Thirteen miles south of Downtown San Francisco lies the San Francisco International Airport (SFO) – a major gateway to Asia and Europe. The airport served nearly 50 million passengers before the pandemic struck. So, you can imagine how busy the SFO Airport terminals tend to be! Moreover, redevelopment works in full swing at Terminal 1 to connect it to the International Terminal (expected to be done by 2023). So, getting around SFO Airport can be a bit confusing for first-timers and occasional flyers. Is it that difficult to get around the airport? No, the airport terminals are well connected. Reaching the airport and navigating through it will be super easy if you are well informed about its facilities. Here’s a guide that gives you info on how to get around one of the country’s busiest airports.
About San Francisco International Airport
SFO Airport was the 47th busiest globally, with around 16 million passengers using its terminals annually in 2020. Belonging to San Mateo County, the airport is the second busiest in California after LAX Airport. Around 47 airlines serve the airport currently. The airport is a major operating and maintenance hub for United Airlines. Alaska Airlines also has its hub in this airport.
So, how big is the San Francisco International Airport? It covers an area of around 8.13 square miles. What about the airport terminals? The airport features four terminals with seven concourses and a total of 115 gates. The airport also has four asphalt runways.
SFO Airport terminals
Terminals 1, 2, 3, and International Terminal are the four terminals in the airport. The airport boasts a circular shape. You can locate the boarding gates on the outside of the circle. Domestic flights operate from Terminals 1-3.
The terminal is famous as Harvey Milk Terminal 1. The terminal has one concourse and 18 gates. Southwest Airlines, American Airlines, and JetBlue are the main airlines that operate out of this terminal. Hawaiian Airlines, Frontier Airlines, and Sun Country Airlines may start their operation from this terminal in 2023.
The terminal was opened in 1954 and is the oldest terminal building in the airport. It features two concourses and around 27 gates, with Alaska Airlines operating from this terminal. Delta Air Lines is another carrier that operates out of this terminal.
This terminal features two concourses and 36 gates. United Airlines is the only airline serving this terminal.
The International Terminal features two boarding areas – A and G. The terminal is the largest in North America. You can locate the A gate on the airport’s southern side and the G gate on the northern side. The terminal building is also famous as the world’s largest building built using base isolators to protect against earthquakes.
How to connect between SFO Airport terminals
Moving between the terminals is easy at the airport. You can either use the AirTrain or walk to reach from one terminal to another.
AirTrain: The AirTrain at SFO Airport have departures from stations every four minutes. Be aware that the train service operates two lines – Red and Blue. The Red Line connects every terminal, terminal garage, and the BART Station. Blue Line connects all terminals, terminal garages, long-term parking, rental car center, and the BART Station.
Walking: This is the ideal way to reach Terminals 1 and 3 from International Terminal. All terminals are connected in a circle, making it easy to walk from Terminal 1 to all other terminals and reach back there. Some portion of Terminal 1 is closed due to construction works which might hinder your movement between some terminals.
How to get to SFO Airport
Though the airport is not that far from the city center, traveling to the airport can create quite a hassle if the roads are congested. So, it is always wise to use public transportation services to reach the airport from Bay Area. It avoids the headache of driving, and you will have a relaxed journey to the airport. Be mindful to plan if you’re traveling to the airport via public transportation services. BART Rapid Rail, Caltrain Commuter Rail, and SamTrans Public Bus Service are the options you can use to reach the airport.
BART Rapid Rail
This rail service connects SFO Airport from northern San Mateo County, East Bay, and San Francisco. Passengers can use the BART service to/from various locations within the Bay Area, such as Downtown San Francisco and Oakland. You can locate the BART Station at the ticketing level of International Terminal G. AirTrain connects all terminals to BART at the airport. It will cost you around $10.20 to travel from Downtown to SFO via this service and takes just 30 minutes to reach.
Caltrain Commuter Rail
This rails service connects San Francisco and San Jose. The passengers need to connect to the BART from Caltrain at Millbrae station. From there they have to transfer to San Bruno Station to get airport trains.
SamTrans Public Bus Service
Are you planning to go to the airport by bus? The SamTrans Public Bus services connect passengers from San Mateo County and San Francisco to the airport. To reach via this service, you have to take routes 140, 292, and 398. Route 140 stops at the rental car center, and you need to take an AirTrain blue line to reach your terminal. The bus service operates 24/7 from the airport.
Where to find the bus stops at the terminals? For International Terminal, the stop is at Level 1 at Courtyard A. For Terminal 2, the stop is at the Arrivals/Baggage Claim Level. You can find the Terminal 3 stop at Arrivals/Baggage Claim Level.
Driving to the airport from the Bay Area is a good option if you have too much luggage. Typically, it takes around 30 minutes to reach the airport. However, the road can get congested, which may cause a delay in reaching the airport. So, start early from your home if you’re driving to the airport. And always make sure that you’ve reserved a parking spot so that you can save time at the airport.
Taxi/Rideshare: Metered taxis are available from Downtown, which you can use to reach the airport. The taxi charge is around $45. Lyft, Uber, and Wingz are the rideshare services operating to and from the airport. Normally, Uber and Lyft charge you around $27 from Downtown. However, the rate can surge depending on the traffic.
About SFO Airport parking
You can imagine that it is never easy to get parking in one of the country’s busiest airports. Though the airport features around 5,000 parking spots through five onsite lots, these tend to get filled up quickly. And you will have to drive around the onsite SFO parking lots if you haven’t reserved a parking spot in advance. So, which are the SFO parking lots that you can use?
- Domestic Garage
- International Garage A
- International Garage G
- Long Term Garage
- Long Term Surface Lot
Use the long-term parking spots in the airport if you’re flying out of the city for a few days. Long Term Garage and Long Term Surface Lot are the two SFO Airport lots ideal for long-term parking. Both these lots charge you a maximum of $18 for a day’s parking. For hourly parking, these lots charge you $2 per 15 minutes. However, these lots are not near the terminal. Don’t worry! Shuttle services run from these lots to all the terminals every 5-15 minutes.
You can locate the lot in the center of the airport. It is the largest parking lot in SFO Airport that offers covered and uncovered parking. The garage is near the entrance of Terminal 1-3, making it a convenient option for short-term parking. The hourly paring charge starts at $2 per 15 minutes. The maximum daily parking rate at this lot is $36.
The International A and G garage are close to the International Terminal, offering covered and uncovered parking spaces. For hourly parking, these lots charge you $2 per 15 minutes. Using the parking spot for a day costs you a maximum of $36 per day.
Valet Parking service
Using this parking service is ideal if you don’t want to circle the lots checking for a parking spot. There are around 150 parking spots available in Level 4 of the Domestic Garage. Currently, this service is unavailable. When open, using this parking service costs you $45 for the first day. Then parking will cost $2 for every 15 minutes from the next day. The maximum daily parking rate is $45.
Other SFO Airport parking lots
Cell Phone Lot: This lot provides you free parking for up to 60 minutes when you’re at the airport to pick up a traveler. You can locate the lot near the long-term parking lots. Cell Phone Lot is not operational from 1 AM to 5 AM.
Kiss & Fly: You can locate this lot at the rental car center on North McDonnell Road. This lot helps to avoid congestion at the terminal curbs as the passengers can be dropped off here. Then use AirTrain’s Blue Line to reach the terminal.
Offsite parking near SFO Airport
Parking in the offsite garages will be a safe option if you don’t have a guaranteed SFO Airport parking spot or find the onsite lots unaffordable. Many offsite garages near the airport offer long-term parking for as low as $4 per day, which is very cheap compared to the onsite parking rates. Use the Way.com app or website to get San Francisco Airport parking at affordable rates with great amenities.
Lounges at San Francisco Airport
Are you stuck at SFO Airport? Do you have a long layover? How to make good use of this time? Well, one of the best options is to explore the airport lounges. There are around 17 lounges in the airport. Some are temporarily closed. So, what all do the lounges offer you? Of course, most of the lounges have free WiFi, TV viewing areas, offers newspapers and magazines, and even provides provisions to have a shower and get refreshed. Is that it? No, all the loungers offer tasty food, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, and even snacks.
Some of the major lounges in the airport
- Air France – KLM Lounge
- Alaska Airlines
- American Airlines Admirals Club
- American Express – The Centurion Lounge
- British Airways Lounge
- Cathay Pacific Lounge
- China Airlines Lounge
- Delta Sky Club
- Emirates Lounge
- Japan Airlines Sakura Lounge
- Philippine Airlines Mabuhay Lounge
- United Club
- United Polaris Lounge
- Virgin Atlantic Club House Lounge
Do you want to know more about SFO Airport lounges? Read our blog on San Francisco Airport Lounges – All You Need to Know.
What to do at SFO Airport?
If you’re not too keen on spending time in the lounges, go ahead and explore the airport. Always keep in mind that the airport has a lot more to offer than the lounges.
The airport features many restaurants that offer a wide variety of cuisines. Some cafes offer delicious local food, whereas some offer only vegan dishes. Or do you want to get refreshed during your layover? Yes, some outlets provide you fresh juices, coffee, or espresso. Or head to the pubs or restaurants that serve some good beer and liquor!
From books to electronic gadgets, apparel to accessories, several stores in the airport will satisfy the shopper in you. There are a few stores that even sell eco-friendly products. You may get your product at a great price, who knows! Try to explore the stores if you’re having a longer break at the airport.
Explore more at the airport
SFO Museum: You can locate the museum at Terminal 2 Departures Level. The museum features exhibitions on cultural, art, historical, and scientific topics.
Kids’ Spot: Visiting this area will keep your kids engaged while you’re traveling with family. There is three Kids’ Spot in the airport, one in Terminal 2 and two in Terminal 3.
Yoga Room: Do you wish to have a flight with a relaxed mind? Then head to the Yoga Room and get some relaxation through yoga or meditation. You can locate this room at Terminal 3.
Tip: Lazy to explore the lounges, shop, or dine? Then head to the three nap rooms located at the FreshenUp facility located inside International Terminal. But, if you want to know in detail about what you can experience at the airport, read the blog on 10 Things to do on a layover at San Francisco Airport.
Is SFO Airport pet-friendly?
Yes, there are many Animal Relief Areas in SFO Airport. The departures area has five such areas, and the arrival area has two. These areas are open throughout the day. Service animals are permitted to travel in AirTrain.
Some key info on SFO Airport
- Passengers ranked the airport as the ‘Best Airport in the United States in 2019 and 2020.
- San Francisco International Airport is the second busiest in California.
- AirTrain efficiently connects all the terminals.
- BART Rapid Rail connects the Bay Area to the airport.
- Long Term Garage and Long Term Surface Lot are the two SFO Airport lots ideal for long-term parking.
- Use the Cell Phone Lot and Kiss & Fly area to pick up and drop off passengers for free.
- The airport has a program called ‘Wag Brigade,’ that aims at providing a relaxed journey for the passengers by bringing trained dogs to the terminals.