Our Mission: getting to SFO with as little stress as possible
May 9, 2019 3:46 AM   Subscribe

Being entirely unprepared for San Francisco traffic, when should we hit the road for the airport if our flight leaves at 11:30 PDT?

Previously on Ask Me, you helped us figure out whether to head north or south on CA route 1. We made the controversial decision (or least controversial decision, depending on your opinion) of heading north from Santa Barbara and flying home from San Francisco.

We'll be staying near Dolores Park, having ditched our rental already. What kind of adventure are we in for if our flight out of SFO leaves at 11:30 Pacific on Friday, 5/31? Should we Uber or get there another way? My wife and I both have TSA Precheck status, so we'll (likely?) need less time prior to boarding, but I don't know. We're flying on Delta, heading to ATL.

We'll be in San Francisco the 29th-31st. Any bonus insights or recommendations?
posted by emelenjr to Travel & Transportation around San Francisco, CA (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Should we Uber or get there another way?

The BART goes straight to the airport and stops at both 16th/Mission and 24th/Mission. You can see the schedules on their website. It drops you off at the International Terminal, after which you can walk or take the airport shuttle.
posted by vacapinta at 3:53 AM on May 9, 2019 [6 favorites]

when should we hit the road for the airport if our flight leaves at 11:30 PDT?

AM or PM?
posted by Betelgeuse at 4:05 AM on May 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Ha, I suppose that would have been helpful, Betelgeuse. Flying out in the morning.
posted by emelenjr at 4:24 AM on May 9, 2019

Best answer: BART is easy. Have fun in the city!
posted by Bella Donna at 4:51 AM on May 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: BART is the absolute best option here.
posted by Lawn Beaver at 4:56 AM on May 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

I've done both BART and Uber/Lyft many many many times. Either way works, It really depends for me on how far away I am from a BART station, how early I want to get up, how much shit I have with me, and how much I want to deal with carting my shit around on mass transit.
posted by nikaspark at 5:02 AM on May 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: BART, unless you have huge amounts of stuff.
posted by Making You Bored For Science at 5:32 AM on May 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: BART - near Dolores park you've got 16th and Mission and 24th and Mission. It couldn't be easier.
posted by bendy at 5:34 AM on May 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Another vote for BART. It's a 25-minute ride from 24th Street, and as mentioned, it takes you directly into the airport. I just think it's less stressful than driving--you'd be at the end of rush hour, but if you take Uber and there's an accident on the road, it could end up taking much longer than expected.
posted by pinochiette at 5:39 AM on May 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

Last time we were in SF, we used Wingz to get to SFO. They only run to/from SFO. We'd definitely use them again.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:45 AM on May 9, 2019

Response by poster: Well that's settled. BART it is! For an 11:30 a.m. flight, how early should we realistically plan to be at SFO? Will the airport be packed by that point?

Wingz looks interesting, but their web site isn't being helpful at the moment.
posted by emelenjr at 5:52 AM on May 9, 2019

You should be there at 9AM latest. Precheck means you can likely do 10, but be on the safe side and be there early. SFO is reasonably efficient and there’s stuff to look at and do if you’re very early.
posted by blnkfrnk at 6:35 AM on May 9, 2019

You can treat SFO the same as any other major airport—it’s not more or less crowded. So whatever you usually do for a domestic flight will be fine. Depending on your terminal, the food options are better than the norm, so if you go on the early side you’ll have plenty to occupy your time.
posted by sallybrown at 6:59 AM on May 9, 2019

BART. Delta is in Terminal 1. Go thru security and grab breakfast/brunch at Little Skillet (which is what I am doing right now as I wait for my Delta flight).

By Delores park: Brave the lines for Tartine bakery. Stop in BiRite. Delfina Pizza for lunch or splash out a bit at Delfina for dinner. Wander down Valencia for the full gentrification version of SF. Walk down Mission to see glimpses of what it was...

Have a great visit.
posted by jenquat at 7:36 AM on May 9, 2019

Gonna give conflicting advice but I live in SF near Dolores Park. I'd take Lyft. If traffic is typical for Friday late morning there will be no slow-down, so it will take ~20 minutes door to door. I'd consider leaving as late as 10am for a domestic flight, but then I'd panic and probably leave at 9:30 instead.
posted by Nelson at 7:52 AM on May 9, 2019 [3 favorites]

The problem with BART is that it dumps you at the International Terminal, so if you're flying domestically you need to take the Airtrain, which adds another 10-15 minutes.

For an 11:30am flight, there's no way I'd try to be at SFO by 9. Craziness. You'll be sitting next to the gate for two hours. If you take Lyft, I'd try to be dropped at your terminal around 10:30; if you take BART, I'd try to be there by 10:15.
posted by crazy with stars at 8:23 AM on May 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

If you want to minimize time at the airport, I wouldn't arrive before 10, even if checking bags. If I had no bags, kids, or mobility issues I would probably plan to get a train that arrived at 10:30. (I feel like I should add here that, knock on wood, I've never missed a flight due to my lateness.) Just get your BART ticket or Clipper card bought beforehand, the machines aren't too confusing but nothing is worse than having to rush and screwing up your ticket. The security lines can be long compared to other airports, but never more than 45 minutes to the gate in the worst case, and the AirTrain runs all the time. The thing is, though, SFO is one of the the best airports out there for spending time in. They have a full-time museum curator who does really incredible exhibits of Americana and ephemera, or Chinese pottery, all kinds of stuff. The restaurants are almost all local, and the quality is way above what you'd expect from a generic airport eatery, especially in the international terminal. So you could go as early as others are recommending and plan to spend some time browsing the exhibits or getting some dim sum from Koi Express.
posted by wnissen at 9:45 AM on May 9, 2019

If you do take BART, get the BART to Airport app, and you'll get a 25% discount on group trips to, well, the airport. It's a new thing they're testing out because everyone complained that BART to the airport for a couple people costs as much as Lyft.

BART's not horribly unreliable, but I'd check the status of the system on the bart.gov website before you leave, so you can opt for a car if transit is a mess.
posted by zachlipton at 10:41 AM on May 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

The transit website, 511.org, will give you a sense of how long the trip will take and what it will cost.
posted by vunder at 12:41 PM on May 9, 2019

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