updated on May 23rd, 2019
We’ve heard a few occasions of first-time visitors to San Francisco landing in SFO and heading straight to pick up a rental car. This isn’t always a bad move… but it probably is. Keep reading to decide if you might be in the minority of folks who need to rent a car for their entire stay.
If you’re staying in the ‘burbs on the peninsula, outside of downtown SF, renting a car might not be a horrible idea so you can get around the smaller towns and/or into the city each day. The cost of this will add up, because on top of your rental fees, you will be paying a steep fee for parking or driving around trying to find a highly coveted on-street spot. If you’re staying downtown, which we’re willing to bet you’ll be doing (because it’s the best place to stay when you’re in SF for pleasure), save yourself the hassle and money- it’s not uncommon to pay $50 a night to park at a hotel. The likelihood that you’ll use the car once you see SF traffic is slim.
However, if you are staying in the city, and are planning on a day drive outside of San Francisco proper, see our post on renting a car in San Francisco and save hundreds of dollars while you visit the Marin Headlands, Point Reyes, The Muir Woods, Pacifica, and more.
If you’re flying into the airport and need to get downtown SF, getting to the city is a cheap. Via a quick trip on the BART system or an direct with an Uber ride. See our post getting from SFO to the city on how we suggest getting there. It might help save you the cost of renting a car from the airport and a hotel parking fee.
It’s really easy to navigate the city via walking, public transit (there’s tons more than just cable cars!), and Uber/Lyft.
Check out our post about getting around San Francisco without a car.
Renting a Car in San Francisco
If you’re staying downtown and want to take a day trip up through the Marin Headlands to Sausalito, or through Point Reyes to Drakes Beach, it will be a good idea to rent a car. There are plenty of places to rent a car, either at the SFO airport or in San Francisco proper as well.
We recommend not renting a car that way. Use Turo instead.
Some of the most beautiful coastal driving we’ve ever done were day trips just north of San Francisco.
In order to get a car, we’ve used Turo several times with great success. If you’re not familiar, Turo is a car sharing app where members rent out their vehicles for daily (or longer) rentals. Think AirBNB for cars. Same-day pickup and drop-off will also save you the overnight hotel parking charge.
We’ve also been able to get much nicer cars for a lot less money than you’d end up spending with a standard car rental company, and being able to drive over the Golden Gate Bridge in a convertible is quite the memorable experience.
Turo cars are available all over San Francisco, so there’s a strong likelihood that you’ll find the car you want close to where you’re staying. Some renters even offer drop-off to your location.
Quick tip: Make sure to verify your identity with Turo prior to your trip to ensure you can get a car when you need. This typically means taking a photo of your driver’s license and securely submitting it to the company. Also take the time to read over their policies and make sure you understand how the process works- typically you are asked to fill the car up with gas and submit a photo of the receipt, for example.