San Jose and San Francisco are only 50 miles apart. You can travel between the two cities using a bus, train, or automobile.
But no matter how you travel, there are drawbacks. After you get to San Francisco, it can be a long walk to the most popular San Francisco sights and hotels. Ridesharing surge pricing can run up your bill, fast. Public transit buses and trams might fill the gap, but they're a hassle if you're traveling with luggage or small children.
Choosing the best transportation for your trip is tricky. This guide can help you decide what's best.
How to Get from San Jose to San Francisco
These are the options to consider:
- Train: 1 to 1.5 hours, $12
- Bus: 1 to 2 hours, $10
- Car: 50 miles, 1 to 2.5 hours, no tolls
If you're looking for a low cost and can walk to your destination from where you get off, think about taking a bus. However, Caltrain costs only a couple of dollars more, stops in more places, and you can take more items on board (including bicycles).
If you're in a hurry and it's not rush hour, driving is the fastest way to go. During rush hour, Caltrain's tracks are traffic jam-free and will get you there faster.
Caltrain is the only train between San Francisco and San Jose. You can get on at Diridon Station in downtown San Jose or Santa Clara, Palo Alto, Redwood City, and Millbrae. The San Francisco station is at Fourth and King Streets.
Caltrain is also the best way to get to a San Francisco 49ers football game in Santa Clara, a San Jose Sharks hockey game in downtown San Jose, or a San Francisco Giants baseball game at Oracle Park.
Caltrain runs frequent trains about 20 hours a day. Local trains take 90 minutes to reach San Francisco, but Baby Bullet and limited-stop trains are faster. The Caltrain mobile ticketing app is fast and easy to use, but you can also buy your ticket at the station or on the Caltrain website. Caltrain's Twitter account shares information on delays and other news.
From the Caltrain station, it's a 30-minute walk to Union Square. It takes an hour to walk to Fisherman's Wharf. Golden Gate Park is more than four miles away.
Using Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART)
For decades, people have been asking: "Can you take BART from San Jose to San Francisco?" but it's not entirely possible yet. Currently, BART runs on the east side of the San Francisco Bay between Oakland and Milipitas. It may take another 10 years for it to reach downtown San Jose. And even then, you'll have to go to Oakland to catch a train to San Francisco.
That doesn't mean BART is useless for your trip. If you want to go to the Mission District, Civic Center, Market Street, Union Square, or the Embarcadero, transfer from CalTrain to BART in Millbrae.
What you need to know about the trip from Millbrae to San Francisco is in the guide to getting from SFO to San Francisco on BART. You can see schedules and buy tickets on the BART website or use the BART app.
Public transit buses are impractical because of too many transfers and connections, but Flixbus is a low-priced commercial bus that's worth a look. They run a handful of buses per day from downtown San Jose to the Embarcardero in San Francisco, which take from 50-90 minutes, depending on traffic. You can take one checked bag and one carry-on. Get schedules, find pickup locations, and buy tickets on the Flixbus website.
Greyhound also runs from San Jose Diridon Station downtown to the San Francisco transit hub at 425 Mission Street. Their fares are low but beware of itineraries that go through Oakland, require transfers, and take up to two hours.
If you need to go from the San Jose Airport directly to San Francisco International, Monterey Air Bus runs buses every hour or two, and their reasonable rates are even lower if you book online.
At best, with no delays, the 50-mile car trip between San Jose and San Francisco is about an hour's drive. But no matter how much Northern Californians like to pretend it isn't so, Bay Area traffic consistently ranks among the worst in the country, During rush hour, that hour can stretch to two hours or more. It's easy to figure out when that happens by checking the carpool lane hours: 5 to 9 a.m. and 3 to 7 p.m. But don't think count on the carpool lane to save time: It's often as jammed up as the other lanes.
Freeway congestion aside, driving is by far the most flexible way to travel. You can go directly to anywhere in the city, without schlepping luggage (or yourself) from one mode of transit to another. But—and this is one of those big buts—San Francisco traffic congestion is among the world's worst. And trying to find a parking spot can give the most patient of drivers an uncontrollable case of road rage. To avoid that, use a parking app like ParkMe or Spot Hero to find parking lots and garages.
The obvious routes for your drive are US Highway 101 and I-280. You can get details of their pros and cons, along with all the sights along the way in the guide to driving from Los Angeles to San Francisco.
If the predicted drive time is more than two hours, try this hack. Take an impromptu tour of the peninsula on city streets. Get on El Camino Real near Santa Clara University and follow it north until it merges with Mission Street in San Francisco.
What to See in San Francisco
San Francisco is famous for its cable cars, scenic waterfront, the Golden Gate Bridge and lots more. Check the top 20 sights in the guide to things to do in San Francisco.