San Francisco Rental Car: Everything You Need to Know & Top Destinations

Are you looking for tips for a San Francisco rental car? You will find several car rental companies near Union Square, downtown SF and Fisherman's Wharf.

If you plan to use your car for your entire visit, you can also pick one up at SFO when you arrive. Airport car rentals usually have an additional pick up fee included, but it's a convenient option if you need a car for your entire stay.

San Francisco Rental Car Popular Locations

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San Francisco Rental Car: SFO Tips

This is a great option for those needing a vehicle for their entire trip. If you are staying outside of SF or planning on driving daily, this is the easiest way to get your San Francisco rental car.

All of the major rental companies including Alamo, Dollar, Enterprise, Hertz and Thrifty have rental cars available at SFO. The Rental Center is open 24 hours a day - so you can pick up yours at any time.

To ensure the vehicle you want is available, I always recommend booking in advance. This simplifies the process once you arrive and also allows you to get the right one at the best price possible.

Once you arrive at SFO, you'll want to find the signs for the AirTrain Blue Line Train. This is the train that will take you over to the SFO Rental Center. This train also runs 24 hours a day, so you can always easily reach it.

This is the only San Francisco rental car places that is open 24-hours a day. If you plan to rent a car and need to return it at an off hour, then make sure to rent your car from SFO.

>> More tips to get from SFO to Union Square

>> More transit options from SFO to Fisherman's Wharf

San Francisco Rental Car Tips & Locations

If you only need a San Francisco rental car for a day or two, you can also rent from an agency in the city. This way, you won't have to worry about parking or paying for it for your entire trip.

Many agencies in the city offer 24-hour rentals. If you pick it up at 9am, then you are to return it before 9am the next day.

I've often found that most people want to pick it up in the morning and then return it that same night. A word of caution on this is that most rental car agencies in the city close at around 6pm or 7pm. Some close even earlier on Sundays (sometimes around 3pm).

This often doesn't give you enough time to explore outside of SF and be back in time to return your car.

Before booking, confirm the time the agency closes so you can plan around it. If they happen to close too early, ask around to the other agencies or make a plan to keep your car overnight in the city.

Rental Car Companies Near Union Square

You will find four San Francisco rental car companies near Union Square. Here is where you will find them.

Hertz, Westin St. Francis: Right across the street from Union Square, you will find a Hertz location. It's inside the Westin St. Francis at 335 Powell Street. This location is only open from 7am to 3pm daily.

Hertz: Just a few blocks away, you will find a second Hertz location. This one is at 325 Mason Street and is open daily from 6am to 6pm.

Thrifty Car Rental: About three blocks away from Union Square is another San Francisco rental car agency, Thrifty. They are at 350 O'Farrel Street and are open daily from 7am to 6pm.

Enterprise Rental Car: About four blocks away and is located at 233 Ellis Street. They are open daily from 8am to 5pm.

Rental Cars Near Downtown

In addition to the list above, there is also one San Francisco rental car company closer to the downtown/Financial district.

Budget Car Rental: You will find them at 5 The Embarcadero. They are open on Monday - Friday from 7:30pm to 5pm and on Saturday and Sunday they are only open from 8am to 1pm.

San Francisco Rental Car: Fisherman's Wharf

You will also find a handful of San Francisco rental car companies in Fisherman's Wharf.

Enterprise: They are located at 350 Beach Street in the heart of the district. They are open from 7am to 5pm on Monday & Friday, from 7am to 3pm on Tues, Weds, & Thurs, and from 7am to 1pm on Saturday and Sunday.

Hertz & Avis: They are inside Anchorage Square at 500 Beach Street. Their hours are Monday - Friday from 7am to 5pm and on the weekends from 8am to 12pm.

Distance from SF to Popular Locations

Most likely, it will be easier to use public transportation instead of a rental car if you are only staying inside the city limits of San Francisco. However, renting a car in SF is a good option if you plan to head outside the city and explore some of the Bay Area and Northern California's best attractions and cities.

Here are just a few details to help you get started on your plans for some of the best destinations.

SF to Muir Woods: Muir Woods is about a 45-minute drive north of San Francisco. It's a beautiful drive over the Golden Gate Bridge and along a scenic windy road. They now require parking reservations, so make sure to get yours in advance of renting your car in SF.

SF to Napa Valley: One of the most popular destinations for those reserving a San Francisco rental car is Napa Valley. This lovely Northern California wine region is about an hour to an hour and a half away from SF.

SF to Monterey: You can also book a San Francisco rental car to drive down the coast to visit Monterey. This cute waterfront town is about two hours away. If you plan to take Highway 1, it will take about 2.5 to 3 hours.

SF to Yosemite: Yosemite is another easy drive from San Francisco. This one is a bit further and takes about 4 to 5 hours depending on which section of the park you plan to visit.

SF to Lake Tahoe: Lake Tahoe is also within driving distance from San Francisco. The drive here takes about 3.5 to 4 hours. Make sure to avoid traveling on Friday afternoon or Sunday afternoon during ski season as the traffic is terrible during those times.

You can also book a San Francisco rental car for a longer-term drive. You will encounter additional fees if you plan to drop the car off at one of these locations vs. driving it back to the original pick up location in San Francisco.

SF to Los Angeles: Driving to Los Angeles takes about 6 to 7 hours. This will depend on which part of LA you plan to visit, so allow for more time if you plan to visit places in central or southern LA.

SF to Las Vegas: You can also head over to Las Vegas by car. This is a much longer drive, but it's possible to get there is just one day. It will often take about 8.5 to 10 hours to get to Las Vegas.

SF to Portland: Driving from SF to Portland is another option if you want to see more of Northern California and Oregon. The drive here takes about 10 to 11 hours.

San Francisco Parking

One of the biggest considerations before booking your San Francisco rental car is parking. The parking here is difficult and expensive. Make sure you know where you are parking your vehicle and how much it will cost you each night before you arrive.

Some hotels will charge more than $50 to $70 a night for you to park in their parking garage. Street parking is not an option near most hotels, since you face both parking meters and early morning street cleaning.

My recommendation is to talk to your hotel first. Once you know their nightly price, then ask if there are any other garages nearby that are cheaper. If the cost is completely outrageous (which it probably will be!), then consider just getting your car for a day or two at one of the locations in SF mentioned above.

>> More about SF parking

Renting a Car Without a Credit Card

Is it possible to rent a car in San Francisco without a credit card? Yes, you can rent a car with just your debit card. Here are some of the requirements local companies usually request if you are paying with a debit card.

  • Must be 25 or older with 2 forms of ID
  • Debit card will be pre-approved for the estimated total of the rental
  • Proof of income, water bill, electricity bill and the renters name + address must match IDs
  • Proof of travel plans that coincide with car rental (for example flight leaves after return or cruise ship leaves dock after rental car return)
  • Debit card has been pre-approved by car rental company and is already tied to your account

Please double check the requirements for the company you book through to ensure you have everything they request.

Other Ways to Get Around

What are your other options for getting around the city? If a San Francisco rental car is going to be too much of a hassle, then check out some of these other transit options.

Public Transportation

The public transportation system in SF is easy to use. You can choose from the cable cars, street cars, trains and buses. You can quickly access most major attractions by using some form of San Francisco public transportation.

Learn More: Public Transportation

Hop On/Hop Off Bus Tours

When I visit a new city, I love doing the Hop On/Hop Off Bus Tour. This is a one- or two-day tour that takes you past all the top San Francisco attractions.

You can hop off at any of the 20+ stops, visit the attraction and then hop back on the bus to head to your next destination. It's a great way to get familiar with the city quickly and easily get around to some of the main attractions.

More Info & Booking Details: Hop On/Hop Off Bus Tour


Another great way to avoid having to get a San Francisco rental car is by using taxis. The city is full of taxis and they are easy to get on almost any corner throughout the city (unless you are on the far western side).

They can be expensive if you are going long distances, but are perfect for shorter trips in and around Union Square, North Beach, Chinatown and/or Fisherman's Wharf.

Learn More: Tips for Taking Taxis in SF

Additional Pages You Might Enjoy

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