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San Francisco is an iconic city in Northern California known for its world-class arts scene, stunning bay area, mix of architectural styles and fabulous dining. It’s also a great location for visiting nearby destinations by hire car such as Oakland,Fremont and San Jose.
If you’re arriving via San Francisco International Airport then it’s a 15-mile drive by rental car to San Francisco city centre. En route, you could take a detour to South Beach Harbour Marina which offers amazing views of the city’s skyline. If you’re arriving via Oakland International Airport, then it’s a 22-mile journey by hire car. On the way you could take a detour to visit Anthony Chabot Regional Park, a massive 3,314-acre park.
Finding a hire car in San Francisco is simple. You can rent a car from a range of providers at San Francisco International Airport, Oakland International Airport and in the city itself. San Francisco also has a number of parking facilities such as 55 Francisco Parking, Best Parking LLC and Ellis-O’Farrell Garage. The city also has many hotels to suit a range of budgets, including Parc 55 San Francisco Hilton, Hotel Whitcomb and Civic Center Inn. Many hotels also offer free parking so do check before booking.
There are various hire car providers to suit your budget and preferences, including Alamo, Dollar and Thrifty. Many offer extras like free cancellation, unlimited mileage and zero excess collision cover.
There are plenty of wonderful sights to see by hire car in San Francisco. Highlights include the art-deco Golden Gate Bridge, the shopping and dining hub of Union Square and the historic Alcatraz prison, which is open for tours. San Francisco is also famed for being a counterculture hotspot, so don’t forget to visit the iconic City Lights bookstore, home of the 1950s beat scene, and the legendary Golden Gate Park in Haight-Ashbury, famous for being one of the central sites of the 1960s ‘flower power’ movement. Other highlights to visit by rental car in San Francisco include Chinatown, Fisherman’s Wharf, the Exploratorium science museum and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
Eden Landing Ecological Reserve is a 30-mile drive away by hire car from San Francisco. Situated on the east shore of San Francisco Bay, the reserve is a conservation area of salt ponds and marshes that’s home to many different species of bird. It’s a wonderful, idyllic space to spend some time exploring nature.
San Jose, in the Santa Clara Valley, is a 57-mile drive away by rental car and is the thriving hub of the Silicon Valley tech region. Highlights of the city include the 19th century Cathedral Basilica of St Joseph, the San Jose Museum of Art, which celebrates the work of west coast American artists, and the massive San Jose City Hall, which includes an 18-storey tower. For a quirkier attraction, the Winchester Mystery House is a 19th century mansion built by an eccentric heiress. The house has 161 rooms and many odd features, including a ‘stairway to nowhere’.
Due to its amazing architecture, stunning coastline and sunny climate, San Francisco is wonderful to explore by hire car. Bear in mind that in California, pedestrians always have right of way. The US is right-hand drive and remember to keep an eye on your mirror, as drivers don’t always indicate a direction change. Every state has different driving laws, so make sure you familiarise yourself with the California ones before your visit.
Feeling inspired to explore San Francisco and the rest of California? Check out this City Guide and use the Expedia search tool to help you find the best car hire, flight and hotel deals and to research the best attractions and activities.
San Francisco has its own international airport, which is about 30 minutes by car from the city centre. If you are coming into the city via this airport, you will find it easy to pick up your rental vehicle here. Several car hire agencies operate at the airport, including Budget, Avis and Thrifty; for more convenience, book your vehicle in advance, which you can do by using the Expedia search tool.
You should also find it straightforward to hire a car at the nearby airports of Oakland International and Mineta San José International, although the drive from these will take longer.
If it’s inconvenient for you to hire a car at the airport, it might suit you to pick up your rental vehicle once you have arrived in the city. You’ll find many of the city’s car rental agencies located in the northeast, close to popular tourist attractions such as Union Square and Chinatown. Hiring a car in San Francisco city centre can be wise if you only require a vehicle for a few days, or if you are moving on elsewhere instead of returning to the airport.
Having a car in San Francisco gives you the freedom to explore the city at your own pace, get out to remote attractions, and take day trips to neighbouring cities and towns. Just bear in mind that since San Francisco is a busy city built on steep hillsides, there can be traffic and the roads can sometimes be tricky to navigate.
It can be a good idea to book accommodation that provides you with a parking space for the entirety of your trip, too, and spare yourself the trouble of looking for a parking space in the city. When you aren’t using your vehicle, you can hop on the city’s public transport network.
There are numerous attractions to keep you busy while you’re in San Francisco, the most famous being the Golden Gate Bridge, which connects the city with the beautiful Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Alcatraz Island, home to a historic former prison, is also a big hit with tourists and there are various ferries that will take you to this attraction (so you don't have to swim there, you'll be pleased to hear!). To make the most of your rental vehicle, though, drive south to San Pedro Valley Park (a 30-minute journey by car) or east to the vibrant city of Oakland.