One of the easiest ways to get around the San Francisco Bay Area is by using the subway system, called BART (short for Bay Area Rapid Transit). The BART system is mostly used to get from the eastern part of San Francisco Bay and the suburbs of San Francisco into downtown SF. But people often find it difficult to use unfamiliar subway systems. So we have put together a guide on how to use BART for a first-time visitor to San Francisco.
Step 1: Find Your Closest BART Station
The first thing to do when planning out your trip on BART is to figure out what station is closest to your starting point. If you are new to San Francisco, the easiest way is to use BART's tool to find the nearest station.
You can visit this page to learn the easiest station, as well as getting a map for easy directions to the station.
Step 2: Look up the BART Schedule
There are five BART lines, most of which run directly through downtown San Francisco:
- Richmond Daly City/Millbrae
- Richmond Fremont
- Fremont Daly City
- Pittsburg/Bay Point SFO
- Dublin/Pleasanton Daly City
Here is a map of the BART sytem:
BART also has an easy Quick Trip Planner so you can figure out exactly how to get where you're going. This page also should show you any "trip advisories" that may be happening. A trip advisory is a notice that certain trains may not be running on time (or not running at all to certain stations!)
Important Note: BART's estimates about when the trains will show up cannot always be relied upon. Throughout the day, there will be many slight delays. However, in general the train will show up within about five minutes of its scheduled departure.
Trains will come most frequently between Monday and Friday in the mornings and evenings. However, this is when most people in the Bay Area are either going to work on coming back home from work, so the trains will be very crowded with people in a hurry to get somewhere. On Saturday and Sunday, the trains will be far less crowded.
Step 3: Go to the BART Station
When you're going to a BART station, you'll know it by the sign outside. The sign looks like this:
If you are driving to the station, remember that parking can be difficult or take some time (especially if you're going to a station in San Francisco). If you are walking, just head right into the station.
In San Francisco (and some other cities), BART stations are underground, so you'll have to walk down the stairs or take the escalator down into the station. In other cities around the Bay Area, most of the stations are above ground. So you'll have to go into the station at ground level. However, once you're in the station, you will be blocked by the ticket gates until you have a ticket.
Step 4: Buy a BART Ticket
Once you're in the station, you'll need to figure out how much your train will cost, and then pay for a ticket to ride the train.
Once you know where your trip is starting and where it will end, you'll need to know how much the fare costs. The easiest way to learn this is to check the BART fare calculator. The fares start at $1.95 for short rides, up to $15 or more for the longest rides that include airports.
Once you're inside the station, you can buy the tickets very easily from one of the ticket machines. The machines look like this:
These machines (shown in the picture on the left) take cash (in $1, $5, $10, and $20 increments), ATM/debit cards, as well as credit cards.
Once you pay for your ticket, you'll have to get to the train itself. The ticket you purchased will open the fare gates (the picture on the right).
Step 5: Get on the BART
Once you have your ticket in hand, it's time to go find your train! Generally you'll have to walk down another flight of stairs (or take another escalator down, if your legs are feeling tired).
At this point, you should know what train line you're getting on. And when you get down to the tracks, you'll see signs like this (on the left).
When you see the train line that you're supposed to take, wait until the train stops and the doors open. Then, get on your train and enjoy the ride!