San Francisco has four separate rail systems which include the BART, Muni, Caltrain and classic cable cars. This article will help clear up which system is best based on your needs and provide a multitude of maps to understand the areas served by each system and how they connect.
Caltrain vs BART vs Muni
This system was built to act as a regional commuter train. Its strength is providing quick access to San Francisco and Oakland airports into the downtown hubs of San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley. The biggest pitfall with the BART is that it does not connect visitors to popular tourist destinations like Fisherman’s Wharf, Golden Gate Park, or areas along the coast line. The Muni helps in this area. The BART is also handy for those driving in from I-5 or I-80 and desire a hotel east of the bay where rates are affordable and parking is free.
This system runs from San Francisco to San Jose connecting Silicon Valley and Stanford in its path. It will provide access to the San Jose Airport. The Caltrain has express routes helping make travel between San Jose and SF quicker. The major pitfall of this system is that it does not connect riders into the heart of San Francisco. The last station is at AT&T park leaving riders 13 blocks short of Union Square in downtown. There is a Muni bus which will connect riders into the city called the 81X Caltrain Express. Generally speaking the Caltrain is completely useless for tourist and mainly used for business travelers who need access to Silicon Valley.
The Muni is the name for San Francisco’s network of buses, cable cars, and light rail trains. MUNI rail helps pick up where the BART leaves off. It helps riders’ access destinations west of the city toward the coast and will get you to AT&T Park, Fisherman’s Wharf, and move riders along the bay front piers via its street car F line. Muni buses help connect visitors with Presidio, The Golden Gate Bridge, and Lombardy Street.
Cable Car Basics
A staple of San Francisco. These iconic street cars are more useful for tourist. There are three lines, the Powell-Mason, Powell-Hyde and California line. The Powell connects the major hotel hub near Union Square to the major tourist hub Fisherman’s Wharf.
The BART connects directly with the terminal. Ride time into downtown San Francisco is about 30 minutes along the yellow line and will cost adults $8.35 one way. The Caltrain does connect directly with the terminal, but it can be accessed by taking the BART to the Millbrae station. This station is one stop south away from downtown SF.
The BART does not connect directly with the terminal; you must use the AirBart shuttle which costs $3. The Amtrak station is next to the BART station that connects with the Airport. The BART ride time into downtown SF is about 20 minutes and costs $3.85 for adult riders.
San Jose Airport
The Caltrain does not connect directly with the terminal, riders will need to use the FREE shuttle provided at the Santa Clara station. Ride time to SF is about an hour depending on the train. The fare is $8.75. The shuttle will also connect riders with the VTA which is San Jose’s light rail system that can connect riders with downtown San Jose.
Fisherman’s Wharf , Pier 39, Alcatraz
The Muni street car F line (Market & Wharves) is the closest connection. This line will connect you will all of the major peers along the bay front. The BART Embarcadero station connects with this line. The cable car Powel-Mason or Powell Hyde lines will connect within a few blocks of Fisherman’s Wharf. These are easily accessed from downtown near union square.
Golden Gate Park, Japanese Tea Gardens
The Muni N line stop of 9th Ave. & Irving will place you within a 10 minute walk of the Japanese Tea Gardens inside Golden Gate Park. The N line connects with the BART at all of the major downtown stations.
Golden Gate Bridge
There are no rail routes that connect with the Golden Gate Bridge, but there is a bus line. Use the 28th-29th Avenue line to travel between Fisherman’s Wharf and the Golden Gate Bridge. The bus line Marin Headlines Express will pick riders up downtown, and take them all the way across the bridge, but this line falls short of giving riders access to the best bridge lookout areas.