California Dreamin’ 1: Airports and AirTrain

Today we start a series on the San Francisco-East Bay scene. Topics will include airports, public transport, wit and wisdom, the Summer of Love and street life, to name a few.


Above SFO

Comparing Los Angeles (LAX) and San Francisco (SFO) airports is a case of one very good, one not so good.

Obviously travellers have different experiences, however what you meet on arrival colours your impression.

LAX is a huge barn of a place and you to have to walk for miles to get anywhere, whereas SFO is more compact, and conveniently set out and serviced.

Los Angeles: big and challenging

Getting off at LA International Airport you have to walk over two kilometres to get to Border Control. When you get there, people are shouting: This way! Over here! Keep the line moving!

Then you can’t go straight to where you need to be, but have to zig and zag your way in lengthy queues. Obviously this is not unique to LA, but the scale is enormous because it’s one of the biggest airports in the world.

To find the domestic terminal where we needed to check in, there was another 2 km walk. Then to get to where our flight for San Francisco took off, we had to get on a shuttle for a 10 minute drive.

Twenty years ago when we first arrived in the city, the airport had only about a dozen shops and eating places.

That range of services has improved greatly and the area where you now board for international flights is modern and spacious.

San Francisco: superbly organised

SFO is a smaller airport and reflects well-thought out planning and design. Getting off the plane you quickly come into a wide and inviting concourse. There are plenty of shops, eating places and restrooms.

An AirTrain station

To travel into San Francisco and beyond, there is easy access to BART: Bay Area Rapid Transit.

The access is linked to the most outstanding feature of SFO: the AirTrain. This free service circulates above the airport with carriages coming by every few minutes, They drop off and pick up travellers from stations above the two international and four domestic terminals.

There is also a station where you can pick up your rental car.

The key station however is the link to BART. (More on this efficient public transport system in a later article.)

If you are going to San Francisco from New Zealand or Australia, fly direct to SFO!