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Napa to San Francisco Directions

Easy to follow directions from Napa
To downtown San Francisco or San Francisco Airport
Fast and scenic alternatives

These choices give you fast or scenic alternative routes from Napa to San Francisco and San Francisco International Airport. You'll get clear and concise driving directions.

These routes help you end your Napa Valley visit in the best way possible. From the city of Napa, you'll have three choices below —

  1. Fast route to San Francisco International
  2. Fast route to downtown San Francisco, and our favorite . . .
  3. Most pleasant route to downtown San Francisco

For a great scenic drive through Napa and Sonoma valleys, see Part I.

1. Fast route to San Francisco International Airport

Avoid travelling this route during weekday morning and late afternoon rush hours. With less traffic, this route works even better after 6 p.m.

Warning: Although you will have some nice views, you will also travel through some rather ugly urban sprawl if you choose route #1 or #2. it becomes so easy to resent the sprawl encroaching upon beautiful Napa Valley from the southeast.

From the city of Napa, go southbound on the Highway 29 expressway.

Continue southbound on Highway 29 to Marine World Parkway, which is California Highway 37.

Take the Highway 37 eastbound onramp toward Six Flags Discovery Kingdom and Interstate 80.

Drive east on 37 to Interstate 80.

Drive south on I-80 toward San Francisco.

As you pass Berkeley and Emeryville, move to the lanes marked San Francisco. This is very important as you will not be able to switch lanes safely at the last minute.

When approaching the San Francisco - Oakland Bay Bridge, the high cranes you'll see in the distance serve the large Oakland container ship port.

Follow the I-80 lanes over the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge into San Francisco.

When the I-80 ends, take southbound U.S. 101 toward "San Jose."

  • As you near San Francisco International Airport, the rental car exit is clearly marked on your right. You do not need to enter the airport terminal area.

  • Larger San Francisco airport hotels tend to be located just south of the airport.

    You willl reach most via the Millbrae Avenue exit on your right.

    At the end of the off ramp, turn left onto Millbrae.

    At the end of Millbrae, turn right onto the Old Bayshore Highway.

    This brings you past the airport Westin, Hyatt Regency, Marriott, Crown Plaza, Doubletree, Hilton (formally Sheraton), and others.

For more information about the airport, check this San Francisco International Airport link.

2. Fast route to downtown San Francisco

Follow the route described above to San Francisco. Avoid the weekday morning rush hour.

Once over the San Francisco - Oakland Bay Bridge, take the first exit to the right.

This leads you to Fremont Street.

Turn left onto one-way Fremont Street.

  • For the Fisherman's Wharf area, continue north on Fremont across wide Market Street, where Fremont becomes Front Street.

    Turn left onto Sacramento Street.

    Two blocks later, turn right onto Sansome.

    Sansome runs into "The Embarcadero." Veer left onto Embarcadero.

    Two blocks later, turn left onto Bay Street, which leads you to the heart of the Fisherman's Wharf area.


  • For Union Square area hotels, turn left from Fremont onto Mission, before crossing Market Street.

    Most Union Square area hotels may be reached by right turns off of Mission.


  • For the huge San Francisco Marriott Marquis at the Convention Center, which often pops up in Priceline bidding, turn left from Fremont onto Mission.

    The Marriott will be on your right ahead, after passing Third Street.


  • For Nob Hill hotels, continue north on Fremont Street across wide Market Street, where Fremont changes its name to Front Street.

    After crossing Market Street, turn left onto Pine at the next intersection.

    Most Nob Hill area hotels can be reached by right turns off of Pine. Be sure that you are not turning the wrong way onto a one-way street.

3. A far more pleasant route to downtown San Francisco

This takes a more scenic and interesting route to San Francisco than the SFO Airport and downtown San Francisco routes above, but doesn't take much longer, unless you linger at sightseeing stops along the way.

Although part of this route duplicates how we reached Napa and Sonoma, the light and views actually differ.

From Napa, drive southbound on the Highway 29 expressway.

From Highway 29 just south of Napa, exit onto "southbound" (actually westbound) California Highway 121. You will want to be going toward Sonoma.

Although Highway 12 shares this road with 121 for awhile, remain on Highway 121 when these split.

Instead of going into Sonoma on 12, continue on 121.

When you reach California Hwy 37 near San Francisco Bay, turn right onto 37.

Travel westbound on Hwy 37 toward Novato.

Upon reaching Novato, take the southbound U.S. Highway 101 freeway toward San Rafael and San Francisco.

Marin County

Once you've reached Novato, you are in Marin County, which may have the highest quality of life in the U.S. based on a multitude of factors.

For example, Marin has an exceptionally high percentage of land preserved in national, state and county parks, in greenbelts, and in agricultural zoning. These include the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and Muir Woods National Monument.

These natural places create a vast allay of outdoor recreational opportunities near residential areas. In general, people in Marin are fit, very fit. You'll notice bicyclists and joggers everywhere. It sometimes seems as if body fat has been outlawed here.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Marin County Civic Center - optional

We don't consider this stop all that optional, but you may be tired after a day of Wine Country sightseeing. This makes nice stop even after dark, and this detour takes just a few minutes if you do not walk around the complex.

The Marin County Civic Center was Frank Lloyd Wright's last work—and unquestionably one of his greatest. This was in my opinion Wright's most famous commission that was not a home or a hotel.

I really love this complex. After all these years, Wright remains America’s most famous and beloved architect.

The two wings of the Marin County Civic Center include nearly all Marin County government functions, including an underground prison, courtrooms, and main library.

If the complex doors are still open, you can go in and wander around the administrative portion of the complex and the library.

You'll experience the extremely influential atrium design (think Hyatt Regency) inside. This is a more primitive form of what you see in newer buildings, but it became the catalyst for this architectural style.

Even if closed and after dark, the civic center is still very worthwhile to visit. You may walk between the wings to access the other side, or drive around to the back.

And, even after all these years, with so many changes in its immediate area, the civic center still works as great architecture. Very sadly, Frank Lloyd Wright did not live to see this, his 770th commission, completed.

To reach the civic center —

After you pass the interchanges with Lucas Valley Road and the Manuel T. Freitas Parkway, you'll see the civic center pop up on your left across the freeway..

Exit 101 at San Pedro Road to your right.

At the end of the off ramp, turn left, and then turn left again onto San Pedro Road.

At the first major intersection after passing under the freeway, turn left onto Civic Center Drive.

Quickly, the Frank Lloyd Wright complex pops up on your left at 3501 Civic Center Drive. You can't miss it. It's quite distinctive!

There is plenty of parking.

To return to 101, drive south from the complex on Civic Center Drive, and then turn right onto San Pedro Road. This takes you a short distance to the southbound 101 Freeway.

Travel southbound on 101 toward San Francisco.

Sausalito - "optional" side trip

Although you could have visited this wonderful town on the outbound trip, Sausalito becomes much less congested in the evening. Driving through Sausalito adds around 20 - 25 minutes to your trip, unless you stop and walk.

Sausalito ranks as one of the most pleasant and scenic suburbs in the United States. A large number of its residents commute to their jobs in San Francisco via ferry boat across San Francisco Bay, and as is typical in Marin, bike to the dock.

As in Monaco on the Riviera to which Sausalito is compared, homes and apartments line the hillsides giving wonderful views.

From 101, take the southbound Sausalito exit at Bridge Boulevard - Bridgeway.

At the end of the off ramp, carefully turn left.

At the first intersection, turn right onto Bridgeway.

Head southbound on Bridgeway along the bay.

Years ago, the production of redwood mills throughout northwestern California flowed by railway onto docks here. Now the shore is lined by yachts, sailboats, and numerous houseboat colonies.

Once in Sausalito's very pleasant waterfront shopping area, Bridgeport changes names several times, but just continue to follow the main flow of traffic and traffic lanes along the shore. This will not be confusing, as the main traffic lanes are clearly marked.

While in "downtown Sausalito" try to find parking and take a walk along the shoreline. This gives better views than driving. On the left, at Napa Street, you will find a pleasant waterfront park adjacent to the ferry terminal.

As you continue to drive south, the road turns more southerly, which gives great views of San Francisco in clear weather.

Once past the built up area of Sausalito, the road turns toward the west and Highway 101. Again, just follow the main lanes and traffic flow, and don't worry about street names.

Take the southbound 101 onramp toward San Francisco.

Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco

Drive southbound on U.S. 101.

In a few moments, you are on the Golden Gate Bridge.

Have $6 or so on hand for the bridge toll. (You only pay southbound.)

These tolls do not begin to pay the cost of maintaining this bridge. Every aspect of the bridge, except the hidden cables in the upper suspension spans that hold up the roadway, has been replaced since original construction—often many times due to the salty and damp air.

Once over the bridge, continue on U.S. 101, instead of the more convoluted outbound route we used. You’re on “motel row” Lombard Street once you pass the Presidio, but still on U.S. 101.

Continue in this general direction to reach Fisherman’s Wharf. You’ll have to turn left after you pass Van Ness Avenue to reach eastbound Bay Street.

To travel to downtown and Union Square, turn right onto southbound Gough Street before you reach Van Ness. If you miss this, turn right onto Van Ness, the route of southbound Hwy 101.

Drive south on Gough or Van Ness to Geary.

You cannot turn left onto Geary, but if permitted, jog "sort of left" on the southeastward connecting street from Gough (one block) to O’Farrell.

From Van Ness, go around the block to get on eastbound O’Farrell.

O’Farrell takes you to the downtown Union Square and Financial District hotel areas.

All best wishes for an fantastic trip!

Go to Napa Valley scenic drive, part I.

Napa Valley page break

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Napa Valley page break

Marin & Wine Country Scenic Drive, Part I (Introduction)
Marin & Wine Country Scenic Drive, Part II a (Reaching Marin from S.F.)
Marin & Wine Country Scenic Drive, Part II b (Reaching Marin from SFO)
Marin & Wine Country Scenic Drive, Part II c (Reaching Marin from Oakland)
Marin & Wine Country Scenic Drive, Part III (Marin County scenic drive)
Marin & Wine Country Scenic Drive, Part IV (Napa Valley scenic drive)
Marin & Wine Country Scenic Drive, Part V (Accommodation suggestions)

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