The least expensive airfares to San Francisco are priced for round-trip travel and should be purchased in advance. Airlines generally allow you to change your return date for a fee; most low-fare tickets, however, are nonrefundable. (But if you cancel, you can usually apply the fare to a future trip, within one year, to any destination the airline flies.)
Nonstop flights from New York to San Francisco take about 5½ hours, and with the 3-hour time change, it's possible to leave JFK by 8 am and be in San Francisco by 10:30 am. Some flights may require a midway stop, making the total excursion between 8 and 9½ hours. Nonstop times are approximately 1½ hours from Los Angeles, 3 hours from Dallas, 4½ hours from Chicago, 4½ hours from Atlanta, 11 hours from London, 12 hours from Auckland, and 13½ hours from Sydney.
American Airlines (800/223–5436. www.aa.com.)
Delta Airlines (800/221–1212. www.delta.com.)
Southwest Airlines (800/435–9792. www.southwest.com.)
United Airlines (800/864–8331. www.united.com.)
Frontier Airlines (800/432–1359. www.flyfrontier.com.)
jetBlue (800/538–2583. www.jetblue.com.)
The major gateway to San Francisco is San Francisco International Airport (SFO), 15 miles south of the city. It's off U.S. 101 near Millbrae and San Bruno. Oakland International Airport (OAK) is across the bay, not much farther away from downtown San Francisco (via I–80 east and I–880 south), but rush-hour traffic on the Bay Bridge may lengthen travel times considerably. San Jose International Airport (SJC) is about 40 miles south of San Francisco; travel time depends largely on traffic flow, but plan on an hour and a half with moderate traffic.
Depending on the price difference, you might consider flying into Oakland or San Jose. Oakland's an easy-to-use alternative, because there's public transportation between the airport and downtown San Francisco. Getting to San Francisco from San Jose, though, can be time-consuming and costly via public transportation. Heavy fog is infamous for causing chronic delays into and out of San Francisco. If you're heading to the East or South Bay, make every effort to fly into Oakland or San Jose Airport, respectively.
At all three airports security check-in can take 30 to 45 minutes at peak travel times.
Count yourself lucky if you have a layover at SFO's International Terminal. The food served by branches of top local eateries beats standard airport fare: Italian pastries from Emporio Rulli, burgers from Burger Joint, seafood and steak from Lark Creek Grill, sushi from Ebisu.
Long layovers needn't only be about sitting around or shopping. You can burn off vacation calories, too. Check out www.airportgyms.com for lists of health clubs that are in or near many U.S. and Canadian airports.
Oakland International Airport (1 Airport Dr., Oakland, CA, 94621. 510/563–3300. www.flyoakland.com.)
San Francisco International Airport (McDonnell and Link Rds., San Francisco, CA, 94128. 800/435–9736 or 650/821–8211. www.flysfo.com.)
San Jose International Airport (1701 Airport Blvd., San Jose, CA, 95110. 408/392–3600. www.flysanjose.com.)
From San Francisco International Airport
Transportation signage at the airport is color-coded by type and is quite clear. A taxi ride to downtown costs $50 to $55. Airport shuttles are inexpensive and generally efficient. Lorrie's Airport Service and SuperShuttle both stop at the lower level near baggage claim and take you anywhere within the city limits of San Francisco. They charge $16 to $18, depending on where you're going. Lorrie's also sells tickets online, at a $2 discount each way; you can print them out before leaving home. SuperShuttle offers some discounts for more than one person traveling in the same party ($17 per person and $10 for each additional passenger), but only if you're traveling to a residential address.
Shuttles to the East Bay, such as BayPorter Express, also depart from the lower level; expect to pay between $34 and $42. Inquire about the number of stops a shuttle makes en route to or from the airport; some companies, such as East Bay Express, have nonstop service, but they cost a bit more. Marin Door to Door operates van service to Marin County for $40 to $50 for the first passenger, and $12 for each additional person; you must make reservations by noon the day before travel. Marin Airporter buses cost $21 and require no reservations but stop only at designated stations in Marin; buses leave every 30 minutes, on the half hour and hour, from 5 am to midnight.
You can take BART directly to downtown San Francisco; the trip takes about 30 minutes and costs less than $9. (There are both manned booths and vending machines for ticket purchases.) Trains leave from the international terminal every 15 minutes or 20 minutes, depending on the day or time.
Another inexpensive way to get to San Francisco (though not as convenient as BART) is via two SamTrans buses: No. 292 (55 minutes, $2 from SFO, $4 to SFO) and the KX (35 minutes, $5; only one small carry-on bag permitted). Board the SamTrans buses on the lower level.
To drive to downtown San Francisco from the airport, take U.S. 101 north to the Civic Center/9th Street, 7th Street, or 4th Street/Downtown exits. If you're headed to the Embarcadero or Fisherman's Wharf, take I–280 north (the exit is to the right, just north of the airport, off U.S. 101) and get off at the 4th Street/King Street exit. King Street becomes the Embarcadero a few blocks east of the exit. The Embarcadero winds around the waterfront to Fisherman's Wharf.
From Oakland International Airport
A taxi to downtown San Francisco costs $70 to $75. By airport regulations, you must make reservations for shuttle service. BayPorter Express and other shuttles serve major hotels and provide door-to-door service to the East Bay and San Francisco. SuperShuttle operates vans to San Francisco and Oakland. Marin Door to Door serves Marin County for a flat $50 for the first passenger, and $12 for each additional person; make reservations by noon the day before travel.
The best way to get to San Francisco via public transit is to take the AIR BART bus ($3) to the Coliseum/Oakland International Airport BART station (BART fares vary depending on where you're going; the ride to downtown San Francisco from here costs $4.05).
If you're driving from Oakland International Airport, take Hegenberger Road east to I–880 north to I–80 west over the Bay Bridge. This will likely take at least an hour.
From San Jose International Airport
A taxi to downtown San Jose costs about $18 to $22; a trip to San Francisco runs about $150 to $155. South and East Bay Airport Shuttle transports you to the South Bay and East Bay; a ride to downtown San Jose costs $30 for the first passenger, $10 for each additional, and a van to San Francisco costs $110 for the first passenger, $10 for each additional. Reservations are required to the airport, but not from the airport; call from baggage claim before you collect your luggage.
To drive to downtown San Jose from the airport, take Airport Boulevard east to Route 87 south. To get to San Francisco from the airport, take Route 87 south to I–280 north. The trip will take roughly two hours.
At $9.25 for a one-way ticket, there’s no question that Caltrain provides the most affordable option for traveling between San Francisco and San Jose's airport. However, the Caltrain station in San Francisco at 4th and Townsend streets isn’t in a conveniently central location. It's on the eastern side of the South of Market (SoMa) neighborhood and not easily accessible by other public transit. You'll need to take a taxi or walk from the nearest bus line. From San Francisco it takes 90 minutes and costs $9.25 to reach the Santa Clara Caltrain station, from which a free shuttle runs every 15 minutes, whisking you to and from the San Jose International Airport in 15 minutes.
American Airporter (415/202–0733. www.americanairporter.com.)
BayPorter Express (415/467–1800 or 510/864–4000. www.bayporter.com.)
Caltrain (800/660–4287. www.caltrain.com.)
East Bay Express Airporter (877/526–0304. www.eastbaytransportation.com.)
GO Lorrie's Airport Shuttle (415/334–9000. www.gosfovan.com.)
Marin Airporter (415/461–4222. www.marinairporter.com.)
Marin Door to Door (415/457–2717. www.marindoortodoor.com.)
SamTrans (800/660–4287. www.samtrans.com.)
South and East Bay Airport Shuttle (800/548–4664. www.southandeastbayairportshuttle.com.)
SuperShuttle (800/258–3826. www.supershuttle.com.)