There are so many different ways to get from San Francisco airport to downtown San Francisco. Trying to figure it out on the fly while disoriented from a long flight is a recipe for confusion. This guide will take you through the six different ways that you get from SFO to downtown SF.
Read through to find out all of your options, or use these handy links to skip down to your preferred option.
FAQ: SFO to San Francisco
Here are some answers to commonly asked questions about SF airport transportation.
What is the cheapest way to get from SFO to downtown?
The SamTrans bus is the cheapest. The fare is only $2.05.
What is the fastest way to get downtown?
A taxi, Lyft or Uber will be your fastest option. Even in heavy traffic, they are faster than the other options because you can do curbside pick-up (sort of, see below regarding Uber) and then go door to door. In light traffic it will take 25 minutes and in heavy traffic, it it will take up to 40 minutes.
How to I get downtown if I’m arriving in the wee hours?
Bart and the bus don’t start running until 6am and they don’t run after midnight. So if you are arriving outside of those hours, you’ll need to take a taxi/Uber/Lyft.
What follows are more detailed instructions, including the pros/cons of each transportation option, how much they cost and where to catch them. For simplicity, I’ve estimated transportation times and rates going from San Francisco Airport to Union Square as there are many hotels clustered there. If you aren’t sure where to stay, get my local’s advice for the best areas to stay in SF.
How to Take Bart from SFO to Downtown
Where to catch it: The BART station is adjacent to the international terminal. If you are using a domestic terminal, then catch the AirTrain and ride the loop to the BART station.
How much time does it take: The trains run every ~20 minutes and takes 30 minutes to get downtown. It runs 10 stops between the airport and Powell street (which is the closest to Union Square).
How much does it cost: The one-way fare is $9.65 using a Clipper Card. If you will be using other public transportation while in SF, I strongly recommend that your purchase a reloadable Clipper Card from the SFO station. The fares on BART, SF’s MUNI bus line, cable cars and trams are all cheaper with the card and using it is much easier than purchasing 1-off tickets. You have to tag on to get into the station and then tag off again to get out.
Pros to BART: Because they make multiple stops through the city, you have a choice of where to get off, which works if you are staying in the Mission or the Civic Center area. Getting to the station is pretty easy from all of the terminals. It’s much cheaper than a taxi/Uber/Lyft.
Cons to BART: The trains sometimes run late. It’s dirtier and noisier than the other options.
How to Catch an Uber or Lyft to Downtown SF
Where to catch it: SFO does allow Uber and Lyft to operate at the airport. However, they are kinda weird about where you need to go to catch your ride.
SFO does not allow a curbside pick-up from the domestic terminals. You’ll need to follow the signs that say “Ride App Pick-up” (not “Shared Ride Van”, that’s something different). These signs will direct you to the top deck of the short term parking garage, because of course, that’s the most sensible place to catch an Uber.
The international terminal has a more logical pick-up and drop-off in the center island of the upstairs departures area.
How much time does it take: In low traffic, it can take as little as 25 minutes or up to 40 minutes during rush hour.
How much does it cost: Normal pricing is ~$35 for Uber and ~$40 for Lyft. All bets are off during surge pricing.
Pros to Uber/Lyft: Door to door service and it’s cheaper than a cab. It’s usually the fastest way to get to downtown San Francisco.
Cons to Uber/Lyft: You do have to wait for your ride to arrive, usually 10-15 minutes. It’s easy to get lost trying to find the pick-up spot in the domestic terminal.
How to Catch a Taxi to Downtown SF
Where to catch it: All of the terminals have an easy to find cab stand in the center island of the downstairs arrivals pick-up area.
How much time does it take: In low traffic, it can take as little as 25 minutes or up to 40 minutes during rush hour. There are usually cabs waiting to meet arriving flights.
How much does it cost: A cab to SF will cost ~$55 during normal traffic.
Pros to a taxi: Good if you don’t like using the shared ride services. Super easy to find the pick-up area and you don’t have to drag your luggage all over the parking lot to catch a ride. Door to door service.
Cons to a taxi: It’s the most expensive option.
How to Catch Bus Transportation from San Francisco Airport to Downtown
Where to catch it: There are pick-up locations in terminals 2 and 3, and also at the international terminal. They are located in the downstairs arrivals area in the center island where you’ll also find other shuttle services.
How much time does it take: The SamTrans airport routes to downtown includes the 292, 397 and 398 bus lines. They run approximately every half hour and they go semi-express to SF’s downtown financial district. They take roughly 30 minutes to get there. You can check the routes and times here.
How much does it cost: If you already have a Clipper Card, it will cost $2.05. Otherwise, it will cost $2.25 to purchase a single ticket.
Pros to using the bus: It’s cheap and it makes fewer stops than Bart.
Cons to using the bus: Risk of a slower ride during rush hour. They run less frequently than BART. Not convenient if you are staying in the Mission or SOMA neighborhoods.
How to Catch a Shared Van Shuttle
Airport Express runs service from San Francisco airport to downtown SF and you can schedule an advance reservation.
Where to catch it: They direct you to call them when you arrive and they’ll tell you where to go. Or, just follow the signs for “shared van ride”, which will direct you to the downstairs arrives island.
How much time does it take: You will need to wait for a van to arrive. Once on the way, it will take 25 minutes to an hour, depending upon how many drop-offs they are doing.
How much does it cost: $19 one way.
Pros to using the van: Good for a larger family group, if you want door to door service.
Cons to using the van: More waiting time.
Should You Take Caltrain from SFO to SF?
In short, no.
Getting to the Millbrae Caltrain station requires a bus or BART transfer. By the time you do that rigamarole, you could have simply taken BART all the way in. Also, Caltrain runs less frequently than BART, especially during non-peak hours.
That said, Caltrain is good if you want to go south down the peninsula toward San Jose. In that case, take the SamTrans bus to the Millbrae station.
Cool Stuff to do in SF
Once you find your way into the city, use these articles to help you have fun while there:
- Cool and non-touristy things to do in San Francisco.
- Find murals in the Mission.
- Check out the best bookstores in SF.
- Find the best viewpoints for the Golden Gate Bridge.
- Get advice on where to take great photography in San Francisco.
- Spend a day exploring hiking and history at Angel Island State Park.
Stay up to date with Wayfaring Views and subscribe to the newsletter.
Help your friends get from SFO to downtown SF and pin this article: