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Getting Around San Francisco in a Rental Car

driving tips in san francisco

There is a reason the colorful City by the Bay has a reputation as one of the best cities to visit in the States. Located in northern California, the city is a canvas for its many artistic residents. With many historic neighborhoods, San Francisco also is a city that looks toward the future. Just south of the city, visitors will find Silicon Valley known as home to many of the world's biggest tech companies. VroomVroomVroom has put together a quick guide below to help you navigate your way around the city.

Where to drive your rental car in San Francisco

  • Downtown: At the heart of San Francisco's busy downtown district is the central hub of Union Square. Visitors will find shopping, dining, and accommodation in the square, with many of the city's galleries nearby.
  • Fisherman's Wharf: If you are a tourist in San Francisco, chances are you will find yourself at the bustling Fisherman's Wharf. The historic seafront area is home to sea lions and boasts a great view toward Alcatraz.
  • Presidio: Now a major recreation area just south of the Golden Gate Bridge, the Presidio was once a military post, and still is home to many historic buildings that are remnants of this time.
  • Chinatown: Pay a visit to the iconic Dragon's Gate, and explore one of the oldest Chinatown's in the USA.
  • Twin Peaks: Anyone visiting with a rental car can't miss the chance to drive to the lookout at Twin Peaks to see a fantastic panorama of the city skyline.

Driving tips in San Francisco

  • As with any big city, the traffic in San Francisco at peak times can be quite heavy. If possible, avoid driving in the city at these times. This applies for popular tourist routes like the Golden Gate Bridge. The bridge is often congested during peak times.
  • If you're not used to driving up and down hills, traveling in San Francisco will be a unique experience for you! The city has many roads with steep inclines, even in and around the downtown area. As a result, you will have to curb your wheels when parking on hills. This is required by law, to prevent your car from moving.
  • San Francisco has a lot of one-way streets. Pay attention to road signs and make sure you are always traveling in the correct direction.
  • Generally, pedestrians have the right of way in San Francisco, even at crosswalks that are not marked.
  • You are not permitted to pass any light rail vehicles on its left, or when the doors are open.

Parking in San Francisco

You should not have a problem finding parking in San Francisco. Many of the major tourist sites offer parking, and there are parking garages available in the city. Expect to pay a fee if you are planning to park at Fisherman's Wharf. Many hotels in the area offer parking, for an additional nightly charge. 

Toll roads in San Francisco

There are a number of toll roads in and around the San Francisco area. You may also have to pay a charge to cross certain bridges, including the Golden Gate Bridge and the Oakland Bay Bridge. Please note also that there are no cash booths on toll roads in San Francisco, so you need to arrange payment online after using the road. This applies for toll roads across California. 

Driving Distances

Renting a car will allow you to experience and discover some new beautiful places outside the city at your own pace. Below are some recommended day trips you can take from San Francisco.

  • San Francisco to San Jose: 1hr
  • San Francisco to Yosemite Valley: 4hr
  • San Francisco to Los Angeles: 6hr


Keep in mind that gas stations in San Francisco are few and far, so it would be a good idea to pay a little extra to be permitted to return your rental vehicle less than full at no penalty. In addition, be sure to return a full tank if you are required to bring it back full to avoid paying fuel charges. 

  • Chevron - 320 E Millbrae Ave, Millbrae
  • Exxon - 3898 California St, San Francisco
  • Chevron - 1288 19th Ave, San Francisco
There are plenty of attractions to see in San Francisco. Don't miss world famous icons like the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, Lombard Street and Fisherman's Wharf. Visit Union Square to see historical sights and art galleries.

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