A cable-car ride through the zig-zag streets of downtown San Francisco will leave you clamouring for more. Blessed with a casual, easy-going attitude that is exhibited by local business types and artists alike, this hilly city is filled with neighbourhoods ranging from quirky and colourful to upscale and stylish. From the Presidio's Romanesque Palace of Fine Arts to the famous Alcatraz island prison, there's a wealth of must-see sights in and around the city for you to enjoy and a San Francisco City Pass will get you great discounts on tickets to most major attractions.
Be sure to stop by the California Academy of the Sciences, and for an hour or two of people-watching entertainment there's no place better than Pier 39 at Fisherman's Wharf where buskers vie for your attention with gravity-defying levitation acts, magician's tricks, and outrageous costumes. San Francisco is also home to several top-notch theatre and ballet companies as well as professional sports teams so get your hands on some cheap tickets for a performance or game while you're in town and be sure to cheer for the home team!
You can reach San Francisco via flights to San Francisco International Airport (SFO), Oakland International Airport (OAK), or Mineta San Jose International Airport (SJC). SFO is the main gateway for flights to San Francisco and is served by over 40 international and domestic airlines including Air Canada, WestJet, JetBlue, US, United, Virgin, Delta, and American Airlines. OAK is served by 11 airlines and connects to fewer destinations as compared to SFO, but you can get cheap fares on airlines such as Allegiant, Spirit, US Airways, Express, and Horizon, which fly to this airport. SJC is the main airport for Silicon Valley and therefore sees a lot of traffic from business travellers on a mix of full-service and low-cost airlines including United Express, US Airways, Southwest, Delta, Continental, and American Eagle.
If you're thinking of Californian sunshine and hot summer days, you're in for a surprise. San Francisco lies farther north up the coast from Los Angeles and has a very different climate. Fog in summertime is normal, and while your day may begin with an initial glimpse of warm weather, you're bound to feel a chill when the sun goes down so don't forget to pack a light jacket or sweater for your trip. Wintertime has cheaper airfares and moderate temperatures which rarely fall below 4°C but this season has a lot more rain so you will need an umbrella if you plan a visit from November to January. The best time to take San Francisco flights is either late-September to October or in April when the weather is warmer, there's no rain, and even the fog cover is less frequent.
There are several ground transport options from the airport to the city, depending on whether your San Francisco flight arrives at San Francisco International Airport (SFO), Oakland International Airport (OAK), or Mineta San Jose International Airport (SJC). Consult the respective airport's website for further details.
Arriving at SFO
SFO has one international and three domestic terminals. The AirTrain people mover is a free train service which provides connections via its Blue and Red Lines to all the terminal buildings, the BART station, and the Rental Car Center.
Public Transit: SFO is well-connected to downtown San Francisco by public transportation and this is a cheaper travel option than taking a taxi or rental car into the city.
Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) Trains: Use the AirTrain to connect to BART trains at the airport's station. Tickets can be bought at the station and discounts are available for students, senior citizens, and military personnel. One-way tickets from the airport to areas in downtown San Francisco average $8-$10 USD per person.
Caltrain: Connect to Caltrain services via BART trains and change at Millbrae to continue on to destinations outside San Francisco such as Redwood City and Capitol. This is the quickest travel option for those heading to Silicon Valley, and one-way tickets are generally $3-15 USD depending on destination.
SamTrans Buses: Bus services operate 24x7 from four courtyard pick-up areas at the airport. Routes 292, 397, and KX connect SFO to destinations in San Francisco, San Mateo County, Palo Alto, and BART or Caltrain stations along the way. Average one-way tickets for trips within San Francisco city are $2 USD with discounts available for seniors and youth-card holders.
Shuttle Services: On-the-spot shared-ride services are available for most of the day, but advance booking is recommended for trips after 11:00 p.m. Trips to downtown San Francisco generally cost between $16-$18 USD with discounts available for young children.
Hotel Shuttle: Verify that your hotel provides a courtesy airport shuttle before boarding your San Francisco flight and then make your way to the pick-up zones located near the departures and ticketing areas on Level 2 of the airport's Center Island.
Chauffeured Car Services: The pick-up areas for companies providing prearranged chauffeured car services are located in courtyards outside the arrival and baggage claim areas on Level 1 of each Terminal for 1, 2, and 3 and on either side of the International Terminal.
Taxi: Metered taxis can be found at all exits of the arrival terminals and cab rides to downtown San Francisco average $45-$50 USD. Keep in mind that trips destinations more than 24 km beyond the SFO airport boundary or the San Francisco county limits are charged at 1.5 times the metered rate.
Car Rental: After your flight to San Francisco lands and you've collected your baggage, SFO's Rental Car Center can be accessed via the AirTrain's Blue Line from any of the terminals. At the Center you will find companies like Budget, Avis, Alamo, and Fox. Ace Rent A Car and Payless are located a short distance away from the airport and can be reached via a free shuttle service.
Other: Scheduled bus services known as Airporters operate between SFO and regional destinations. They depart from zones near the arrivals and baggage claim areas on Level 1 or Terminals 1 and 2 and on Level 2 of the International Terminal.
Arriving at OAK
There are two main terminals at OAK and two international gates are a part of Terminal 1. The entrances are located close to each other and you can easily walk from one to another. Upon arrival, you have easy access to ground transportation services which are located right outside the terminal buildings.
Public Transit: From OAK, you can either take the BART train or an local bus service.
Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) Trains: Use the AirBART service to connect to the Coliseum/Oakland Airport Station. One-way tickets on AirBART are approximately $3 USD and it's $4 USD from the Coliseum to downtown San Francisco on BART trains. Discounts are available for seniors, students, and military personnel. Amtrak train services are also located close to the airport, but public transport connectivity to the station is limited.
AC Transit Bus: You can use the AC Transit Buses on route 73 or 805 to connect to the Coliseum/Oakland Airport BART Station. A one-way ride is about $2 USD with discounts on tickets for children, senior citizens, and the disabled. For transfers to other AC Transit buses or BART services, you will need to pay an additional fare when purchasing your ticket.
Shuttle Service: After a long flight, enjoy the convenience of door-to-door shuttle services to destinations in San Francisco as well as Napa, Sonoma, San Jose, Santa Clara, and several others. The pick-up locations are at the fourth curb outside Terminal 2 and the third curb outside Terminal 1. Prices range from $25-$90 USD depending on the type of shuttle and service you request.
Taxi: Taxi services are provided at the second curb outside the baggage claim areas of all terminals by Friendly Cabs and Veteran's Cab companies. Cab fares from OAK to San Francisco city are not cheap, ranging from $60-$80 USD. You might also have to pay an additional toll or surcharge along the way.
Scheduled Buses: If you're connecting to a regional destination, Airport Express runs bus services from the 4D Scheduled Bus stop outside the baggage claim areas to San Rafael, Petaluma Fairgrounds, and Sonoma Country Airport every two hours. One-way trips to Sonoma Country average $30-$35 USD and there are discounts on tickets for senior citizens, military personnel, students, and for booking round-trip tickets online.
Chauffeured Car Service: Evans Inc. operates chauffeured car services as well as minivans and buses for large groups. Costs for airport transfers range from $155 USD for a sedan to $545 for a motor coach and advance bookings are necessary. Pick-up zones are at the fourth curb outside the baggage claim area of Terminal 1.
Car Rental: From the gate where your San Francisco flight arrives, a free shuttle service will take you to the on-site Car Rental Center where companies like Thrifty, National, Fox, and Avis are located. For transfers to off-airport car rental facilities, take the shuttle to the Center where you will be collected, although it is advisable to call ahead from the airport's courtesy phones as soon as your flight lands to minimize your waiting time.
Arriving at SJC
Flights to San Francisco from international destinations arrive at gates located in Terminal A, which is also served by domestic airlines. Terminal B is dedicated to domestic flights only. Inter-terminal shuttles connect both terminals to the parking lots and run in a continuous loop, ensuring you can always find one within a few minutes of disembarking from your San Francisco flights.
Public Transit: From the airport, you can take one of the following public transport options from SJC:
Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART): Take the Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) Airport Flyer to get to the Metro Light Rail station nearby. After exiting the Light Rail station at the Civic Center, take Express Bus Number 180 to the Fremont BART Station from where you can connect to a wide range of destinations in the Bay Area. Average fares from OAK to downtown San Francisco are $6 USD and discounts are also available for seniors, children, and the disabled.
Caltrain: The VTA Airport Flyer also connects the airport terminals with the Santa Clara Caltrain Station from where you can connect to trains going to Zones 1 through 6. A one-way ticket ranges from $3-$13 USD and is valid for a period of four hours.
Amtrak and Greyhound stations are located about 5 km away from the airport and you will need to take a taxi to either one.
Airport and Hotel Shuttle: Shared-ride and private shuttle services are available from the lower level parking garage of Terminal A and the Ground Transportation Center at Terminal B. Average fares range from $80 USD from the airport to San Francisco city and $20-$25 USD to downtown San Jose. Several hotels in San Jose and the surrounding areas provide courtesy shuttle services and the pick-up areas are located at the Ground Transportation Centers at Terminals A and B.
Taxi: Cabs can be booked by phone before your San Francisco flight lands at SJC, or found at taxi stands in front of Terminals A and B. Average fares to downtown San Francisco are $140-$150 USD and $15-$18 USD to downtown San Jose.
Car Rental: The Rental Car Center is located across the street from the baggage claim area of Terminal B and passengers with flights arriving at Terminal A can take the free inter-terminal shuttle buses to connect to the ten rental companies which include Advantage, Alamo, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Fox, Hertz, and Thrifty.