Oakland and San Jose tend to offer more discount airline flights, while San Francisco Airport attracts more international flights and can be more convenient for those staying in the city. Private pilots should consider Oakland rather than SFO, as the separate general aviation field there is more accommodating to light aircraft.
San Francisco and Oakland Airports are connected to downtown SF by the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system (Oakland Airport indirectly through AirBART shuttle buses).
Passengers arriving in SFO can walk (5 minutes from United's domestic terminal) or take a free airport shuttle (AirTrain) to the BART station (which is adjacent to the G side of the International Terminal). The BART ride from SFO to San Francisco costs $8.25 one-way and runs frequently, every 15 or 20 minutes depending on the time of day. BART trains run through San Bruno, South San Francisco, Colma, and Daly City before reaching the city of San Francisco, from where the SF MUNI can take travellers anywhere in the city.
SFO is also connected to San Francisco by SamTrans routes 292, 397, and KX. Routes 292 and 397 are $2 to San Francisco, while KX is $5. Large luggage is generally not permitted on the KX bus.
From Oakland Airport, passengers take a 10-15 min "AirBart" bus ride to the BART station; the cost is $3 for adults ($1 for seniors/children) exact change only; the bus runs every 10 minutes during the day. BART trains from there run directly to San Francisco and cost about $4.00.
The San Jose airport is served by a free shuttle to both VTA Light Rail and Caltrain called the Airport Flyer — VTA Route #10. Passengers arriving in San Jose can use Caltrain to reach San Francisco directly (this costs $7.50 one-way). Caltrain also links with the BART system at the Millbrae intermodal station. Be aware that public transportation within the South Bay is not as developed as around San Francisco. Also, when riding Caltrain, be sure to buy your ticket at the automated station kiosks before boarding, as they are not sold on the trains.
Taxis are considerably more expensive than the public transportation options. A taxi from SFO to the city can easily cost more than $40, and over $60 from OAK. Taxi and van prices from San Jose to San Francisco are significantly higher. Shared vans will cost around $14. If you plan to drive from a car rental area near the SFO airport to downtown San Francisco, you can take the 101 freeway. When returning a rental car to SFO, remember to take the rental car exit, otherwise you will have to wind your way slowly back to the rental car center.
Amtrak, +1 800 872-7245 serves the Bay Area with long-distance and intercity trains. San Francisco's long distance station is across the bay, outside city limits. Passengers arrive in Emeryville or Oakland's Jack London Square Station in the East Bay and may take an Amtrak California Thruway bus over the Bay Bridge to San Francisco's Amtrak stop at 101 The Embarcadero (near the Ferry Building) and usually several other downtown destinations (note that Amtrak passengers are not subjected to any extra charge for the bus). Travelers on some shorter distance Amtrak routes can also transfer to BART trains at the Richmond or Oakland Coliseum stations (see below). Alternatively, riders approaching the Bay Area from the south may transfer to Caltrain at San Jose's Diridon Station for a direct ride to Fourth and King Streets in San Francisco.
Amtrak routes serving the Bay Area are:
There are two regional rail systems which serve San Francisco:
Caltrain, +1 510 817-1717 operates a regional rail service from San Jose to its San Francisco terminal at Fourth and King. The service also runs between San Jose and Gilroy during rush hour. Caltrain is very useful for travel between San Francisco and communities on the Peninsula, Silicon Valley or South Bay. On weekdays Caltrain provides two trains per hour for most of the day but run more during commute hours, including "Baby Bullet" limited services that cruise between San Francisco and San Jose in 57 minutes; on weekends and public holidays trains run hourly, except that after 10PM only one train runs, leaving at midnight. The 4th & King terminal is served by Muni Metro (see 'Get around' below) giving connections to the rest of the city. Fares vary depending on how far you go. Tickets must be purchased before boarding the train from ticket vending machines at any of the stations or from ticket clerks at staffed stations. Tickets are checked on the trains and anyone found without a ticket is liable to a substantial fine. Cyclists should use the designated car at the northern end of the train, and be aware that bike space is often limited during commute hours.
Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), +1 415 989-2278 provides a regional frequent rail service connecting much of the East Bay and Contra Costa County with San Francisco and the San Francisco Airport through the Transbay Tube, a tunnel underneath San Francisco Bay. BART operates five routes, of which four run through San Francisco. There are three or four trains per hour on each route; consequently trains within San Francisco are generally less than a 5 minute wait. In the East Bay, BART runs mostly on elevated track; in downtown San Francisco it runs in a subway under Market Street, and several underground stations provide easy access to downtown areas and simple transfers to the Muni Metro subway. BART also meets Caltrain at Millbrae. Bicycles are allowed on BART except between stations designated in the schedule brochure during commute hours. Fares vary depending with distance traveled, and start at $1.75 for trips within the city. You will need to insert your ticket into barriers when entering and exiting the system. Tickets hold a balance, deducting the appropriate price for each trip, so someone who plans to use the system several times can buy a $10 or $20 ticket and not worry about fares until the card is used up. Note that the BART vending machines accept any credit card only twice within any 24 hour period. BART also accepts the Clipper Card, and BART ticket machines can be used to refill Clipper Cards, although do not sell them.
Several regional bus systems serve San Francisco from the immediate suburbs:
In many ways a boat is the ideal way to approach San Francisco. The city's spectacular skyline is best appreciated from the water, and from the deck of a boat the bay and its bridges and islands can be viewed as a whole. Cruise ships and private yachts are regular visitors to San Francisco, and passenger ferries regularly link other Bay Area cities to San Francisco.
Ferries run to San Francisco from Larkspur, Sausalito and Tiburon in Marin County, from Vallejo in Solano County and from Alameda and Oakland in the East Bay. In San Francisco, the ferries dock at one or both of the city's two piers at Fisherman's Wharf and the Ferry Building, the later of which is a very short walk from the Amtrak San Francisco bus stop as well as Embarcadero Station, where the BART and Muni trains stop, and the stop for the historic streetcars that run above ground down Market Street. For more information on boat connections:
There are four major highway approaches to San Francisco. US 101 comes up the eastern side of the SF peninsula and is the most direct route from the south, although it often backs up with traffic. Interstate 280 is a more scenic route into the city from the same direction, but with poorer connections than 101. Interstate 80 approaches the city from the east over the San Francisco Bay Bridge. From the north, US 101 takes you over the Golden Gate Bridge.
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