Travel & Day Trips

Oakland International Airport vs San Francisco International Airport: A Comprehensive Comparison

When planning a trip to the Bay Area in California, the first question that often comes to mind is which airport to fly into: Oakland International Airport (OAK) or San Francisco International Airport (SFO)?

While SFO is more globally recognized and significantly busier, OAK provides an equally viable, and sometimes more convenient, option.

This blog post delves into the specifics of each airport, comparing them across several key factors to help you decide which one suits your travel needs best.

Location and Access

As the name implies, Oakland airport is in, drum roll please…Oakland! It’s not right in the city center, but rather occupies a peninsula of land that juts into the bay.

You can easily see the tower of the Oakland Airport from the Oakland Zoo and the Oakland Hills.

There’s a BART extension that goes straight to the airport. That means you can fly into OAK and then take BART to nearly anywhere else in the East Bay, as well as into San Francisco.

A BART extension serves Oakland International

SFO is also served by BART, and its internal Airtrain connects the terminals and other facilities. I find the BART station at SFO to be easier to use, since it’s right in the International Terminal and doesn’t require a connection.

SFO at night

Oakland International Airport (OAK)

  • Situated approximately 10 miles south of Downtown Oakland.
  • Accessible via a number of means, including BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit), taxi, and ride-sharing services.

San Francisco International Airport (SFO)

  • Located about 13 miles south of Downtown San Francisco.
  • Accessible via BART, taxi, and ride-sharing services, as well as the free AirTrain which connects the terminals, parking garages, and the Rental Car Center.

Verdict: The choice here largely depends on your final destination. If you’re headed to the East Bay or Northern California, OAK might be more convenient, while SFO is closer to San Francisco and the Peninsula.

Airtrain is useful for getting around the terminals at SFO

Flight Options

Both airports are served by lots of big airlines. Oakland is known as a major regional hub for Southwest. That makes the airport a good choice if you’re looking for a cheap flight to San Francisco or the Bay Area.

SFO is a big airport

That said, SFO is way bigger and serves way more customers each year. It has a dedicated International Terminal that’s massive and accepts flights from all over the world. That generally means that SFO has more flight options.

Oakland is a big hub for Southwest Airlines

Again, OAK often has cheaper flights. And for domestic flights, it can sometimes have better flying times since it’s smaller and more focused on the domestic travel market.

Oakland International Airport (OAK)

  • Houses two passenger terminals: Terminal 1 and Terminal 2.
  • Serves around 13 million passengers annually (as of 2019).
  • Offers nonstop flights to more than 60 destinations, with a strong emphasis on domestic travel.

San Francisco International Airport (SFO)

  • Houses four terminals: Terminals 1, 2, and 3, and the International Terminal.
  • Serves around 57 million passengers annually (as of 2019).
  • Offers nonstop flights to more than 125 destinations, including many international ones.

Verdict: SFO provides more variety in terms of destinations, particularly for international flights. But if you’re traveling domestically, especially to/from the West Coast, both airports offer competitive options.


Both airports are modern and have lots of amenities for flyers. SFO has more high end amenities, like clubs for many airlines, the Amex Centurian lounge, and bizarre “only in SF” things like a robot barista!

OAK is a bit more subdued, but still has good restaurants and other facilities. Parking is generally easier at OAK, with long-term parking right in front of the terminal. SFO’s short term garage is easy, but the long term garage requires a shuttle ride to access.

SFO even has a yoga room! How’s that for amenities while flying?

Oakland International Airport (OAK)

  • Offers free Wi-Fi throughout the airport.
  • Houses a variety of dining and shopping options, albeit less than SFO.
  • Features Escape Lounge, a common-use VIP lounge open to all passengers for a fee.

San Francisco International Airport (SFO)

  • Provides free Wi-Fi and houses numerous art installations and exhibits.
  • Features a wider variety of dining and shopping options, including high-end brands.
  • Boasts several airline lounges and a unique “Yoga Room”.

Verdict: SFO comes out on top when it comes to amenities due to its larger size and greater funding. However, OAK still offers all the essential amenities that most travelers need.

On-Time Performance

Both airports have decent on time performance. But being a bigger airport (and one located in a perenially foggy city), SFO is more likely to have delayed flights.

I’ve flown out of both airports many times, and I personally haven’t noticed a big different in delays. But the official stats paint a different story.

According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (as of 2019):

Oakland International (OAK)San Francisco International (SFO)
On-time Arrival Performance80.5%73.5%
Average Delay Time (minutes)47.859.6

Verdict: OAK typically experiences fewer delays and cancellations than SFO, which can be particularly prone to fog-related disruptions.

Final Thoughts

Choosing between OAK and SFO comes down to the specifics of your trip, such as your final destination, flight options, and personal preference regarding airport amenities.

For most domestic flights, especially those focused on the West Coast, OAK can be a convenient and reliable option. However, for more extensive domestic and international flights, or for those who prioritize a wider variety of amenities, SFO might be worth the extra travel distance and potential for delay.

Terminal 2 at SFO has some of the best airport amenities I’ve ever experienced. The restaurants there are better than in most cities.

We hope this comparison helps you make an informed decision for your next trip to the beautiful Bay Area! Safe travels!

Thomas Smith

Thomas Smith is a food and travel photographer and writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. His photographic work routinely appears in publications including Food and Wine, Conde Nast Traveler, and the New York Times and his writing appears in IEEE Spectrum, SFGate, the Bold Italic and more. Smith holds a degree in Cognitive Science (Neuroscience) and Anthropology from the Johns Hopkins University.

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