Public Transport: Getting Around Your New Hometown

Once you’re settled in your new home and have gotten to grips with the new surroundings, found the bank, the nearest store and so on, it’s time to venture further afield. If like me, you don’t drive or don’t own a car, you need to venture onto public transport. With so many services on the peninsula, this can be hard to get your head around. This isn’t a comprehensive list of Bay area and peninsula transport options but here is what I’ve learnt from my experiences so far.

Public Transport Tips


Google MapsI normally use Google Maps to plan my journeys just like I would in a car, you select the public transport option, date and time of travel and you’re away. A quick note: check the walking option too. I once planned a journey on public transport that would have taken an hour, only to realize I could walk there in 40 minutes.

CitymapperIs a great app for iOS or Android which covers all the transportation methods in the area, you can set and save home and work commutes for quick travel information. It also links with transportation social media sites to give you up to date information on delays and other service information.

California Public Transport - Caltrain

Caltrain – Photo credit: drewj1946 via / CC BY


CaltrainTrains are great for getting city to city, the Caltrain takes you to all of the towns along the peninsula from San Jose to San Francisco. Certain stops are only on selected journeys and services start later on the weekend. I once tried to plan a journey arriving in the city for 9:30am on a Sunday. The suggested route had me traveling at 11pm the Saturday evening as the only means of arriving on time. 

BARTIs the localized train system around San Francisco and across the bay, and goes to both SFO and Oakland airports so is really useful. 


VTA and samTransThe peninsula is also covered by buses, so you can use trains to get to the general vicinity and then move onto buses for local transport. samTrans covers everywhere from San Francisco to Palo Alto, and VTA runs from Atherton down to San Jose and up the other side of the bay to Fremont.

Free Shuttles – Free shuttles or community shuttles run in many cities serving local community amenities like parks, shops and libraries, so are great for getting you to useful places in your new hometown. Mountain View, Oakland, Palo Alto, and Menlo Park all have services, as well as Stanford’s Marguerite service. From my experience, the community buses are underutilized but super useful so make sure to check out your community website and see what’s available near you.

Dumbarton ExpressThis bus runs across the bay, the DB line links transport systems on either side, running from the BART in Union City to the Caltrain in Palo Alto. 

California Public Transport - Stanford Marguerite Shuttle

Stanford Free Marguerite Shuttle – Photo credit: Jun Seita via VisualHunt / CC BY-NC

Special Events

When there is a large-scale event, extra services are often provided. The Caltrain network provided extra services during Pride Weekend in SF, and VTA had additional services for July 4th celebrations in San Jose. Check it out even if you’d ordinarily drive, you can avoid congestion and parking difficulties.


The Caltrain has Go Pass and VTA has ECO Pass, they are provided through employers who get them at a subsidized rate. These are valid not just for your commute but all journeys for a whole year. A huge amount of Bay Area companies take part, including Google, Adobe, Mozilla, and many more. So, if you or your partner are in employment find out if your company provides one, as this will help cut your travel costs.

Clipper Reader - Photo credit: AgentAkit via Visualhunt / CC BY

Clipper Reader – Photo credit: AgentAkit via Visualhunt / CC BY

Clipper Card

You can pay fares on all of these modes of transport with a Clipper card. You can load it with cash for single fares, or load daily/monthly passes if you need to travel regularly. This can be done at Caltrain stations, and stores such as Walgreens and Whole Foods. Then check in by tapping the card on the reader. This works differently depending on the mode of transport, read available info/check on transportation. The best part is no figuring out tickets/zones! 

Have you ventured out on public transport? What are your tips and tricks for getting around easily and stress-free?



The Bay Area can be expensive, here are some tips to enjoy it for less:

About Sarah Jennings

Less than five years ago, I got my first passport and went on my first short holiday outside of the UK to the absolutely stunning Croatia. And it feels like I have never looked back! Since then I have spent 2 years living in beautiful Copenhagen, before arriving in the Bay Area in early 2016. It has been quite the whirlwind adventure. I have used my expat adventure to reignite my lifelong dream to become a writer and editor, returning to my studies and slowly building experience through work and voluntary roles to make this a reality. I have recently left the Bay Area and returned to the UK, to live in London, another place I haven't lived. You can follow my journey at my website -

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

2 thoughts on “Public Transport: Getting Around Your New Hometown