The northern Bay Area has two major airports: San Francisco International and Oakland International.
San Francisco International Airport -- Almost four dozen major scheduled carriers serve San Francisco International Airport (SFO; www.flysfo.com), 14 miles directly south of downtown on U.S. 101. Drive time to downtown during rush hour is about 40 minutes; at other times, it’s about 20 to 25 minutes. You can also ride BART from the airport to downtown and the East Bay.
Oakland International Airport -- About 5 miles south of downtown Oakland, at the Hegenberger Road exit of Calif. 17 (U.S. 880; if coming from south, take 98th Ave.), Oakland International Airport (OAK; www.oaklandairport.com) primarily serves passengers with East Bay destinations. Some San Franciscans prefer this less-crowded, more accessible airport, although it takes about a half-hour to get there from downtown San Francisco (traffic permitting). The airport is also accessible by BART via a shuttle bus.
Traffic Alert -- Call tel. 511 or visit www.511.org for up-to-the-minute information about public transportation and traffic.
Arriving at the Airport
Immigration & Customs Clearance -- International visitors arriving by air, no matter what the port of entry, should cultivate patience and resignation before setting foot on U.S. soil. U.S. airports have considerably beefed up security clearances in the years since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and clearing Customs and Immigration can take as long as 2 hours.
Getting into Town from the San Francisco Airport
One of the fastest and cheapest way to get from SFO to the city is to take BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit; tel. 415/989-2278; www.bart.gov), which offers numerous stops within downtown San Francisco. This route, which takes about 35 minutes, avoids traffic on the way and costs a heck of a lot less than taxis or shuttles. A BART ticket costs $8.65 ($3.20 youth/senior) for a one-way ride from SFO to the Embarcadero stop. Just jump on the airport’s free shuttle bus to the international terminal, enter the BART station there, and you’re on your way to San Francisco. Trains leave approximately every 15 minutes.
A cab from SFO to Fisherman’s Wharf costs about $60, plus tip, and takes around 30 minutes, traffic permitting.
SuperShuttle (tel. 800/BLUE-VAN [258-3826], or 415/558-8500; www.supershuttle.com) is a private shuttle company that offers door-to-door airport service, in which you share a van with a few other passengers.They willtake you anywhere in the city, charging $17 per person to a residence or business. On the return trip, add $10 to $17 for each additional person depending on whether you’re traveling from a hotel or a residence. The shuttle stops at least every 20 minutes, sometimes sooner, and picks up passengers from the marked areas outside the terminals’ upper levels. Reservations are required for the return trip to the airport only and should be made one day before departure. Remember, if it is summertime, or holiday season, you need to be at the airport a good 2 hours before your flight (3 hours for international flights), as TSA security lines can be long. Keep in mind that you could be the first one on and the last one off, so this trip could take a while. For $75, you can either charter the entire van for up to seven people or reserve an ExecuCar private sedan ($65) for up to three people. For more info on the ExecuCar, call tel. 800/410-4444, or make a reservation at www.execucar.com.
The San Mateo County Transit system, SamTrans (tel. 800/660-4287 in Northern California, or 650/508-6200; www.samtrans.com), runs two buses between SFO and the Transbay Terminal at First and Mission streets. Bus no. 292 costs $2 and makes the trip in about an hour. The KX Express bus costs $5 and takes just 35 minutes, but permits only one carry-on bag. Both buses run daily.
Getting into Town from Oakland International Airport
A cab from OAK to Fisherman’s Wharf costs about $70, plus tip, and takes around 40 minutes, traffic permitting.
The cheapest way to reach downtown San Francisco is to take the shuttle bus from the Oakland Airport to BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit; tel. 510/464-6000; www.bart.gov). The AirBART shuttle bus runs about every 10 minutes Monday to Saturday from 5am to midnight (Sun 8am–midnight). It makes pickups in between Terminals 1 and 2 near the ground transportation sign. Tickets must be purchased at the Oakland Airport’s vending machines prior to boarding. The cost is $3 ($1 children/seniors) for the 10-minute ride to BART’s Coliseum station in Oakland. BART fares vary, depending on your destination; the trip to the Embarcadero costs $4.05 ($1.50 children/seniors) and takes 15 minutes once you’re on board. The entire excursion should take around 45 minutes.
San Francisco is easily accessible by major highways: I-5, from the north, and U.S. 101, which cuts south-north through the peninsula from San Jose and across the Golden Gate Bridge to points north. If you drive from Los Angeles, you can take the longer coastal route (437 miles and 11 hr.) or the inland route (389 miles and 8 hr.). From Mendocino, it’s 156 miles and 4 hours; from Sacramento, 88 miles and 1 1/2 hours; from Yosemite, 210 miles and 4 hours.
If you are driving and aren’t already a member, it’s worth joining the American Automobile Association (AAA; tel. 800/922-8228; www.csaa.com). Memberships start as low as $57 per year, and provide roadside and other services, including massive hotel discounts, to motorists. Amoco Motor Club (tel. 800/334-3300; www.bpmotorclub.com) is another recommended choice.
Traveling by train takes a long time and usually costs as much as, or more than, flying. Still, if you want to take a leisurely ride across America, rail may be a good option.
San Francisco–bound Amtrak (tel. 800/872-7245; www.amtrak.com) trains leave from New York and cross the country via Chicago. The journey takes about 3 1/2 days, and seats sell quickly. At press time, the lowest one-way fare costs $437 from New York and $228 from Chicago. Round-trip tickets from Los Angeles start at $59 and involve two buses and a train. All trains arrive in Emeryville, just north of Oakland, and connect with regularly scheduled buses to San Francisco’s Ferry Building and the Caltrain station in downtown San Francisco.
Caltrain (tel. 800/660-4287; www.caltrain.com) operates train service between San Francisco and the towns of the peninsula. The city depot is at 700 Fourth St., at Townsend Street.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.