San Francisco International Airport, northern California's largest airport, lies just 14 miles south of the 'City by the Bay', along the Bayshore Freeway. Taxis, buses and two different rail lines connect this airport with the rest of San Francisco, a city boasting one of the best public transportation networks in the entire US. However, car rental in San Francisco Airport remains the most practical way to travel around the sprawling San Francisco Bay area.
Who to Book With
Thrifty, Alamo and Avis are just three of the nine reputable car hire agencies represented on San Francisco Airport's rental car centre's fourth floor. The AirTrain Blue Line transports passengers between the rental car centre and all four terminal buildings 24 hours, while a free shuttle service travels between the rental car centre and an off-site Payless office.
Need to Know Essentials
You will need to show the following documents at vehicle collection:
- International Driving Permit for motorists whose original driver’s licences are in languages other than English
- A valid passport for ID confirmation
- Booking confirmation
For more info read our FAQ's.
Driving in San Francisco proper can be a challenge thanks to the city's notoriously steep hills, narrow streets and complicated one-way street network. Traffic flow grinds to a standstill during morning and evening rush hours, especially across the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. Many local motorists tend to pull out of and cross traffic with little warning. However, driving becomes much easier and more enjoyable once motorists leave San Francisco's city limits for the countless other Bay Area attractions along US Route 101 or Interstate 280. Parking is easiest to find on the Golden Gate Bridge's north side or in the car parks at BART stations.
See our guide to the US for more information on driving here.
A fully automated people mover system called AirTrain links all four airport terminals, the rental car centre, both international terminal garages and the airport's BART station. Passengers can then take the BART connection to Millbrae Station, the nearest CalTrain commuter rail station to the airport. SamTrans provides three separate bus lines between the airport and various Bay Area destinations. Taxis are stationed at four different designated zones throughout the airport.
The San Francisco Airport BART rail station is situated on the international terminal building's third level and is easy to reach aboard the free AirTrain people mover system. BART provides the airport's only direct rail link to San Francisco, but passengers can also take BART trains to the CalTrain Milbrae rail station. CalTrain operates the main commuter rail line between San Jose and San Francisco. One-way BART tickets between San Francisco Airport and the heart of the city cost less than £2 for youth and seniors, and just over £5 for all other passengers.
The four designated San Francisco Airport taxi zones are located at the International Terminal Arrivals area's second level as well as at Level 1 of the other three terminals. Uniformed taxi coordinators can answer questions or help passengers locate cabs from 07:00 to 01:00. It takes between 30 to 40 minutes for taxis to travel from the airport to San Francisco. Shared vans, where many passengers split the cost of a single ride, have become a popular alternative to taxis in this environmentally-conscious city.
San Francisco Airport to downtown San Francisco is about £20
San Francisco Airport to Fisherman's Wharf is about £30
San Francisco Airport to Cow Palace is about £18
Five privately-operated airport bus services travel regularly between San Francisco Airport and various other Bay Area destinations approximately once every 12 to 30 minutes. Passengers can board these buses outside the International Terminal's Courtyard A area or Terminal 3’s Courtyard 4 area. The only public bus network offering direct transportation to San Francisco Airport is SamTrans, whose buses stop at Terminal 1 and the International Terminal 24 hours. A single SamTrans ticket to San Francisco costs approximately £1, while a full day pass costs about £4.
In 2011, over 40 million passengers entered at least one of San Francisco Airport's four bustling terminals. Nearly all international flights use the International Terminal, the largest North American airport terminal. It exclusively handles international flights. Terminal 3 exclusively handles domestic flights, while Terminal 1 serves both Canadian and American flights. Terminal 2 recently reopened as the first US airport terminal to obtain LEED Gold status.
San Francisco Airport's short-term parking options are situated at the Domestic Parking Garage, just a five-minute walk from the main terminal buildings, and the International A and G garages, only 10 minutes on foot from the terminals. Passengers using the five-floor Domestic Parking Garage can choose between a £20 per day rate or a rate of around £1 every 20 minutes. Parking fees at the International Parking Garages are just over £1 every 20 minutes or less than £20 per day. Long-term parking fees are just over £1 every 20 minutes or about £12 per day. The Domestic Parking Garage also offers valet parking.
All four San Francisco Airport terminals have free wireless internet access which passengers can use by selecting the SFO Wi-Fi network.
Airport information desks with multilingual staff are positioned on the International Terminal building's second and third levels, as well as Level 1 at both terminals 1 and 2.
Airport Information: +1 650 877 0422
Disabled Persons’ Facilities: +1 650 877 0227
San Francisco Airport's amenities for disabled passengers include designated parking spots, full wheelchair accessibility, video remote interpreting services and TTY telephones.
Restaurants and Bars
There are a total of over 45 different places to eat at San Francisco Airport's terminals. Unique local restaurants such as the San Francisco Soup Company and the Andale Mexican Restaurant stand alongside familiar fast food chains like Subway, Burger King and Starbucks. Two cafés named Firewood and Deli-Up offer up even quicker bites to eat.
Air France Lounge
United Airlines Lounge
British Airways Lounge
American Airlines Lounge
Money and ATMs
There are numerous ATMs located throughout the airport as well as currency exchange and a full-service bank which is open from Monday to Friday between 08:00 to 16:00 and on Saturday between 08:00 to 12:00. The bank is located in Terminal 3 and provides a full range of international banking facilities.
Most of San Francisco Airport's more than 60 shops are situated past the security areas of its four terminals. The majority of shops in pre-security areas are newsstands and bookshops such as SFO News Express, CNBC News and Hudson Booksellers. The airport is also filled with designer boutiques like Burberry and Gucci, as well as speciality shops such as Wine Wisdom and the Sunglass Hut. Four duty-free shops are located throughout the airport.