This is just a piddling little tip, but it could save you some headaches.
BART tickets have magnetic strips on the back that the turnstyle reads when you go throught them. They are notoriously easy to de-magnetize; even keeping a ticket next to a cell phone can render your ticket invalid. You can exchange bad tickets at some downtown stations - UNLESS you pay with a credit card, in which case they can only be processed BY MAIL, which can take weeks.
Buy your tickets in cash from machines, or, if you have travelers' checks, get them at the stores inside the major stations.
WOOO-WHOOO for you.
JUNE 22 ’03 is when BART finally has service to SFO (the grey portion). BART is sort of the Bay Area’s Subway system, although much of it is above ground. This will probably be the most efficient way for travelers to get into SF from the airport.
Check out the website and map for more details.
The Bay Area Regional Transportation Service actually has more stops in East Bay than it does on the west side of the bay in San Francisco. The key stops for tourists are along Market Street and include Embarcadero Station near the Ferry Building, Montgomery Street Station near China Town and North Beach, Powell Street Station at Union Square, and finally San Francisco International Airport Station. Unfortunately this leaves some fo the key areas of the city isolated from the BART including Fisherman's Wharf, Golden Gate Bridge, Monster (Candlestick) Park, and even the downtown AT&T Park. Luckily, most of these areas are connected via the Muni or by the cablecars.
BART is San Francisco's subway, it's not as useful for getting around the city as buses, but it is an inexpensive way to get from the airport (SFO) to the city, we used it both directions. The cost for us was $8.10 each way, no savings for a round trip. The ride to the Powell Street station in Union Square was about a 1/2 hour, the airport station is reasonably well marked, you will have to take an airport transit train to get to the station.
The ticket machine was a little confusing, you need to get a ticket for $8.10 to go to the four central stations, Powell Street, Civic Center, Montgomery Street or Embarcadero, which is clearly marked on the machines but it's not a ticket option, you start at $10 and adjust to get to $8.10. Each person needs their own ticket, you can buy multiple tickets on one transaction and you can use credit, debit or cash. I didn't see any manned ticket booths at the airport but we were fine using the machines.
The train was a little grungy but we felt perfectly safe riding it in the early evening and in the afternoon when we returned.
The website below is very useful in planning your journey, you can check the station by address and then it also helps map your route from the station to your destination and also check the fare. The trains run every 15-20 minutes and shuts down at around midnight for a few hours before starting up again.
If you want to take public transportation into San Francisco from the San Francisco Airport, BART is the best way to go. $5.15 one way is all it costs. Just get on the train marked "Dublin/Pleasanton" and it will take you into town. Get off at any of the following exits and it will put you in downtown San Francisco: Civic Center, Powell, Montgomery, Embarcadero. Do not get on the train marked "Millbrae". That train heads in the opposite direction.
Your other option is to take a cab, which will cost you around $40 to $45.
The BART yellow line runs from SFO (the airport) through San Francisco, Oakland, and the East Bay cities of Orinda, Lafayette, Walnut Creek, and Concord before it terminates at Pittsburg. There's plenty of free parking at this terminal station, and this provides the best access for those interested in visiting the Sacramento/San Joaquin River Delta Region. Pittsburg is just 5 miles west from the Antioch Bridge (Hwy 160), and so by rental car it's easy to visit the Delta island towns of Rio Vista, Isleton, Locke and Walnut Grove. This region of levee protected wetlands is good for birdwatching, fishing, and fresh farm produce. The Pittsburg-Bay Point BART station is also a good departure point for rental car excursions along Hwy 4 east, to largest city on the San Joaquin River, Stockton; Sierra Motherlode historic towns such as Sutter Creek, and Sonora; the extraordinary Sequoia Grove at Calaveras Big Trees State Park, and Yosemite. The North Concord-Martinez BART station is better departure point for rental car sojourns to the old state capitol on the Carquinez Strait-- Benicia, bay delta wetland Preserve and historic slough port town of Suisun City, and the Napa Valley Wine Region. All these East Bay BART stations are also terminals for a wide array of municipal and regional transit buses that can be your link to some local towns in the Delta Region and certainly to the suburban rental car companies, which tend to be slightly cheaper in cost than at SFO. The Station is easy to find along the CA highway 4 freeway, as it is located within the median. The parking lot is on the south side of the freeway, and there's a covered pedestrian breezeway that crosses over the eastbound lanes to the station.
Departing or arriving into the San Francisco airport is now the economical way to travel on B.A.R.T. - Bay Area Rapid Transit. If you're arriving from a flight into San Francisco and are on a budget, definitely take BART into the city or over to Oakland and beyond. It is fairly quick and beats traffic and tolls.
Taking BART to the San Francisco International Airport is just as easy. From there take the Airtrain (Complimentary) to your terminal where your airline is located.
If you're coming in from an International flight, there are currency exchange kiosks in the terminal. Exchange a bit of money before taking BART as they do not have a currency exchange there and you would have to go back out. The BART station does have machines that can give you change in USD currency bills and coins.
As an addendum to the other comments made about the BART system, I recently booked some great deals staying at top quality hotels (4 star) next to the airport in SFO. We booked three rooms for $38 each per night using Priceline. The hotels all provide free shuttle (5 minutes) to the airport where one can take the BART into the city centre (and beyond). You are in town in about 30 minutes. A great option and compare this with the price of hotels in the centre.
In case your flight is leaving from Oakland and you happen to be in San Francisco, you can take BART -- a relatively painless process. From the Embarcadero station, take either Dublin/Pleasanton or the Fremont train to the Coliseum/Oakland Airport stop; cost is $3.15 one way. Once you arrive at the Coliseum/Oakland Airport stop, there will be an AirBart shuttle outside; cost is $2.00 one way. If you have exact change, board the shuttle. If not, buy a $2.00 BART ticket. Average travel time from the Embarcadero BART station to the Oakland Airport is about 1 hour.
Whether your flying into Oakland or San Francisco don't even think about renting a car, the BART is the best way to get around. From the Oakland Coliseum its a twenty minute ride and about 25 minutes from San Francisco Airport to Downtown. So there is no need to stay in Downtown S.F. which can be expensive, you could very easily stay in Oakland as long as its near the BART and still spend all your time in S.F. without paying a premium price. Once in the downtown area its easy to get to the majority of the sights on foot or by trolley. The cost from the S.F. airport to downtown is $5.35 and from the Oakland Colisuem, which is the stop closet to the Oakland Airport, its $3.55 to downtown not counting the $2.00 it cost for the Air Bart from the Oakland Airport to the Oakland Coliseum stop. Check the website below for up to date schedules and pricing, you can even access this site from your mobile phone!
The BART is a great way to get between the airport and the city. It's about $5.15 and a 30 minute trip. The stations are clean and easy to navigate.
You can't really use the BART to get around town muc, use the buses for that.
Although not the fastest way into the city from the Airport, it is one of the cheapest. From S.F. airport you can take B.A.R.T. (Bay Area Rapid Transit) to the city within an hour depending on your destination. This area of B.A.R.T. is new, clean, and underused. So another nice thing seems that you don't need to worry about crowds.
BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) is one of San Francisco's Metro-type systems. It is great for getting to and from 2 of the 3 San Francisco Bay Area's Airports. However, it is not a great option for travelling within the San Francisco. There are limited stops in San Francisco and they are all pretty much in the same area. BART is used more for commuters or people who are staying in the greater bay area (mostly the East Bay) and want to get in to the city. If you are flying into/out of San Francisco Airport (SFO), then BART is a great option for getting to and from San Francisco. BART has a stop the airport. Make sure you get on the train that says "San Francisco Airport/Milbrae" if you are leaving San Francisco and need to get to the airport. The other trains going in the same direction will stop before reaching the airport. If you are at SFO and need to go into the city, you can take the "Dublin/Pleasanton" line (which is the only line right now that goes to the airport). Make sure you do some research as to where to get off if you are going to San Francisco because Dublin/Pleasanton is on the otherside of the bay. If you want to go to the Oakland Airport (OAK), you need to get on either the "Dublin/Pleasanton" line or the "Fremont" line (The Fremont Line stops running after 7PM on weeknights). Then get off at Oakland Coliseum/Oakland Airport. Once you are at the Oakland Coliseum, you have to take the AirBart Shuttle which is $3 for adults and $1 for children, the disabled, and seniors. If you want to go into the city and you are at the Oakland Coliseum Bart Station, you can take the "San Francisco Airport/Milbrae" line or the "Daly City" line. If you are planning to visit other cities while you are visiting San Francisco, BART is the most easiest way to get to some cities around the Bay. My suggestion is to check out the BART website, it is very user friendly. It even has a section where you can search destinations based on where you are visiting.
Save yourself a lot of hassle and aggravation. Please don't add to San Francisco's existing gridlock. The traffic is already bad enough here. Use the BART/MUNI system to get around. These two systems comprise subways and buses, and have stations close to the cable car system as well. They service the entire Bay area, except Marin County and other places along the periphery.
Take the BART to and from the airport. A taxi will cost you around $35 while the BART costs only about $5. It doesn't really take that much longer either (since you don't have to wait through the traffic) It is direct to San Francisco Airport, but you need a short shuttle ride from the BART station to Oakland Airport.