San Francisco is served by two major airports as well as 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 on the Embarcadero (next to the Ferry Building), but most tourists will be interested in the Shopping Center stop (near Union Square) and the stop at Fisherman’s Wharf. 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 Embarcadero 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, with additional limited-stop and "Baby Bullet" trains operating during weekday commute hours.

By Bus

Greyhound buses arrive and depart from Transbay Temporary 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 several public transit bus lines. (The original Transbay Terminal, at Mission and First Streets, closed in August 2010, and a new permanent terminal will not open at that location until 2017). The Megabus stop is across from the Caltrain station at 4th and King.

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. 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 27-32 minutes, 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) at the airport information booth located in all terminals.

SamTrans provides regular bus service from several stops at 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/Oakland Airport 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 ride the connecting AirBART shuttle bus. AirBART comes every 10 minutes throughout most of the day and night, and it costs $3.00 (exact change) per person. The BART train ride to the major stops in San Francisco costs an additional $4.05. The AirBART ride is 12 minutes, and the BART ride takes an additional 20-25 minutes. Because the Bay Bridge is subject to heavy congestion, BART often is faster than driving.

In addition to AirBART, travelers with small luggage can opt for AC Transit bus Route 73 instead. Route 73 comes every 15 minutes throughout most of the day and night and costs $2.10 per person ($1.05 for seniors and children between 5-12) which is paid in cash upon boarding. The trip also takes 12 minutes, which is comparable to AirBART. (In fact, both buses have the same routing; Route 73 makes a couple local stops en route while AirBART is express and has space for luggage.)

Cabs/Taxis

Taxis provide door-to-door service to any point within San Francisco and surrounding communities. They offer good value for groups of 4 or more 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) - $42 to $46
  • Fisherman's Wharf (using Pier 45 for the estimate) - $50 to  $55
  • Marina (Lombard Street Motels)  - $60 - $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 a $2 SFO surcharge. Typical fares from OAK to Union Square can be $60. 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 may be 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 cost of BART plus a taxi for 4 or more people may be in the $40 range compared to a $46 taxi for 4 people from SFO.

Smartphone car services 

Uber and UberX, Lyft, Sidecar are options.  They have flat rates to SF   $38- $44 (Union Square) or $50 to $55 on UberX and the TIP IS INCLUDED.  Visitors need a smartphone with internet connection and there are questions about the legality of these services from SFO.  Please read this article before you ride one   

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 airport’s departure (upper) level, and fares generally run $15-20 per person. From Oakland Airport, you can find shuttles outside the terminal, and fares generally run $20-30 a person. In both cases, there’s no need to make a reservation; most travelers just choose whichever van looks ready to depart first.

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 arrival (LOWER) level; at Oakland Airport they board on Platform 4.

Car Rentals

Because of high rental costs and readily available public transit, taxi, and shuttle services, renting a car to travel simply to/from SFO or OAK is unattractive.  It is easy to navigate San Francisco on public transit or by foot so many visitors decide to rent cars from local offices only on the days that they decide to venture out of town.  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 should take the Air Train Blue line to the SFO Car Rental Center while OAK passengers should walk outside the terminal to pick up the shuttle bus to the OAK Car Rental Center.