How to Get from San Francisco Airport to Downtown
Whenever you visit a new city, it can be daunting to try and immediately make your way from the busy airport into the main downtown area where you are staying. Thankfully, Free Tours by Foot San Francisco has put together this easy-to-use guide to show you exactly how to get from San Francisco Airport to downtown San Francisco.
We’ve also taken note of the many passengers trying to reach downtown San Francisco from Oakland International Airport. Our goal is to help travelers from all over the world find their way, so you can also expect to find a guide for visitors coming from Oakland as well. Although there are plenty of ways to get downtown, we’ll give you our suggestions and expert advice on the easiest ways.
- Getting Downtown from SFO : San Francisco International Airport
- Getting Downtown from OAK : Oakland International Airport
- How to get to the Convention Center
- Places to go in Downtown San Francisco
Well, this seems like a logical place to start! Whether you are driving your own car or picking up a rental car, this is by far the easiest way to get into the city.
During normal traffic periods, the trip from San Francisco airport to downtown will take about 25-30 minutes. However, if you are driving during rush hour or periods of heavy traffic (typically on weekdays between 7:30 AM – 9:00 AM and 4:30 PM – 6:30 PM) the drive can take up to 45 minutes.
In addition, if you are going to be staying in a far-off part of the city (the Outer Richmond district, for example) the drive will take much longer. For directions from SFO to Union Square, please use the following map.
Important Note: Finding parking in San Francisco can be difficult and expensive. Parking Panda is a service that allows drivers to search for, compare, and reserve affordable parking at garages and lots in San Francisco. You can save money on the cost of hotel parking simply by making a reservation at a cheaper garage a few blocks away from your hotel!
Uber and Lyft are both “ridesharing” companies founded in San Francisco. The drivers are locals who use their own car to drive people around the city. They are extremely safe, reliable, and generally less expensive than taxis – especially when driving from San Francisco Airport to downtown San Francisco. In fact, the local taxi company in San Francisco recently declared bankruptcy because so many people have been using Uber and Lyft!
To use this service, you first have to download the apps on your smartphone. Here are links to download each app:
Once you have downloaded the app, you must enter your credit card information (which will be used to pay for all your future rides). After completing this step, all you need to do is hit a button in order to send a car to your location. Both Uber and Lyft will use the GPS location provided by your phone to find you. When the car arrives, hop in and tell your driver where you would like to go!
The ride will cost you about $25-30, depending on traffic. As with driving your own car, try to avoid using these services on weekdays between 7:30 AM – 9:00 AM and 4:30 PM – 6:30 PM. This is rush hour in San Francisco, so it will invariably take longer and become more expensive.
BART is the acronym for Bay Area Rapid Transit. This is the local San Francisco subway system. It is also known for being a great way to get from San Francisco Airport to downtown SF!
BART is a quick train that will take you from the airport to many different stations in San Francisco. If you’re looking for Union Square, the closest BART station to the square is the Powell Street station. When the train departs from SFO, it will be about a 30 minute ride to the Powell Street station. From there, it is only a 5-10 minute walk to the hotels around Union Square.
When you arrive at SFO, you will need to take the AirTrain to get to the BART station. The ride to BART only takes a few minutes, and it’s very easy and convenient.
Look for these signs to get to the AirTrain and the SFO BART station:
Once you’ve taken the AirTran, you will find the entrance of the SFO BART station, which looks like this:
The next step is to buy a ticket! BART makes it extremely easy to get a ticket from the San Francisco airport to downtown San Francisco. All you need to do is use one of the ticket vending machines to buy a one-way ticket for each passenger, which costs $8.65 per person. Note: children under the age of 4 ride for free!
Once you get on the train, sit back and enjoy! This is one of the most comfortable and affordable methods to travel from SFO to downtown.
When you get to the Powell Street station, it is a quick walk right up Powell Street to Union Square.
When you’re at SFO, there are multiple taxi stands around the airport. If you take a taxi from here, they will take you directly to your destination. Expect to pay somewhere around $40 plus tip for a taxi to downtown San Francisco, depending on how far you go into town and how much traffic there is.
Important Note: If a taxi driver walks up to you in the airport and offers you a ride, DO NOT ACCEPT IT! These are unlicensed cabs that are not allowed to be driving in SFO. It is possible you will get scammed out of your money by taking these cars.
SuperShuttle is a taxi service that takes multiple passengers at the same time. This is generally less expensive than a taxi or Uber/Lyft (if you have only one person) but it also takes longer and is less convenient.
Generally speaking, the SuperShuttle van will pick up 6 – 7 passengers at a time and drop them off at each of their individual destinations. If you happen to be the first person the van drops off, great! Cheap trip! However, if you are one of the last people dropped off, it can add 30 minutes or more to the length of the trip. If you’re only in San Francisco for a limited time, you would probably rather spend that time doing lots of other fun activities!
GO Airport Shuttle from SFO (45-75 minuts, $17)
GO Airport Shuttle offers a shared van or a private van for a quick and cheap way into San Francisco from SFO. You can also hire a private sedan or SUV for 2-4 passengers ($95-115 depending on where you’re going).
Similar to SuperShuttle, the length of your journey can vary depending on who else hired a shuttle that time. With upfront pricing, you will know how much your trip will be before you book.
If you’re making the trip from Oakland International Airport to downtown San Francisco, one of the easiest methods is driving. The drive will take roughly 30-45 minutes depending on traffic and you will be required to pay a toll to cross the bridge.
Although it’s not necessarily as convenient as the drive from SFO, driving from Oakland Airport to downtown San Francisco shouldn’t take much more time. Located on the opposite side of the bay, OAK is roughly 20 miles away from Union Square. This is about 5 or 6 more miles of travel than you would experience driving from San Francisco Airport, which isn’t that much of a difference.
For instructions on driving from OAK to Union Square downtown San Francisco, please use the following map:
If you don’t feel like driving, this is a great way to get around San Francisco without any hassle. However, if you want to save money and have complete control over your travel arrangements, it might make more sense to rent a car.
Yes, the BART runs from Oakland International Airport to downtown San Francisco. Heck, you could even use the BART to get from one airport to another. This subway system is quick, easy, and very affordable for most passengers. If you don’t feel like driving and you want to get around the city with ease, the Bay Area Rapid Transit system will do the trick.
Taking the BART from Oakland Airport will cost a bit more, but it’s still much cheaper than some of your other options. You’ll find the BART station located just across from the Terminal 1 baggage claim area. Remember to type in the correct amount of your ticket at the vending machine before heading onto the subway.
This will definitely be one of the more costly methods for traveling from Oakland International Airport to downtown San Francisco. If you don’t feel comfortable with any other option on this list, there will almost always be a taxi at OAK ready to take you wherever you need to go.
Thanks to the toll and the added distance, you can expect to pay more for fare if you’re coming from this airport. Although other forms of transportation will be less costly, a taxi ride could be much more comfortable and private.
It is important to note that the same rules apply for this location as they do for SFO; if anyone walks up to you claiming to be a taxi driver, do not accept the ride.
Many visitors in San Francisco come to the downtown area for conventions held at the Moscone Center. If your hotel is located near Union Square, it should be fairly simple to make your way to this convention center.
If you’re looking for a few fun things to do around Union Square, here are a few ideas to get you started.
Shopping – There are a lot of different stores located within a few blocks of the hotels near Union Square, but if you want a one stop shop, consider heading down to the Westfield San Francisco Centre. This historic mall is nine stories high and includes hundreds of different stores. If you came via the BART, chances are that you’ve already seen the Westfield, which is located on 5th and Market Street.
Walking Tours – We actually offer a walking tour of Market Street, which is just a few blocks away from Union Square and located conveniently in the heart of Downtown San Francisco. If you’re planning on walking around the downtown area anyways, you might as well take advantage of this name-your-own-price walking tour. Allow us to show you some of the most notable locations in the city without traveling too far from your hotel!
If you’re in town playing tourist, be sure to check out our post on the different tourist passes to get the most out of your visit.