Several companies in San Francisco offer hop-on hop-off bus tours of the city, on all-day loops that hit the most popular tourist destinations in town. But why pay $30 or more when MUNI buses visit the same destinations for just $2?
The $2 bus tour tip comes from Nannette Mickle, our group sales manager and this month's featured San Francisco staff person. A self-described cheapskate and a "serious bargain hunter whenever I travel," Nannette keeps her ears to the ground for local deals -- in part, so she can share advice with visitors. "In my opinion," she says, "there's nothing better than getting a great deal while traveling."
After living in San Francisco for 21 years, she knows more than a few deals, tricks, and tips. Along with recommending four MUNI lines for the best DIY tours, she also has advice on free and cheap things to see and explore along the way -- and a few suggestions for visitors new to the San Francisco public transit system.
Check out this PDF map we created to highlight all Nannette's suggestions.
MUNI #30: Stockton Bus
The MUNI 30 runs along Stockton Street through Chinatown and North Beach (Little Italy) before heading northwest toward Lombard Street, Fisherman's Wharf, Fort Mason (home of the Fisherman's Wharf Hostel), and the Marina District.
The South of Market (SOMA) District: The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art has free admission on the first Tuesday of every month, or it's half-price every Thursday after 6 p.m.
Union Square: Walk down Maiden Lane and check out Xanadu Gallery, San Francisco's only Frank Lloyd Wright-designed building. This and other art galleries in the area sometimes have wine and cheese events for easy snacking while traveling.
Chinatown: Walk down Ross Alley to see the world famous Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory!
North Beach: Browse City Lights Books and remember the Beats -- including bookstore founder Lawrence Ferlinghetti.
Fisherman's Wharf: Get free samples of Ghirardelli chocolate at their store in Ghirardelli Square, and stop in for happy hour at McCormick and Kuleto's, Monday-Friday from 3-6 p.m. -- for $2.95 you get a half-pound cheeseburger and fries.
MUNI #28: 19th Avenue Bus
The MUNI 28 runs from Fort Mason to the Golden Gate Bridge, then heads south on 19th Avenue through the Presidio, the Inner Richmond District, and Golden Gate Park, past Stern Grove and all the way to the Daly City BART station (the public transit gateway to the Point Montara Lighthouse Hostel, located 30 miles south of San Francisco). Get off just outside Golden Gate Park to catch the eastbound MUNI 71 and head through the Haight-Ashbury to downtown.
The Presidio: At the corner of McDowell and Cowles is a pet cemetery ...I'm goth, what can I say!
Golden Gate Bridge: The bus stops at the bridge plaza before turning south toward Golden Gate Park -- it's free to walk across the bridge!
MUNI #22: Fillmore Bus
The MUNI 22 runs along Fillmore Street from the Marina Green (next to Fort Mason) to the Mission District, going through Japantown and the Fillmore District and passing a block away from Alamo Square and the Painted Ladies. From the Mission, catch BART to get downtown.
Marina Green: Fly a kite and check out the Wave Organ (with views of Alcatraz, the bridge, and the bay).
Japantown: Browse Manga at the Kinokuniya Bookstore.
Fillmore District: Catch a show at The Fillmore and admire decades' worth of concert posters from past performances. You might get a free poster when you leave.
Mission Dolores: The historic Mission Dolores suggests a $2 donation for visitors -- a bonus historic cemetery is attached.
Extra Bonus: I know where to get free beer... Anchor Steam Brewery Tours (free, but they fill up fast, so make reservations in advance).
F Market Streetcar
The F Streetcar runs along the Embarcadero from Fisherman's Wharf to the Ferry Building, then along Market Street through downtown, all the way to the Castro District. From the Castro, take the MUNI 37 to Twin Peaks and hike to the top.
The Streetcar Itself: Each car is a historic streetcar from around the world -- Portugal, England, Italy, Australia, Japan, Switzerland, and the U.S. are represented.
Fisherman's Wharf: Don't miss the free "show" in front of Joe's Crab Shack... the World Famous Bushman. Keep an eye out for the eucalyptus branches and the startled tourists -- or you'll be one of them!
The Ferry Building: Stop by during the Saturday Farmers Market for free samples.
Tips for using MUNI
2. Have your fare ready when boarding ($2 exact change). Once you pay for your ride, the driver will give you a transfer. If they don't give it to you, ask for one -- it's also proof that you paid. The transfer is good on any MUNI line for 90 minutes during the day. After 8:30 p.m., your transfer is good 'til 5 a.m. the next day.
3. Enter through the front door and exit through the back door. Before getting on, please let people off before you step up. If you barge on when people are still trying to get off, it takes longer and you'll have some upset passengers giving you evil looks.
4. We all like sitting in those front seats near the driver in case we have to ask questions, but remember those seats are reserved for seniors or people with disabilities.
5. The back doors open in a variety of fashions. Some of them have a bar that you press that will signal the door to open. On some of them you have to step down on the stair to indicate you are exiting. A green light will signal above the doors when you can exit. If it doesn't light up, don't be surprised to hear folks calling to the driver, "Back door!"
Stay at one of our three San Francisco hostels -- all are within a few blocks of various MUNI lines, giving guests full access to the whole city.