Getting from SFO airport to downtown San Francisco and back is pretty easy and straightforward. Although it’s quite convenient, the time it takes to get you there can vary greatly depending on which transport option you choose.
SFO airport is not actually in San Francisco – it’s technically in unincorporated San Mateo County which is 13 miles south of downtown SF, so traffic really does play a major role in the length of your ride so take this into account when planning your trip and choosing your ride.
How to Get from SFO Airport to Downtown San Francisco
There are a number of possible ways to get yourself to and from downtown SF from SFO Airport, and plenty of transport services are ready to cater you – you just have to choose depending on your travel style.
The best way to get you downtown without hurting your budget much is with BART because it’s very straightforward and it’s cheap, plus you do not have to deal with third-party operators just to get a ride. But nevertheless, these are the many ways you can get from SFO airport to downtown San Francisco.
SFO to Downtown by BART
BART subway is easily the best way to get to downtown San Francisco from SFO airport. It’s fast and cheap, and it’s actually comfortable and you’re almost always guaranteed a seat since train cars come in almost empty since they come in from the starting terminal for this route.
All northbound subway trains that stops at SFO airport station are sure to stop at downtown SF stations (16th and 24th Street Mission stations, Civic Center station, Powell Street station, Montgomery station, and Embarcadero station) so this saves you the headache of figuring out your route.
Say you want to go to your hotel at the popular Union Square area in downtown SF which is very close to Powell St station – BART will be your best travel option since both the SFO airport and Union Square is directly connected by BART.
At present it costs $9.65 (Clipper) or $10.15 (BART Blue Ticket) to go from SFO airport to downtown San Francisco stations including Powell St station (same cost for traveling back to SFO airport), with each trip taking around 28 minutes which is really quick compared to the other options.
It’s not really cheap, but there’s no other option that’s cheap, quick and convenient either so BART is the safest bet. Check out this detailed guide to riding the BART subway to learn more.
If your hotel or end destination is a bit far flung from the nearest BART station (like the Fisherman’s Wharf) and you don’t want to take the taxi, you can take the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (a.k.a. Muni) to get around once you get to the city by BART.
Muni stops in or near BART stations in the city so it’s pretty convenient to hop on to a Muni bus – since the Muni has several routes that make up a complex network of bus routes, making it quite confusing to figure out at first, the best app you can use is your Google Maps or Apple maps app where it tells you exactly where to board, hop off and make transfers (if applicable) to get you to your destination.
The thing is, BART stops operating around midnight so if your flight arrives after midnight you will have to figure out another way to go to downtown SF from SFO airport.
SFO to Downtown SF via SamTrans and Muni
I am in no way recommending that you go this route because this route takes a lot of time to figure out and takes more than an hour to get you from point A to B, but I just wanted to put it out there that this route exists so that you can consider this in your planning, especially if you’re arriving at the airport after midnight and you do not want to take the expensive route (aka taxi).
From SFO airport you can actually ride a combination of SamTrans (to get to San Francisco) and Muni (to get around the city) – this route involves at least two stops or more, and costs at least $5.25 and more depending on your destination.
The great thing about this route is that it’s part of the “AllNighter” service, a network of public transport services including SamTrans and Muni which runs from about midnight to 5 a.m., with stops at major destinations in the city. The not so great thing about this is that the “AllNighter” Muni service may or may not stop in your nearest destination, so careful planning is involved.
No one wants to get lost and stranded in a city after midnight, so if I were you I’d just take the next option if your flight is arriving in the wee hours.
By Taxi, Uber or Lyft
This on-demand service is probably the most convenient way to get your self to the city from SFO airport 24/7, but it comes at a cost.
From SFO to downtown San Francisco, the average fare costs around $27 if you take Uber/Lyft, and around $50 for taxi, and it can cost more depending on how far you want to go into the city.
Not really sure why taxis are more expensive than that of ride-sharing app, but it might be due to the fact that taxis are instantly available in the arrivals area and you do not have to fumble on your phone to use the app. Whatever the reason may be, ride-sharing apps are your best (and cheaper) bet in on-demand transportation options – internet is free inside SFO airport so you’re free to download and use the apps so you can save more.
If you’re taking the taxi, you will find the taxi stand at the center island immediately after exiting the arrivals area.
If you’re taking Uber or Lyft, SFO airport has assigned dedicated Ride App Pick-up and Drop-off zones: at the center island area of the international departures roadway for international flights, and at the level 5 of the domestic garage for domestic flights.
Check out below video from SFO airport to help you find the right Ride App Pick-up zone. Oh, and make sure to ask your name and/or destination from the driver and confirm the license plate just to make sure you’re riding the correct car for safety purposes.
By Airport Shuttle
While I normally wouldn’t recommend airport shuttles because you would have to deal with bookings and coordinate schedules when you could’ve just taken an Uber already, it’s still a bit cheaper than taxi and ride-sharing apps and they’re pretty useful if you’re coming to or from the greater Bay Area (outside SF).
There are plenty of airport shuttle van services that’ll take you from SFO to downtown SF in shared or private shuttle vans and it’s just a matter of choice, really. Shared shuttle vans can cost $21 to $38 per way and private shuttles can range around $100-$150.
One popular option is Airport Express SF where you can schedule trips from $21 (one way) and $40 (round trip). Their shuttles depart every hour from 4:30am to 10:00pm.
Unlike other providers which serve many cities, Airport Express SF is dedicated to serving San Francisco and the greater Bay Area only so their services are more tailored to the city.