The Best VPNs for the Bay Area


A Virtual Private Network (VPN) is a way to stay secure even on public Wi-Fi networks. Virtual private networks encrypt your web activity and IP address, allowing you to essentially surf the web invisibly. The best VPNs are easy to use, affordable, and create a secure tunnel for your web activity.

To find out which VPNs are the fastest and most secure, I tested them on my 2020 Macbook Pro and subjected the VPNs to speed tests, WebRTC leak tests, and DNS leak tests (more on that later). I also rated each VPN for ease of use and compatibility with multiple streaming platforms and apps. Finally, I considered the company behind the VPN in terms of data logging and pricing.

We tested all of the top VPNs for fast download and upload connection speeds, strong encryption methods, strict data-logging policies, and reasonable prices. Here are my top picks for the Bay Area and beyond to help you choose a VPN.

Side-by-side overview

category NordVPN Surfshark ExpressVPN Private internet access IPVanish
best for In total privacy FireTV stick iPhone Android
Headquarters location Panama British Virgin Islands British Virgin Islands US US
number of servers 5.246 More than 3,200 More than 2,000 More than 3,194 More than 1,100
Lowest Monthly Cost $3.09 $2.49 $8.32 $2.03 $10.99
iOS App Rating (out of 5) 4.7 4.8 4.6 4.7 4.5
Android app rating (out of 5) 4.5 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6
antivirus software Malware protection included in the VPN Yes, at a separate cost no Yes, at a separate cost Annual plan includes ransomware and malware protection
Identity theft protection service Privacy breach monitoring included in the VPN Yes, at a separate cost no Privacy breach monitoring included in VPN (email address only) no
password manager Yes, at a separate cost no no no no

Best VPN Overall: NordVPN

NordVPN is based in Panama, a country that is not a member of the international surveillance alliances Five Eyes, Nine Eyes, and 14 Eyes. Consequently, this service offers privacy protections that the US does not have legal access to. For example, if NordVPN were based in the US, the government could ask the company for customer information because of its membership in this surveillance alliance. Because of this, you should only look for VPN companies based in non-member countries.

NordVPN not only offers more security, but it can also increase your internet speed. When we connected to the San Francisco server, we experienced faster download and upload speeds — something we didn’t see with some of the other VPNs we reviewed. As VPNs add more encryption and Internet protocols, most slow down your web activity and increase latency. NordVPN’s increased speeds are a definite plus, especially if you’re doing high-bandwidth activities like video chatting or gaming.

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The company offers a lot more than just VPN services, even with their cheapest package. With the Complete package, you get additional digital security tools like antivirus software, a password manager, and encrypted cloud storage.

feature default plus Completely
VPN Yes Yes Yes
malware Yes Yes Yes
Trackers/ad blockers Yes Yes Yes
password manager no Yes Yes
Data breach scanner no Yes Yes
1 TB encrypted cloud storage no no Yes
1 month plan costs per month $11.99 $12.89 $14.19
1 year plan costs per month $4.99 $5.89 $7.19
2 year plan costs per month $3.09 $3.99 $5.29

This is the most comprehensive digital security coverage of any VPN on this list, and one of the reasons this is our pick for best VPN overall.

Starting at just $3.09 per month when you sign up for two years, NordVPN customers can try their service free for 30 days. If you don’t like it, the company offers a full money-back guarantee. While NordVPN isn’t the cheapest option with its monthly or yearly subscription, it gives you more digital security for your money than any other VPN we’ve researched, with built-in malware protection, privacy breach monitoring, and password management.

Best VPN for Privacy: Surfshark

According to a 2021 VPN Consumer Report, over half of VPN users say their VPNs are for general privacy. If privacy is your primary concern, SurfShark is a top option for several reasons:

  • Headquarters: Based in the British Virgin Islands, neither the US nor other members of Five Eyes can force the government to give them your private information.

  • Logging Policy: Surfshark does not track anything you do online, in accordance with its privacy policy. While no VPN on this list logs your web activity or IP address, some VPNs log more information than others. For example, ExpressVPN’s privacy policy tracks the dates you connected to the VPN, which server you connected to, and the total amount of data transferred in MB. Being unaware of Surfshark logs is a tremendous benefit for those focused on privacy.

  • Multihop: Along with NordVPN, Surfshark is the only VPN on this list that offers multihop, meaning it creates multiple tunnels to encrypt your traffic. The more encryption there is, the harder it is to track you online.

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Add unlimited devices and unlimited concurrent connections and you will see that Surfshark VPN users bring great value. Once your first 30 free days are up, plans start at $2.49 per month on a two-year plan.

Best VPN for Fire TV Stick: ExpressVPN

Setting up ExpressVPN on the Fire TV Stick was easier than any other VPN we’ve tested. After downloading the ExpressVPN app onto the device itself and logging in, we connected to the closest server in San Francisco. The whole process only took a few minutes, and the VPN didn’t noticeably slow down the streaming. Also, we got a new IP address on the Fire TV Stick every time we connected. This made it difficult to track our eating habits.

It’s important to note that ExpressVPN is more expensive than most of the other VPNs on our list.

pricing term of one month term of six months 12 months term
costs per month $12.95 $9.99 $8.32
Total amount billed $12.95 $59.95 $99.95
costs per year $155.40 $119.90 $99.95
Saving with an annual plan 0% 23% 35%

The higher price point is likely due to its notoriety. While NordVPN is the most searched VPN on this list, ExpressVPN comes in second according to Google Trends data. People may feel more comfortable buying from a brand they’ve heard of, which explains ExpressVPN’s slightly higher prices. If you want to buy ExpressVPN, sign up for a year to get the lowest monthly cost.

Best VPN for iPhone: Private Internet Access

Just over half of the US population uses iPhones, not Androids, according to a report by Comscore, Inc. Luckily for the 57% of the smartphone market, the iOS Private Internet Access (PIA) app has a 4.7 star rating out of five Apple Store, and there’s no question why.

When testing the app, we found it user-friendly and bug-free. Of all the ones we tested, this was the easiest to use on iPhones. Within seconds of downloading and signing up, you can use the app for things like: e.g.:

  • Connection to the nearest server (although there are over 3,000 to choose from worldwide)

  • Route some of your traffic through the VPN and some directly to the ISP (known as split tunneling, which is helpful when trying to conserve bandwidth).

  • Check if your information was found in data breaches – an additional identity theft protection service that PIA offers free of charge

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A particularly valuable feature of the PIA app is that you can select the desired encryption method:

encryption method The safest default Fast speeds, less safe Most risky
data encryption AES-256 AES-128 No encryption AES-128
data authentication SHA256 SHA1 No authentication No authentication
handshake RSA-4096 RSA-2048 ECC-256k1 RSA-2048

For the best encryption, choose AES-256 encryption, the current industry standard.

Tech-obsessed users will love the control they have over their VPN’s protocols and methods.

PIA is also reasonably priced, especially if you sign up for three years. It pays to get involved.

pricing term of one month 12 months term 36 months term
costs per month $11.95 $3.33 $2.03
Total amount billed $11.95 $39.95 $79.00

Best VPN for Android: IPVanish

IPVanish is an excellent choice for the 43% of people on Android. We tested the IPVanish app, which has a 4.6 star rating. We connected to the closest server, which was located in San Jose, although the company offers 1,100+ servers in 75+ locations across North America, Oceania, Europe, Asia, and South America.

Once connected, we ran DNS and WebRTC leak tests to ensure our web activity and IP addresses were truly hidden – they were. It was a straightforward Android experience, which isn’t always the case with VPN apps.

If you enjoy watching sports and other entertainment on your phone, you’ll appreciate IPVanish’s compatibility with the following streaming services:

  • CBS sports

  • ESPN

  • HBO Max

  • MLB.tv

  • NBC sports

  • Sling TV

  • WWE Network

However, if you are a particularly privacy-conscious VPN user, you should stay away from IPVanish. Why? The answer is twofold: First, the US-headquartered company is a founding member of Five Eyes. Second, it gave customer data to the Department of Homeland Security in 2017, even though its privacy policy said it kept no data logs. That being said, it’s important to note that the VPN company had a different parent company than it does now, and IPVanish has reaffirmed its commitment to protecting its users’ privacy.

recap

To learn more about what each VPN offers, be sure to do your research and read individual VPN reviews that cover factors like VPN server locations, speed tests, streaming content, customer support, security features, and the increasingly important VPN app. And if you’re interested in trying out a free VPN, consider Hotspot Shield, which offers a solid free basic plan as well as a 7-day free trial of its premium plan.



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