Trips to San Francisco, which is located on a peninsula between the San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean, offer cable cars, hilly and roller-coaster like streets, Victorian architecture, luxury boutiques, nouveau restaurants, walkable beaches, and of course, the gorgeous Golden Gate Bridge. You might just be lucky enough to get a glimpse of it on your flight to San Francisco if you have a window seat but if not, you’ll surely want to see it – or drive on it – at some point after you land. The view alone of the Golden Gate Bridge glinting in the sunlight makes catching a cheap flight to San Francisco worth it. Views of the bridge and surrounding bay area are especially majestic when the fog rolls in.
San Francisco is also well known for its laid-back liberal lifestyle. In fact, San Francisco was the first city in the U.S. to allow gay marriage. In 2004, hundreds of gay couples from around the nation boarded flights to San Francisco and waited in line to say “I do.” Today, the city maintains its laissez-faire ambience and treats its visitors to the same type of carefree manner. San Francisco also served as the birthplace of the dot.com birth, and subsequently the dot.com bust, and continues to thrive today as a city of entrepreneurs and invention.
Book a flight to San Francisco to be in a city that is constantly on the list of America’s most expensive cities to live in, and property values continue to rise to some of the highest in the nation. This vibrant city is made up of several distinct and inviting neighborhoods, many of which you’ll want to see and visit, including North Beach, one of the most beloved. Pacific Heights is swanky with elegant mansions; the Castro is known around the world as a center for progressive gay culture; Chinatown is the largest of its kind that you will find without flying to Asia; and Haight-Ashbury, no longer the epicenter of hippie culture, still holds on to its laidback vibe even as its streets fill with exclusive boutiques and hip – though pricey – restaurants.
Culture buffs flying to San Francisco have endless venues and activities to choose from on their vacation. The city is home to the San Francisco Opera, one of the largest companies in the United States. The Fillmore, a historic music venue, gained fame in the 1960s, housing a stage where now-famous musicians such as Janis Joplin and Jefferson Airplane first performed and created what is known as the “San Francisco Sound.” The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) is home to cherished 20th Century and contemporary works of art. The California Academy of Sciences, a natural history museum, also hosts the Morrison Planetarium and Steinhart Aquarium. You’ll also want to be sure to visit Fisherman’s Wharf, where you’ll find restaurants, shops and more. Another can’t miss is a visit to Alcatraz Island. A ferry can take you from the mainland over to the “Rock” (for a fee of course), and there you can tour the infamous federal penitentiary that was once home to notorious inmates like Al Capone and Whitey Bulger, before it shut down in the early 1960’s. San Francisco is also home to great sports franchises such as the San Francisco 49ers of the NFL and a Major League Baseball team, the San Francisco Giants.
With all the entertainment options and the wide range of culture and diversity in San Francisco, it’s no wonder the city thrives on tourism. Flights to San Francisco are always filled with travelers seeking a reprieve from life’s everyday chaos. There is so much to see and do in the city by the bay, it’s hard to figure out where to start and how to fit it all in. Here are some tips to help you plan and enjoy the smoothest possible trip to San Francisco.
If you’re looking for tank-top weather and margaritas on the beach, cancel your flight to San Francisco. The city by the bay is surprisingly chilly, even in summer. Sitting in the upper deck at AT&T Park in June watching a Giants game might actually be quite frigid, believe it or not. Summer temperatures occasionally go above 70 degrees and usually start with a morning fog over the city. Because of the fog, the city rarely sees more than a few hot days in a row, but just a few miles inland it’s clear, hot, and dry. Book airline tickets to San Francisco in the fall when clear skies and comfortable temperatures still grace the city, and the city is not quite as busy with tourists. Winter temperatures are usually in the 40’s and 50’s and rarely go below freezing. But the winter rain combined with ocean breezes can make it feel cold.
Flights to San Francisco are at their most expensive between June and August as this is the busiest time of the year. Be prepared for hotels near top sights such as the Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman’s Wharf, North Beach, Haight-Ashbury and the colorful Chinatown area to be booked up early. You’ll find the waterfront more crowded as well, and restaurants a lot busier. There are also many festivals, street fairs and special events taking place during this time. For any flight to San Francisco during this time of year make sure to book in advance.
The off season is winter time, however this is also when the ballet and opera seasons are at their peak, making it a great time to visit. January often has cheap flights to San Francisco and also hosts the celebration of Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday. It consists of a 1.5-mile march, with civil rights advocates, singers and performers all adding to the festivities and bringing Martin Luther King’s message back to the forefront. From the middle of September until the middle of November is a great time to visit, as most of the tourists have left and the city is still warm and sunny, making it a perfect time to book cheap flights to San Francisco then.
San Francisco is a popular vacation destination and has visitors, festivals, and events year-round. The cheapest flights to San Francisco are normally found between November and March, so if you book at least two months before your desired dates you should find the best prices for your flight tickets. September to November is the sweet spot for visiting; this is when the city gets a late burst of sun, known as an “Indian Summer”, and the fog rolls away. There are also less tourists, better weather and good deals on hotels. Spring is a good time to visit as it is before the peak season price hikes that come during the summer. If you want to visit during the summer, make sure to book your flights to San Francisco well in advance to save yourself the extra costs of last minute bookings.
If you are flexible and can pick and choose practically any date of the year, then you’ll definitely find cheap flights to San Francisco at some point in the year. It’s advisable to book San Francisco flights and hotels at the same time to ensure your San Francisco vacation is complete, and as far in advance as possible.
Arrive at San Francisco International Airport from almost anywhere in the world with nonstop or multi-stop flights. Fly from Chicago to San Francisco in just over four hours. Expect to spend a little under eleven hours in the air for a flight from Dublin, just under six hours from New York City and a little over an hour from Las Vegas.
With non-stop flights reaching numerous international and U.S. cities, San Francisco International Airport keeps you connected, no matter where your Bay Area travel plans originate. Fly on one of many domestic or international airlines. The international carriers include Aer Lingus, Aeromexico, Air Canada, Air New Zealand, British Airways, Emirates and KLM. Domestic airline options include American, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest and United.
Leave that teeny tiny bikini and your tank tops at home. You won’t need them in San Francisco. It may be located in California, but the city stays surprisingly cool year round thanks to the regular fog. Summer weather is often in the 70’s. Bring a light jacket just in case. If you visit in the fall, clearer skies yield even lower temperatures, so pack cooler clothes. San Francisco doesn’t usually dip below freezing, but winter temps often drop to the 40’s and 50’s with chilling rain. Pack warm clothes and a jacket for winter trips to the Bay Area. The city offers amazing architecture and plenty of sights, so bring comfy shoes to trek through the streets for a close-up view.
The easiest and most convenient way to travel from San Francisco International Airport (SFO) to the city is from the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) station. It’s located in the International Terminal, and you can take a free AirTrain from all terminals to the BART station. You will need to buy a ticket from the BART station before you travel, or you can book in advance and exchange your voucher for the correct ticket, which is kind of like a debit card which you keep for your time in San Francisco. Another option is to get a taxi from outside of the airport, but just remember that your driver will expect a tip. You can also take a bus or a shared van from the airport; simply tell the driver where you want to go and he’ll add you to his route and tell you the price. You can also rent a car but renting a car in San Francisco may be more trouble than it is worth. The city is covered with steep hills and one-way streets, traffic backups can be a nightmare, and parking is scarce and expensive. You’ll only really need a car if you’re heading out of town.
It’s easy to get around the city of San Francisco on foot and the public transportation system can get you anywhere else. San Francisco’s main transportation network is the San Francisco Municipal Railway (Muni). It has many bus lines with electric trolley buses as well as the famous historic cable cars. Riding one of the cable cars from Nob Hill down to Fisherman’s Wharf is an integral part of the San Francisco tourist experience. Check out the Muni Passports that offer unlimited rides for several days (for a fee of course). Biking is also a popular way to get around, but you’ll have to steel yourself to get up and over some of the hills. The easiest way to get a cab is calling ahead or lining up for one at a hotel stand. To get out of the city, you can hop aboard the BART, the fast and efficient subway linking the city to the East Bay. You can also catch one of the many ferries sailing for Sausalito, Larkspur and Tiburon.
San Francisco is full of new experiences, beautiful Victorian architecture and a laid-back, carefree vibe. You can go from morning to night and never see all of the city, but there are some must-see stops to include on your itinerary.
Start with the obligatory photo with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background. If you have time, walk or bike across the bridge. Alcatraz Island is another top attraction on any itinerary. Explore the inside of this former maximum security prison for a brush with history. Take the nighttime tour if you’re up to the eeriness. Round out your touristy agenda with a trip to Fisherman’s Wharf and a ride on a cable car.
For local flavor, head to the Ferry Building Marketplace on Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday. The stands fill with locally grown produce, gourmet treats and artisan-style foods. San Francisco boasts the largest Chinatown in the country. It’s a chaotic setting, but it’s an experience you won’t forget.
The San Francisco Giants stadium treats fans to amazing views and great ball. If you prefer to be the one staying active, explore the many stairways strewn through the hills of the city. More than 400 stairways exist. Some of those stairs take a little searching to find. Keep walking to the Mission District to marvel at more than 200 murals celebrating the culture of the area. Cap your day of on-the-ground exploring with a trip to the top of Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill. It’s the perfect place to view the city.
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Arrive in plenty of time for your flight by taking BART Rapid Rail. The SamTrans public bus service also transports passengers to the airport.
For more detailed airport information, our San Francisco airport guides include all the information you need to know before you go.