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10 Things to do on a layover at San Francisco Airport

  • Air Travel
  • Renee Martin
  • 8 minutes

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If there ever was an airport that you wouldn’t mind being be stuck in, it would be San Francisco Airport. Passengers have ranked the San Francisco International Airport as the “Best Airport in the United States” for the years 2020 and 2019. San Francisco Airport is a hub for United Airlines and Alaska Airlines. If you’re traveling to Hawaii or Asia, you could find yourself with time to kill at SFO. The notoriously fickle Bay Area weather can also cause delays leaving you wondering what you can do at SFO. You’re in luck, though! There are loads of things to do in San Francisco Airport as well as nearby. SFO Airport has 3 regular terminals and an international terminal. The AirTrain that runs 24 hours helps connect you to all the terminals as well as the BART station. The BART can get you to downtown SFO easily. Whether you’ve got just a couple of hours or an entire day to spend at SFO, here are 10 things to do on a layover at San Francisco Airport.

10 Things to do on a layover at San Francisco Airport

1.   Fill your belly

SFO Airport Food

SFO’s food and dining options are a far cry from the usual underwhelming and overpriced fare that airports are notorious for. At Terminal 1, you can savor delicious organic ice cream and hand-rolled waffles at Three Twins Ice Cream,or cobb salad and burgers at Perry’s. Terminal 2 hosts Cat Cora’s elegant bistro, the famous Napa Farms Market, Lark Creek Grill, and Andale Mexican Restaurant. If you find yourself at Terminal 3 head straight to Bun Mee for Vietnamese-inspired food, Yankee Pier for seafood and chowder, or Sankaku for Japanese food. The International Terminal offers Mission Taco House’s custom burritos, Koi Palace Express’ dim sums, Ebisu’s shrimp tempura, as well as Manufactory Food Hall’s tacos and fried chicken.

2.   Enjoy the ‘beer’ necessities of life

There’s plenty of places you can get a pint and more to quench your thirst during a long layover at the San Francisco Airport. SF Uncork’d in Terminal 3 offers California wine and regional craft beer in an elegant space away from the noise and bustle. At Terminal 2, you can enjoy a tipple at Cat Cora’s Kitchen, Lark Creek Grill, or at 1300 on Fillmore, all of which serve beer and cocktails. TGI Friday’s serves up a full range of beers, wines, and cocktails at Terminal 1, while Klein’s Deli and Coffee Bar serves beer and wine (they also serve coffee, if you were wondering!). Gott’s Roadside at the International Terminal serves California-brewed beers and has an extensive list of cocktails. Beer and wine also make an appearance on the menu at Fornaio Caffe Del Mondo in the International Terminal.

3.   Shop till you drop

As far as airport shopping goes, San Francisco Airport has some first-class offerings. Make use of your layover at SFO Airport to do some shopping. You’ll find an eclectic mix of international brands and locally-owned shops here. Check out Burberry, Coach, Gucci, Hermes, and Swarovski at the International Terminal, or find one of a kind souvenirs at the SFMOMA Museum Store. Terminal 3 has everything from 100% Pure, Jo Malone, Tom Ford, Mango, to Sunglass Hut. Terminal 1 and 2 have comparatively slim pickings. There are just a few books and electronics stores at Terminal 1, and Terminal 2 is marginally better with Mosaic Gallery, M. Fredric, Chocolate Market, Kiehl’s, and Mango.

4.   Enjoy great music

San Francisco has a rich music history having been home to musical greats like Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, and Carlos Santana. The San Francisco Airport pays homage to the city’s musical legacy with fantastic live music performances by promising local artists.  So, take off those AirPods and listen to live rock n roll, jazz, pop, or folk music.

SFO Airport parking

5.   Get a dose of culture

There’s plenty of art to be appreciated at SFO airport. The first museum ever at an international airport, SFO Museum displays more than 60 works of art, both permanent and rotating exhibits. These include paintings, sculptures, and architectural works by local, national, and international artists. Aviation buffs must not miss the Louis A. Turpen Aviation Museum and San Francisco Airport Commission Aviation Library located in the International Terminal Main Hall. The remarkable collection here includes artifacts, pictures, and literature that’ll take you through the history of commercial aviation.

6.   Let your kids blow off steam

Traveling with a baby or a toddler is no walk in the park. Luckily the San Francisco Airport is remarkably kid-friendly. There are plenty of options for children to have fun during a layover at San Francisco Airport. SFO has a nursery in each of its 4 terminals. There’s a free play area for children at Terminal one while Terminal 2 and Terminal 3 have Kids’ Spots. The Kids’ Spots at Terminal 2 are near Gates D7 and D15, and feature original artworks that also act as interactive learning and play stations. The Kids’ Spots at Terminal 3 are located near Gates F18 and E7. The Kids’ Spot near F18 has interactive displays of weather elements from the Exploratorium in San Francisco, and the one near E7 has an interactive children’s exploration area featuring Spirogyrate. The aquarium in Terminal 1 and the Turpen Aviation Museum can also keep children engaged and happy.

7.   Feel the ‘paw’sitivity

Travel got you feeling down? Or maybe, you’re a nervous flyer? Not to worry, SFO’s Wag Brigade is on their way to save the day! This group of 22 fluffy, affable dogs, and a therapy pig named LiLou patrol the airport looking for passengers who need some TLC. Most travelers would unanimously agree that this is one of the best things about having a layover at SFO airport. San Francisco Airport’s Wag Brigade is a program that gets trained therapy animals to ease the stress of air travel. Scientists believe that petting a pooch increases our oxytocin (the happy hormone) and decreases levels of cortisol (the stress hormone). And who are we to argue with science, especially when the results come in such adorable, tail-wagging forms!

8.   Relax and unwind

There’s nothing quite like a hot shower to help relax your muscles. Head straight to the International Terminal, right next to the Airport Travel Agency, for a warm, soothing shower. At $25 for a 30-minute shower session, with towels, toiletries, hairdryer, shower shoes, etc., you get more bang for the buck. If showers aren’t relaxing enough, SFO airport has 3 XpresSpas. You’ll find them near the Terminal 2 D area, Terminal 3 Gate 60, and International Terminal Gate 100. Treat yourself to a pedicure, shoulder massage, or any other relaxation treatment.

9.   Settle down for a snooze

Getting a little shut-eye during your layover at San Francisco Airport is a great idea, especially if you’re someone who finds it difficult to sleep in an airplane. There are 3 nap rooms here that can be found in the FreshenUp facility located inside the International Terminal. Each of these nap rooms come equipped with a bed, free WiFi, desk, and a mirror. If you’re okay with sleeping in public, there are some padded benches in Terminal 2 near Baggage Claim. For a little more privacy, you could try one of the pay-per-use lounges where it’s quieter. If you want to snooze in luxury, and are okay with spending a little, there’s a Grand Hyatt at SFO next to the entrance to the airport.

parking at SFO Airport

10.        Go Ommmm

There are two yoga studios at the San Francisco Airport, should you want to recharge your chakras. These dimly lit, mirrored rooms are the perfect place to find your inner calm amid the stress of travel. They are open 24/7 and are located at Terminal 2 and Terminal 3 inside the Security areas.  Both studios are equipped with yoga mats. Remember, no shoes, food, drinks, or cell phones are allowed in the yoga rooms.

Things to do near San Francisco Airport

If you have a long layover at San Francisco Airport, make use of by exploring this bustling North California city. Getting to the city from the airport is a breeze with BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit). Follow the signs in the International Terminal to take BART from the airport to the Embarcadero station. If you get off at the Embarcadero station, you can take a 5-minute walk to the Ferry Building. Buy a round-trip ferry ticket to Sausalito and take in stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz en route.

Another thing you can do is hop on to an F-line cable that’ll take you directly to Fisherman’s Wharf. You could also take an Uber or Lyft from the SFO airport to Fisherman’s Wharf. Once there, head over to Pier 39 to see the boisterous sea lions. You can also enjoy the outdoor sculptures at Pier 35. Chinatown and Union Square can also be easily reached from SFO by riding the BART to Powell Station and walking a few blocks.

Tempted by all the things you can do at San Fransisco Airport? Make sure you reach the airport early so you can take advantage of all that SFO has to offer. To do that, be sure to book your San Francisco Airport parking spot ahead of time, so you’ll have a guaranteed spot to park in!

Note: Before you venture out during your layover at SFO Airport, make sure that you are permitted to do so.


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