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    San Francisco car rental: tips for the airport and city center

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    Joel Fulleda

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    Il car hire in San Francisco is one of the first steps you must do when organizing a West Coast tour departing from the well-known city of California overlooking the Pacific Ocean: yes, because anyone who wants to explore this side of the United States via a fly & drive, unless does not decide to leave from Los Angeles (or more rarely, from Las Vegas) will land right here to finally start his on-the-road trip (maybe having managed to get a low cost flight).

    However, as some of you may already know, San Francisco it is a city where it is better to avoid using the car, because you can easily get around on foot or by public transport: we talked about this much more in depth in our article on how to get around San Francisco, where you will find listed the reasons why it is not It is advisable to organize a visit to the city by car, and we have suggested all the various possible solutions.

    So, how to get organized with the car hire in San Francisco? Is it better to do it at the airport or in the city center? And at what moment of your stay in San Francisco? Also ... how to save on the cost of the rental, taking advantage of offerte low-cost available on the market? Let's go find out.


    • San Francisco car rental: where and when is it worth doing?
    • What to do if i stay in the city for a few days after landing?
      • Where to pick up the car in the center?
    • What if my tour starts immediately after landing?
      • Car rental at the airport: the Rental Car Center
    • What else is there to know?
    • Low cost rental: how to save online

    San Francisco car rental: where and when is it worth doing?

    As we know, one of the most frequent choices when organizing a fly & drive is to pick up the vehicle immediately at the airport, as soon as you arrive. But if - unlike in the case of car rental in Los Angeles - San Francisco is a city that is not worth visiting by car, why should we pick it up directly at the airport? In fact, the question is legitimate, and the answer is clear: if you intend to stay in the city for a few days, you shouldn't do it.

    What to do if i stay in the city for a few days after landing?

    To those who ask us how long to stay in San Francisco, I always recommend a minimum of 3 days. What does this mean? Well, if you take your car as soon as you arrive at the airport, you will have to leave it in the hotel parking lot or worse, on the street, practically never using it, paying for the empty rental days.

    Moreover, even if you wanted to use it, you would have to face another problem that is not easy to solve: find a parking space, without forgetting that, if you go wrong, you get fines, and high! So I bring you my example (which I had already illustrated in my travelogue, chapter from San Francisco to Las Vegas) summarizing it in a few short points:

    • arrival at the airport in San Francisco
    • transfer to the city center by train (BART), shared or private shuttle or taxi
    • downtown hotel accommodation (check out our tips on finding a hotel in San Francisco)
    • visit the city on foot or by public transport in San Francisco
    • on the day of departure from San Francisco, pick up the rental car at one of the agencies in the center

    What do you think? Obviously this strategy is not always valid. For example: if you intend to visit the wine regions of Napa and Sonoma, perhaps it might be convenient for you to set the date for the collection of the car with a day in advance ... but in general my advice is to use alternative means to the car.

    Where to pick up the car in the center?

    So here is where the agencies of the major companies of car hire in San Francisco. This list can be useful especially if you have not yet chosen among the low cost offers of the companies, so as to find not only the most economically advantageous, but also the most comfortable to pick up the car in the center of your hotel. Remember that you will be full of luggage!

    The agencies are largely concentrated in the surroundings of Union Square, but there are also more decentralized branches in neighborhoods where you may have found accommodation. An example? I went to collect my car at the branch Hertz di Mason Street, ten minutes from my hotel and Union Square.


    • 340 O’Farrell Street (zona Union Square)
    • 750 Bush Street (Union Square area)
    • 687 Folsom Street (zona South Beach)


    • 675 Post Street (Union Square area)
    • Anchorage Square, 500 Beach St (zona Fisherman’s Wharf)
    • Hyatt Regency San Francisco, 5 Embarcadero Center (zona Financial District)


    • 325 Mason Street (Union Square area)
    • 840 Ellis Street (Japantown area)
    • Anchorage Square, 500 Beach St (zona Fisherman’s Wharf)


    • 821 Howard St (zona South Beach)
    • 675 Post Street (Union Square area)
    • 5 The Embarcadero (Embarcadero area)


    • 364 O’Farrell Street (zona Union Square)
    • 2500 Mason Street (zona Fisherman’s Wharf)


    • 350 O’Farrell Street (zona Union Square)

    Sometimes the collection of the car in one agency rather than another could cost more, sometimes the figures differ subtly (like 1 euro!), But in other cases the difference is even 50-80 euro . Fortunately, there is a very simple way to quickly understand the price difference between the various offices. Using the search engine of AutoEurope, once you have chosen the car, click on "Show Locations“: A page like the one below will appear which, instantly, will show you the possible additional cost of one office compared to the other.

    How to find the price differences between the various car rental offices in the city

    As you can see in this case, renting a car at the airport or on Ellis Street will cost you 81 euros more. Another very convenient thing about this site is that, by clicking on the "select on the map“, Allows you to see the locations of the various offices directly on the map.

    Check agency prices on AutoEurope

    For a general overview of the agencies available in downtown San Francisco you can take a look at the map below.

    What if my tour starts immediately after landing?

    In this case - that is, if you are not interested in visiting San Francisco or if you will do it at a later stage of the tour - you will need to collect your rental car directly at San Francisco International Airport, where all the largest and most reliable rental companies available. But where is the Rental Car Center of the airport? How do you get there?

    Car rental at the airport: the Rental Car Center

    As soon as you have collected your baggage, follow the signs for the blue line of the AirTrain. Access to the train from the international flights terminal is at Boarding Areas A and G, and it is possible to reach the train station using the lift or escalators up to level 4. The Airrain's free shuttle runs 24/24 and runs with a guaranteed frequency of 4 minutes, so you shouldn't waste much time.

    The AirTrain also connects the terminals with the BART station, which remains one of the best ways to get to San Francisco from the airport. If you find it useful, read our article on connections between the airport and San Francisco.

    The blue line of the Airtrain leads directly to the Rental Car Center, where the offices of almost all the car rental companies available in San Francisco are located. We point out the major ones, as already done previously for the city center:

    • Alamo (4th floor)
    • Reviews (4th floor)
    • Hertz (1th floor)
    • Budget (4th floor)
    • Dollar (4th floor)
    • Thrifty (4th floor)

    All the aforementioned counters are open 24 hours a day. If your car rental company is not listed, it could be one of the so-called agencies Off-Airport, whose offices are located a little further from the airport ground. Again don't worry: al Rental Car Center A free shuttle is available that offers transport to the desk of the requested company.

    Compare prices

    What else is there to know?

    After giving you the details on the car hire in San Francisco, here is a useful vademecum of things to know when choosing the right car for the tour. Read it carefully so as not to find yourself having to face some annoying unexpected event at the counter of the company office!

    • The documents you will need during collection are:
      • the Italian driving license
      • check if an international driving license is required in the countries you will pass through
      • your passport valid for the USA.
    • To collect your rental car, you will need to present a credit card in your name: if you show up with a prepaid card or an ATM or with cash it is very difficult for the car to be delivered to you! The companies usually accept credit cards almost exclusively for the security deposit.
    • If you plan to rent a car in San Francisco but plan to do the drop-off (delivery) to a different city, there may be a surcharge. However, in some states, such as California, there is no such tax.
    • As far as the 'accident insurance, it is good to check that the coverage is adequate. Ask at the counter if the policy you have chosen offers basic services in an emergency, not least the tow truck service: you don't want to be in the middle of the desert with a damaged vehicle, without knowing what to do! Find more tips on recommended insurance coverage in our article on car rental in the USA.
    • Bring the car back on time: in case of delay you may have to pay the rental for the next day as well.
    • Choose carefully the type of car suitable for your trip. Taking a short city-to-city commute? An economy or a compact may be enough for you. Are you planning to explore any national park where the roads are not paved? Perhaps in this it is better to take an intermediate category car, SUV or similar. Don't you spare any expense? Rent a luxury car (Premium).

    Low cost rental: how to save online

    To find low cost deals for car rental, it is necessary to move well in advance, monitoring some price comparison sites that report the rates of the most reliable rental agencies.

    In addition to pointing out the links on the map in this article, I also point out the button below, which refers to our page dedicated to car rental in USA, where you will find all the useful indications and the sites to use to find the best rates.

    How to rent a car at the lowest price?


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