Answers from Our Experts (3)
At just 7 by 7 square miles, San Francisco is a relatively small city. A rental car is not necessary to enjoy everything the City by the Bay has to offer, but if you plan on venturing to one of the nearby attractions, like the Napa Valley or Lake Tahoe, a rental car may be worth it.
The city itself is completely navigable on foot, by cab, or by public transportation. Since parking can be hard to find and expensive, especially in highly populated tourist areas, I recommend not renting a car. Instead walk the streets, hop on a cable car, or take the Muni, which is San Francisco's bus and underground system. The Bart, Bay Area Rapid Transit, is another underground that runs through part of the city and to neighboring areas like Berkeley, Oakland, and Walnut Creek.
If you're not staying in a central location or plan to travel outside of the city a lot, then rent a car, but know that the city's parking meters and regulations are enforced every day of the week, including Sundays.
If you plan to stay in San Francisco proper there is really no reason to rent a car. The buses, cable cars, cabs and walking will get you anywhere you need to go and you avoid hefty parking fees and worse, fines if you are late back to your meter. But one of the best things about San Francisco is the excursion possibiliteis. Napa Valley, Carmel, Sonoma, Mendocino, Lake Tahoe---all great, but the easiest way is by car. If you come to San Francisco a lot, joining Zipcar might be advisable. This car-when-you-want-it company has locations all over the city. A $25 one time membership fee is required, but after that you can rent a car for as little as an hour if that's all you need.
A car isn’t a necessity if you plan to stay in San Francisco, so whether or not you should rent a car depends on you.
If you don’t drive much, then not to worry; you can get around using San Francisco’s public transportation system, which includes the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) trains, underground and elevated trains that travel to Berkeley, Oakland, and both airports. You’ll also find cable cars and the Muni trains and buses. And taxis are available by most hotels and major attractions, however at peak times it’s good to have a back up like Uber, a service that sends a private car to members and charges the cost to your credit card on file.
However, if you plan to roam down to Santa Cruz or up to the wine country in Napa or Sonoma, you'll want to have a set of wheels. Rather than leasing a car at the airport, we’d suggest renting a car for a short term from a rental car company near your hotel, so you can return it easily without incurring any additional fees. And around the city there are kiosks for Zipcars that are available by the hour as long as you’re a member.