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However, if you are interested in exploring Northern California beyond the hills of San Francisco – say the wineries of Sonoma or the aquarium in Monterey or the sites in the East Bay – you will most likely desire the convenience of a car rental. If so, plan to pick up your rental car on the day you are going to use the car or for more extended travel outside of San Francisco. A rental car is also good for easily exploring the western part of the city, such as windmills at the far end of Golden Gate Park, the Cliff House with the Camera Obscura, the Twin Peaks area, with it's commanding views of the city and the coastal beaches.
Car Rental Facilities
Rental car companies have bases at San Francisco and Oakland International Airports, and are also concentrated in two areas of The City: on Mason St. near Union Square, and in Fisherman's Wharf.
To get to your rental car at SFO, the AirTrain shuttles travelers to the new rental car complex for all rental car companies. (Some car rental companies shuttle you further still from there to their off-airport sites). Make sure you allow time to shuttle back to the airport terminals prior to your departing flight. The AirTrain serves several destinations around the airport property, not just the rental car station. Passengers ride it to also reach other terminals, BART, longterm parking lots and employee parking, among other airport destinations.
AT OAK, each rental car company has its own buses that pick you up from the curb. Due to 9/11 security considerations, there are no "on campus" pick-up or drop-off sites. Word is that this will be the case until the new parking garage is built at OAK.
Taxis are to be found throughout San Francisco, though they can be difficult to hail from the street outside of the main downtown area, and are relatively expensive. Cab fares, which were increased on September 1, 2011, start at $3.50; each mile traveled is an additional $2.75 (billed in 1/5th mile increments at $0.55), waiting time is $0.55/minute, and a $2.00 surcharge is applied for trips from San Francisco International Airport. Trips of more than 15 miles from the city limits or from the airport and not in the direction of the city are billed at 150% of the rate indicated on the taxi's meter. Taxi drivers cannot surcharge for luggage, nor can they refuse you transportation, even if you only want to go two blocks, unless you appear to pose a threat to the driver. Most in town trips cost less than $10, but trips all the way across town cost more than $20. Fares between downtown and the airport average $40-45.
As in all cities, taxis congregate at major hotels, airports and tourist centers. If you are in the vicinity of Fisherman’s Wharf, Union Square or Market Street, a cab can be easily hailed. However, if you are in a more remote location, ask your hotel staff to contact one of the local taxi companies and arrange for a pick-up (a complete list of San Francisco taxi companies with their phone numbers, prepared by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (who swallowed the Taxi Commission in 2009) can be found here).
When paying the driver, tip should amount to 15-20% of the total fare. Taxi drivers in America's large cities are among the most interesting people that you will encounter anywhere in the world, and San Francisco's are, indeed. Strike up a conversation with one and you will find your cabbie knowledgeable about an astonishing range of topics. These folks are some of the best read, most cultured and well traveled people you will ever meet. Musician cabbies sometimes offer you their latest CD, literary cabbies invite you to their book readings, and you'll even occasionally encounter the wealthy commercial real estate cabbie who drives taxi because he loves meeting people. They are conversant on world and local politics and represent the best of San Francisco's amazing ethnic and cultural diversity.