Are you planning a trip to San Francisco and wondering where to stay without a car? If so, you’re in the right place.
Visiting a large city like San Francisco car-free can be amazing. However, choosing the right accommodation becomes crucial. Otherwise, you might find yourself far from key attractions, facing lengthy travel times, and essentially higher costs. But fear not – my guide is here to help you avoid these pitfalls.
I’ve spent a considerable amount of time in the city, both with and without a car. This includes traveling on buses and trams, as well as exploring various districts on foot and by bicycle. In other words, I’ve gathered a wealth of knowledge that I’m ready to share with you.
Whether you’re a solo visitor, traveling with a partner or friend, or a family on vacation, this guide is tailored for you.
Let’s get started.
📖 Table of Contents
- The Best Places to Stay in San Francisco Without a Car
- Getting Around in San Francisco Without a Car
- Things to Do in San Francisco Without a Car
- Is San Francisco Safe to Explore Without a Car?
- Frequently Asked Questions
The Best Places to Stay in San Francisco Without a Car
When traveling to San Francisco without a car, it’s important to choose a neighborhood with walkable attractions and easy access to public transportation. Let’s go through the best areas.
If you're mainly after the best places to stay, no matter which of the five no-car-friendly neighborhoods in San Francisco, here's a quick roundup of the top accommodation for all budgets:
|● 🎒 Budget:||HI Hostel Downtown|
(Rated: 9.1 of 10) 🤩
|● 🏨 Mid-Range:||citizenM Hotel|
(Rated: 9 of 10) 🤩
|● 🥂 High-End:||The Fairmont Heritage Hotel|
(Rated: 9.2 of 10) 🤩
1. Union Square: Best for First-Time Visitors
Union Square is the perfect choice for many, especially for those visiting the city for the first time. It’s a lively part of the city, full of attractions, eateries and shops.
There’s a lot to see and do just by walking around. And with easy public transport options added to the mix, it’s obvious why this place is a favorite for so many travelers.
- Central Location: Union Square is in the heart of the city, making it easy for visitors to navigate and explore.
- Rich Entertainment Options: The neighborhood offers a wide variety of entertainment, dining, and shopping options, meaning there’s always something to do.
- Public Transport Accessibility: With easy access to the BART trains and Muni railways, other parts of the city are easy to reach.
- Can Get Crowded: Due to its popularity, Union Square can get quite busy, especially during peak times.
For those visiting the city for the first time and seeking a perfect mix of everything the city offers.
Union Square, with its walkable streets, public transport options, and a variety of things to see and do within walking distance, serves as an optimal choice for first-time visitors seeking an all-around experience of the city.
📌 TIP: Start your day early to enjoy the bustling vibe of Union Square without the peak-time crowds. Remember to wear comfortable shoes as you'll likely be doing a lot of walking.
2. North Beach: Best for Nightlife
Step into North Beach, often referred to as San Francisco’s Little Italy. Packed with energy and life, this neighborhood is all about mouthwatering cuisine and vibrant nightlife, all wrapped in the city’s rich past. It’s a neighborhood that invites you to dine, drink, and dance the night away.
- Buzzing Nightlife: With a wide variety of lively bars and clubs, North Beach is a night owl’s playground.
- Tasty Italian Food: Here you can discover some of the city’s best Italian eateries, serving authentic and delicious dishes.
- Historical Sites: North Beach has many historic landmarks, offering a unique chance to walk through the city’s past.
- Noise: With a thriving nightlife scene, the area tends to get noisy, especially on weekends.
If you love to stay up late, have an appetite for good food, and maybe have some interest in history, North Beach is calling your name.
North Beach offers a special mix of past and present, with a lively nightlife scene. It’s an exciting neighborhood that keeps you engaged day and night.
📌 TIP: To get the most out of your North Beach visit, be sure to check out local events like street fairs and music festivals.
3. Fisherman’s Wharf: Best for Families
Welcome to Fisherman’s Wharf, a lively and scenic neighborhood that’s full of family-friendly attractions. From seafood delights to magnificent waterfront views, this area holds a charm that appeals to all ages. Ensuring a variety of experiences to keep everyone entertained.
- Family-friendly: Fisherman’s Wharf offers a fair amount of child-friendly activities, making it a perfect spot for families.
- Seafood: The area is a seafood lover’s paradise with an array of restaurants offering the freshest catch of the day.
- Waterfront Views: The stunning views of the waterfront will delight everyone in the family.
- Crowded: This area attracts a lot of tourists, especially during peak seasons, which can impact your experience.
Families that want a mix of fun, food, and nice views during their trip.
Fisherman’s Wharf is a top spot for families. Between the fun activities, good food, and pretty water views, it’s a place where both kids and adults can have a good time. If you’re with family and like being near the water, this is a solid choice.
📌 TIP: Consider purchasing a CityPASS for discounted entry to multiple attractions. Also, the sea lions at Pier 39 are a must-see!
4. Nob Hill: Best for History Lovers
Nob Hill is a neighborhood that transports you back in time. Known for its rich history and beautiful architecture, it’s a spot that offers a unique view of the city’s past.
Being an upscale area, it also offers stunning views of the city, all while taking you on a journey through some of the city’s most historic landmarks.
- Historical Significance: With Victorian mansions and historic hotels, Nob Hill provides a peek into an earlier era.
- Stunning Views: The hilltop neighborhood offers breathtaking views of the city and the bay.
- Transportation: Despite its elevation, Nob Hill has convenient transportation options like cable cars and buses.
- Terrain: The neighborhood’s hilly terrain may make walking around a bit challenging for some.
History lovers and anyone who appreciates classic architecture and stunning city views will find Nob Hill an excellent experience.
Nob Hill is like a time machine with its old-style buildings. Add in the fantastic city views, and you’ve got a blend of history and sightseeing that’s hard to beat. If history and amazing views are your thing, Nob Hill is the place to be.
📌 TIP: Don't miss a ride on the iconic cable cars. It's a fun and unique way to see the neighborhood.
5. Chinatown: Best for Budget Travelers
Explore the oldest Chinatown in North America and immerse yourself in a vibrant culture, all without breaking the bank. From the bustling streets to the aromatic food stalls, Chinatown is a budget traveler’s paradise that offers a unique and rich cultural experience.
- Affordable: Chinatown offers a range of budget-friendly accommodation options.
- Food Heaven: With a wide variety of Asian cuisines, it’s a paradise for food lovers.
- Rich Culture: It offers an immersive cultural experience with traditional shopping and events.
- Crowded: Being a popular spot, Chinatown can get crowded, especially during festivals.
- Limited Nightlife: If a lively nightlife scene is important to you, it may not be the best fit.
Budget travelers or anyone who loves food or appreciates culture will find Chinatown the perfect neighborhood.
Chinatown is the perfect place for budget travelers offering a vibrant cultural adventure that won’t empty your wallet. From the bustling streets to the mouthwatering food stalls, it’s a gem for those seeking a unique, value-packed experience.
📌 TIP: Don't forget to try the famous fortune cookies at the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory.
Getting Around in San Francisco Without a Car
San Francisco has a variety of options to navigate the city without a car with ease. In this section, we’ll explore the different transportation methods.
First, let’s cover the popular Muni system. This includes buses, trains, and old streetcars. The Muni goes all over the city and doesn’t cost a lot, which makes it popular with visitors as well as locals.
You can buy tickets on the MuniMobile app or at local shops. And consider buying the Muni Passport. It lets you ride as much as you want for a certain amount of time, which can save you money.
The BART train system is also good for getting around San Francisco. It connects San Francisco with nearby cities like Oakland and Berkeley and San Francisco Airport. Even though BART only has a few stops in the city, it’s fast and runs frequently.
You can get tickets on the BART Official app or at machines in the stations.
Riding a cable car is a fun way to see San Francisco. These old vehicles run on three different lines and take you to popular places like Union Square, Fisherman’s Wharf, and Nob Hill. They don’t cover as much area as the Muni or BART, but they’re a more unique way to travel.
You can buy tickets on cable cars, at ticket stands, or on the MuniMobile app as well.
Finally, don’t forget about the ferries. They take you from San Francisco to nearby areas like Sausalito, Alameda, and Oakland. Riding a ferry is a pretty and relaxing way to travel. Just remember that they don’t run as often as the other options.
You can buy tickets on the boats, at the ferry docks, or with the San Francisco Bay Ferry app.
Both are available across the city, providing a handy and fairly cost-effective means to tour San Francisco without a car. Be sure to keep an eye out for surge pricing during peak hours.
Bicycling and Scooter Rides
San Francisco also offers numerous bike and scooter rental services, all of which provide an easy and fun way to navigate the city.
And with the city’s many dedicated bike lanes and several beautiful routes, it’s an ideal option for two-wheeled adventures.
📌 TIP: I suggest using Google Maps for planning and navigating the city, including public transportation. 1. Open the app and enter your destination in the search bar. 2. Choose your mode of travel - this could be walking, cycling, or using public transit. This will present you with the best routes, including estimated travel times. 3. Once you've chosen your preferred route, press 'Start' to receive guided, step-by-step directions. Additionally, remember to utilize the 'Depart at' feature if you're planning future trips.
Things to Do in San Francisco Without a Car
San Francisco offers a lot of fun things to do. And the best part is you don’t need a car for the majority of them.
Whether you’re someone who enjoys city tours, day trips to surrounding spots, or weekend expeditions venturing even further, San Francisco has got you covered.
Get ready to discover the best of what this city and its close areas have to offer.
Best Tours in San Francisco Without a Car
1. Alcatraz with Bay Cruise: A Historic Journey
Step back in time and explore the infamous history of Alcatraz Island, combined with a pleasant Bay Cruise. This tour not only offers a chilling insight into one of the most notorious prisons in the world but also presents stunning views of San Francisco’s bay.
- Historic Insight: Learn about the chilling history of Alcatraz, once home to some of America’s most notorious criminals.
- Stunning Bay Views: Enjoy mesmerizing views of San Francisco Bay and its iconic landmarks.
- Double Attraction: The package offers both a prison tour and a Bay Cruise, making it a great value for money.
- Limited Availability: Tickets for Alcatraz sell out quickly, especially during peak seasons, so early booking is essential.
- Weather-Dependent: The bay cruise may not operate in severe weather conditions, so plan your trip according to the forecast.
History buffs and those seeking a unique experience in San Francisco.
The Alcatraz with Bay Cruise offers a unique combination of historical exploration and breathtaking bay views, making it an unmissable San Francisco experience.
📌 TIP: Make sure to bring your camera and a jacket. The bay can get chilly, but the photo opportunities are unparalleled!
2. Big Bus San Francisco Hop-on Hop-off Tour: Explore at Your Own Pace
Experience the magic of San Francisco from the comfort of a Big Bus, designed for seamless hop-on, hop-off adventures. This flexible tour lets you discover San Francisco’s iconic landmarks at your own pace, ensuring a personalized city experience.
- Flexibility: With the option to hop on and off at will, this tour caters to your interests and schedule.
- Cover Major Landmarks: The tour covers major San Francisco landmarks, ensuring you don’t miss any key attractions.
- Informative Guides: Benefit from the insightful commentary of experienced guides, enriching your understanding of the city.
- Traffic Delays: San Francisco is known for its busy streets, so there might be delays due to traffic.
First-time visitors who want to explore the city at their own pace, and those who prefer a flexible tour structure.
The Big Bus San Francisco Hop-on Hop-off Tour is an ideal way to get a comprehensive overview of the city, with the freedom to explore according to your interests.
📌 TIP: Plan your route to ensure you have enough time to explore your favorite spots. And don't forget to bring a hat and sunscreen on sunny days!
3. Golden Gate Bay Cruise: A San Francisco Must-Do
Embark on an unforgettable journey with the Golden Gate Bay Cruise. This 1-hour scenic tour offers breathtaking views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island, and the stunning San Francisco skyline.
- Iconic Views: Enjoy unforgettable views of San Francisco’s most iconic landmarks, including the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island.
- Guided Tour: You’ll get to hear stories about San Francisco’s past and famous places all while on the boat ride.
- Chance to Take Photos: You can get good pictures from the boat, as there are many clear spots to see beautiful views.
- Weather-Dependent: Visibility and comfort may be affected by San Francisco’s often unpredictable weather.
Those seeking a relaxing activity with panoramic views of San Francisco’s iconic landmarks.
The Golden Gate Bay Cruise offers an enjoyable way to see some of San Francisco’s most famous sights, making it a must-do for any visitor to the city.
📌 TIP: Dress in layers! San Francisco's weather can change quickly, and it can get quite chilly on the water, even on sunny days.
Best Day Trips From San Francisco Without a Car
1. Napa and Sonoma Wine Country Tour: A Taste of California’s Finest
Take a trip from San Francisco to the famous wine-making areas of Napa and Sonoma counties. On this one-day trip, you’ll get to see a lot of wineries, and beautiful vineyards, and taste some of California’s famous wines.
- Lots of Wine Tasting: Try different wines at some of the best wineries in the area.
- Beautiful Views: See amazing sights of vineyards covering the rolling hills in California.
- Fancy Travel: Travel in a fancy vehicle from San Francisco to the wine areas and back.
- Not Open All Days: Some wineries may be closed for tastings during the weekdays.
- Extra Costs: The cost of the trip doesn’t include all the tasting fees at the wineries, so you might need to pay more.
If you love wine or if you’re a couple looking for a special trip, chances are you’ll like the Napa and Sonoma Wine Country trip.
This Napa and Sonoma Wine Country tour is a luxurious and fun trip to California’s popular wine regions. You’ll get to taste fantastic wines, witness beautiful views, and create lasting memories.
📌 TIP: Remember to stay hydrated and eat a good meal before the tour. Alcohol hits harder on an empty stomach, and wine tastings are no exception.
2. Muir Woods Giant Redwoods & Sausalito Half-Day Trip: See the Greatness of Nature
Experience the beauty of Muir Woods National Monument on this short trip from San Francisco. Get to see the tall redwood trees, visit the charming seaside town of Sausalito, and snap some beautiful photos.
- Seeing Nature’s Wonders: Experience some of the largest and oldest living things – the giant redwood trees.
- Visiting Sausalito: Have some free time in Sausalito, a cute coastal town with unique shops and cafes.
- Easy Travel: The tour includes travel to and from San Francisco, making the trip hassle-free.
- No Food Provided: The tour doesn’t provide meals, so remember to bring snacks or plan to buy food in Sausalito.
If you love nature or enjoy photography, you’ll have a great time visiting Muir Woods and Sausalito.
This short trip to see the tall redwoods and the lovely Sausalito is an excellent way to escape city life and soak in the peace and beauty of nature.
📌 TIP: Wear comfortable shoes and bring layers. Weather can vary greatly in the woods and by the coast.
3. Yosemite National Park & Giant Sequoias Trip: A Majestic Nature Encounter
Have a memorable day trip from San Francisco to Yosemite National Park. You will see stunning views of the park’s famous spots, including El Capitan, Yosemite Falls, and the giant sequoias.
- Amazing Scenery: Get to see some of the most well-known natural sights in the U.S.
- Skilled Guide: Hear interesting facts about the park’s unique nature, history, and wildlife from a knowledgeable guide.
- Full Schedule: The tour has a full plan to show you the major sights in the park.
- Long Day: The tour is about 14 hours long, which might be tiring for some people.
People who love adventures, are big fans of nature or want a change from city life will enjoy this trip.
With breathtaking sights, mighty sequoias, and an expert guide to enrich your understanding, the Yosemite National Park and Giant Sequoias Trip is a must-do experience for anyone visiting San Francisco.
📌 TIP: Don't forget to pack a lunch, wear sturdy shoes, and bring plenty of water. Yosemite National Park is a wilderness experience and requires appropriate preparation.
Best Weekend Trips From San Francisco Without a Car
1. 2-Day Yosemite National Park Tour: Experience Yosemite’s Amazing Beauty
Delve into the natural beauty of Yosemite National Park on this 2-day trip. Witness stunning landscapes, soaring cliffs, and serene rivers that define this iconic location.
- Spectacular Scenery: Explore the heart of Yosemite and be surrounded by incredible landscapes.
- Educational Opportunities: Learn about the park’s rich biodiversity and history from an expert guide.
- Comfortable Accommodations: Enjoy a comfortable stay in a nearby hotel included in the tour package.
- Limited Flexibility: The tour’s itinerary is preset, which might not cater to everyone’s preferences.
This tour is perfect for nature lovers and those with tight schedules who want a taste of Yosemite’s magic.
This 2-Day trip to Yosemite National Park provides an enriching experience filled with stunning natural beauty and intriguing insights into one of America’s most beloved parks.
TIP: Dress in layers, as the weather can change rapidly in the park. Don't forget to bring your camera to capture the stunning views.
2. 3-Day Yosemite Camping Adventure: Undergo the Thrill of Wilderness Camping in Yosemite
Indulge your adventurous spirit with a 3-day camping trip in Yosemite National Park. Enjoy a deeper exploration of the park’s wonders and get a true taste of outdoor living.
- Extended Exploration: Three days allow for a more comprehensive exploration of Yosemite’s attractions.
- Immersive Experience: Camping in the park provides an authentic wilderness experience.
- Adventure Activities: The tour includes various outdoor activities, including hiking and swimming.
- Physical Demand: This trip requires a certain level of physical fitness for outdoor activities.
This is ideal for adventure seekers and outdoor enthusiasts eager for an immersive Yosemite experience.
The 3-Day Yosemite Camping Adventure offers a unique opportunity to experience Yosemite’s raw beauty firsthand. With its combination of stunning landscapes and outdoor activities, this adventure is sure to provide unforgettable memories.
TIP: Pack lightweight, quick-drying clothes and sturdy hiking boots. Also, don't forget your swimsuit for a refreshing dip in the park's natural pools.
3. San Francisco CityPass: Unlock San Francisco’s Wonders with CityPass
Discover the wonders of San Francisco with the CityPass. This pass gives you access to multiple attractions, allowing you to explore the city at your own pace and according to your interests.
- Value for Money: The CityPass offers admission to several top attractions for one price, offering significant savings.
- Flexibility: Explore the city at your leisure, with the freedom to choose which attractions to visit.
- Ease of Use: The CityPass is easy to use, simply present it at the entrance of the different attractions.
- Overwhelming Options: With so many choices, you might feel overwhelmed when deciding which attractions to visit.
- Time Limit: The pass expires after a certain period, potentially pressuring you to visit more places within the timeframe.
The San Francisco CityPass is best for first-time visitors looking to explore multiple attractions and for budget-conscious travelers.
The San Francisco CityPass offers a cost-effective and convenient way to experience the city’s major attractions. With this pass, exploring San Francisco becomes an easy, personalized, and fulfilling adventure.
TIP: Plan your itinerary ahead of time to maximize the benefits of the CityPass and ensure you don't miss out on any desired attractions.
Is San Francisco Safe to Explore Without a Car?
San Francisco is generally safe to explore without a car, much like many other cities in the U.S.
But if you plan to travel the city on foot or make use of public transportation, there are some simple things you can do to ensure your trip is both enjoyable and worry-free.
Start with some basic research. Get familiar with the city areas that you are eager to explore. Staying near popular landmarks or main transit points is often an easy option.
When night falls aim to stay somewhere that has a lively atmosphere. And if you’re exploring new places, it’s always a good idea to stay on the main roads rather than straying into unfamiliar areas.
Also, it’s a good idea not to flash expensive items around, just to keep a low profile.
But there’s no reason to be concerned. San Francisco is a city filled with color, diversity, and excitement. Just pay general awareness, but most importantly, enjoy the diverse experiences and beautiful sights this amazing city has to offer!
Frequently Asked Questions
No, you don’t need a car in San Francisco. The city offers excellent public transportation options, such as buses, cable cars, and the BART train system. Additionally, many neighborhoods are very walkable and bike-friendly.
It’s best to visit San Francisco without a car. Parking can be expensive and limited, and traffic can be challenging. You can save money and time by relying on public transportation or exploring on foot.
Yes, you can enjoy a vacation in San Francisco without a car. There are many walkable neighborhoods, top attractions close together, and convenient public transportation options.
Top walkable neighborhoods include Union Square, North Beach, Fisherman’s Warf, Nob Hill, and Chinatown. These areas offer a variety of attractions, dining options, and accommodations, making them perfect for exploring on foot.
The safest areas for tourists without a car are also some of the most walkable. Union Square, North Beach, Fisherman’s Warf, Nob Hill, and Chinatown are known for being safe and offering plenty of things to see and do for visitors.
It’s best to avoid areas like the Tenderloin and some parts of the Mission District at night, as they can be less safe for tourists, especially without a car. Sticking to popular tourist and walkable neighborhoods is your best bet.
Hotels in neighborhoods like Union Square, North Beach, Fisherman’s Warf, Nob Hill, and Chinatown often have easy access to public transportation, with nearby buses, cable cars, and BART train stops.
Some budget-friendly hotel options in pedestrian-friendly areas include The Holiday Inn Hotel, Royal Pacific Motor Inn Hotel, and citizenM Hotel. These hotels offer affordable rates and are located in walkable neighborhoods.
To get around San Francisco without a car, take advantage of the various public transportation options. Consider purchasing a Muni Visitor Passport, which allows unlimited rides on buses, cable cars, and streetcars for a specific amount of time.
You can explore Alcatraz with a Bay Cruise, traverse the city with a Hop-on Hop-off Big Bus Tour, or utilize the CityPass for multiple attractions. For a taste of nature, consider day trips to Napa and Sonoma Wine Country, Muir Woods, and Sausalito, or even Yosemite National Park.