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How to Ride Caltrain in San Francisco

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Caltrain is one of the most affordable and enjoyable ways of getting around the San Francisco Peninsula. Caltrain serves all the way from San Francisco, through San Jose, and down to the final station in Gilroy. Sometimes finding a train station, paying, getting on and waiting can seem overwhelming, but Caltrain suffers from none of those problems. Sit back and relax, because we’ve put together an easy guide to the San Francisco Caltrain.

Note: In addition to this guide about how to ride Caltrain, be sure to check out our guides on How to Ride BART, How to Ride MUNI, and How to Ride San Francisco's Historic Streetcar.

Read on to learn about riding on Caltrain!

How to find the stations

To start riding Caltrain, you’ll want to find the nearest station to you which you can check on the Caltrain Station Map here. There is a total of 32 stations along the Caltrain route and most are served 7 days a week, however, there are some that have weekend or weekday-only services.

Exception lines:

  • The following 5 stations only provide services on weekdays: Capitol, Blossom Hill, Morgan Hill, San Martin, and Gilroy.
  • The Broadway and Atherton stations are only serviced during weekends and do not stop during the weekdays.
  • The Stanford station is only available for football games.

Look up the schedule

The schedules of each train are posted on Caltrain website here and it’s important to note that weekday, weekend, and holiday schedules are different so before you head to the station make sure it’s a day that your station will have a train arriving. Most stations begin services by 5-6AM and go as late as 1AM depending on your final destination.

It is not a 24-hour train (although almost!) and it’s important to note that the stations south of San Jose have limited schedules throughout the day.

How Much Does It Cost?

For those living in and around the San Francisco downtown area, the BART may be the best option due to its efficiency and speed, but for those living outside the city, Caltrain is the perfect option. With fares ranging from $3.75 to $15 USD, it’s a great way to save money while still getting around quickly.

The way tickets are calculated is based on zones. From the station map above you can see there are 6 different zones starting in San Francisco down to Gilroy. To calculate your cost, you have to first see how many stations you’ll be traveling in. You’ll always include the zone you started in, so if you’re traveling from Redwood City to Bayshore, you’ll be traveling in Zone 2 to Zone 1 and your total fare will be 2 zones. Below are the prices as of Jan 1, 2019.

If you’re planning on traveling often, it’s best to purchase the Monthly Pass, and if you need to make multiple stops throughout the day it’s more cost effective to buy the Day Pass.

How to Pay for a Ticket

Purchasing a ticket is easy at the station. You should arrive at least 15 minutes before your train departure time and approach any of the self-kiosks to purchase the ticket for as many zones as you will be traveling through.

Important: You need to purchase a ticket before you board the train as tickets are NOT sold on the train itself.

Make sure to keep your ticket handy after you’ve boarded as the attendant will be checking all passengers to ensure everyone has paid.

How to Get on the Train?

From the moment you enter the station until you purchase your ticket and are ready to board the train is typically less than 5 minutes and is a seamless experience but you should always arrive early if you don’t have a pass already and have to buy tickets in case of any lines (especially during rush hour).

Once your ticket is ready, determine if you’re heading northbound or southbound as you have to be on the proper side going north or south. Head to the appropriate side and wait for the train to arrive. You should check your ticket to ensure you’re on the right train number.

The seats are very comfortable and easy to get work done if you have a laptop while onboard.

Airports Attached to Caltrain

For locals and visitors who are flying into the San Francisco Bay area, Caltrain is conveniently located just next to the airports. This applies to both the San Jose Mineta International (SJC) and San Francisco International (SFO) airports

From the San Jose airport, take the SJC Airport Flyer Route 10 bus to the Santa Clara Caltrain station which is a free bus so you won’t have to pay anything.

From the San Francisco airport, you’ll need to take the BART rail from the airport to the Millbrae Caltrain station which will get you onto Caltrain line. There is a fee to pay using the BART rail to get to Caltrain.

Shopping and Sports Stations

Caltrain is located next to many of the most important shopping areas including Union Square, Westfield, Hillsdale, Redwood, and Stanford. Each are about a block or so away which is perfect walking distance. You can find a full list of the different shopping centers next to Caltrain here.

The Levi’s Stadium is also located near a Caltrain system so if you’re headed to a 49ers game or concert at the Levi’s stadium simply ride Caltrain to the Mountain View Station. From there you’ll transfer to the VTA light rail line to get to the stadium which will be at an additional cost on the VTA.

About The Author

Britt

Britt is a San Francisco Bay Area native, and has spent 25 years in this magical city. He has traveled to over 30 countries, and has never found a place he loves as much as this one! If you come to San Francisco, you might join one of Britt's tours of the city. A graduate of the University of Maryland and University of Southern California, he has been leading tours for Free Tours by Foot since 2015.
Updated: September 27th, 2021
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