Tips for Getting from SFO to Union Square in San Francisco (2023)

Tips for Getting from SFO to Union Square in San Francisco (1)

vonJill Löffler

Updated: January 19, 2023

Looking for the best way to get from SFO to Union Square in San Francisco? There are several ways to get you from San Francisco International Airport to your hotel in the heart of the city.

The six options are BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit), car rental, airport transfer, Lyft/Uber, SF taxi, and a private car.

However, there are a few things to think about before choosing which one is best for you.

Disclaimer: I receive a small commission from some of the links on this page.

Distance from SFO to Union Square

Tips for Getting from SFO to Union Square in San Francisco (2)

San Francisco International Airport is south of the city. It's about a 12-mile drive from the airport to the heart of the district. It takes about 20 to 25 minutes by car.

It takes about 35 minutes if you take a BART train.

A little bit about Union Square

Union Square in San Francisco is one of the most popular places for visitors. This district is in the heart of the city and close to a wide range of public transport. This makes it easy to reach other parts of the city.

The neighborhood is only five blocks by five, making it easy to walk around once you're here. Here you will find dozens of restaurants and many fun nightlife options.

It is also home to the highest concentration of hotels in the city, which is why most people choose to stay here.

>>More about visiting Union Square

Layout and hills at Union Square San Francisco

Tips for Getting from SFO to Union Square in San Francisco (3)

The district sits on a hill that is lower on the southern end but steeper on the north side.

Market Street is its southern boundary, and the first three blocks north of Market are mostly flat with a slight incline.

Powell Street is an east-west street that runs through this neighborhood. Here you will see the hill start to get steeper and it keeps getting steeper and steeper as you go north.

If your hotel is somewhere north of Powell, it will be a little more strenuous to walk up the hill to your hotel. This is one of the first things to think about when deciding which SFO to Union option is right for you.

>>Details about the journey with our famous cable cars

Traveling with lots or little luggage

The second thing to consider is how much luggage you have with you.

If you're a light packer and can easily carry or lug your luggage with little effort, then you have more options and public transportation could be a good option for you.

However, if you're staying longer or have more things than you can handle on your own, you'll probably want to find an Uber/Lyft, shuttle service, taxi, or private car.

With a steep hill and lots of luggage, getting to your hotel in certain parts of the Union Square neighborhood will be a challenge.

Traveling with babies and small children

If you are traveling from SFO to Union Square with infants or young children, you will need a child or car seat if you are driving. California law provides the following:

  • All children under the age of 2 must travel in a rear-facing car seat.
  • All children aged 2 to 8 must be secured in a car or child seat. If they are taller than 4ft 9in, they can be secured with a booster seat or seat belt.

Most of our Taxi/Uber/Lyft drivers do not carry child or booster seats. While some will allow you to get into their car without one, it is not legal or safe to do so and the driver could be stopped and fined.

Most won't let you ride them in the car.

Taxis and taxi companies sometimes have booster or booster seats available for them. If you contact them in advance they can make the arrangements for you. You will be charged for this service, but it is the safest and easiest way to travel by car.

California law doesn't apply to public transit, so you can use BART to get to your hotel and get around town without worrying about a car or a booster seat.

Free hotel transfers

I get a lot of questions about the free hotel transfers. San Francisco hotels do not offer complimentary transportation from SFO to Union Square. There are several reasons for this, including the cost of operating a shuttle that far away and the fact that SFO is not in San Francisco but in an entirely different county.

If you are staying near SFO, you will most likely find some free shuttle services since they are close together.

However, you won't find this service at any Union Square hotel. Some high-end luxury hotels offer private car service, but this is very rare.

>>Union Square hotel recommendations

Arrive during rush hour

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Traffic in the San Francisco Bay Area is notoriously bad. You'll find that traffic is congested both in the morning and in the afternoon, so that's another consideration.

Morning traffic will affect your drive from SFO to Union Square. Most people commute to work in the city.

Morning traffic usually runs from 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. M. to 8:30 a.m. M. If you are arriving during this time and plan to drive into town or have someone drive you, please add an additional 25-25 minutes to your travel time. If there is an accident, it can add an hour or more to your travel time.

There are also challenges with night travel. The afternoon trip lasts from around 4:00 p.m. to around 6:30 p.m. Although you won't have any trouble for the first half of the drive, you will find yourself caught up in Bay Bridge traffic as you approach the Union Square exit. This typically adds an additional 15 to 20 minutes to your trip to San Francisco.

I generally recommend that people take BART if they arrive during weekday commute times.

Arrive after dark

You should also think about when you will arrive. If arriving after sunset, it's best to take a private car, taxi, or Uber/Lyft.

However, if you know your way around and know where to go, you can still take BART from SFO to Union Square.

Arrive around midnight or after public transport closes

The last consideration is whether you will arrive around midnight or later. The last BART train leaves SFO a few minutes after midnight Monday through Saturday. The last train on Sunday evening is at 21:00.

If you arrive at these times I recommend taking an Uber/Lyft or a taxi to your hotel.

Park in San Francisco

One of the options I haven't talked about much is renting a car. I don't recommend this for most people. Parking is expensive and can add another $50 or more to your daily rate at your hotel. Also, many Union Square hotels don't have parking lots, so you'll need to find a public garage to park your car.

If you need a car to leave SF for the day, you can reserve a car for the day or a few days at Union Square. Reservations are valid for 24 hours, giving you plenty of time to explore outside of SF city limits.

Public transportation, Uber/Lyft, and taxis are easy in SF and are the best option unless you really need a car for a day or two.

>>More on parking in SF

Are you staying at Fisherman's Wharf?look at my instructionsfor the best ways to get to Fisherman's Wharf from SFO.

More about the six options

Here are some additional details on the six options to get from SFO to Union Square in San Francisco.

1. Uber/Lyft de SFO am Union Square

Tips for Getting from SFO to Union Square in San Francisco (5)

This seems to be one of the most popular options these days. When these two car companies started out in San Francisco, their rates were slightly cheaper than traveling in a cab or cab.

This prompted many people to change them as their preferred mode of transportation.

However, those times are over and prices are starting to rise. Both companies have recently increased their rates and while still slightly cheaper than a taxi, their rates are slightly more expensive than they used to be.

One of the downsides of this option is that you also don't know who you'll be paired with, what your driving skills are, or what type of car you'll be driving. Not usually a problem, but something to keep in mind. Please note that all of these drivers are amateurs and are not trained to drive people around town professionally.

SFO set up a special area for these cars to accommodate passengers. It is not in the arrivals area, but on level 5 of the car park in front of arrivals and departures.

It takes 10-15 minutes to walk to the pickup area, so if you have a lot of luggage please allow a little more time. Most of the area is also outdoors with only a small covered area.

The pickup area has different areas. In your app you will find the area where your car will pick you up.

Due to the number of people choosing this option, you usually won't have to wait more than a few minutes for your ride to arrive.

The ride from SFO to Union Square costs $35-$50 before tip. How much should you tip? I usually tip 15-20% if the trip was good.

Be sure to check the car and the number plate of the car that will pick you up. Sometimes two cars arrive that look the same, and sometimes people get into the wrong one (yes, that's happened to us!).

2. Taxis or cabs from San Francisco International Airport to Union Square

Professional taxis are another great option for getting to San Francisco. This is a good option for those looking for a more professional trip with an experienced driver.

You will find them in a designated area outside the arrivals gates. You can usually find a line of taxis waiting for passengers. When a big flight arrives, sometimes there are no taxis in line, but most likely you won't have to wait more than 5 minutes for a new group of taxis to arrive.

They also cost about $45-$50 to go from the SFO to Union Square before the tip. During rush hour, the cost without a tip is around $60-$65.

>>More about taxi driving in SF

Insider-Tipp: The yellow cab sometimes offers special deals for those traveling to SFO from San Francisco's Union Square. It's usually a flat rate plan that's about the same price as an Uber/Lyft. You can reserve it in advance, which makes your return trip to the airport even easier.

3. BART from SFO to Union Square in San Francisco

If you're looking to save some money, you can also take BART to Union Square from San Francisco International Airport.

You can find the train on the departure/ticketing level of the international terminal. You can walk from your terminal or take the free AirTrain.

You can purchase a single ticket or use a Clipper card to travel to SF by train. The Clipper card allows you to put money into an account so you don't have to manually pay cash for every public transit trip in San Francisco and the Bay Area.

Use: Muni multi-day passes do not include BART rides.

As you enter the train station, look for the side that takes you north to San Francisco. You should be able to find this on the signs once you enter. You can also ask one of the representatives working at the station.

Once you board the train, it will take you to Powell Street Station. It's 10 stops away and takes about 30 minutes.

They depart every 15 to 30 minutes depending on the time and day.

At this station you will arrive underground. Follow the signs to the Market and Powell Street exit. This will take you to the south end of Union Square.

Make sure you have the location of your hotel set before you arrive at the train station. It's a busy area, so be aware of your surroundings as you make your way to your hotel.

The cost of taking BART from San Francisco International Airport is just under $10 per person.

>>More about public transportation in SF

4. Airport Transfers

As of early 2023, shared airport transfers are currently not a good option. They are still run as private rides, so are slightly more expensive. I'll update this once they're back up and running as cheaper shuttles, hopefully soon!

Tips for Getting from SFO to Union Square in San Francisco (6)

Airport transfers are another option. It is a shared trip with a group of about 10 to 15 other people. They will pick you up in front of the arrivals area and drop you off in front of your hotel.

The downside of this is that they can add up to an hour to your ride as they all drop off in a specific order. You can drive around the neighborhood for a bit before being dropped off. You cannot ask to be dropped off first, you are at the mercy of the driver and other passengers in the van.

They usually range from $16 to $20 per person.

If you have more than three people in your group, a taxi or Uber/Lyft ride will most likely cost the same. Just something to note.

>>More about airport transfers

5. Private car

If budget is not an issue, it is best to take a private car. You have to book it before your arrival.

The driver will meet you near the arrivals hall where you will collect your luggage. You will have a sign with your name on it as you go down the escalators to this area.

There are so many great things about this option. This includes showing you where the car is, helping you with your luggage and taking you straight to your hotel. Your driver is also a professional, so you have less to worry about your driving experience.

The only downside is the cost. This depends heavily on the type of car booked, but typically costs between $75 and $150 to get from SFO to Union Square.

6. Rent a car

The last option is to rent a car. This is by far the most expensive.

Driving is easy and takes less than 30 minutes from the airport, but parking in Union Square is difficult. Most places charge between $50 and $75 per night for parking.

Also, many hotels don't have parking lots, so you'll have to park in a public parking garage. These will also set you back $35-$60 per night.

However, for some visitors this is the right choice for their vacation.

To pick up your rental car you need to go to the Car Rental Center. To get there, take the free AirTrain Blue Line. The train runs 24 hours a day, but only some of the car rental companies have staff 24 hours a day.

Contact your car rental company if you are going to be delayed and they can usually make arrangements for your rental with agencies that are open 24 hours a day.

>>More about renting a car in SFO and SF

OFS-Hotels: If you arrive very late or have a very early flight in the morning, you can also search for some of the best hotels near SFO. It's an excellent option for your first or last night in San Francisco.You can find my recommendations here.

Tips for Getting from SFO to Union Square in San Francisco (7)

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