Rod Shelffo
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Navigating the US: Getting Around in San Francisco, California

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Getting Around San Francisco

Getting Around San Francisco Photo by David Yu

Quiz: Buy or Lease- Which is Right for You?

San Francisco is a city bursting with personality. Each district is home to its own unique flavor, culture, and landscape. From the hippie chic of the Upper Haight to the Marina District’s trendy bistros and picturesque views of the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco is sure to open your minds and your hearts – there’s something for everyone to love about this beautiful city.

Recommended Modes of Transportation

San Francisco Bike

Biking is very popular in San Francisco Photo by Shawn Clover

If you’re an active person and a little (or a lot) of physical activity sounds good to you, San Francisco can easily be managed by bike or on foot. The city seems huge due to its large diversity and wide array of attractions, but the city itself is actually quite small, just about seven by seven miles. Getting from neighborhood to neighborhood isn’t difficult, but beware that you might encounter some of those massively hilly streets that are famously known to San Francisco.

Another good option is the public transportation system, which happens to be one of the best in the country. The public transportation system is comprised of the Muni – a network of underground metro, streetcars, trolley buses, and cable cars), BART – a regional subway, and Caltrain – commuter rail services.

San Francisco Muni

San Francisco Muni system Photo by Telmo 32

Exploring the city by car is possible, but not recommended. With a network of confusing one-way streets, heavy traffic, and minimal or expensive parking, walking, biking, or taking advantage of the public transportation systems are far better options.

Major Highways and Roadways to Know

Golden Gate Bridge at Night

Photo by David Yu

Four major highways take you into San Francisco; US-101 is the most direct route from the south – up the eastern side of the San Francisco peninsula, however this tends to get backed up with traffic. Interstate 280 is a more scenic route from the south and you’ll likely hit less traffic. Interstate 80 approaches the city from the east over the San Francisco Bay Bridge, and from the north, US-101 will take you right over the Golden Gate Bridge (be prepared for traffic).

Alternative Ways of Seeing the City

There are probably hundreds of ways to see San Francisco, and we recommend picking out a tour or two to get the most out of your trip. offers a variety of tours – whether you want to learn more about San Francisco, check out Alcatraz, or get some serious wine tasting in, you can find something to suit your tastes.

San Francisco Trolley

Photo by Wally Gobetz

For a unique view of the city, join locals and tourists alike and hop on one of San Francisco’s iconic cable cars; it just wouldn’t be a trip to San Francisco without checking that off your bucket list.

San Francisco bus trolley

Photo by Wally Gobetz

Best Places to Park

As mentioned before, parking can be a real pain. If you will be driving, be sure to plan ahead and know where the closest public parking is located. Check out for available parking and rates.

Airports and Car Rentals

San Francisco International Airport (SFO) is the closest major airport serving the city. Most major airlines service SFO, and the airport is generally bustling with international travelers from around the world.

When you arrive in San Francisco, you’ll have plenty of options for getting to your final destination in the city. If you’re planning to use public transportation, BART Rapid Rail, Caltrain Commuter Rail, and SamTrans Public Bus Service are all available at the airport terminals.

If you’ll be renting a car, SFO is home to Alamo, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Enterprise, Fox, Hertz, National and Thrifty car rental agencies, which are located on the fourth floor of the SFO Rental Car Center.

Hotels and Attractions

Alkatraz Island

Alkatraz Island   Photo by Tom Bennett

For even more attractions, and to plan your trip, check out the resources below:

Related: What is Onstar, Anyway?

  • Rod ShelffoContributor

    After four years in The Marine Corp, Rod formed a career at Hatfield Buick GMC that has spanned more than 25 years. He is married to Lori, has one daughter, Staci, and two grandkids, Kimberlyn and Kaden. He's an avid golfer and past president and active member of the Redlands Optimist Club.