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    Car hire in San Francisco - The Heart of California

    One of the most glittering jewels in California's exuberant tourism crown, San Francisco makes full use of its prime location on the United State's Pacific coast. Set on seven steep hills, it boasts one of the most stable climates of any American city, making it the perfect place to visit at any time of the year. The city bulges with must-see attractions, most notably the Golden Gate Bridge, the most iconic construction of its kind on the planet. Additionally, there are dozens of first-class museums (don't miss SFMOMA, De Young, Asian and the Legion of Honor) plus the thrill of taking a ride on one of the city's world-famous cable cars. After a day or two of city culture, why not take a boat over to Alcatraz, the high security prison that held many notorious criminals captive over the years, including Chicago mobster Al Capone, Robert Franklin Stroud (aka the Birdman of Alcatraz) and high-profile gangster George 'Machine Gun' Kelly.

    Visitors to San Francicso are spoilt for choice when it comes to exploring the city. They can begin by discovering the vibrant North Beach area (famed for its Italian restaurants) or by spending a few hours discovering Chinatown, the largest district of its kind in the USA. At night, most people head for the Mission neighbourhood for some fun-filled bar-hopping and/or night-clubbing. With a car hire in San Francisco there's also the whole of California to explore, perhaps starting with an exciting drive down the Pacific Coast Highway which connects the city with San Diego near the Mexican border. Other interesting road-trip options include the charming seaside town of Santa Cruz (about a 90-minute drive south of the city) and Lake Tahoe in the Sierra Nevada Mountains about 150 miles to the north-east. For the more adventurous, Los Angeles lies 381 miles south-east of San Francisco, which can be achieved in about 6 hours non-stop.

    Auto Europe only works with the best car hire companies and our long-lasting relationship with these well-established suppliers allows us to offer rates much lower than you would be able to book directly or find anywhere else on the Internet. In addition to guaranteeing the very best car hire deals, we also offer regualr special offers so why not take advantage of Auto Europe’s regular promotions ranging from weekend specials to free additional drivers and complimentary GPS. If you need any help booking your next low-cost car rental in San Francisco, our rental specialists are on hand to give you the best advice for your trip. So if you have any questions or need help of any kind whilst planning your travel itinerary, then please don’t hesitate to give them a call on +44 123 3225 114. Before that, please check out the user ratings and comments posted by some of Auto Europe's previous customers on our San Francisco car hire reviews.

    How is the traffic in San Francisco?

    With around 50 square-miles of streets (many of them steep), extensive boulevards and hidden alleyways, San Francisco is a fun, very unique and occasionally scary place to drive! As with any large American city, the traffic peaks in the morning and evening rush-hours when the going can get a bit slow. It's best to avoid driving your cheap car hire in San Francisco in busy areas like the Golden Gate Bridge at these times on weekdays. It's difficult to resist driving across the bridge, which connects the north end of San Francisco to the south end of Marin County (gateway to Northern California), so our advice is to leave it until the weekend when most of the offices are closed. From the city, you can access the Golden Gate Bridge from the Presidio, Richmond and Marina areas. It won't take you long to realise that the city has many roads with steep inclines in and around the downtown area and there are a lot of one-way streets, so please pay special attention to road signs to make sure that you are always travelling in the right direction. Pedestrians generally have the right of way in San Francisco and you should always keep an eye out for bicycles because despite the hills, it's a popular city for cycling. Please note that you can't turn left on many of San Francisco's main streets, including Market Street and 19th Avenue, so make sue you plan your route carefully to avoid driving for miles without being able to turn off.

    Where can I park my car hire in San Francisco?

    Despite its steep hills, San Francisco caters for drivers with car parks and on-street parking spaces all over the city. When parking on a hill, it's important to apply the hand-brake and turn the steering wheel with a manoeuvre known as 'curbing your wheels' so that the car will roll into the sidewalk instead of the street if the brakes give out. This means that when your car is parked facing uphill, it's best to turn the wheels towards the street or towards the curb when facing downhill. Failure to do this means that your car might be at risk of rolling downhill, which is against the law and subject to a hefty fine. For on-street parking, please pay attention to the street signs as well as any red-painted curbs which indicate no parking. San Francisco's car parks are a good bet for visitors planning to spend the entire day in the city centre. For Union Square, try the Sutter-Stockton Garage at 444 Stockton Street which has around 2,000 spaces and for downtown head for the Yerba Buena Garage at 833 Mission Street which is well organised and has more than 2,500 spaces.

    San Francisco Airport

    Located just 13 miles south of the city centre, San Francisco International Airport is the largest airport in the region and the second busiest in California after Los Angeles (LAX). From its humble beginnings in 1927 (when it first opened), the airport has grown into a major air transportation hub for the international travel industry, catering for 230,000 flights and over 16 million passengers each year. Along with four modern terminals (1, 2, 3 and International), the airport features an extensive range of on-site services and facilities, including a museum, an airport butler service, car wash, first-aid centre and dozens of shops and restaurants.

    San Francisco International Airport (SFO)
    Telephone: +001 650 821 8211
    Address: N McDonnell Rd, San Francisco, California 94128, USA

    What to do in San Francisco

    San Francisco's densely-built downtown area is the first port of call for most first-time visitors. Much of the main tourist activity revolves around Union Square where many of the most prestigious hotels, shops and restaurants are located, with Chinatown another must for anyone looking for a taste of the real San Francisco.

    • Golden Gate Bridge: One of the world's most photographed structures, the city's famous Golden Gate Bridge connects the city with Marin County and other important districts further north. Visitors can walk across it or you can rent a car in San Francisco and drive across for the thrill of a lifetime! Spanning almost two miles, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world when it was inaugurated in 1937 and today it still stands as an iconic feat of engineering.

    • Alcatraz: Located on an island in San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz Prison attracts visitors from all four corners of the world, who are mostly drawn by its spectacular setting and the notoriety of some of its famous inmates. Now a major tourist attraction, this former maximum security federal penitentiary held mob leader Al Capone, Robert (Birdman of Alcatraz) Franklin Stroud and gangster George 'Machine Gun' Kelly, as well as some others who actually managed to escape and were never found!

    • Cable Cars: San Francisco's famous cable cars are a great way to experience the essence of this magnificent city, some of which were originally put into service in 1873 and have been running ever since. Historic and highly efficient, they will get you around some of the most popular tourist districts, passing many top attractions such as the Ferry Building, Nob Hill, Fisherman's Wharf, Lombard Street and Ghirardelli Square.

    • Golden Gate Park: On a warm sunny day, there's no better place to spend a few hours than Golden Gate Park, a large urban area covering more than 1,000 acres of woods and gardens. There's much to see besides the plants, trees, lakes, paths and buffalo paddock, including the California Academy of Sciences (incorporating the renowned Steinhart Aquarium), De Young Museum, Japanese Tea Garden and the San Francisco Botanical Garden.

    • Chinatown: The oldest in the USA and the largest outside of Asia, San Francisco's Chinatown is an exotic labyrinth of oriental shops, teahouses, chemists promoting natural remedies, antique stores, temples and theatres. Don't worry if you can't get there for the city's famous Chinese New Year celebrations because any day of the year is good for a relaxing stroll through its many streets followed by a delicious meal in its numerous restaurants.

    • San Francisco Museum of Modern Art: With over 170,000 square-feet of exhibition space, the excellent San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) on Third Street is one of the largest museums of modern and contemporary art in the USA. Its vast collection covers painting, sculpture, photography, architecture, design and media arts with important works by a range of artists, incuding Henri Matisse, Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, Jean Metzinger, Paul Klee, Marcel Duchamp, Andy Warhol and Jackson Pollock, among many others.

    Best day trips with my car rental in San Francisco

    With its prime position on the Pacific Ocean, San Francisco is absolutely bursting with road-trip potential, and you can experience most of the following suggestions in just a day. Few visitors can resist the thrill of driving down the Pacific Coast Highway to see some of the most stunning seascapes anywhere in the world. Heading inland is equally enticing, with many idyllic towns and villages reachable within an hour or two with a low-cost car hire in San Francisco.


    Different from other parts of California, the beautiful Monterey Peninsula is a couple of hours' drive from San Francisco but well worth the effort. The atmosphere is relaxed and the vistas along the coastline are spectacular. With an abundance of natural attractions, wonderful beaches and superb seafood restaurants, Monterey is the perfect destination to recharge your batteries once all the city sightseeing in San Francisco is done.

    Santa Cruz

    Located about 75 miles south of San Francisco, the laid-back seaside town of Santa Cruz offers visitor a nice contrast to the hustle and bustle of the big city. A nice long walk along the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is the ideal way to build up an appetite before a pleasant meal al fresco at one of the many seafront restaurants serving hearty Californian cuisine.

    Napa Valley

    Just 50 miles north of San Francisco lies the Napa Valley, a wine region par excellence with over 400 wine estates producing some of the best Californian wines. A drive around this enchanting region and dropping in on the wineries to taste and buy their magnificent wines will definitely be one of the highlights of your trip. Don't miss the chance to take a ride on the famous Napa Valley Wine Train which travels to nearby St Helena and back, snaking through majestic hills and vineyards en route.


    Capital of California, Sacramento is a charming city with a wealth of attractions for young and old alike. A particular favourite is the Crocker Art Museum which houses one of the state's premier art collections with a fine display of American works dating from the Gold Rush to the present. With over 200 parks to enjoy and two rivers running through it, the city has lots of outdoor appeal along with one of the most temperate climates in the United States.

    Los Angeles

    Home to Hollywood, the hub of the world's movie industry, Los Angeles needs no introduction and all its unique attractions are within striking distance of San Francisco. It takes a few hours to get there but the journey down the Pacific Coast Highway is as exhilarating as the more famous Route 66. Take a drive around Beverly Hills before spending a few hours at Universal Studios, arguably the best theme park in town.

    How to get around San Francisco

    Despite being a large city, San Francisco is one of the easiest places to travel around. Compact and well organised, it has plenty of transport options, including the world-famous cable cars, so why not park your car rental in San Francisco for a few hours and explore the city by public transport.


    The city's main bus terminal is located at the Salesforce Transit Center where several companies operate, including Greyhound, AC Transit, Golden Gate Transit, MUNI and WestCat Lynx. Routes operated by SamTrans and Capitol Corridor/Amtrak Thruway terminate at Fremont and Mission St.

    Cable Cars

    San Francisco's iconic cable cars run on three lines in the steep streets between Market Street and Fisherman's Wharf, as well as the north-south Powell-Mason and Powell-Hyde lines and the east-west California Street line.

    Electric Train

    The Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system is an all-electric train service offering a rapid, cheap and very dependable way of getting around the city and travelling to and from San Francisco International Airport. It operates in five counties (San Francisco, San Mateo, Alameda, Contra Costa and Santa Clara) with over 130 miles of track and more than 50 stations,

    Muni Metro

    The popular Muni Metro system is a modern light railway and underground system that connects many of San Francisco's southern and western neighbourhoods to downtown, along with regular connections to the BART and Caltrain networks.


    Besides the AMTRAC high-speed intercity services, two regional rail systems serve San Francisco, operated by local transport provider Caltrain. Its busiest route is from San Jose to its San Francisco terminal at Fourth and King in SoMa, although other lines serves Silicon Valley, South Bay and other destinations on the Peninsula.


    San Francisco's spectacular cityscape is best appreciated from the water. Several ferries run to San Francisco from Tiburon, Larkspur and Sausalito in Marin County, from Vallejo in Solano County and from Oakland, Alameda and Richmond in East Bay. The boats dock at one or both of the city's two main ferry terminals at Fisherman's Wharf and the Ferry Building, the later of which is in close proximity to the Amtrak San Francisco bus stop and Embarcadero Station where BART trains stop.

    Can I hire a campervan in San Francisco?

    One of the most popular forms of travel in the San Francisco area is by motorhome, which is something that Auto Europe is also proud to offer. With a campervan hire in San Francisco you can drive your very own hotel on wheels around the city and rest of California for a memorable self-drive holiday. Follow the link for more inspiring tips on San Francisco with lots of practical information about renting a campervan in San Francisco.

    Useful links

    San Francisco Tourist Information