We noticed that you're using an unsupported browser. The TripAdvisor website may not display properly.
We support the following browsers:
Windows: Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome. Mac: Safari.

Alternatives to driving into SF?

Which San Francisco hotels are on sale?
mm/dd/yyyy mm/dd/yyyy
See hotels
Roermond, The...
posts: 181
reviews: 67
Alternatives to driving into SF?

We're visiting SF in June, after travelling the Oregon and Northern California coast by rental car. However, we would prefer not to drive into SF, as we would like to avoid highways with many many lanes and heavy traffic.

I was thinking do drop off our rental car in Davis or Fairfield, and take a train from there to SF (I know it also involves a bus ride). Do you think that's a good idea? Or do you have any better suggestions?

Thanks! :)

San Francisco
Destination Expert
for Borrego Springs, San Francisco, Solana Beach
posts: 28,327
reviews: 26
1. Re: Alternatives to driving into SF?

Why not drop the car at the Oakland airport? There are just as many lanes of freeway in/around Sacramento (the 5/50/99 interchange is quite interesting) as there are between Davis and SF. Yes, there is a large interchange for the Bay Bridge but it's well signed.

Just continue on I80 to I880 and it's only a short way to the Oakland aiport, which is also very well signed.

From OAK you can catch BART into the city. Details here: bart.gov/guide/airport/inbound_oak.aspx

Trying to hassle with the train/bus sounds like more effort than it's worth. And is the car rental return at the train station or will you have to find a cab to get between the two?

I'm not a fan of the I80 drive between SF and Sacto but it's more boring than anything else.

Edited: 10:18 am, February 02, 2013
San Jose, California
posts: 1,149
reviews: 7
2. Re: Alternatives to driving into SF?

The largest freeways are outside of SF, not within it. Sal's Oakland idea is a good one. Sounds crazy and very time consuming to go to Davis, dropping in Oakland will save about 2 hours.

San Francisco...
Destination Expert
for San Francisco
posts: 1,669
reviews: 27
3. Re: Alternatives to driving into SF?

Do you know which rental car company you'll be using? The big clusters of all rental companies right next to transit hubs tend to be at airports.

Getting all the way from Sacramento or Davis into San Francisco will involve making a transfer or two and might include taxi, train, Bart or bus depending on how you do it.

The Oakland airport isn't bad, but you will need to take the airbart bus from the airport to the Bart station. As I recall there is also a shuttle from the rental agencies to the main airport where airbart has its stop.

There are an Avis and an Enterprise rental agency near the downtown Berkeley Bart station if you're using one of those agencies. Those may be a little more direct than Oakland airport for getting on Bart.

Bart is probably your fastest direct transit connection from the other side of the bay directly into San Francisco, but there are not that many car rental company locations right near a Bart station that I'm aware of.

San Francisco Bay
posts: 2,829
reviews: 13
4. Re: Alternatives to driving into SF?

Knowing the freeways outside of SF, and the streets on which you reach SF south of the Golden Gate Bridge on Highway 101, I think there's not that much stress just driving over the Bridge, getting onto Lombard St and then right on Van Ness Blvd, and a left into the Union Square area to return your car after you've dropped off passengers and luggage at your hotel. You won't touch a freeway in SF, and traffic goes only up to 25 to 35 miles/hour at most. All you need is a map. We can tell you how to get to your hotel, too.

The fooling around with trains from other cities just makes for something that will have the opposite effect -- stress and extra time for no reason.

Driving through Oakland to get to the Oakland Airport on freeway 880 -- now that's stressful.

Roermond, The...
posts: 181
reviews: 67
5. Re: Alternatives to driving into SF?

Thanks for your thoughts! Actually driving within SF and finding the way to the rental agency or our hotel sounds even more stressful than driving freeways, where everything is signposted. I'll check out the Oakland option.

How about driving to SFO?

Napa, CA
Destination Expert
for Napa
posts: 4,929
reviews: 22
6. Re: Alternatives to driving into SF?

If you are driving down the California coast from Oregon, why would you drive out to Davis or Fairfield? If you really don't want to drive through the city or to one of the major airports, you could possibly drop the car in San Rafael which is right on Hwy 101. The major companies have offices there and they could drive you to the transit center to catch a Golden Gate bus or maybe even drive you to the ferry terminal in Larkspur.

San Francisco...
Destination Expert
for San Francisco
posts: 1,669
reviews: 27
7. Re: Alternatives to driving into SF?

SFO is south of San Francisco, so it either involves driving through San Francisco to get there or going the long way around through the East Bay and across the San Mateo Bridge. It will not be any easier than the options already mentioned since it's even more out of the way from the north or east.

If your coming from the north, maybe there is a rental agency to return the car to somewhere near a ferry stop on that end. I'm not sure.

San Francisco...
Destination Expert
for San Francisco
posts: 4,154
reviews: 103
8. Re: Alternatives to driving into SF?

If you really want to avoid traffic confusion, I'd go with the Golden Gate Bridge for your route, rather than the East Bay.

It's a pretty straight shot, avoiding the heart of the city - and easy to reach SFO.

Having said that, traveling with a GPS should relieve any stress.

I think a lot depends on when you'd hit the city. I have a feeling after you've driven all the way from Oregon, you'll be over any worrisome anticipation.

San Francisco Bay
posts: 2,829
reviews: 13
9. Re: Alternatives to driving into SF?

Oh no., not the freeway. To the SF Airport..!. Stay away from 101 from SF to SFO, too. The elevated freeway out of The City is usually a traffic mess.

Really, going over the G G Bridge and to your hotel will be less stressful than driving to either airport...that is where the big but incredibly crowded freeways come in.

I think you have misunderstood the advice about driving in SF. What is to be avoided is 1) high parking fees at your hotel --$40/night is typical.

2) driving around seeing the sights in the city, and trying to find parking spots which are in high demand and require many 25 cent pieces per hour.

3) figuring put how to get to the variety of sights, which are mostly walking or bus or cable car accessible.

Edited: 12:39 pm, February 02, 2013
Santa Cruz...
Destination Expert
for Santa Cruz
posts: 25,211
reviews: 5
10. Re: Alternatives to driving into SF?

I agree with NorthernCalif. While you do not want to drive around sightseeing in a car, it will be much easier to drive into the city and get to your hotel, or go through the city and drop it off at the airport and then take BART back in than any of the alternatives you are considering, which sound like nightmares to me :~)

While there are one way streets in the city, a GPS will easily avoid them and take you right where you want to go.