What to do with ourselves at midnight in SFO?
February 21, 2022 4:23 AM   Subscribe

After 22 hours of travel, we'll be landing in SFO at midnight in late April. What's our best option for getting our tired bums into beds safely?

I'm currently thinking that we should book a hotel for two nights somewhere nearish the airport (and also nearish a BART station, for ease and fun) and take a taxi there? Is this the best option? Where's safe, where's not safe? I want to make this easy and thinkless as possible for our future selves as we adjust to time zones and not sleeping.
posted by iamkimiam to Travel & Transportation around San Francisco, CA (30 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Any name-brand airport hotel is in a safe location. Most have shuttles although some are on demand or not available late. The Grand Hyatt is on the AirTrain which connects to BART - but expensive. Use Uber or Lyft rather than a cab - SFO taxis cost more and their drivers struggle to find destinations. Regardless of what car service or shuttle, you have to be precise because many major brands have two or three “airport” hotels.
posted by MattD at 4:51 AM on February 21


Why two nights? You can usually check out at noon, or add a couple hours for a nominal fee.0
posted by sandmanwv at 5:10 AM on February 21 [3 favorites]


I recommend the Grand Hyatt if you're looking for maximum convenience. They are on the airport property and super easy to get to. They also do day rates so you can check out at, say, 4pm and pay extra to do so if you want to, or of course you can do two nights. That will keep you from having to deal with a taxi.

They're also really a nice place and very COVID conscious, I felt very safe and happy there.

But yes, they're $$$ for sure. When I was there I figured it wasn't all that much more after factoring in cab rides to another place, but if you need two rooms, I would be a bit more hesitant.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 5:29 AM on February 21


I'm confused. Are you not staying in a hotel while in San Francisco? Will that hotel be different than the one you want to go to the night your flight arrives? Because the answer to your question is "take a cab or uber or lyft to your hotel". But it seems like there's more to your itinerary.
posted by jonathanhughes at 5:29 AM on February 21 [2 favorites]


I can't advise on your hotel choice near the airport (because I would rather stay in San Francisco than near the airport if I were there for two nights), but yes, when you leave the airport after a post-midnight arrival I tend to follow the signs for ground transportation/taxi pickup because it puts you right out into a line of waiting cabs. If you'd prefer to Lyft/Uber, that's just as fine but in all my years as a business traveler based in SF the walk out of the terminals into the taxi line was my guaranteed fastest trip out of the airport and on my way home.

If you do want to stay in a hotel in SF, instead of near the airport, I always had people stay at BEI. It's at Market and 8th so it can look scary but it's fine, and it's well-connected via BART and Muni for getting around... if that's what you're hoping to do while passing the time on your two overnights? By taxi, it's only about 15 minutes from SFO at that time of night.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 6:12 AM on February 21 [2 favorites]


Response by poster: Thanks for the helpful responses so far. Here are some answers to the questions posed:

We're thinking at least two night minimums for everywhere we stay in the US so that we're not constantly worrying about chucking luggage around or having to deal with logistics — gives us a nice full day of worry-free enjoyment in between places. And especially so for this first bit, given that we won't get into a hotel until about 1am — it'd be so annoying to have to check out 9 hours later and go sort a new place to stay on our first day. After our second night in SF, we'll be heading back to the airport to pick up a rental car; we're not staying in hotels for most the rest of the trip.

I guess what I'm really asking is where is there a budget hotel near SFO that is both safe and close to a BART station too? From the responses so far, getting a taxi from SFO at night won't be a problem, so that's good (love the Uber or Lyft tip but I don't think our WiFi and tiredness will be amendable to sorting that out at that hour). The Grand Hyatt is waaaay out of our budget.
posted by iamkimiam at 6:15 AM on February 21


The BART stations near the airport, while safe enough, are really not very fun neighborhoods to stay in, so if you want to have a day to see the city, I wouldn’t do it that way. The SF airport is really quite far outside SF proper.

If it’s in your budget, I’d highly recommend instead picking a hotel in a fun neighborhood in SF and taking Uber/Lyft there from the airport.
posted by mekily at 6:30 AM on February 21 [7 favorites]


Thanks for clarifying! What, for you, is a "budget" hotel in terms of price? I can give some suggestions from there.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 6:37 AM on February 21 [1 favorite]


The hotels around around SFO are mostly there to support SFO and the business travelers who are then going to go about to the rest of Silicon Valley. It really feels like a corporate park in more respects, with close access to SFO. I think if you just picked really any national brand hotel in your budget close to SFO, with a bus to/from SFO, you will be more than fine. SFO has a direct connection to the Bart, so if you can get to SFO easily, you'll be able to get on the Bart from the hotel easily.

Pre-pandemic times, there was a lot of business travel to/from the Bay Area. Combined with the fact that traffic on the 101 (the main highway that connects SF to San Jose) and basically all the major corporations, and you can see why there are so many hotels near the airport.
posted by ellerhodes at 6:38 AM on February 21


Also, without knowing your budget, I like the Club Quarters hotel in the Embarcadero. It's pretty reasonably priced for SF, I think would be around $150 a night per room at that time of year. It's a quick cab ride from the airport but it's in SF proper. If that's too pricey (understandable!) let us know.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 6:43 AM on February 21 [1 favorite]


Oh and just to add to the recommendation -- I've stayed at the Club Quarters Embarcadero recently and it's very clean and comfortable. Nice, practical, affordable place to stay and about 15 minutes from the airport at that time of night. You can also get a room with a kitchenette and a pullout sofa which would be really well-priced if there are 4 of you. The kitchenette means you can self-cater which I find super helpful when I'm trying to stick to a budget. (You can walk to a Safeway from there.) There are also a lot of restaurants and little coffee shops in that area, and really easy transit access.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 6:53 AM on February 21


The Grand Hyatt is waaaay out of our budget

Bay area hotels are all, almost as a rule, eye-wateringly expensive. There's a reason AirBNB started in that part of the country, so if you're not opposed to it I would encourage you to check out home rental options. THat opens up much more of what you can do in terms of fun-near-BART (my old neighborhood, Bernal Heights, is in SF and also right off the 101 freeway for ease of airport access... and is an incredible neighborhood to visit).

The San Remo hotel in SF is as budget as I can recommend, and I love the place but it's not for everyone (it's a very old-fashones place, and most of the rooms share bathrooms with the floor). But if you want an authentic old-school experience there you go.

Again I realize I'm not helping you with recommendations in the immediate SFO vicinity. Surely someone will chime in with South San Francisco etc. suggestions for you.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 6:57 AM on February 21 [3 favorites]


Just responding to your update - The few times I've been in SFO the Uber was much easier than a cab - I would reconsider that. Setup the app with your credit card details and hotel before you leave, and then all you need it to literally click a button or two. WIFI is everywhere. There's a really clear area in which to catch the Uber at the airport (or at least there was pre-covid).
posted by cgg at 7:43 AM on February 21 [2 favorites]


I did a google search on google maps for motels near SFO bart and a second one for motels near Millbrae Bart. There are several motels in the area. The only thing is, I’m not sure how walkable sfo Bart is to the motels because of the actual airport, so if you are out sightseeing and go back on Bart, you still might have to cab/Uber/Lyft back to your motel from sfo Bart. It looks like there is a La Quinta, an El Rancho Suites, etc.
There is a Dylan Hotel near Millbrae bart that might be walkable. Millbrae blocks can be long.
posted by gt2 at 7:57 AM on February 21


Just responding to your update - The few times I've been in SFO the Uber was much easier than a cab - I would reconsider that. Setup the app with your credit card details and hotel before you leave, and then all you need it to literally click a button or two. WIFI is everywhere. There's a really clear area in which to catch the Uber at the airport (or at least there was pre-covid).

I fly into SFO often, at least 3 times a year, and have for about 7 years at this point, including post-covid.

Seconding that an Uber/Lyft is really easy logistically. If you have a few people, I'd suggest sending one person to see if the taxi stand has taxis in it first, as that will be the most convenient option.

If there aren't any taxis around, I'd get an Uber/Lyft.

If you have more than three people or a ton of bags, I'd really suggest planning for an Uber/Lyft because you can request an SUV specifically.

Finally, I think staying near the airport isn't worth it if you're going to need to get a taxi/Uber/Lyft anyway and you want to be able to do touristy stuff without a car. I would just stay in the city proper. SFO is pretty close to the city, but it's surrounded by a bunch of crappy freeways so it's best to just get it out of the way if you ultimately want to be in the city. There won't be traffic at night and it'll be a snap to get there.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 8:13 AM on February 21 [5 favorites]


I can't vouch for it but the Dylan Hotel gt2 mentions looks promising. It's a short ride to the airport, in a reasonable spot in Millbrae (on El Camino Real, the main commercial street), and you can walk to the BART station from there for an easy trip in to San Francisco. Or the airport, for that matter. It looks nice enough from the photos and reviews, but I've not been to it.

As a bonus the hotel is also walking distance to Peter's Cafe, one of my favorite American breakfast diners. Perfect thing for a giant morning jet lag breakfast. It's on the way to BART.

You mentioned picking up a car. If you want to spend the day in SF absolutely don't get a car; take BART in and then Muni, walk, or Uber/Lyft/taxi around. But if you want to go anywhere else in the Bay Area I'd advise you to get the car for that.
posted by Nelson at 8:24 AM on February 21 [2 favorites]


Most hotels in SF itself will be expensive, period. But even walk-in rates at any of the airport hotels will cost you, unless you are a good negotiator and ask front-desk for best rate and they're willing to give it to you. Else, you need to reserve ahead or use one of those blind bidding websites.

Near downtown... Hotel Whitcomb (formerly Ramada Plaza) is not in a great area, but just for a bed, tolerable. Not sure about rates lately, haven't been in that field in a while. Holiday Inn Civic Center is another possibility. A third is Holiday Inn Golden Gateway on Van Ness. Keep in mind that in SF car parking is always extra. Can be as much as extra $80-100 per day.
posted by kschang at 9:43 AM on February 21


it'd be so annoying to have to check out 9 hours later and go sort a new place to stay on our first day.

I disagree. When you wake up the next morning in your SFO hotel you'll realize, in the harsh light of day, that you're nowhere, and rather than annoyed you'll be eager to move on to your downtown SF hotel.
posted by Rash at 9:47 AM on February 21 [6 favorites]


Another strong recommendation for Uber/Lyft to a hotel in SF proper. I lived there for years and there is nothing walking distance from the airport hotels. Bay Area cab drivers tend to get lost and/or scam you on the regular. I’ve had them miss highway exits many times and once had one drive me about twice as far as I needed to go (and it was a walkable distance in downtown SF! I just had some very big bags with me and there was a cab in front of the store I had just walked out of so I took it). The metro area is too big for any of them to navigate it well unless they’re longtime locals, and those are few and far between.
posted by A Blue Moon at 10:23 AM on February 21 [3 favorites]


oh, sorry, I missed that someone else mentioned this. anyway, that's what I would do.

You might consider staying in Millbrae, which is a nice little town very close to the airport (I think it is the closest Bart stop). I recall, from when I looked a few months ago, that there were a couple of modest hotels right next to Bart. It is not exciting, but there are some good restaurants there (like Dim Sum!), and it is not like being in an airport hotel that is literally just on a strip of hotels. There are actual shops and things there. And you can be in central San Francisco in half an hour by Bart.

... just checked. I was thinking of the Dylan hotel, which is right next to bart.
posted by melamakarona at 10:38 AM on February 21


I got home from a trip in December too late to drive home safely and did almost exactly this. I stayed at the Courtyard by Marriott in San Bruno and it was nothing special but totally serviceable. It's close to shops and to San Bruno BART. They have a 24 hour on demand shuttle; I got in about midnight and called them, they were there within 10 minutes to drive me to the hotel.
posted by assenav at 11:11 AM on February 21


One full day and a morning before checkout are going to feel pretty short for exploring SF, but I understand how travel goes. Many cheap hotels are in the Civic Center below market or in the Tenderloin. I’d probably avoid these. The neighborhoods are central but unpleasant, and will likely feel sketchy at night (they aren’t impossible in general, just not where I’d like to be at 2am after a long flight and not where I’d choose for a short stay.) if you know what you most want to do in SF with your free day, that might make it easier to recommend a hotel.

You mentioned you’re renting a car. You can also do this from somewhere other than the airport, which as noted is a ways outside of the city.

Quick note about the car, really don’t leave things visible in your car when you’re out and about. There’s a lot of smash and grabs in our area. Luggage is particularly attractive. Not just in SF - we had all our stuff stolen out of the back of a pickup (with a cap) mid-morning in La Jolla (surrounded by 20 million dollar homes.)
posted by vunder at 11:13 AM on February 21 [3 favorites]


Basically, your options break down like so:

* Staying at an SFO-airport-area hotel/motel: closer to your plane, though you'll still need to get a taxi or other rideshare to them from the airport. They will likely have shuttles back to the airport but check with them to see if they're scheduled or on-demand and what hours they follow; you'll want to tell them you're going to the International Terminal to get to BART to go into the city. BART from here to the Embarcadero is $9.65 per person each way for a half hour 15 mile ride, so that's $40 on transportation for you and your partner (obviously more if other people are traveling with you) before you even get to getting *around* SF to do touristy things, and doesn't account for your time on the shuttle leg to your hotel/motel either.

* Staying in SF proper: further from your plane but at that time of night, once you're in the taxi you're maybe 15-20 minutes from check-in. But you won't waste time in transit back and forth on what sounds like your one and only available tourism day in SF proper; you'll be able to walk right out your hotel door whenever you wake up the next morning and experience San Francisco instead of worrying about the hurdle of transportation back and forth, even if you sleep in a bit.

* Splitting the difference: for the most part, limited options. There are no motels or cheap hotels walkable to BART along that corridor at any station between SFO and downtown SF. I've never stayed at the Dylan near Millbrae station, but given it has multiple recs above, an under $100/night price for the dates I checked, and looks like the only possibly walkable option you have without having to cross a major arterial or freeway or walk on an overpass, I'd look at this if budget is a concern. BART into the city will still take 30-35 min, but since you won't be starting/ending at the airport station, it will only be $5.05 per person each way, even though you're actually one more BART stop further out of the city.

I think it really depends on what you think you'll be up for the day after 22 hours in transit. If you just need a recovery from travel day, and seeing SF isn't important, I'd pick the Dylan at Millbrae; you've got a number of decent restaurants nearby on El Camino Real, and a cute little park next to the high school where you can walk and settle into Pacific time. I wouldn't call it walking *friendly*, El Camino Real is your typical six-lane stroad monstrosity, and you'll find yourself waiting at lights a few minutes because American Car Culture. But it's going to be a cheaper option than staying in SF proper. If, however, you really really want to see SF, and you can power through just to have this one day in SF, get the hotel in SF and don't waste time in transit back and forth.
posted by Pandora Kouti at 11:16 AM on February 21 [6 favorites]


In case you get a car I just wanted to second the warning about not leaving anything ever visible in your car in and around SF and not leaving any valuables in it. Even if you think it's in a safe place or paid parking. Break ins are very common, even in otherwise nice areas and tourist areas get hit especially hard.
posted by oneear at 1:08 PM on February 21 [2 favorites]


I like Pandora Kouti's summary of options but want to add a fourth: Stay in a hotel in downtown Oakland near the 12th Street BART station. There are a number of options, all much cheaper than central San Francisco equivalents, walkable to interesting and less touristic places to eat and snoop around, and less than fifteen minutes from San Francisco by BART.

A friend who often travels to San Francisco on business almost always stays at the Marriott City Center, but there are cheaper and equally convenient alternatives. (This adds a taxi segment across the East Bay Bridge after midnight, which is basically the only time of day to enjoy the view without being stuck in traffic.)

Edit: Car rental in downtown Oakland or at the Oakland airport will be cheaper and much easier than going all the way back to SFO.
posted by Scarf Joint at 3:04 PM on February 21


I think everybody has already covered "not leave a scrap of paper in the car visible", but this goes double for rental cars. For tax reasons, most rental fleet are titled in Arizona and hang Arizona plates. So robbers have taken to go after vehicles with out-of-state plates. SF Chronicle has a break-in tracker, and the numbers are pretty sobering, and these are just the REPORTED ones with a street address, with the filter. We're talking nearly 1500 cases in the last 30 days...
posted by kschang at 3:21 PM on February 21


Response by poster: Thanks, everyone! Think what we’ll do is get an Uber to a City Center SF hotel or AirBnB for two nights, take BART to SFO to pick up the car, drive all over CA visiting family, then back to SFO for our flight to the east coast, done!
posted by iamkimiam at 3:25 PM on February 21


Iamkimiam, the City Center Marriott I mentioned is in the city center of Oakland, not San Francisco. Make sure you can afford/stomach the equivalent near the center of San Francisco.
posted by Scarf Joint at 3:27 PM on February 21


Best answer: Given that you used to live here and know your way around the city and know what you're asking about, I think any of the airport hotels will do you just fine for jetlag management purposes, followed by picking up the rental car at SFO. If you're bored at the hotel, ping me and I'll come get you. I do think the airport hotels will be cheaper than SF but I haven't checked. Because COVID, some hotels are closed, some (like the Whitcomb referred to above) have been repurposed as shelter in place hotels for people experiencing homelessness or for first responders, and some have just gone out of business entirely. SF without tourists is a strange thing. And who knows what it will be like by then?

Don't try walking anywhere from SFO, for sure. Taxis are fine and there will be some waiting at the pickup line. Lyft is also fine. SFO has free wifi even if your phone isn't on roaming data.

And yeah, ping me! I'm happy to drive you around SF and I'd love to see you.
posted by gingerbeer at 5:12 PM on February 21 [1 favorite]


For the rental car, you can see if Kyte is an option (someone drops the rental car off at your preferred location). I've had friends who used it and thought it was fantastic. This way, you don't have to BART all the way to SFO to pick up a rental car.
posted by extramundane at 6:14 PM on February 21 [1 favorite]


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