Transport in San Francisco and the Peninsula need a little getting used to. There are quite a few ways to achieve the same thing, so in this article, we will talk about the smarter ways of doing things.
Getting in and out of the airports

All the airports are local-ish, but only -ish. SFO and Oakland’s airports are about half an hour away, and San Jose Airport is about 47 miles away. You can, of course, hop into a cab but if you’d rather spend your money on the restaurants and bars downtown there are other ways to do it. There are a lot of options for San Francisco transportation from airport.
Bay Area Rapid Transport or as it is known everywhere BART runs from SFO to downtown and out to Oakland Airport. If you have a connection and need to get from one airport to the other, there is no better way. Otherwise, you have to go through downtown San Francisco and across the Bay Bridge. On Bart, there is a schedule you can plan for the journey and be sure you get there on time.

But, one small caveat; getting to Bart at SFO airport is a bit of a slog if you have all your worldly goods with you – pay the fee and get a trolley, what the heck you’re on vacation.

From San Jose, you have the usual car choices, but the best way to get from the airport in San Jose to downtown San Francisco is CalTrain. The train takes about an hour and drops you downtown at 4th and King.

By the way, don’t refer to downtown as SFO – to a local this only mean the airport. If you’re transferring between airports – there’s a bus that goes between the two.

Photo Credit: By Dllu – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,
Staying in San Francisco

If you’re staying in a downtown hotel and not going off anywhere else, then the heavy recommendation is don’t hire a car. Driving in San Francisco is a bit of a bear.

San Francisco is a relatively little city – meaning there’s not that much space. You are going to get lots of traffic and while there are times you can drive freely, there’s also a lot of times when you’ll be sitting in a hot car.

Once you’re there, parking is a nightmare. Street parking is difficult especially in the middle of downtown. If you park in a garage you will almost pay as much for the car as you will for the hotel, save your pennies for the bars and restaurants.

Photo Credit: By Basil D Soufi [CC BY-SA 4.0

Main driving routes

The peninsula has two highways. 101 heads up the eastern side of the peninsula along the side of the bay. It takes you past Palo Alto and San Mateo as well as SFO and South San Francisco.

The other highway is 280 which comes up the Pacific side of the peninsula – not close enough to see the sea, but the stretch from Palo Alto to the edges of San Francisco is a beautiful run up the San Andreas fault.

Confusingly 280 bends to the right at the edge of town crosses over 101 and then heads out to meet 80 going across to Oakland. If you want to continue north, through the park and to Golden Gate Bridge stay on route 1

Of the two routes 280 is much quieter, but not quite a convenient and it does drop you in a part of town where you will need to make other decisions. But as said, the drive is great, especially so close to a big population center.

If you’re heading out of town on an adventure

If you’re planning to head up to Napa you can get a cheap rental cars in the city, which have the advantage not having airport tax and really give you a head start in getting over the Golden Gate Bridge.

The ideal way of doing this is arranging to rent the car so you don’t need to keep it while you’re in the city. Get to your hotel and get rid of the car.

how to get around San Francisco without a car

If you can deal with the hills and there are 20 of them, then one of the ways to do it is to walk. If you’re up for walking the hills and believe it, some of them are incredibility steep, stand in Union Square and look up the cable car on Powell, and that’s only really quite steep, it isn’t one of the jaw-droppers.

If walking sounds a bit too athletic – you could consider a bike. To some of you, that’s already sounding worse than walking. But if you feel fit enough, there is a great plan of bike paths and it might be a fun way to take a look even for a day.