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Jill's Travel Blog

Flying to the California Bay Area ‐ San Francisco (SFO), Oakland (OAK), or San Jose (SJC)?

April 3, 2015

If you’re heading to the San Francisco Bay Area one of the benefits of this destination is that there are three international airports in close proximity: San Francisco (SFO), Oakland (OAK), and San Jose (SJC). In today’s blog I’ll be outlining the pros and cons of each one.

San Francisco Intl (SFO) is the largest airport of the three and is consistently in the top ten for busiest US airports. If you are flying international this airport offers the most choices, and usually the most competitive prices. They remodeled this terminal a couple years ago and it’s pretty posh. San Francisco Intl is also a major hub for United Airlines. Downsides to this airport include the long haul to get to the rental car terminal (you are forced to take a train), and the fact there are only two major runways and one is shut down at night or in bad weather (fog is common), which can result in delays. Located midway up the peninsula, it’s also not all that close to San Francisco proper, but there are both shuttle services and mass transit choices (BART or Caltrain) onsite. If you plan to drive to or from here just note that traffic in either direction on 101 going by the airport is pretty murderous at rush hour. The domestic terminals are also a bit dated and only one has a food court. If you’re taking a red-eye I suggest you bring your own food as there are not many options, if any, late at night.

Located in the east bay, Oakland Intl (OAK) is the smallest airport of the three, and tends to service more domestic traffic and lower cost airlines. It just got a lot more appealing in my book when they finally put a BART station at the airport ‐ previously you had to take a short bus ride from a different BART station which was a real pain. For those of you not from the area, BART is one of two major mass transit train systems and can take you directly into the city of San Francisco from Oakland. The terminals and airport infrastructure itself is quite small and fairly old, but the rental cars are not too far away. Hopefully they have improved their WiFi since last time I went through, but it was comfortable enough and if the price is right, I do use this airport.

The final airport on our list is San Jose Intl (SJC) which is located in the south bay. This airport got a major overhaul on its main terminal building a couple years ago and it’s gorgeous. The new terminal is also very comfortable, and has many choices for food and other sundry items. The only thing that would make it even better is a moving walkway ‐ the terminal building is quite long and if your gate is at the end I hope you like walking. While there are several airlines using this space, the largest tenant is Southwest. American Airlines also has a fairly large presence, but they mainly fly out of the older terminal. When the new terminal was built they moved the rental cars to an area adjacent to both terminals and it is very convenient and easy to find. If you are driving to or from this airport it’s no problem, but if you are trying to get here on mass transit it is trickier. You have to take Caltrain to the Santa Clara station and then board a free bus for the short ride to the airport. The bus runs very regularly so timing is not usually the issue, it just adds logistical complexity.

In summary, my recommendation is to use SFO for any international travel, SJC for domestic, and OAK if you need to be in the east bay or if it is less expensive than the others.

Have a safe flight!