Navigating Car Rentals in San Francisco: An All-Inclusive Guide and Premier Destinations

In search of advice on car rentals in San Francisco? Numerous auto rental agencies are situated around Union Square, the heart of SF, and Fisherman’s Wharf.

Suppose you intend to utilize a vehicle throughout your visit. In that case, you might consider securing one at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) upon your arrival. While car rentals from the airport may incur additional pickup charges, it offers a convenience of having a vehicle at your disposal for the entire duration of your stay.

San Francisco Car Rentals: Insights for SFO

Opting for a car rental from SFO can be a savvy choice if you’re staying outside the city or anticipate daily commutes. It’s arguably the most hassle-free method to procure a car rental in San Francisco.

Prominent rental firms like Alamo, Dollar, Enterprise, Hertz, and Thrifty maintain a fleet at SFO. The Rental Center operates round the clock, enabling you to acquire a vehicle at any given time.

It’s highly advisable to reserve your vehicle ahead of time to ensure availability and secure the most competitive price. This not only simplifies the collection process upon arrival but also guarantees you get the right vehicle.

Upon landing at SFO, look out for the signs directing you to the AirTrain Blue Line Train. This transport service will convey you to the SFO Rental Center. This train operates 24 hours a day, ensuring easy access to the rental center at all times.

The SFO Rental Center is the only car rental location in San Francisco that remains open 24/7. If you anticipate needing to return your rental vehicle outside of regular hours, you should consider renting from SFO.

San Francisco Car Rentals: Guidance & Locations

If your requirement for a car rental in San Francisco is brief, perhaps for a day or two, you might consider renting from an agency within the city. This approach relieves you from concerns about parking and the associated costs for the whole duration of your stay.

Several agencies within the city provide 24-hour rental services. If you collect a car at 9 am, you are expected to return it by 9 am the next day.

Many clients prefer to collect their rental in the morning and return it by evening. However, bear in mind that many city rental agencies wrap up their business day around 6 or 7 pm. Some may even close earlier on Sundays, often around 3 pm.

This schedule could restrict your opportunity to venture beyond SF and return the vehicle in a timely manner.

Therefore, before confirming your booking, verify the agency’s closing time to plan your itinerary accordingly. If they close earlier than you’d prefer, explore alternative agencies or consider retaining the car overnight.

Car Hire Services Near Union Square

Union Square, San Francisco, hosts four car rental services. Below are their specific locations and operating hours.

Hertz at Westin St. Francis: Directly across Union Square, you will find a Hertz branch. It is located within the Westin St. Francis at 335 Powell Street. The branch operates daily from 7am to 3pm.

Hertz: Another Hertz branch is situated just a few blocks away at 325 Mason Street. This branch’s operating hours are from 6am to 6pm every day.

Thrifty Car Rental: Approximately three blocks from Union Square, you’ll discover another car hire service, Thrifty, at 350 O’Farrel Street. It is open every day from 7am to 6pm.

Enterprise Car Rental: Located around four blocks away at 233 Ellis Street, this branch is open daily from 8am to 5pm.

Car Hire Services Near Downtown

Apart from the above-mentioned services, there’s also a car rental service closer to the downtown/Financial district.

Budget Car Rental: They are situated at 5 The Embarcadero. They operate from 7:30am to 5pm on weekdays and 8am to 1pm on weekends.

Car Hire Services at Fisherman’s Wharf

Several car rental services are also located in Fisherman’s Wharf.

Enterprise: Located at the district’s core at 350 Beach Street, this branch operates from 7am to 5pm on Mondays and Fridays, 7am to 3pm on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, and 7am to 1pm on weekends.

Hertz & Avis: These services are located within Anchorage Square at 500 Beach Street. Their hours of operation are 7am to 5pm from Monday to Friday, and 8am to 12pm on weekends.

Distances from San Francisco to Popular Destinations

If your stay is confined within San Francisco’s city limits, public transportation is probably a more convenient choice. However, for those intending to venture beyond the city and explore the Bay Area and Northern California’s finest attractions, renting a car could be the optimal option.

Here are some popular destinations with estimated travel times from San Francisco.

San Francisco to Muir Woods: Muir Woods is a gorgeous 45-minute drive north of San Francisco, crossing the Golden Gate Bridge along a scenic route. It is recommended to reserve parking before you hire a car in San Francisco.

San Francisco to Napa Valley: A favored destination among car renters in San Francisco is Napa Valley. This charming wine region in Northern California is roughly 60 to 90 minutes away.

San Francisco to Monterey: Renting a car in San Francisco also allows you to travel down the coast to Monterey. This attractive coastal town is approximately a two-hour drive away, or up to three hours if you decide to drive along Highway 1.

San Francisco to Yosemite: Yosemite, a slightly further journey from San Francisco, takes about 4 to 5 hours to reach, depending on which part of the park you aim to explore.

San Francisco to Lake Tahoe: Lake Tahoe, also within driving distance from San Francisco, takes about 3.5 to 4 hours to reach. Avoid traveling during Friday or Sunday afternoons during the ski season to avoid heavy traffic.

For longer journeys, you may consider renting a car in San Francisco. Note, however, that there may be extra charges if you drop the car off at a different location than where it was picked up.

San Francisco to Los Angeles: Driving to Los Angeles takes roughly 6 to 7 hours, although this can vary depending on your exact destination within the city.

San Francisco to Las Vegas: Alternatively, you may drive to Las Vegas. Although it’s a lengthier journey, it is feasible to reach within a day, typically taking about 8.5 to 10 hours.

San Francisco to Portland: For those wishing to explore more of Northern California and Oregon, driving from San Francisco to Portland is another option, taking about 10 to 11 hours.

Parking in San Francisco

Securing a place to park in San Francisco is a significant factor to consider before you finalize your car rental in the city. The parking scenario here is challenging and can be quite pricey. Therefore, it’s crucial to identify a suitable parking spot for your vehicle and familiarize yourself with its cost per night ahead of your arrival.

Certain hotels may levy parking fees ranging from $50 to $70 per night in their garages. On-street parking is seldom a feasible option around most hotels due to the presence of parking meters and the necessity for early morning street sweeping.

It’s advisable to liaise with your hotel beforehand about their overnight parking rates, followed by inquiries about potentially cheaper garages in the vicinity. If the prices seem exorbitantly high (which is likely!), consider renting a car only for a day or two from the aforementioned San Francisco locations.

Car Rental Without Credit Card

Can you rent a car in San Francisco without a credit card? Absolutely, you can procure a car rental using only your debit card. Here’s a list of prerequisites local rental companies typically demand if you’re paying with a debit card:

  • Minimum age of 25 with two types of ID
  • Pre-approval of the debit card for the rental’s estimated total cost
  • Evidence of income, utility bills (such as water, electricity), and a renter’s name and address consistent with the IDs
  • Verification of travel plans aligning with car rental timeline (e.g., flight or cruise departure scheduled post car return)
  • Pre-approval and linking of the debit card to your account by the car rental company

Ensure you verify these requirements with the rental company you opt for to be prepared with the necessary documents.

Alternative Transit Options

Exploring alternatives for traversing the city? If the notion of renting a car in San Francisco seems too daunting, consider these other transportation methods.

Public Transit

San Francisco’s public transport system is user-friendly. You can pick from a variety of options, including cable cars, streetcars, trains, and buses. These modes of transport provide quick access to most of the city’s key attractions.

Hop On/Hop Off Bus Tours

Whenever I explore a new city, I find the Hop On/Hop Off Bus Tours immensely enjoyable. These one- or two-day tours escort you to all the prime attractions in San Francisco.

You have the liberty to disembark at any of the 20+ stops, visit the local sites, and then reboard the bus to proceed to your next destination. It’s an efficient way to acquaint yourself with the city while easily accessing its major attractions.


Opting for taxis is another excellent method to circumvent the need for a car rental in San Francisco. The city teems with taxis that are readily available at nearly any city corner (except perhaps the far western side).

While taxis can be pricey for extended rides, they’re an ideal choice for brief trips within neighborhoods like Union Square, North Beach, Chinatown, and Fisherman’s Wharf.

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