San Francisco vs. Oakland: Which airport should I fly into? - The Points Guy (2023)

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The San Francisco Bay Area is home to some of the most valuable companies in the entire world, as well as a number of popular tourist attractions that create a strong, year-round demand from business and leisure travelers alike. With two main airports situated on opposite sides of the bay, travelers have an important choice to make between San Francisco International Airport (SFO) and Oakland International Airport (OAK). Today we’re going to take a look at the pros and cons of each.

Distance To Downtown & Transportation Options

In earlier installments comparing airports within a major city - such as Chicago, Washington D.C. and London - we've picked a single landmark roughly in the center of the city to measure transit times to each airport. That's a little tougher to do here, as Oakland and San Francisco are two distinct cities. While there's plenty of crossover between them, it's unfair for someone living in San Francisco proper to pick which airport to use based on its distance to Berkeley.

Still, we need some way to compare and contrast, so for the purpose of this post we'll use Fisherman's Wharf as our destination. While it's not the geographic center of either city, it's a popular tourist attraction close to San Francisco's financial district and to the Golden Gate Bridge.

San Francisco vs. Oakland: Which airport should I fly into? - The Points Guy (1)

Getting downtownSan Francisco (SFO)Oakland (OAK)
Distance (by car)16 miles21 miles
Time (by car)30-45 minutes45-50 minutes
Average Uber cost$35$45
Public TransitBART yellow line to F (1 hour 15 minutes)BART Beige line to Blue-Sun to yellow to F (1 hour 15 minutes)
(Video) Why SFO's $2.5 Billion Logistics and Amenities Upgrade Made It WSJ's Best Airport of 2022 | WSJ

Oakland airport is just a bit farther away by car at 21 miles vs. 16 for SFO, and you can expect crossing the bridge to take a while depending on what time of day you're traveling.

San Francisco vs. Oakland: Which airport should I fly into? - The Points Guy (2)

Other than that, the two airports are fairly similar. An extra 10 minutes in the car or $10 on your Uber bill might not be a big deal if it means picking a cheaper flight or avoiding congestion at one of the world's busiest airports.

When it comes to public transit the two airports are nearly identical in terms of both cost and transit time, though getting from Oakland to Fisherman's Wharf requires you to change trains three times, which some may find inconvenient.

Airlines and Flight Options

The comparison between SFO and Oakland is most similar to that of Chicago O'Hare and Chicago Midway, where you have one major international airport pitted against a mostly domestic one with a large Southwest presence.

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SFO is a major hub for United Airlines, with almost 300 daily flights around North America and 30 international destinations. These include ultra long-haul flights to Auckland (AKL), Sydney (SYD), Melbourne (MEL), Singapore (SIN) and New Delhi (DEL), as well as other destinations like Hong Kong (HKG), Taipei (TPE), Shanghai (PVG), Beijing (PEK), Seoul (ICN), Tokyo (NRT and HND) and Osaka (KIX).

San Francisco vs. Oakland: Which airport should I fly into? - The Points Guy (3)

This is by no means meant to be an exhaustive list, but the following international airlines are just a fraction of the larger contingent flying to SFO:

  • Air New Zealand flies to Auckland (AKL) daily with a 777-300ER
  • ANA flies to Tokyo Narita (NRT) daily with a 777-300ER
  • Qantas flies daily to Sydney (SYD) and 4x weekly to Melbourne (MEL) with a 787-9
  • JAL flies to Tokyo Haneda (HND) daily with a 777-300ER
  • Cathay Pacific flies to Hong Kong (HKG) 3x daily, twice with a 777-300ER and once with an A350-900
  • EVA Air flies to Taipei (TPE) 3x daily with a 777-300ER
  • Turkish Airlines flies to Istanbul (IST) daily with a 777-300ER
  • Lufthansa flies to Frankfurt (FRA) daily with an A340-600 and to Munich (MUC) daily with an A380
  • British Airways flies to London (LHR) twice daily with a mix of 777, 747 and A380 aircraft
  • Emirates flies to Dubai (DXB) daily with an A380
  • El Al flies to Tel Aviv (TLV) 3x weekly with a 787-9
  • Singapore Airlines flies to Singapore (SIN) daily with an A350-900 and to Hong Kong (HKG) daily with a 777-300ER

In addition to offering incredible connectivity to Europe and the Middle East, San Francisco is a gateway for travel to Asia and the South Pacific, with well over a dozen daily flights to China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

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While Oakland is technically billed as an international airport, almost all of its flights are domestic and it certainly doesn't offer any long-haul service. You'll find transcontinental flights to the East Coast, but the longest routes flown from Oakland top out at about five hours. A quick peek at the departures board on a random day shows that more than half of the flights out of Oakland are operated by Southwest. You'll also find a smaller presence from Alaska Airlines, Spirit and JetBlue, and some flights from legacy carriers Delta and American to their respective focus cities of Salt Lake City (SLC) and Phoenix (PHX).

San Francisco vs. Oakland: Which airport should I fly into? - The Points Guy (4)

Airport Amenities and Perks

Given the number of long-haul flights leaving out of SFO and the large amount of business travel, it should come as no surprise that there are plenty of premium lounges on the ground. The two most notable would be United's multilevel Polaris lounge, and the Amex Centurion lounge (which is often one of the most crowded locations in the Centurion network).

San Francisco vs. Oakland: Which airport should I fly into? - The Points Guy (5)

For passengers who don't meet the stringent entry requirements for the Polaris lounge, United also has a number of United Clubs spread around the airport.

Further Reading: The ultimate guide to United Club access

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Additionally, the following international airlines all have outstations lounges at SFO:

  • The Emirates Lounge
  • British Airways Lounge
  • China Airlines Dynasty Lounge
  • Cathay Pacific First and Business Class Lounge
  • Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse
  • Air France-KLM Lounge
  • Japan Airlines Sakura Lounge

You can access the Air France-KLM lounge with a Priority Pass membership, or depending on who issued your membership you may be eligible for a $28 dining credit at the San Francisco Giants Clubhouse or Yankee Pier in terminal 3 instead.

Oakland, by comparison, has no Priority Pass lounges and only one lounge in the entire airport. The Escape lounge is located airside in terminal 1, and you can buy a pass through LoungeBuddy for $44. This would be a prime way to use the $100 annual LoungeBuddy credit that comes with the American Express® Green Card (which has an annual fee of $150. See rates & fees), at an airport where there really aren't any other options.

The information for the Amex Green Card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

It's not surprising to see the options much more limited at Oakland, when you consider the fact that many of the flights out of this airport are short hops around the West Coast and that the primary carriers are no frills airlines like Southwest and Spirit.

Bottom Line

Separated by a few miles of water, Oakland and SFO serve very different purposes. One offers long-haul flights to nearly every destination imaginable, with luxury amenities to match, while the other functions primarily as a domestic airport for shorter flights with a very heavy Southwest presence. As such, for most people the decision of whether to fly out of Oakland or SFO will be primarily set by what airline they choose to fly and where they're traveling to.

For rates and fees of the Amex Green Card, please click here.

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Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

FAQs

Is it better to fly into Oakland or San Francisco? ›

Located just across the Bay Bridge from both San Francisco and SFO, Oakland international airport (OAK) is much smaller than SFO and has fewer flight options. However, it is a great airport option for travelers who: Want to fly a budget airline, such as Norwegian Air or Southwest.

Is Oakland or San Francisco closer to San Jose? ›

Both San Francisco and Oakland are about an hour's drive north of the Bay Area's largest city, San Jose, making them excellent day trips when visiting Silicon Valley. San Francisco is a straight shot from San Jose along US-101, and Oakland is due north of San Jose via I-880.

Is it cheaper to fly into San Francisco or Oakland? ›

Oakland, ranked at #5, was hailed for its low costs across the board, especially in comparison with nearby San Francisco. “Oakland is a bargain for Bay Area travelers, who may find it's worth the 30-minute drive (or the 40-minute BART ride) to fly out of the significantly less expensive airport,” says the report.

Which airport is better in San Francisco? ›

The newspaper ranked San Francisco International Airport as the best large airport in the United States and San Jose International Airport as the third best midsize airport in the country, only trailing Sacramento International Airport and San Diego International Airport, respectively.

How far apart are San Francisco Airport and Oakland Airport? ›

Distance between San Francisco (San Francisco International Airport) and Oakland (Oakland International Airport) is 11 miles / 18 kilometers / 10 nautical miles. Estimated flight time is 31 minutes.

Is it easier to fly into San Jose or San Francisco? ›

Arriving And Departing From San Jose International Airport (SJC) Can Be A Simpler, Easier Experience. At SJC it usually takes only a few minutes to get from the curb to your gate. Air traffic control congestion and fog delays are rare at sunny SJC.

Is it cheaper to fly to San Jose or San Francisco? ›

Flights are about $100 cheaper pp to San Jose versus San Francisco.

Why is Oakland cheaper than San Francisco? ›

The City packs 875,000 people into roughly 47 square miles, while Oakland has 426,000 people living in 125 square miles. This helps explain not only why SF housing is more expensive but why driving and parking are suckier here. As of October, the average rent for a one bedroom apartment in SF was $3,200.

Is Oakland warmer than San Francisco? ›

San Francisco stays a cool 60 or so degrees all year long. It's a little warmer in Oakland in the summer and about the same in the winter. In Oakland, you will find higher temps in the summer months (70 to 75) and about the same temps in the winter months (58 to 61).

Is Oakland Airport a big airport? ›

Owned and operated by the Port of Oakland, OAK is California's fourth largest airport, with more than 13 million passengers passing through our gates every year.

What is the best month to go to San Francisco? ›

The best time to visit San Francisco is from September to November. Believe it or not, fall offers some of the city's warmest temperatures year-round, not to mention fewer crowds than summer. Spring is another good time to visit thanks to its mild temperatures and lack of rain (compared to other parts of California).

What airport do you fly into for Oakland CA? ›

Although Oakland International Airport is undoubtedly the best choice, flights to Oakland might also land at San Francisco International Airport, located 19 miles southwest of the city, or at San Jose Mineta Airport, located 40 miles south of Oakland.

Is Oakland airport closer to San Francisco? ›

13 miles to San Francisco International Airport (SFO / KSFO) 21 miles to Oakland International Airport (OAK / KOAK)

Why is San Francisco airport so quiet? ›

Now, it is en route to becoming one of the quietest airports in the US as a result of its 'Quiet Airport' programme, a two-year initiative aimed at tackling noise pollution at SFO's four terminals.

Which airline uses San Fran the most? ›

San Francisco International Airport (SFO)

United Airlines dominates the market share at SFO with nonstop flights to several regions of the U.S. and around the world. Alaska Airlines also uses SFO as a hub since it took over Virgin America flights in 2018.

How much time do I need at Oakland Airport? ›

The airport suggests arriving at least 90 minutes prior to your domestic departure or 120 minutes prior to your international departure.

How long does it take to get through Oakland Airport? ›

Current Average TSA Wait Time at OAK

This average wait time is based on the current time (Pacific Standard Time). Please expect to wait up to at least (6 mins) on average to go through security checkpoints at OAK.

Is a 1 hour layover in SFO enough? ›

1 hour connection at SFO is very doable and it's not looked at as a tight connection, so just try to relax, and you will be fine.

Is San Jose or San Francisco safer? ›

San Jose does rank in the top three safest cities in the Bay Area. San Francisco has 116% more crime than San Jose.

Is San Jose airport bigger than San Francisco airport? ›

San Jose, California, U.S. While San Jose is the largest city in the Bay Area, SJC is the Bay Area's second-busiest airport by passenger boardings, behind San Francisco International Airport.

How long is BART ride from San Jose to San Francisco? ›

How long does it take to go from the Milpitas and Berryessa/North San José BART stations to San Francisco? It takes about 59 minutes from Milpitas and 63 minutes from Berryessa/North San José to travel to San Francisco's Embarcadero BART Station.

How much would an uber cost from San Francisco to San Jose? ›

The average trip price to get from San Francisco International Airport to San Jose is $65 - $80. You can also use Uber's price estimator tool to check a real-time estimate.

Which airport is better SFO or LAX? ›

She says that although there have been improvements at LAX, SFO offers a better overall experience. “SFO is less busy; immigration and customs are generally less crowded, and there are shorter security queues. The only issue I've had at SFO is fog delays, which of course you never get in sunny LA.”

Is it worth visiting San Jose California? ›

From, centuries of history to explore, epic trails and museums galore, it's a perfect stopping point along a wider Californian road trip. In lots of ways, San Jose is the kind of Californian city that gets overlooked in favour of its popular neighbours around the bay.

Is Oakland or SF more expensive? ›

While the cost of living in Oakland might be 11.2% more expensive than living in Los Angeles, Oakland is still considered more affordable than San Francisco, which has the second-highest cost of living in the United States, right below New York City.

Is Oakland as foggy as San Francisco? ›

Oakland typically doesn't have as much fog as San Francisco (which is famous for its fog), but we do sometimes get fog! You're probably more likely to see fog in the hills, but again, sometimes we get it all over.

How far apart is Oakland and San Francisco? ›

Distance between San Francisco and Oakland is 13 kilometers (8 miles). Driving distance from San Francisco to Oakland is 20 kilometers (12 miles).

What is the warmest city in the Bay Area? ›

Two other cities tied their all-time records. Livermore recorded an astounding 116 degrees, which it also recorded yesterday. This is the Bay Area's all-time hottest temperature, according to Meteorologist Mike Nicco. Redwood City also tied it's record at 110 degrees.

Why is SF so cool? ›

San Francisco also benefits from the contrast between the cold ocean current and the extreme heat of California's Central Valley. The result is a pretty steady onshore flow of cool air, pulled in by the stifling hot air inland which rises. This also pulls the famous fog inland onto the city.

Is Oakland a nice city? ›

Oakland Reviews. Very nice and cultural . A lot of things to do and to see, very nice weather and a lot of different places to eat. It's very culturally different and most important thing is that most people thrive out in Oakland, Ca.

Is SFO or OAK closer to San Francisco? ›

Public Transit

Oakland airport is just a bit farther away by car at 21 miles vs. 16 for SFO, and you can expect crossing the bridge to take a while depending on what time of day you're traveling.

How many terminals does Oakland port have? ›

Oakland Seaport:

4 marine terminals. 33 ship-to-shore cranes. More than 2.46 million TEUs annually.

How many terminals does Oakland Airport have? ›

Oakland International Airport has 2 terminals. The majority of airlines operate from Terminal 1, including flights to international destinations. Southwest Airlines is the only airline to operate from Terminal 2 with domestic flights only.

What is the cheapest month to visit San Francisco? ›

For Lowest Prices & Fewer Crowds

If you travel to San Francisco in December or January rates will be 15 percent less. The cheapest month to fly to San Francisco is January.

How many days is enough to visit San Francisco? ›

Most visitors find three days in San Francisco is a good amount of time to get a solid introduction to the city. However, if you have a week it's highly recommended you take a few San Francisco day trips. For example, to the Wine Country or vibrant cities like Oakland and Berkeley, which are across the Bay.

What month is warmest in San Francisco? ›

According to weather.com, the warmest month on average is September with an average high of 71°F and low of 56°F. San Francisco gets about 15 days per year with a temp over 90°F.

How long is the BART ride from Oakland Airport to San Francisco? ›

Riding BART, it will take you about 40 minutes. To get from Oakland Airport to San Francisco, simply hop on the blue Daly City Line or green Millbrae line. Both of these lines will make stops at the Embarcadero, Powell Street, Civic Center, and the Mission district.

Are Oakland Airport terminals connected? ›

Getting Around the Airport

Oakland International Airport has two main terminals: Terminal 1 and Terminal 2. Both terminals are connected to each other at post-security and gate areas, enabling arriving passengers to arrive straight on to their connecting flights without having to re-enter the security check.

Is Oakland or SFO closer to Napa? ›

Senza Hotel FAQs

The closest international airports to Napa Valley are Oakland International Airport, 50 miles south, and San Francisco International Airport, 55 miles south.

Does BART go directly to Oakland Airport? ›

BART trains connect OAK with downtown San Francisco, downtown Oakland, and many other Bay Area destinations. BART is the best way to avoid sitting in Bay Area traffic, and the Oakland Airport BART station is just a short walk to both airline terminals.

Is SFO a nice airport? ›

In the category “Best Airports 2020: 50 to 60 million passengers,” SFO was the highest-rated airport in the United States, ranking third overall behind airports in Toronto and Barcelona, and ahead of other U.S. airports in this category, including Seattle, Charlotte, Las Vegas and Orlando.

Is San Francisco airport easy to navigate? ›

So, getting around SFO Airport can be a bit confusing for first-timers and occasional flyers. Is it that difficult to get around the airport? No, the airport terminals are well connected. Reaching the airport and navigating through it will be super easy if you are well informed about its facilities.

What is the biggest problem in San Francisco? ›

Less than one-quarter of respondents said they expected life in San Francisco to improve in two years. More than one-third said it would worsen. San Franciscans were largely in agreement about the city's biggest problems: Homelessness took first place, followed by public safety and housing affordability.

Whats the slowest day at the airport? ›

The truth is that the mid-day flights on Tuesday and Wednesday are less popular, and therefore both less crowded and less expensive! We always recommend a mid-week flight for just these reasons. So, if you can't stomach the idea of waking up at 3am to catch a less crowded flight, you can still avoid the worst crowds.

How early should I arrive at SFO before my flight? ›

For domestic flights, most airlines suggest arriving two hours before departure. For international flights, most airlines recommend arriving three hours before departure.

What is one of the biggest issues with the San Francisco Delta? ›

The San Francisco Bay Delta Watershed is facing a number of significant environmental and economic challenges. Population growth, increasing water demand, loss of habitat and water pollution continue to present difficulties in planning for the watershed's future.

Is San Jose airport easier than SFO? ›

Arriving And Departing From San Jose International Airport (SJC) Can Be A Simpler, Easier Experience. At SJC it usually takes only a few minutes to get from the curb to your gate.

Is Oakland and San Francisco the same airport? ›

Oakland International Airport is just 25 minutes from downtown San Francisco in the heart of the Bay Area.

How long are TSA lines at Oakland Airport? ›

Current Average TSA Wait Time at OAK

This average wait time is based on the current time (Pacific Standard Time). Please expect to wait up to at least (6 mins) on average to go through security checkpoints at OAK.

When should I get to Oakland Airport? ›

The airport suggests arriving at least 90 minutes prior to your domestic departure or 120 minutes prior to your international departure.

How far apart is Oakland from San Francisco? ›

Distance between San Francisco and Oakland is 13 kilometers (8 miles). Driving distance from San Francisco to Oakland is 20 kilometers (12 miles).

Can you walk between terminals at Oakland? ›

Walking. As the terminals are located right next to each other, passengers may walk between the terminals inside and outside of the secure area. Outside the secure area, the walkway is located just outside the terminal buildings, and inside the secure area, the connector is located between gate 4 and gate 20.

Are Oakland airport terminals connected? ›

Getting Around the Airport

Oakland International Airport has two main terminals: Terminal 1 and Terminal 2. Both terminals are connected to each other at post-security and gate areas, enabling arriving passengers to arrive straight on to their connecting flights without having to re-enter the security check.

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