About 13 miles south of the city, San Francisco International Airport is immediately off U.S. Highway 101, the Bayshore Freeway, on the bay side of the peninsula in San Mateo County. From the airport, San Francisco’s downtown Financial District is about 40 minutes drive time in normal traffic.
To picture the layout of San Francisco airport’s passenger terminals, think of a bolo tie (or any necktie for that matter) where the cord is a two-level roadway with departures on the upper level and arrivals on the lower level. The International Terminal straddles the roadway like the sliding clasp (or knot) and three domestic terminals are located on the loop that goes around the neck (in this case the roadway “loop” goes around parking garages). Seven concourses, called piers at this airport, radiate out from the four terminals. Although the terminals are close enough to each other to be walking distance, there are only two situations where they are connected post TSA security. One is a walkway connecting Terminal 3 with the International Terminal and the other is a post-security walkway connecting C gates in Terminal 1 with the D gates in Terminal 2.
Terminals and airlines (in order along roadway approaching the terminal):
AirTrain, a free automated people mover, operates two lines around the airport, both of which connect all terminals, the terminal parking garages, the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) station and the Grand Hyatt at SFO hotel. The Red Line travels clockwise through the terminal area. The Blue line travels counter-clockwise and also serves the Rental Car Center. Trains operate about every 4 minutes. To reach the AirTrain stations from terminals 1, 2 and 3, take an elevator or escalator to Mezzanine-Level 3 and cross the passenger skybridge and from the International Terminal take an elevator or escalator to Level 4. Passengers must exit the TSA secure area to use AirTrain.
Ground transportation options from the airport include app-based ride services (meet drivers on Level 5 of the Domestic Parking Garage or curbside at the International Terminal) and taxis and shuttles (met outside baggage claim at the center islands). Passengers using reserved car services should confirm the pickup location as part of the reservation process. BART trains depart SFO about every 15 minutes with a scheduled travel time of 30 minutes to downtown San Francisco. (Check BART’s current schedule here, especially if you have an early morning departure on weekends.)
United Airlines domestic flights arrive and depart SFO at gates E1-E13 and F1-F22 in Terminal 3 and international flights use gates G1-G14 in the International Terminal. Passengers can connect to other United gates within Terminal 3 and the International Terminal without exiting the TSA secure area. Connections to any other terminal require exiting the secure area to either walk or use the AirTrain.
The heartbeat of the Bay Area, San Francisco is America’s uniquely cosmopolitan city. Home to the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, cable cars, Fisherman’s Wharf, Alcatraz, the city is also famous for its neighborhoods, including the eclectic Castro and North Beach and historic Chinatown and Mission District as well as the gleaming structures being built by booming tech industries.
The San Francisco Travel Authority has tips and visitor information here.
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