bike

SF public transitAccessed via: A generous co-worker

Cost: Nothing

Use: Commuting and recreation in Oakland. Brought into San Francisco for long haul treks.

Hands down my most used means of transportation, while I was in the area, was a borrowed Xtracycle from a co-worker. While not technically “public transit”, I’m gonna go ahead and count this one since it requires tapping into a local community. If you have a friend of a friend with a bike to spare, reach out before your trip to see if they’ll be willing to loan it. Tapping into the local Ford GoBike network will also be a great way to have access to a bike when you need it (read more about that in option #3). Having a bike at my disposal at every hour of day or night for free was a huge plus and made being away from my home and normal bike herd no hurdle at all.

  1. BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) train

bart map

Accessed via: Clipper Card, bank card or cash at the BART station

Cost: Use the cost calculator to determine. An adult ticket from the airport to MacArthur Station near Xtra headquarters is around $10 one way.

Use: Quickly getting around the Bay Area and accessing other transportation at the BART stop. Can bring a regular bike on board but not the best for bringing a full size long tail.

Website: https://www.bart.gov/

The BART is my second heaviest used form of public transit when visiting SF and Oakland. I use the BART to get from the airport to Xtracycle headquarters and to get into SF where I then grab a bike share bike, walk or hop on a cable car. If you are visiting the Bay Area, you will more than likely be using BART so go ahead and grab a Clipper Card and add some funds to it, especially since that card and those funds can be used for every other public transit option as well.

  1. Ford GoBike bike share

ford gobike

Accessed via: Clipper Card linked to Ford GoBike Account, app on a smartphone

Cost: $2 / ride, $10 / day, $15 / month (good option if you intend to use a bike share for more than 2 days)

Use: Biking around San Fran when I took the BART in

Website: https://www.fordgobike.com/

I was skeptical of this bike share at first but it didn’t take long for me to see the utility in the Ford GoBike system. I use these bikes daily when in the Bay area and can see how they add a valuable public transit option for locals. So much so, they were my 3rd highest used form of local transportation. Read more about how you can use Ford GoBikes in a way that meets your traveling needs in our article here: Getting Around the Bay Area by Ford GoBike.

  1. San Francisco Bay Ferry

san francisco bay ferry

Accessed via: Clipper Card, cash

Cost: $14 from Oakland into SF, round trip for an adult. Other fare prices found here.

Use: Bringing a cargo bike across the Bay.

Website: https://sanfranciscobayferry.com/

While using a combo of BART, bike share bikes and cable cars meets most of my needs in San Fran, there are a few adventures I like to embark on that require bringing the cargo bike into town. For example, riding to the Golden Gate Bridge or Golden Gate Park (there is no easy access via bike share out that far). Since I can’t easily get an EdgeRunner on the BART and there is no safe and quick route for me to ride in, on these days I ferried from Jack London Square in Oakland to the Ferry Building in San Francisco. There was a line for the ferry both going into the city and coming back into Oakland so be sure to arrive early to ensure you get a spot and that the crowds won’t make loading the bike on board a challenge.

  1. SFMTA Buses and Historic Street Cars

sf historic street cars

Accessed via: Clipper Card, Muni Mobile app (on a smartphone), cash, day pass, Muni Passports (multi day pass)

Cost: $2.50 (Muni Mobile or Clipper) / $2.75 (cash)

Use: Getting around the city when bike share bikes weren’t a good option or I didn’t have a bike available to me

While I have only used SF’s historic streets cars when down by the Piers – to get from the last Ford GoBike station on the Embarcadero to Fisherman’s Wharf – there is a vast network of bus and cable routes in San Fran that can get you anywhere you want to go for minimal cost. Check out the extensive system map here.

With a combo of these transportation options, going car-free in this part of Cali is sure to make your trip a little extra adventurous. Safe travels, friends!