Don't miss out! Join the thousands of people who subscribe to our once-daily email or our free miles and points Facebook group with all the best travel news. Points With a Crew has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Points With a Crew and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers.
I have been to San Francisco a few times with my family, and we normally fly out of San Francisco airport (SFO). Since San Francisco airport is quite a bit away from the main areas of San Francisco and the Bay Area, we did a bit of research to help find the best way from SFO Airport to Downtown San Francisco. So I thought I would share with you some of my information to help you figure out the best way to get from SFO to San Francisco.
If you need to make this a roundtrip journey, you might also be interested in the best and cheapest way to get from San Francisco to SFO airport
Getting from SFO airport to Downtown San Francisco by taxi
You can surely take a taxi from SFO airport to San Francisco or elsewhere in the Bay Area but it will be fairly expensive. Unlike the taxi fare from JFK Airport to Manhattan, which is a flat fare, the SFMTA has set up the trip to / from SFO airport to be a metered fare. A taxi from SFO airport to Downtown San Francisco will run anywhere from $40-$50 or more, in addition to tips and tolls. It will be even more if you are traveling further out in the Bay Area, as there is an additional charge if you’re going more than 15 miles outside the city limits.
If you do want to take a taxi from SFO Airport in the southern Bay Area to Downtown San Francisco, you’re likely to save money by using a service like Carmel Limo — plus you can save $4 off using this link.
Another option that many people like is using a shared express bus – there are a variety of express buses that go from LGA Airport to Times Square or various other places in Manhattan, in the $15 to $20 (one-way) range. These are large buses designed for airport runs, so most of them should have plenty of storage underneath the seats for luggage. Shuttle Finder is one way to find shuttles – but it works better (is cheaper) if you have multiple people. The cheapest sedan I saw cost about $58 total, but the price was the same if you had 1 or 3 people. Try promo code SHUTTLE to save 5%
And obviously you will be in a car, so subject to San Francisco traffic, especially if you’re traveling in rush hour (which seems like every hour!)
SFO airport to Downtown San Francisco by Uber or Lyft
Uber has a wide range of prices to get from SFO to San Francisco. It will depend on your destination in San Francisco and probably time of day (how long it takes). I have seen quotes as low as $30-$40 but also as high as $80 or even more if you are traveling during surge pricing.
Lyft is similarly priced from San Francisco airport to Downtown San Francisco though both Uber and Lyft often are running promotions especially in San Francisco so be sure to check with them before you go
[The time my Lyft driver went the wrong way down a one-way street]
If you do sign up for Uber or Lyft, signing up through my referral code you will get you up to $10 off on your first ride.
The cheapest way to get from SFO airport to Downtown San Francisco
Your absolute cheapest way to get from SFO to Downtown San Francisco (other than convincing someone to pick you up for free) would be taking the bus. There are two SamTrans routes that stop directly at SFO terminals and go to Downtown San Francisco – 292 and 398. Either of those can be good options for you, depending on where exactly you’re headed downtown. This would be the absolute cheapest way to get from SFO airport to Downtown San Francisco as an adult ticket is $2.25 ($2.05 if you use the Clipper card – see more details on how to get a Clipper card in the BART section below). The bus ride will take a little over an hour, depending on the time of day and the San Francisco traffic.
The best way to get from SFO airport to San Francisco
While taxi, Uber, bus and even other ride share services or limos are all options to get from SFO airport to San Francisco, in my opinion, the absolute best way to get from SFO airport to San Francisco is by subway. Unlike going from JFK to Manhattan or LGA to Manhattan, you don’t need to take a separate bus or AirTrain – there is a BART subway stop right inside the San Francisco airport.
The San Francisco airport (SFO) is laid out in a circle, with terminals A through G. The BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) station is located in the International terminal which is the A and G terminals. If you are arriving from one of the other terminals, there is a walkway airside (after security) that connects all the terminals together. There is also a complimentary AirTrain that travels between the terminals. In either case, just follow the signs to either A/G terminals or BART Trains
Step by step instructions for taking the BART trains from SFO to San Francisco
Once you have made your way to the international terminal (Terminals A/G), you’ll continue to follow signs towards Exit / Baggage Claim and the BART Trains. If you used the walkway, it will look something like this
If you used the SFO Air Train, you’ll come down an escalator that looks something like this (this is the opposite view)
You do actually exit the secure area of the airport at the international terminal. Then, continue to follow the signs for BART trains
It’s a quick walk around the corner to the SFO BART Station
Once you enter the BART station, you’ll see a row of ticket kiosks.
There are also machines where you can get a Clipper card and pay for your trip to both the left and right before you go through the ticket kiosks.
Using the Clipper App to get from SFO to San Francisco
You can also use the Clipper App on your phone to buy your ticket. The base fare to get from SFO to Downtown San Francisco is $10, but it costs an additional $3 if you choose to get a card rather than using the app.
You need to download the Clipper app and then either Google Pay or Apple Pay, load money via the Clipper app and then link your Clipper App to your payment app. This takes a little bit of time to do, so I would recommend doing this beforehand if you can. The ticket kiosks use the NFC feature of your phone to read your payment. If you don’t want to deal with the apps, you can always use the ticket machines and get a physical card (for an additional $3).
Once you pay and enter the BART system, there are 2 lines that you can choose from – either the Red line or the Yellow line.
If you are heading to Downtown San Francisco, you can choose either line as they both go to Downtown San Francisco. My destination was the Powell Street station and the trip took about 30-40 minutes. If you’re heading elsewhere in the Bay Area, you can choose the correct line based on your final destination. You can even use the BART to get to Oakland or San Jose, though if you’re headed to San Jose, I would imagine that it would be better to take an alternate form of transportation rather than looping all the way around the bay.
I hope this guide has helped you travel from SFO airport to Downtown San Francisco or anywhere else in the Bay Area – if you need to make it a roundtrip, make sure to check out my guide to the best and cheapest way from San Francisco to SFO airport
What are your tips for the cheapest and best way from SFO Airport to San Francisco?
Points With a Crew has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Points With a Crew and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered. Other links on this page may also pay me a commission - as always, thanks for your support if you use them
I am not sure that luggage can be carried onto Samtrans. Its website says:
‘Customer carry-on items may be brought on the bus if they can be held by the passenger & don’t take up seat space.”
Some years ago luggage was banned on the busses servicing SFO due to a lawsuit by a competing service. Can someone clarify?
It looks like the luggage ban has been lifted. See https://www.sfexaminer.com/news/samtrans-bus-to-sfo-to-allows-luggage-again/article_ae18ddbe-00b0-509f-ac7f-812976d7a289.html . Still, that’s a good point that if you have a lot of luggage, the bus may not be a great option, as I don’t think these buses are the airport-style buses with luggage racks. Probably no worries about taking the bus if you just have a carryon / rollerboard suitcase.
If you are driving your car or rental just remember hundreds of car get windows smashed and item taken DAILY!! Also parking $$$$ average $60 at hotels
BART and many other agencies transitioned to Clipper but if you qualify for a discount such as being a youth or senior you may need to get a special Clipper Card encoded for the discounts as there cannot be obtained by vending machine. This can be done by mail.
BTW you can get to San Jose by BART but it’s served by only two stops on the east side.
That’s a good point about discounts. And yes, I know you can get to San Jose by BART (I actually took it from Downtown San Francisco to San Jose). I was just saying that if you were flying into SFO that taking the BART to San Jose would probably not be the best option since you have to loop all the way around the bay.
As someone that has used BART on my many business trips to SFO, the ticket machines are the most unfriendly ticket machines at a domestic airport that I’ve seen. Gives me this willies just thinking about it.
Interesting. I didn’t use the ticket machines themselves (instead I used the Clipper app), but that was not a great experience. For some reason, the sensor on the entry gate would not read my phone. It may have been user error though since my phone case sometimes interferes with my phone’s NFC signal. The lady that was helping people at the SFO Bart station kept telling me that the sensor needed to “see” the ticket on my phone. That didn’t make sense to me as that’s not how NFC works, but that’s what she kept saying. Eventually I was dumb enough for long enough that she let me go in for free 🙂
Do you know if BART would be a good option if flying in to Oakland & traveling to the Bay area. In researching airline tickets flights for us are much cheaper flying into Oakland than SF. As a caveat, one in our party uses a wheelchair if that makes any difference in construction.
I think it would be a good option. I haven’t used it to/from OAK but as you can see from the system map above, it is connected (it looks like via a separate Air Train). As far as wheelchair accessibility, check out the BART’s page about mobility accessibility for more information.
Thanks Dan. I had previously considered Ubering, but this might be a good option. If we make the trip I’ll give it a try & report back.
Great! Let me know if I can help. I would imagine the steps would be fairly similar to the ones I laid out for coming from SFO.
One thing to keep in mind when deciding whether to Uber or not is the number of people in your party. BART is $10 / person (though it might be less coming from OAK), whereas with Uber, if you have 3 or 4 people, you might actually come ahead, depending on when / where you’re going
Bart is a good option, but be prepared to encounter some nefarious characters on the train outside of commute hours. Not so different from other big cities. San Fran is not Disneyland when it comes to personal safety.