The Ultimate Guide to San Francisco Airport (SFO)

The Ultimate Guide to San Francisco Airport (SFO)

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San Francisco, California!

Famous for its cable cars, unique skyline, Victorian houses, dynamic waterfront, cutting-edge food scene, the Golden Gate Bridge and other attractions, San Francisco is a city beyond compare. The “City on the Bay” is one of the world’s must-see destinations. Many large cities brag that they offer something for everyone. San Francisco, with its diverse and vibrant culture, stunning landscape and wide-ranging list of attractions takes this boast to a whole new level.

The 101 cities and nine counties in the San Francisco metropolitan region are often collectively referred to as the Bay Area. With a population of almost eight million people, the Bay Area is famous for its booming tech industry, social activism, arts, music, cuisine, museums, festivals, and architecture.

Just south of San Francisco lies Silicon Valley. If this technological hub were its own country, it would be one of the world’s wealthiest countries.

Then, there is California itself. This state is so large, so populous and economically developed that if it were its own country, California would have the world’s fifth largest economy, be one of the top-10 agricultural producers, and be the world’s leader in technology and technological innovation. Its population is greater than Canada’s, and its cultural impact on the world is seen in fashion, movies, T.V., and setting trends the entire world follows.

We would be remiss without mentioning the beautiful and iconic national parks within driving distance of San Francisco. Yosemite National Park, with its deep valleys and towering granite cliffs, lies 170 miles (274 km) east of the city. Redwood National Park, with its towering ancient trees, is located 310 miles (499 km) to the north.

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San Francisco Airport (SFO) Guide

As a world-class city and the cultural and commercial center of Northern California, San Francisco sees over 15 million tourists, business travelers, adventurers, and locals pass through the San Francisco International Airport (SFO) each year. During peak travel season, around 38,000 people can pass through SFO in a single day. SFO is the seventh busiest airport in the United States and the 25th busiest in the world. SFO consistently ranks fourth of all U.S. airports for the number of international destinations served.

SFO is a 30-minute/13-mile (21 km) drive from downtown San Francisco, and there are many options for airport transfers. Here are some helpful links:

 – SFO on Google MapsSFO Airport WebsiteSFO Interactive MapSFO Flight StatusSFO Flight TrackerJayride for SFO Airport Transfers

SFO has invested millions of dollars to improve the passenger experience. Reflecting the region’s environmental ethos, SFO has garnered multiple awards for its environmentally friendly design and practices. It is even on target to become the world’s first airport facility to generate zero carbon and zero waste.

SFO is laid out in a loop consisting of tour terminals – Terminals 1-3 and the International Terminal. A light rail system called AirTrain links the four terminals with parking garages, car rental facilities, and BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit). BART connects San Francisco with Oakland and other destinations in the East Bay area.

SFO Terminal Guide

Terminal 1, also known as the Harvey Milk Terminal, is where you’ll find all “B” and “C” gates. JetBlue, Southwest, and American Airlines are the primary carriers using this terminal.

Terminal 2 is home to “D” gates, where you will find domestic flights with Delta and Alaska Airlines.

Terminal 3 is home to all “E” and “F” gates and is the hub for domestic flights for United Airlines and United Express.

The massive International Terminal is the largest airport terminal in North America. This terminal is split into two wings with gate “A” in one and gate “G” in the other. Airlines found at the international “A” gate include AeroMexico, Air France, Alaska Airlines (international), British Airways, China Airlines, Condor, Iberia, and KLM. Airlines operating out of the international “G” gate include Air Lingus, Air China, Air India, Asiana, Lufthansa, SAS, Singapore Airlines, TAP Air Portugal, and United (international).

> Click Here for SFO Terminal Map

SFO Airport Transportation

As both a world-class city and a gateway to Silicon Valley, it’s no surprise that San Francisco has a well-developed road system, a robust transportation system, and many great options for getting around. The challenge is navigating around the bodies of water, up and down the hilly terrain, and heavy traffic in a thriving, bustling, and population-dense metropolitan area. Visitors may feel overwhelmed driving the busy roadways, so, fortunately, there are many options for those who don’t want to drive a rental car.

BART rapid transit, Caltrain commuter rail, and Sam Trans bus service connect SFO and San Francisco to the greater Bay Area.

Other ground transportation options include SFO airport transportation, SFO town car services, SFO airport limo service, SFO airport shuttles, and rideshares. This guide will provide details and SFO-insider information about each of these SFO airport transportation service options.

Car Service, SFO Airport

SFO airport car service is a popular option for many travelers. Private car service at SFO offers a simpler way to get from the airport to any Bay Area destination. One-way private transfers for the ride from SFO to the financial district in downtown San Francisco will cost around $90.

We recommend reserving SFO car service when you book your flight. Visit the Jayride website to reserve your private car service in SFO. Remember to book car service to SFO at the end of your journey, too.

SFO Airport Limo Service

There is nothing like arriving in style at your destination in a limousine with a professional chauffeur. SFO airport limo service is a great way to add a touch of class to your trip to the Bay Area. Let Jayride help you find the ultimate luxury limousine service at a competitive price.

> Book Car Services to and from San Francisco Airport (SFO)

SFO Town Car Services

A town car can be a happy medium between a limousine and a regular sedan. You will still have a professional chauffeur and a luxury ride, but with less cost. SFO town car services can be ideal for the solo traveler or those traveling in groups of four or fewer. Use Jayride to compare rates between SFO town car services, SFO airport limo service, and other SFO transportation services.

Shuttle Service, SFO Airport

SFO airport shuttles are a great way to get to and from the airport. Whether you’re heading to a hotel, business meeting, residential neighborhood, or other destination in the Bay Area, shuttles from SFO airport will get you there conveniently and economically. Many airport-area hotels provide courtesy shuttle service, and shuttles to other destinations can be found for a modest price. Contact your hotel to see if they offer a free shuttle service. Visit Jayride.com to find shuttles to other locations. A fare for a shuttle to SFO can run as little as $17. Shuttle pickup areas are located on the center island of the departures-level roadway at all four terminals.

SFO Airport Rideshare Services

Uber, Lyft, and Wingz are all SFO airport transportation options.

Rideshare pick-ups at Terminals 1, 2, and 3 are on Level 5 of the Domestic Garage. Each has a corresponding pickup area. Employees are available in each area from 7 AM until 2 AM to assist travelers using rideshares.

Rideshare pick-ups at the International Terminal are on the center island on the Departures Level, Zones 14-17. Rideshare drop-offs also happen here.

For domestic flights, the rideshares can drop off curbside on Level 5 of the Domestic Garage, on the Departures Level, or on the Arrivals Level. During peak times, avoid traffic by using the Domestic Garage or the Arrivals Level.

Climate

The Bay Area’s Mediterranean climate makes it a great place to visit regardless of the season. Summers are hot and dry, while winters are cool and rainy. You can count on temperatures in the 55°F to 65°F (13°C to 18°C) range year-round, and it rarely gets below 39°F (4°C) or above 83°F (28°C).

The city of San Francisco, sitting on the tip of a peninsula surrounded on three sides by cold water, does not get much of the “hot and dry” California weather. The steady flow of cool air from the ocean also pulls fog into San Francisco, creating an average of 108 foggy days in the city each year. The fog usually arrives mid-afternoon. Neighborhoods closer to the water get more fog, while those further from the bay see fog a lot less. With the interplay of cool and warm air, dressing in layers makes excellent sense for the City on the Bay. The best time to visit the area for warm-weather activities is from late June through early October. The warmest and sunniest months are September and October. However, with Bay Area weather, nothing is guaranteed!

Oh, the Food!

There are not enough culinary adjectives to adequately describe San Francisco’s utterly delicious, most delectable, vividly charming, vibrantly unique, delightfully lovely, enchantingly tasty, and amazingly diverse food scene, but we’ll try anyway!

First, consider the location. California is home to over 80,000 farms and ranches, including those spanning some of the richest farmland in the world. San Francisco has also been a destination for immigrants and refugees since its founding by Spanish colonists in 1776. Add the adventurous and eclectic culinary sensibilities and health-conscious attitude of so many Bay Area residents, and you have the recipe for some of the best restaurants, cafes and bars for satiating hunger, thirst, and the quest for a better meal, snack, or beverage. In other words, when in San Francisco, eat well!

Here’s a quick guide on the foods to look for in a few of San Francisco’s most popular districts and neighborhoods:
  • Fisherman’s Wharf – sourdough bread, cioppino (a seafood stew), and Dungeness crab.
  • North Beach, San Francisco’s Little Italy – pizza, focaccia, cappuccino.
  • Chinatown – Peking Duck, Cashew Chicken, Orange Peel Beef, Har Gow (shrimp dumplings), Char Sui Bao (steamed pork buns), dim sum, and fortune cookies.
  • Embarcadero/Financial District – ice cream, Dungeness crab, dim sum, and Vietnamese food.
  • Union Square – East Indian, French, and Vietnamese cuisine.
  • Mission District – Mission-style burritos and any Latino food you can imagine. We’ll stop here, but just know that Haight-Ashbury, Fillmore, Japantown, Nob Hill, and every other district and neighborhood in San Francisco is a food lover’s dream come true.

The Top 5 San Francisco Attractions

Located by the ocean with the Golden Gate Bridge glistening, the skyline reaching and the rolling hills beckoning, San Francisco is unquestionably one of the most beautiful cities in the United States, if not in the world. The city is home to a great many worthwhile attractions, including parks, beaches, museums, architecture, diverse and lively neighborhoods, shopping districts, historical sites, restaurants, sports venues, and more. We have narrowed the list down to just five of our favorites!


5. Cable Cars


San Francisco Cable Cars
San Francisco Cable Cars

How do you make a city built on steep hills livable in 1873? Cable cars!

Cable cars were introduced as an efficient way to get around San Francisco. In 1964, these vehicles were declared a historical monument, the first and only public transportation system to have this unique designation.

Three cable car lines remain in operation today. Two of them, the Powell-Hyde and the Powell-Mason, connect downtown San Francisco with Fisherman’s Wharf, making them extremely popular with tourists and locals alike. The Powell-Hyde line offers views of San Francisco Bay and Alcatraz Island. The third line, the California, has the steepest route as it climbs up and over Nob Hill. Visit the Cable Car Museum on Mason Street to learn more about this unusual public transportation system.

4. Chinatown


San Francisco China Town
San Francisco China Town

San Francisco’s Chinatown was born in the gold rush of the mid-1880s and is the oldest Chinatown in the United States and the largest outside Asia.

Enter through the Dragon’s Gate, and you’ll discover streets and alleys full of vibrant and colorful Asian restaurants, teahouses, stores, theaters, temples, traditional pharmacies, and souvenir shops. For Chinese New Year, the Grand Parade is a spectacle enjoyed by both tourists and locals, and one of the very few nighttime illuminated parades in the U.S.

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3. Fisherman’s Wharf


Once considered part of San Francisco’s Little Italy neighborhood, Fisherman’s Wharf is now famous for its shops and restaurants along the picturesque waterfront. It is a delightful place to take a stroll and enjoy the city’s flavor. Main attractions include a fleet of restored vintage sailing ships, Madame Tussauds Wax Museum, Ripley’s Believe it or Not!, and Musée Mécanique. At nearby Ghirardelli Square, home of the famous Italian chocolatier Domenico Ghirardelli, the red-brick chocolate factory has been renovated into a retail and entertainment center. It’s also a chocolate lovers’ paradise!

Neighboring Pier 39 has a merry-go-round and over 50 unique stores and eateries, and the nearby docks are a great place to view hundreds of sunbathing and barking sea lions.

2. Alcatraz Island


San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz Island
San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz Island

Located on San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz Island is the location of the first lighthouse in the western United States, a former Civil War fortress, and an infamous federal prison.

From 1934 until 1963, the island was home to the notorious Alcatraz Penitentiary. It housed some of the most well-known criminals of the time, including Al Capone, Robert ‘The Birdman’ Stroud, George’ Machine Gun’ Kelly, and other dangerous convicts considered high-escape risks. A total of 1,576 convicts were housed there, but never more than 250 at one time.

In 1973, it reopened as a tourist attraction. If you want to visit, plan ahead as Alcatraz Island is now one of San Francisco’s most popular attractions, with tours often selling out well in advance. Night tours are also available.

Although most people come to Alcatraz for its storied history, it’s also an attraction for bird lovers who come to see the many seabirds that nest on the island.

You can only get to Alcatraz Island by boat. The most popular option is the ferry, with a recorded narration about the penitentiary featuring the voices of former inmates and guards.

1. The Golden Gate Bridge


 The Golden Gate Bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge

When completed in 1937, the Golden Gate Bridge was designated the “greatest man-made sight in the United States” and was the longest suspension bridge in the world. Its orange-painted steel structure, backed by blue water or low-hanging fog, makes a striking sight. At night, illuminated by floodlights, the bridge is awe-inspiring. The Golden Gate Bridge has, along with San Francisco’s cable cars, become a world-recognized symbol of the city. The bridge itself is part of U.S. Highway 101 and connects San Francisco with Marin County and other points to the north. It can also be crossed by bicycle or a pedestrian walkway. Pedestrian access is on the East Sidewalk, and bicycle access is on the West and East Sidewalks.

If you want to snap a picture of the bridge, ideal vantage points include Baker Beach, Fort Point, Battery Spencer, Golden Gate Overlook, Moore Road, and the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center.

> Book Car Services to and from San Francisco Airport (SFO)

Getting Around

Besides using the Jayride website to efficiently find and book SFO transportation services, you can also use it to find the perfect ride to all the San Francisco attractions in this guide, even the far away ones like Yosemite National Park.

COVID-19 Precautions

On the Jayride website, look for the phrase “COVID-19 Prepared.” These car service businesses have implemented procedures to reduce the chance of transmission. Note that each company has different policies and procedures. You may consider wearing a mask to further reduce the chances of transmission.

FAQs - Frequently Asked Questions

Private transfers from downtown San Francisco to SFO will cost around $90. From Oakland, it will run you around $150. Use Jayride to find out how much it will cost from your specific destination.

San Francisco is consistently rated as one of the most expensive cities in the world. A 10% to 20% gratuity is standard in most places, but consider giving more since your driver likely has some pretty hefty rent or mortgage payments. Of course, if you can afford it, tip extra if the driver’s service goes above and beyond to make your journey safe and enjoyable.

For trips in the Bay Area, including to and from San Francisco International Airport, a 6-passenger stretch limousine costs around $190 per hour.

Use your Uber carshare app to request a ride. Other options for carshares to and from SFO include Lyft and Wingz.

Rideshare pick-ups at Terminals 1, 2, and 3 are on Level 5 of the Domestic Garage. At the International Terminal, rideshares pick up on the center island on the Departures level

Many of the hotels near San Francisco International Airport offer a courtesy shuttle service. There are also fair-based shuttles to other destinations. Use Jayride to find and book airport shuttles to Bay Area locations. Shuttle pickup areas are located on the center island of the departures-level roadway at all four SFO terminals.

Most shuttles to SFO cost around $17 one-way

An SFO airport shuttle will be the least expensive option, and some hotels near the airport have their own complimentary shuttle service. If you are staying in a hotel in another part of the Bay Area, options include public transportation, car rentals, fare-based SFO airport shuttles, SFO car service, SFO town car services, and SFO airport limo service. To see options for all SFO transportation services with a professional chauffeur, check out the Jayride website.

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