If you've ever wanted to land on a scenic runway surrounded by water, find a flight to San Francisco International Airport (SFO). Its picturesque location on the edge of the San Francisco Bay offers great views of the city as you land.
Unfortunately, that lovely spot is excessively prone to visitation by San Francisco's legendary fog. In fact, it can sometimes be the only place on the bay that's foggy. When visibility is reduced, SFO can only use one of its two runways, meaning you may be stuck in a roundabout flight waiting for fog to lift or may never get on your flight to SFO to begin with.
Luckily, SFO isn't the only way to fly into this iconic city. San Francisco visitors have alternatives to enduring potential delays, and, best of all, they might even offer less expensive flight options. Both Oakland and San Jose have airports within a reasonable distance of San Francisco that may be just as convenient for your travel itinerary, as does Sonoma County.
San Francisco International Airport (SFO)
- Location: South San Francisco
- Best If: You want a scenic landing, or if you're flying to Asia
- Avoid If: You're worried about delays due to fog
- Distance to downtown San Francisco: A 30-minute taxi will cost about $50. You can also take the BART, San Francisco's regional transportation system, which will take about 30 minutes and will cost about $10.
San Francisco International Airport is about 13 miles south of San Francisco right off US Highway 101, making it the closest airport to the city proper. All major domestic carriers and most international ones fly to SFO—it serves 54 different airlines in total—and it has dozens of nonstop routes around the world. It's by far the busiest airport in the Bay Area, with 57.8 million passengers flying through it in 2018, which means it can get a bit congested, especially if the fog rolls in and causes numerous delays.
It's conveniently connected to downtown San Francisco via the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit), so you don't need to worry about paying for an expensive taxi or sitting in traffic. SFO is your best bet if you're spending the majority of your time in San Francisco.
Oakland International Airport (OAK)
- Location: South Oakland
- Best If: You want to fly on a budget airline, and you want to avoid the crowds
- Avoid If: You're flying to Asia
- Distance to downtown San Francisco: A 30-minute taxi will cost about $60. You can also take the BART—a 40-minute ride costs about $10.
Oakland International Airport (OAK) is 25 miles from downtown San Francisco, just across the San Francisco Bay. It's served by a wide range of major airlines—including budget ones like Allegiant and Norwegian Air—and has nonstop flights to 55 destinations. A major pro to OAK is that it experiences fewer flight delays, in part because of its less-foggy location and in part because it's not nearly as busy as SFO. One downside to OAK is that it has limited nonstop international flights, only servicing Mexico and a few cities in Europe.
If you're visiting Oakland, choosing this airport is a no-brainer, but it's also very convenient to San Francisco, as it's just a 40-minute ride away via the BART. Oakland is also a good airport choice if your trip includes Napa, Yosemite, Sequoia, Lake Tahoe, or other points east of San Francisco, as it's a fair bit closer to these destinations.
San Jose International Airport (SJC)
- Location: Northwest San Jose
- Best If: You're traveling south of San Francisco (especially to Silicon Valley)
- Avoid If: You're not renting a car
- Distance to downtown San Francisco: A 45-minute taxi can easily cost about $100. For public transportation, take the free VTA Airport Flyer shuttle to the Santa Clara Caltrain Station or the Metro Light Rail Station. Fares are cheaper than taxis, but it'll take at least 100 minutes to get to San Francisco.
San Jose International Airport is about 60 miles south of San Francisco, just south of Silicon Valley. Given that it's not on the bay and therefore it doesn't have to deal with fog, delays are less frequent. And, as a smaller airport, there are fewer crowds than at SFO. Unlike Oakland, SJC offers direct flights to Asia (and Europe, Canada, and Mexico, too), making it a great option for international travelers. San Jose is a good destination if your trip includes Silicon Valley, Monterey, or Carmel—public transportation is a little more limited down south, so you're best off renting a car.
Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport (STS)
- Location: Santa Rosa
- Best If: You have an unlimited budget for your wine getaway
- Avoid If: San Francisco is your main destination
- Distance to downtown San Francisco: A 75-minute taxi can cost upwards of $150. Public transportation options aren't great—you can take the Airport Express to SFO, which takes about two hours, but then you'll still need to take the BART to downtown San Francisco.
Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport is a small regional airport in the heart of wine country. It's ideal for travelers making the region the primary destination of their trip, but it's not very convenient to San Francisco. (There's no direct public transportation—you'd have to connect through SFO.) Additionally, the airport only has 11 nonstop routes, all within the U.S., and flight prices can be very expensive. That said, it's by far the least crowded of the Bay Area airports, which makes traveling through here a breeze!