San Francisco is served by two major airports as well as several bus and train stations.

By Airplane

San Francisco International Airport (SFO) is about 14 miles south of San Francisco and serves as the region's primary airport. It offers a wide range of domestic and international flights and it's a convenient choice for anyone staying right in the city.

Oakland International Airport (OAK) is located approximately 19 miles southeast of San Francisco and serves as the region's secondary airport. It offers more discount flights and is a major hub for Southwest Airlines.

Both airports have information booths to assist travelers when they arrive.

SFO airport booth 

By Train

Amtrak trains do not directly serve San Francisco, but they do provide timed bus transfers from nearby stations in Emeryville and Oakland to several bus stops in San Francisco. The primary bus stop is at the Transbay Terminal at Folsom and Main streets (recently moved from the Ferry Building), but most tourists will be interested in the more convenient stops at the San Francisco Shopping Center (near Union Square) and Fisherman Wharf (near Pier 39). The centrally located Financial District stop is best for travelers who need to take a taxi or public transit to reach their final destinations.

Additional Amtrak buses operate directly from the Transbay Terminal stop to points along the Central Coast, terminating either in San Luis Obispo or Santa Barbara, where they connect to Amtrak trains serving Southern California.

Caltrain trains run along the Peninsula and in Silicon Valley. The San Francisco station is at 4th and King streets, two blocks west of AT&T Park (where the Giants play baseball). Local trains run hourly between SF and San Jose on a daily basis; additional limited-stop and "Baby Bullet" trains operate during weekday commute hours and on a limited basis on weekend days.

By Bus

Greyhound and Bolt Bus buses arrive and depart at the Transbay Terminal, located at Folsom and Main streets, about two blocks southeast of Market Street and the Embarcadero Muni/BART Station. This bus station also serves as the terminal for Amtrak and several public transit bus lines. Megabus buses stop at the Caltrain station at 4th and King streets.

By Car

From the south, San Francisco can be reached by U.S. Highway 101 and Interstate 280. While Highway 101 appears to be the most direct route, traffic is heavy and the scenery is minimal. The preferred freeway from the south is 280. Access from the north is via the Golden Gate Bridge, which is U.S. Highway 101, and access from the east is via the Bay Bridge, which is Interstate 80.

Getting Downtown From Airports

Public Transit From SFO

Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) trains board at the International Terminal and make several stops throughout the City. To reach the BART station from Terminals 1, 2, and 3, catch the free AirTrain to the station. A ride from SFO to the major stops in San Francisco (Civic Center, Powell, Montgomery, and Embarcadero) costs $8.65 per person (no round-trip discounts) and takes about 30 minutes (excluding AirTrain connection), which is often faster than driving during heavy traffic. Seniors (65 and over) and children (between 5-12) can purchase discounted tickets in person (cash or credit/debit cards) at the airport information booth located in all terminals.

SamTrans provides regular bus service from several stops on the arrivals (lower) level of SFO to San Francisco. Routes 292 and 397 make local stops en route, and luggage is permitted. Route KX provides express service, but luggage is not permitted. The overwhelming majority of travelers prefer to use BART rather than SamTrans to travel to/from SFO because of the long travel times associated with Routes 292 and 397 and the luggage restrictions in place on Route KX.

Public Transit From OAK

BART trains operate from the Coliseum Station and serve the same San Francisco stations as the trains coming from SFO. To reach the Coliseum BART Station from the airport, travelers must first take BART's automated people mover, which picks up outside the terminal (across the street and then upstairs). The people mover leaves every 5 minutes from 8am to 8pm (every 10-20 minutes at other times). Once you arrive at the Coliseum station, buy your ticket there (they are not available at the OAK station) and then catch a Daly City-bound train to reach San Francisco.

A ride from OAK to the major stops in San Francisco costs $10.05 per person (no round-trip discounts) and takes about 35 minutes, which can be significantly faster than driving during heavy traffic because of congestion along I-880 and the Bay Bridge. For more information on how to use the new people mover serving OAK, check out this handy guide.

Cabs/Taxis

Taxis provide door-to-door service to any point within San Francisco and surrounding communities. They offer good value for groups of up to 5 since fares are charged by vehicle rather than by passenger. In addition to traditional sedans, SUV and minivan taxis are also available for larger groups or groups with more luggage than normal. Note: You may have to provide your own car seats if you have children 7 years or younger in your party.

Taxi fares are dependent upon travel time and distance. Typical fares from SFO into the City, excluding tip and any time spent waiting in traffic, are on the order of:

  • Union Square & Nob Hill (using Union Square for the estimate) - $45
  • Fisherman's Wharf (using Pier 45 for the estimate) - $55
  • Marina (Lombard Street Motels)  - $65

Based on the September 1, 2011 rate of $3.50 for the initial "flag drop", $0.55/fifth of mile or minute of wait time, and $2 SFO surcharge. Typical fares from OAK to Union Square can be $65. The Bay Bridge is prone to congestion, so taxi fares from OAK can escalate rapidly.

Whether to take a taxi or BART between SFO and Union Square (or Nob Hill) hotels depends on the number of people traveling and other factors. If the visitor's luggage is easy to manage and the visitor doesn't mind walking between a BART station and his/her nearby hotel, BART is the cheaper way to go. If the hotel is on Nob Hill or is a longer walk from the nearest BART station, or if the visitor has heavy bags, it may make sense to get off at the Embarcadero station and take a taxi. The total cost of BART plus a taxi for 4 people may be in the $40-$50 range compared to $45-65 for 4 people traveling directly from SFO by taxi.

TNC's

Transportation network companies (Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar) are permitted to operate at SFO. Although not explicitly permitted by airport officials at OAK, they can be caught there too. In either case, it is easy to request a ride via smartphone once you arrive. All three companies are popular in the Bay Area and readily available at SFO. Uber and Lyft typically have better availability at OAK. It is best to "shop around" to pick the cheapest and quickest option. TNC's are almost always signficantly cheaper than taxi and shuttle services, but double check surge pricing before confirming your ride. Also, note that some Uber services charge a flat rate for service to/from both airports.

At SFO, drivers are required to pick up AND drop off on the departures (upper) level. At OAK, drivers are likely to pick you up along the curb directly outside the terminal, so don't cross the street while waiting unless explicitly directed to do so by your arriving driver.

Shuttles

Shuttle companies can provide economical door-to-door service to San Francisco for solo travelers, and possibly groups of 2 or 3. Unlike taxis, shuttles companies offer "shared van" services that make multiple stops to pick up and drop off passengers. (They also offer "private van" services which are similar to taxis but have a flat-rate no matter how long the transfer takes.)

Several shuttle companies serve SFO (see list of operators) and Oakland Airport (see list of operators). From SFO, you can find them at the center islands of the departures (upper) level, and fares generally run $15-20 per person. From OAK, you can find shuttles outside the terminal, and fares generally run $20-30 a person. There's no need to make a reservation at SFO; most travelers just choose whichever van looks ready to depart first. Reservations may be useful at OAK to help minimize wait times. From the Airport, you can book Shuttles & Limos from $16. Shuttle companies include Lorrie's Shuttle, Primetime Shuttles, SuperShuttle. Sedan services include Pleasant Limo, Execucar, Prom Limo, SF Limo Express. 

Airporters

Airporters are privately operated bus services that connect SFO and OAK with outlying communities. Unlike shuttles companies, airporters do not provide door-to-door service and they often have fixed schedules. At SFO, airporters board on the center islands of the arrivals (lower) level; at Oakland Airport they board on the 4th curb (exit the terminal and cross the street).

Rental Cars

Because rental cars are expensive (don't forget parking fees!) and public transit, taxi, and shuttle services are readily available in the Bay Area, renting a car simply to travel to/from SFO or OAK is not recommended. It is easy to navigate San Francisco on public transit or by foot, so many visitors choose to rent cars only on the days they decide to venture out of town. There are several rental offices within SF city limits. Visitors who choose to rent a car at the airport should make advance reservations from one of the many rental companies serving SFO or OAK. SFO passengers can take the AirTrain's free Blue Line to the SFO Car Rental Center, and OAK passengers can take the free shuttle bus from the 4th curb outside the terminal to the OAK Car Rental Center.