Planning a trip to the city by the bay? Did you know that you can potentially save a lot of money on your air travels by utilizing one of the alternate San Francisco airports? A Bay Area local details the transportation options and pros and cons of traveling to and from SFO, OAK, or SJC when headed to the San Francisco area.
San Francisco is one of the top U.S. travel destinations and is an especially good fit for family travelers. The city itself can be expensive, so it is especially important to get a good deal on airfare to keep your overall trip cost down.
One strategy for doing that? Shop around among the major Bay Area airports! Did you know San Francisco has three? San Francisco International Airport (SFO), Oakland International Airport (OAK), and Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport (SJC) are all convenient and easy options for most travelers headed to the Bay Area. Very few metropolitan areas are served by three major airports within such a close distance, so take advantage.
Here are the essentials you need to know about the three ways to the San Francisco Bay.
Fast Facts about San Francisco International Airport (SFO)
SFO is the largest airport and the one that most international travelers will need to use to arrive into the Bay Area. It is served by every major U.S. airline as well as quite a few foreign carriers.
Getting to the city is fairly easy for those arriving into SFO. Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) serves SFO and can take you to some of the most common areas in San Francisco that vacationers or business travelers need to go. In particular, getting to Union Square or the Financial District is a breeze on BART. Travel time is about 35-40 minutes.
Travelers headed to some of the hotels on Nob Hill or Fisherman’s Wharf should look into other transportation options, however, as BART does not provide easy access from and to the airport. Taxis cost about $50-60 from SFO to the city. Finally after a protracted battle, ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft can now pick up at SFO as well. These services will be a bit cheaper.
When departing from SFO, be aware that airport security lines can be long during busy times, so plan ahead. The good news is that there are a number of ways to skip the line at SFO. If you have TSA Pre-Check, use it. Otherwise look for the family lanes if you are traveling with young kids or the elite lines if you have status on the airline you are flying. SFO is an airport that is also served by CLEAR, a paid trusted traveler service that allows you to cut even more of the lines.
Fast Facts about Oakland International Airport (OAK)
If you are headed to downtown San Francisco on your travels, Oakland Airport deserves a long hard look. It is just as close as SFO is to the major tourist centers of San Francisco proper. As a local, I actually greatly prefer Oakland on most occasions. Its lines are more manageable and walks within the airport are shorter, as it is a smaller airport. It is also subject to fewer delays, as the famous (and sometimes infamous) San Francisco fog does not affect the airport as much due to the airport’s geographical location.
The largest carrier at Oakland is Southwest, an airline that TravelingMom’s writers recently named as their favorite for family travel. Other family-friendly airlines like Alaska Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines also fly a lot of routes to Oakland. Oakland has been getting more international service in recent years. Recently, low-cost carrier Norwegian started service to Oslo and Stockholm.
Getting to San Francisco’s center after arriving into Oakland Airport is also fairly easy. Oakland now has a train connector called AirBART that connects the airport to the full BART system at the Oakland Coliseum/Airport stop. Travel time into the city (including time on AirBART) is about 30-40 minutes. Taxis, shuttles, and ride-sharing are all also viable options, at about $60-70.
If you are flying through Oakland with little ones in tow, don’t miss this complete guide to Oakland Airport with kids.
Fast Facts about Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport (SJC)
San Jose’s airport is the smallest airport of the Bay Area three, but still has plenty of service and competitive prices. Like Oakland, it has lots of service up and down the West Coast on Southwest and is also has more favorable weather conditions than SFO.
For travelers headed to most of Silicon Valley, SJC is likely to be the most convenient airport for you. I’d recommend a rental car if you plan to spend any time in the valley, as it definitely more of a suburban atmosphere. Taking public transit isn’t really a viable option unless you plan to focus your time in downtown San Jose.
Getting to San Francisco is a little more challenging and expensive. A taxi to downtown San Francisco, for example, would set you back as much as $150. A rental car could work depending on your destination. Also consider a shared shuttle (about $80) if you want to avoid downtown parking fees which can run as high as $50 a day. If you need to take public transit, taking CalTrain (via a connection on the VTA Flyer Shuttle which links SJC with the Santa Clara CalTrain station) is the easiest option, but be aware that CalTrain doesn’t quite deliver you into downtown proper.
If you have a long layover or wait at SJC, consider paying to visit the airport lounge, The Club. The Club is not affiliated with any airline and can be accessed for a $35 fee, which is quite a bit cheaper than most airline lounges. The Club offers free snacks, drinks, and even showers, a rarity in US airports.
Even More Bay Area Airport Choices
I’ve covered the major three airports, but truly savvy travelers know that there are a few more airports that travelers to and from the Bay Area might consider if a really good fligth deal becomes available. These airports are smaller and that means that they are often more expensive, but not always. They include:
- Monterey (MRY): About 2 hours from downtown San Francisco.
- Sacramento (SAC): About 1.5 hours from downtown San Francisco (but traffic can be very heavy on that corridor and can make it much longer at peak times).
- Stockton (SCK): About 1.5 hours from downtown San Francisco. (The only commercial service is via low-cost carrier Allegiant from Las Vegas and Phoenix-Mesa.)
- Sonoma County Airport (STS): About 1.5 hours from downtown San Francisco (but my recommendation would be to fly there and to stay in wine country!). Alaska Airlines offers commercial service to several West Coast cities daily.
- Modesto County Airport (MOD): About 2 hours from downtown San Francisco.