The Best Ways to Get From San Francisco Airport to Downtown SF

SFO is the second largest airport in California and navigating your ground transportation options can be tricky. 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.

Bart station at SFO airport.

Read through to find out all of your options, or use this handy table of contents to skip down to your preferred option.

FAQ: San Francisco Airport 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 $2.25.

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 run between midnight and 5AM. If you are arriving outside of those hours, you’ll need to take a taxi, Uber or Lyft.

How much is a taxi from SFO to downtown?

A cab to SF will cost approximately $55 during normal traffic.

Can Uber pick you up at SFO?

Yes, but only at very specific locations (see below).

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 San Francisco.

SF Airtrain tracks
AirTrain.

How to Take Bart from SFO to Downtown

Where to catch Bart at SFO

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 BART 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 BART cost?

The one-way fare is $10 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 & Cons to using BART at SFO

PROS: 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: The trains sometimes run late. It’s dirtier and noisier than the other options.

San Francisco airport to SF Uber pickup
Uber pick-up location.

How to Catch an Uber or Lyft to Downtown SF

Where to Catch Uber or Lyft at SFO

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 Uber take to get into SF?

In low traffic, it can take as little as 25 minutes or up to 40 minutes during rush hour.

How much do Uber and Lyft cost at SFO?

Normal pricing is ~$35 for Uber and ~$40 for Lyft. All bets are off during surge pricing.

Pros/Cons to using Ride Share at SFO

PROS: Door to door service and it’s cheaper than a cab. It’s usually the fastest way to get to downtown San Francisco.
CONS: 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.

SFO-Uber pick up international terminal
Ride share pick-up at the international terminal.

How to Catch a Taxi to Downtown SF

Where to catch a taxi at San Francisco Airport

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 get to get to SF in a cab?

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 a cab from SFO to SF cost?

A cab to SF will cost ~$55 during normal traffic.

Pros/Cons to taking a taxi from San Francisco Airport

PROS: 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: It’s the most expensive option.

How to Catch Bus Transportation from San Francisco Airport to Downtown

Where to catch the bus at SFO

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 the bus take from SFO to SF?

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 the SFO bus 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/Cons for using a Bus from SFO

PROS: It’s cheap and it makes fewer stops than BART.
CONS: 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 a shuttle at SFO

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 a shuttle take to get downtown?

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 an SFO shuttle cost?

$60 one way.

Pros/Cons to using an SFO shuttle

PROS: Good for a larger family group, if you want door to door service.
CONS: More waiting time. Prices have gone up a lot in recent years.

Should You Take Caltrain from SFO to SF?

No. Getting to the Millbrae Caltrain station requires a bus or BART transfer. By the time you do that rigmarole, 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.

Get more airport advice with our guide for how to get from San Jose Airport to SFO, this related article on how to get from SFO to San Jose.

Cool Stuff to do in SF

Once you find your way into the city, use these articles to help you have fun while there:

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3 thoughts on “The Best Ways to Get From San Francisco Airport to Downtown SF”

  1. The airport wxpress from San Francisco airport to downtown was quoting $75 one way mid day per person! When I tried to ask who websites were quoting $19 one way a couple months ago, he yelled at me! I guess when super shuttle closes the price gouging starts.

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