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Parking at San Francisco
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The terminals at San Francisco are arranged around several domestic and international parking garages providing various hourly, valet and reserved parking options. Several economy and park-and-ride lots are also available both on- and off-site. Accessible parking spaces and electric vehicle charging stations can be found in all the on-site airport parking lots and garages.
Domestic short-term airport parking in the central parking garage is ideal for passengers on very short trips who value convenience or who might be seeing off or meeting friends or family. Similar international short-term garages are set just before the International Terminal.
ParkFAST is a reserved parking program with a convenient swipe card system also based in the central domestic garage; it's a great option for regular travelers wanting the quickest route possible through parking.
Valet services are also available in the domestic garage or at various off-site lots; the ultimate convenience choice, you leave your car with an attendant to take care of finding a space and they'll have it waiting for you when you get back from your trip, too.
Long-term economy parking lots are located at the edge of the airport site, close to the main road entrance. They are connected to the departure terminals by 24-hour free shuttle buses, which is a great balance of value and convenience ideal for anyone taking a longer trip.
There is also an off-site Park ‘N Fly service available at SFO for those wanting a seamless trip from the beginning. As well as being able to park up yourself, you can leave your keys with a valet and have them park it for you. Either way, there’s a shuttle bus from the parking lot that runs on a regular basis, so you won’t have to wait for long to get to the terminal.
San Francisco International Airport (SFO) carries over 50 million passengers every year, making it the seventh-busiest airport in the USA. Offering popular routes across the US, Europe and Asia, it is a key hub for United Airlines and the primary base of operations for Virgin America.
Creating $60 billion of economic activity in the Bay area, SFO is a critical part of the local economy. It’s currently engaged in long-term plans to maintain an exceptional travel experience whilst expanding to bring 70 million people through its doors every year.
Focused heavily on quality standards, over the last decade the airport has received a wide range of awards for infrastructure engineering, mobile apps, concessions, amenities, customer service, safety and environmental practices, making it one of the world's most pioneering airports.
Located about 13 miles (21 kilometers) to the south of Downtown San Francisco, the airport sits in San Mateo County, close to Daly City, Brisbane, South San Francisco and Millbrae. Set just off US Route 101 for easy access by car, rental or taxi, San Francisco International is also well-connected by rail and bus networks.
The BART Pittsburg/Bay Point to SFO/Millbrae line runs from Pittsburg through Oakland and San Francisco and onto the airport. It connects at Millbrae with Caltrain services from San Francisco, San Jose and Gilroy. SamTrans bus routes are another way to the airport running along the peninsula from San Mateo, Palo Alto and central San Francisco.
Established in 1927 as a temporary municipal airfield that was little more than a dirt strip runway in a cow pasture, SFO only took four years to become a permanent fixture in the region. It became a key location for United Airlines and rolled out a range of expansion plans for new runways, car parking lots, terminal buildings and even a seaplane harbor.
Introducing international destinations throughout the 1940s and 1950s, both the airport facilities and passenger numbers steadily expanded throughout the 20th century. The dot-com boom of the 1990s briefly elevated San Francisco International to the sixth-busiest airport in the world and, although that boost in demand has since faded, the airport still delivers world-leading quality and services.
About 150 concessions are spread across the terminals at San Francisco Airport, offering award-winning selections of food, drink and shopping. Many local restaurants and stores have branches at SFO that ensure passengers get unique choices that wouldn’t be found at any other airport.
SFO has run a volunteer ambassador-style program since the 1950s and you can find information booths for it dotted through the departures and ticketing areas of the terminals. Additional support is available from the Ready, Set, Fly workshops program for individuals with autism, developmental disabilities and their families and a full airport concierge service can be booked via Airport Butler. If you have any general advance inquiries, contact customer service at the airport on +1 650-821-8211.
Hotel and parking packages offer a useful solution for passengers who want to catch an early departure or late arrival. Packages do vary but generally offer up to two weeks of free or low-cost parking to anyone spending at least one night at the hotel. Similarly to a Park and Ride service, courtesy shuttle buses carry you the short distance between the hotel and airport.
Most hotels offering packages are within a five-mile (eight-kilometer) radius of the airport and require advance booking; cancellations are usually free.
Several independent local hotels and motels have spaces and many of the brand-name chains such as Best Western, Holiday Inn, Marriott, Ramada and Travelodge have hotels located specifically to serve airport passengers, with some offering up to three weeks of parking as part of your reservation.
SFO is full of spaces set aside specifically to help you unwind and relax before your flight or during a layover. For instance, spas are located around the terminals offering a range of quick massages and beauty treatments like manicures and pedicures. There are also two complimentary yoga rooms, a reflection room for meditation and a Christian Science Reading Room welcoming all passengers looking for a quiet place to read or relax. Finally, the Freshen Up booth in the International Terminal offers two essentials that everyone who has ever been through a layover or flight delay craves; nap rooms and shower facilities.
The SFO Aviation Museum and Library is based in the old 1930s passenger lobby and provides exhibitions, research services, educational programs and a for-hire event space. The collection is focused on aviation items including photography and aircraft models, but special exhibits are regularly featured in partnership with other museums and collections. Some recent exhibitions include airline uniform design through history, shoes in various cultures around the world, Roman architecture and the history of gambling machines.
There's little doubt that the most popular members of the airport team are the Wag Brigade, San Francisco International's therapy dog program, which includes a therapy pig who loves meeting people and doing tricks. All of the animals in the program are certified through the SFSPCA Animal Assisted Therapy scheme and specially selected to work at the airport, bringing smiles, happiness and love to passengers young and old.
SFO has won a multitude of awards for its food and drink concessions, which are a unique mixture of familiar brands and local restaurants offering some exceptional cuisine to travelers. Napa Farms Market in Terminal 2 is a huge standout with a wide range of healthy options made from fresh, locally-produced food; there are takeaway picnics, pizzas, hot food and desserts available to order. Yankee Pier in Terminal 3 flies in seafood twice a day to keep it fresh and deliver incredibly tasty lobster, crab and chowder dishes, whilst Ebisu in the International Terminal serves up fantastic sushi, noodle dishes, udon, edamame and miso soup.
The public art program consists of a mixture of exhibits from the SFO Aviation Museum and displays curated by the SF Arts Commission covering a range of fine arts. Permanent exhibits include contemporary painting, sculpture, installations and photography and there are various galleries spread through the terminals showing photography originating from or inspired by the San Francisco and Bay Area. There are even interactive artworks for children to enjoy in the Terminal 2 Kids' Spots and rotating displays of art from local schools and youth groups.
The infamously unique prison island is in San Francisco Bay and whilst it no longer houses prisoners, it does offer one of the most fascinating and affordable attractions in SF – and it’s just 15 miles (25 kilometers) from SFO Airport. Reached by ferry from Pier 33 in the North Beach area, the Alcatraz tour includes the ferry ride with panoramic views of the city and its famous bridges, a film on the history of the island and an audio tour of the former-prison itself. There's also time to explore features including the lighthouse, historic military fortifications, rock pools and resident seabird colony. Day and night tours are available and always popular, so pre-book if you can.
Sat nav instructions: Alcatraz Cruises, Pier 33, San Francisco, CA 94133
You can find the most famous sight in San Francisco just 18 miles (29 kilometers) from SFO; the iconic Golden Gate suspension bridge. Opened in 1937, this was the longest bridge in the world for almost 30 years and a wonder of modern engineering – there aren’t many structures that could be described as beautiful. It's the perfect place to take in some bracing sea air and the world-famous views of the city whether walking, cycling, driving or taking a bus. Across the bridge, you can find Battery Spencer and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which are great green spaces ideal for relaxing, walking or enjoying some food. On a good day, you might even catch some early-morning surfers underneath the bridge.
Sat nav instructions: Golden Gate Bridge, CA-1, San Francisco, CA 94123
AT&T baseball park has been home to Major League Baseball’s (MLB's) San Francisco Giants since opening in 2000 and also hosts professional, college and high school football, soccer matches and music concerts. It's a superb baseball park just 14 miles (23 kilometers) from SFO International that boasts great views of the game and the city, a range of VIP-style ticket options and clean, modern facilities. Family-friendly with a wonderful atmosphere, the truly outstanding feature is the food, which is a fantastically high-quality and varied choice that’s way ahead of most modern sports stadiums in the world.
Sat nav instructions: AT&T Park, 24 Willie Mays Plaza, San Francisco, CA 94107
Set close to the Golden Gate bridge about 19 miles (30 kilometers) from SFO, the Palace of Fine Arts Theater is a striking monumental exhibition space that is over 100 years old. Built around a picturesque artificial lagoon and gardens, the palace itself offers grand, ornate architecture inspired by Greek and Roman buildings, decorated with beautiful panels and murals. A joy to explore or relax around when the weather is fine, it also features regular art exhibitions and is as much of a favorite for SF locals as it is for tourists.
Sat nav instructions: 3301 Lyon St, San Francisco, CA 94123
Described by the New York Times as the most important science museum to have opened since the mid-20th century, the Exploratorium is about 15 miles (25 kilometers) from San Francisco Airport. It offers uniquely interactive, experiential museum exhibits where visitors learn about psychology, physics, biology, the natural world, magnetism and the local region by playing with and manipulating the exhibits. Perfect for children and the mad scientist in all of us, this really is the most fun that learning can be and the hours fly past.
Sat nav instructions: Pier 15, The Embarcadero & Green St, San Francisco, CA 94111
Located just a short distance around the coast from the Golden Gate Bridge, about 18 miles (29 kilometers) from San Francisco Airport, Lands End is a park by a rocky stretch of shoreline affording stunning panoramic views of the whole Bay Area.
Dotted with hiking and biking trails, as well as numerous shipwrecks visible at low tide and a small “hidden labyrinth”, it's a great place to visit for a bracing walk in nature. You can often spot seals near the coast and a wide range of birds and flowers in the spring, but the one thing everyone remembers is the quality of the sunsets.
Sat nav instructions: 680 Point Lobos Ave, San Francisco, CA 94121
A San Francisco icon, the cable cars designed to carry people up and down the steep hills in the city have become a must-ride attraction for many visitors. The cars can get quite busy at weekends, so midweek is often the best time to enjoy them - all day passes are available if you plan to use cable cars as your chosen means of transport for the day. Three lines still operate around the Nob Hill area of the city and you can also find a Cable Car Museum alongside an intersection, which is a great place to jump onboard.
Sat nav instructions: 1201 Mason St, San Francisco, CA 94108
Close to the Financial District and Union Square, about 14 miles (23 kilometers) from San Francisco Airport, you can find the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. The building, designed around a central atrium in bold, contemporary architectural style, houses an exceptional collection of pieces.
With the likes of Matisse, Klee, Duchamp, Warhol and many more on display, the collection is rotated around ever-changing exhibitions, special events and educational programs. The building itself is a pleasure to explore and admire alongside a world-class collection of work and you can also enjoy the rooftop garden, on-site café or head for one of the many restaurants in the area.
Sat nav instructions: 151 3rd St, San Francisco, CA 94103
Originally a terminal for ferries across the Bay, the Ferry Building has been redeveloped in recent years and now boasts a vibrant marketplace packed with independent vendors. It's mostly about great food; cheeses, specialty meats, drinks, ethnic foods, ice cream, gelato, pastries and more can all be enjoyed under the fantastic architecture of the building itself.
Whether you want to browse and shop or just sip a coffee amidst the people and beautiful views of the city, this is a great place to spend an afternoon. Found near the Financial District and Embarcadero, the Ferry Building Market is about 15 miles (24 kilometers) from San Francisco Airport.
Sat nav instructions: Ferry Plaza, The Embarcadero, San Francisco, CA 94111
SFO has a well-engineered layout, dividing the terminals into numbered sections for domestic flights and a single international flight hub. In practice, it isn't quite as straightforward with some internal flights leaving from the International Terminal and vice versa. The various terminal areas are all physically connected, though, so you can get around on foot or by utilizing the AirTrain system. There are also shuttle buses connecting the terminals to the long-term parking lots.
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Set in the 94128 Zip Code in the South San Francisco area, SFO sits on US Route 101 and connects to the Interstate system from I-280 via I-380.
Route 101 is perfect for anyone traveling from smaller regional cities along the coast, such as San Jose, Salinas, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Santa Rosa or Eureka.
The I-5 connects larger cities including Los Angeles, San Diego, Sacramento and Portland; switching to the I-80 at Sacramento or the I-580 at junction 445 close to Tracy will get you to the I-280 and airport.
SFO offers a full range of car rentals, taxis, limousines and shared-ride shuttles as well as extensive car parking for your own vehicle.
SamTrans provides a public bus service 24 hours a day to connect SFO to various destinations in San Francisco and the surrounding San Mateo County.
There are four bus stops dotted around the main terminal buildings; Terminal 2 arrivals, Terminal 3 arrivals and in the International Terminal at Courtyard A and Courtyard G, some of the routes also stop at the Car Rental Center.
Buses are the most economical mode of transport from the city to the airport, with travel times typically just over an hour from Downtown SF.
San Francisco Airport is extremely well-connected by regular, reliable train services. The AirTrain system is free, 24-hour and connects all the terminals and Car Rental Center with a BART rail station next to Courtyard G of the International Terminal.
BART vouchers can be bought in advance or you can pay at the SFO BART station. Routes run into the city center and beyond to Richmond, Pittsburg, Dublin, Fremont and Oakland International Airport (OAK).
The BART also travels in the opposite direction to reach Millbrae where you can connect to the Caltrain commuter rail network.
Caltrain connects Downtown San Francisco with SFO, San Jose, San Jose International Airport (SJC) and Gilroy further south.
The busiest check-in times are usually from 6am to 9am weekdays in the domestic terminals and 12pm to 3pm in the International Terminal, though many regular passengers report delays coming into arrivals around immigration and passport control at any time of day, so be sure to plan ahead to get through to your gate in time.
Delays at San Francisco are relatively common due to heavy fog in the Bay area, which causes problems for any flights into or out of SFO. Try to check the weather and the SFO Airport website for flight delays before you begin your journey to the airport.
Programs such as TSA Precheck and the CLEAR biometric passport system are both available at SFO and can be great time-savers if traveling at a busy time is unavoidable.
Not all terminals are equal in terms of food choices - Terminal 1 has a particularly limited selection. If it's important to get some food while you're at the airport, plan ahead where you'd like to eat and allow some time to reach your chosen restaurant, since it’s a sizeable airport.
Depending on the terminal you're traveling from and how busy it is, you may struggle finding an available power outlet to charge phones, laptops and other devices at SFO, so make sure everything you need is fully charged before you set off.
The #Converge@flySFO Lounge in the International Terminal makes an excellent remote office space if you don't have access to an airline lounge. It includes networking space, WiFi, desks, power outlets and white boards for all users.
A late flight with weather delays can mean a lot of people getting stuck at an airport that lacks late-night public transport. No-one will mind you sleeping in the airport itself, but keep in mind that a number of local hotels provide free shuttle services to and from the airport, most of which are available around the clock on request, so you can easily get to a comfortable and nearby bed if you don’t fancy sleeping on airport benches.
SFO offers free WiFi across all the terminals and is very easy to connect to and utilize; select from the two networks you will find listed on your device, namely #SFO FREE WIFI and #SFO FREE 5GHZ WIFI. The first time you launch a browser after connecting, you will be asked to accept some basic terms and conditions and then you can access the Internet free of charge.
If you're on a layover, the airport is close enough to the city of San Francisco to be able to reach areas such as Downtown or Union Square. Public transport options, such as bus or train, are economical but can often be slow; driving US Route 101 is usually the quickest way to the city center from SFO.
The Airport sits near to South San Francisco on US Route 101; the Financial District, North Beach, Mission District and Golden Gate Bridge are to the north and Oakland, Alameda and Berkeley are just across the Bay. San Francisco itself is in California roughly halfway up the US West Coast close to San Jose and the State’s capital, Sacramento.
With over 50 million passengers a year using San Francisco Airport, it is the seventh-busiest airport in the USA and 23rd-busiest worldwide, which is made all the more impressive as the airport covers quite a small land area of just 5,200 acres (2,100 hectares). It is just inside the top 20 biggest airports in the country by land area.
Yes, there is a BART station next to the International Terminal that connects to Caltrain, Downtown and the suburbs of San Francisco. It can be accessed on foot or by using the free 24-hour AirTrain system between the terminals and car rental area.
Yes, though little goes on overnight with many concessions closing before midnight. If you want to sleep at the airport after a late arrival or before an early departure, it is possible on the airport seating, but it's worth considering staying at a nearby hotel as many have free shuttle services to the terminals. If you drive, too, you may be able to get a package deal on car parking at the hotel.
Yes, but not indoors; SFO is completely smoke-free including e-cigarettes, so designated smoking areas are based outside the terminal buildings.
There are no hotels on the actual airport grounds, but you can find a large number of local independents and big-name chain hotels such as Holiday Inn, Best Western and Marriott. They provide free shuttle buses that you can call on 24 hours a day from the kiosks located just outside the departures and ticketing levels of each terminal.