San Francisco International Airport is technically in San Francisco, but in reality it’s nowhere near downtown.
SFO is located about a 30 minute drive (in good traffic) south of the city, on the Peninsula. With the Bay Area’s legendary traffic, though, getting to SFO airport from downtown San Francisco or Fisherman’s Wharf can be quite the challenge.
I’ve lived in the Bay Area for 10 years now. Here is my advice on the best way to get to SFO from downtown San Francisco, for an easy San Francisco travel experience.
- BART is the least expensive option
- Uber is great if you don’t have much luggage
- A private car service is your best bet for larger parties (such as families) with luggage. This one is among the most popular.
Take BART to SFO
If you’re staying on the Eastern side of San Francisco, it’s easy to take the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) train to SFO airport.
BART has stations at the Embarcadero, the financial district and in the Mission District. For around $10 you can catch the Yellow line (SFO/Millbrae line) and take it directly to SFO.
The BART station at SFO is located in the International Terminal. If you’re flying out of that terminal, then you’re set. If you want to take BART to Terminal 1, Terminal 2 or Terminal 3 at SFO, though, you’ll need to transfer to the free Airtrain and ride it to your departure terminal.
Taking BART is a great option if you’re staying around Fisherman’s Wharf, Union Square, or the Mission. It also works well if you’re traveling fairly light.
If you’re staying on the Western side of the city, though, there aren’t BART stops, so it’s not a great option. BART can also be a challenge if you have a lot of luggage, especially if you’re traveling during rush hour, when trains are packed.
Ride Uber or Lyft
Uber is headquartered in San Francisco, and taking an Uber is one of the most common ways that San Francisco visitors and locals get around.
You can download the Uber app and then call an Uber from nearly anywhere in the city. Drivers will drop you off right at the terminal at SFO, so you can skip the Airtrain transfer and save a bit of time.
The typical fare to get from San Francisco to SFO airport on Uber is around $38 to $47 depending on where you leave from in the city and current demand for the service.
The challenge with Uber is that the cars you get can be variable. You might get a big car that can accommodate a larger group with luggage, or you might get a tiny Toyota Prius. Some people opt to take an Uber XL to SFO to make sure they have enough room for their stuff, but that can get expensive.
Take a Private Car Service
Using a private car service is more expensive than taking BART, and is often pricier than using Uber. It there are some big advantages; you can schedule a time with a specific driver, you know what kind of vehicle you’re booking (and can select an appropriate size), and you’ll have someone to call if there’s any issue with your ride.
This private airport car service is one of the most popular options among SF travelers.
The service operates 24/7 and offers both SUVs and sedans depending on your group size. Make sure to call the operator after booking; several travelers shared that calling to reconfirm their reservation was helpful.
For a more unique and eco friendly option, check out this alternative car service, which will pick you up from your San Francisco hotel and take you to SFO in a Tesla Model X.
Teslas are wildly popular in the Bay Area, and riding in one is a fun experience if you’ve never tried it. It’s also a great way to cut your carbon footprint–just like a real San Francisco local!
This service also gets fantastic reviews from travelers. It’s a more expansive option than a standard airport transfer. But if you want to splurge for a well-rated ride in an earth-friendly vehicle, it could be a great option for your trip.
How Long Does It Take to Get to Sfo From San Francisco?
Again, your total travel time to SFO from San Francisco will vary widely depending on which transportation option you choose and the traffic.
Riding BART usually takes about 1 hour, including the Airtrain transfer and wait time for your train to arrive. Occasionally BART does get delayed or has service outages, so it’s important to keep that risk in mind.
Using Uber or a private airport car service can take as little as 25-30 minutes with good traffic, or as long as an hour or more during rush hour times.
For that reason, many people plan to use BART if they’re going to SFO during rush hour or other peak times, and use Uber or a private car service if they’re traveling during off peak times.
Which SFO Transportation Option is Best for Me?
- If you’re on a budget, take BART and leave plenty of time.
- If it’s rush hour, take BART.
- If you’re a vulnerable traveler or are traveling alone at night, take Uber or a private car service
- If you want a direct drop off at the terminal and are traveling light, use Uber
- If you’re traveling with a group or have lots of luggage, use a private car service
- If you need help carrying your bags, use a private car service. Most services will help you load and unload your luggage. Some Uber drivers do this, and some don’t.
Getting to SFO airport from downtown San Francisco can be a bit confusing. Using one of these options can get you there quickly and easily, so you can have a less stressful flight and make it to your destination as quickly (and economically) as possible.