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Things To Do At San Francisco Airport

While layovers can be frustrating, they don’t have to be dull. In fact, San Francisco International Airport (SFO) offers plenty of ways to pass the time. With this guide, you’ll discover a range of activities and things to do at SFO that will make your layover more enjoyable. From exploring the airport’s amenities to finding entertainment options, I’ve got you covered. So, if you find yourself stuck at SFO, don’t worry – there’s always something to keep you occupied.

About San Francisco Airport (SFO)

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As the gateway between the mainland United States, Asia, and Hawaii, San Francisco International Airport (SFO) is a common layover spot for travelers heading to those destinations. But what makes SFO truly unique is its array of entertainment options within its four terminals – three domestic and one international. Thanks to the AirTrain, navigating these areas is effortless.

In collaboration with San Francisco Travel, this post highlights the fun features that await you at SFO. From museums to observation terraces, there’s plenty to keep you engaged during your layover. And I must admit, having a San Francisco layover again would be a pleasure.

I’d like to extend my gratitude to my friend Kim, aka @WestCoastLife, for her stunning photography skills that brought these airport experiences to life.

Things to do in San Francisco Airport

Art at SFO

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While most airports are often grey and uninviting, San Francisco Airport stands out as a vibrant destination in itself. The airport’s impressive art collection is one of its most striking features, boasting over 100 pieces from local, national, and international artists. Among my personal highlights was Everywhere a Color by Leah Rosenberg, an installation that caught my eye in Boarding Area G.

Terminal One, also known as the Harvey Milk terminal, is another hotspot for art enthusiasts. Suspended ‘tectonic plates’ on the mezzanine level are sure to grab attention, while nearby, a stunning 13-foot by 33-foot mosaic mural showcases human connection and diversity in Area B. Don’t miss the striking bronze tubing piece above the walkway in this area as well.

For an added touch of whimsy, head to the airport’s train station, where colourful stained-glass walls illuminate when lights shine through. And if you’re lucky enough to be staying overnight at the Grand Hyatt, take a moment to marvel at the awe-inspiring canopy of kite-like shapes that adds a playful touch to this already impressive airport.

Self-Guided Tours

One of the many hidden gems at San Francisco Airport is the opportunity for visitors to embark on a self-guided tour of the terminals. SFO Airport has thoughtfully created preset itineraries for each terminal, allowing you to explore and discover their attractions without having to be in transit yourself. This activity is pre-security, so you don’t need to have a flight booked or be a frequent flyer to enjoy it. What’s more, this activity is especially suited for families with young children. Between the hours of 8 am and 8 pm, kids who complete the self-guided tour are rewarded with a small prize, making it an ideal entertainment option for little ones.

Flight Attendant Museum

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If you’ve ever been curious about the evolution of flight attendant uniforms, you’re in luck! The San Francisco Airport’s Flight Attendant Museum is a treasure trove of fashion and history. As I walked through the exhibit, I was fascinated by how United Airlines’ uniforms have transformed over nearly a century, with the earliest examples dating back to the 1930s. What struck me was how each decade’s uniform reflected its respective style trends – from emerald green to blue to red, a dramatic shift in color palette that mirrors broader cultural shifts.

The Aviation Museum & Library

While exploring aviation history further, consider visiting the Aviation Museum and Library, which will reopen late 2021 following a brief construction period. Currently closed for renovations, its doors will once again swing open to share fascinating stories about commercial aviation’s evolution and its profound impact on our daily lives.

Within its walls, you’ll discover an impressive array of artifacts from various airlines, including rare items like stewardess pins, vintage luggage labels, route maps, and more. As a museum with a strong focus on the Pacific Rim and West Coast, it’s an ideal destination for those interested in regional aviation history.

Kids’ Spot

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San Francisco airport’s Kids’ Spot stands out as an excellent destination for young travelers, offering a stimulating environment where little ones can let loose before their flight. The interactive area is designed to keep children engaged and energized.Personally, I found the Spirogyrate installation to be particularly captivating, not just for kids but also for adults with a sense of adventure! This mesmerizing glass and acrylic artwork features spiral patterns that react to human movement, creating an immersive and entertaining experience. What’s more, it’s an excellent spot to visit regardless of whether you have children or simply possess a childlike sense of wonder.

Outdoor Observation Terraces

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After the confines of a flight, there’s nothing like taking a deep breath of fresh air to revive your spirits. However, many layover airports are notorious for being stale and uninspiring. San Francisco International Airport (SFO) cleverly addresses this issue with its outdoor observation terraces, providing a welcome respite from the usual airport experience.

These unique spaces offer breathtaking views of the airfield and surrounding hills, creating an unparalleled ambiance that’s both calming and invigorating. To enhance the experience, SFO has incorporated a charming garden featuring sculptures on the deck, offering a serene oasis amidst the hustle and bustle of travel.

Do Yoga

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As the plane ride wears on, another unwelcome consequence of air travel becomes apparent: stiff muscles. Fortunately, San Francisco International Airport’s yoga room provides a serene escape from the discomfort. This tranquil oasis is perfect for practicing yoga, relaxation, or meditation, and the best part? It’s completely free to use. After spending some time in this peaceful space, I left feeling rejuvenated and ready to tackle my next adventure.

Harvey Milk Terminal & Museum

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In the midst of a bustling airport, Terminal One at SFO Airport pays tribute to the legacy of Harvey Milk, a pioneering figurehead for LGBTQ rights in the 1970s. The terminal serves as a poignant reminder of his impact and continues to inspire generations. As travelers navigate through the terminal during their layover, they can discover more about Milk’s remarkable journey from being the first openly gay elected official to his tireless advocacy work. Despite being over four decades since his passing, the values Harvey Milk stood for remain remarkably relevant today. In recognition of this enduring legacy, SFO has implemented inclusive restrooms, offering single-stall facilities and ‘All Gender’ options throughout the terminals, ensuring a welcoming environment for all passengers, regardless of gender identity.

Freshen Up with a Shower

Let’s face it – air travel can be a grueling experience. To help alleviate some of that fatigue, FreshenUp! offers a convenient shower facility where you can revitalize yourself before your next flight. For $25, you can indulge in a luxurious 30-minute shower complete with a range of amenities: soap, shampoo, lotion, shower slippers, a towel, and even a hairdryer. Military personnel and employees are eligible for a 50% discount on this package. In addition to showers, FreshenUp! also stocks travel-sized essentials like toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant, razors, feminine hygiene products, undergarments, and more. If you need to get your clothes in order, their washer and dryer facilities are available for a small extra fee, with ironing services also offered – a perfect way to look your best after a long flight.

Nap Rooms

No one can deny that sleeping in airport chairs is hardly an ideal experience – they’re stiff, cold, and far from comfortable. Add to that the need to constantly keep an eye on your belongings, and it’s little wonder why many of us find ourselves searching for a more relaxing alternative. At San Francisco Airport, FreshenUp! offers just that: a chance to unwind in one of their specially designed nap rooms.

Wag Brigade

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In the midst of chaotic air travel, a special group of canine companions at SFO Airport has been spreading joy to passengers since its inception. The Wag Brigade, comprised of 16 trained dogs and one dedicated pig, has been delighting travelers with their charming presence. Selected for their friendly demeanors, these furry friends have become a staple in the airport’s terminals.

After a brief hiatus, the brigade is once again bringing smiles to faces and warmth to the hearts of those passing through. Its return marks one of the most uplifting experiences at San Francisco International Airport, offering passengers a much-needed respite from their travels.

Hydrate with Water Fill Stations

Air travel often leaves passengers feeling parched due to recycled cabin air’s drying effects. Fortunately, most airports feature hydration stations scattered throughout terminals, allowing travelers to refill their water bottles and stay adequately hydrated. To avoid dehydration altogether, it’s a wise decision to stock up on water before embarking on your journey.


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When stuck at SFO Airport, many travelers turn to retail therapy as a way to pass the time and prepare for their journey ahead. The airport’s terminals boast an impressive array of shopping options, catering to various tastes and needs.

From essentials like toiletries and travel accessories at Brookstone and 49 Mile Market, to a quick snack or magazine to bring on board, there’s something for everyone. For those looking to indulge in some luxury retail therapy, duty-free goods from esteemed brands like Burberry and Gucci are also available.

In addition to these staples, the airport is also an ideal place to stock up on souvenirs, making it a great spot to pick up mementos before departing San Francisco.

Airline Lounges

Indulge in a touch of luxury at San Francisco International Airport by spending some time in an airline lounge. This convenient retreat allows you to bypass the need to navigate the airport’s vast space, providing everything you require within its walls. Think complimentary access to computers, high-speed internet, and personalized assistance – it’s the perfect spot to get work done or simply relax. Many lounges also offer a selection of snacks and an open bar, making it easy to unwind before your next flight.

Work or Browse Social Media – free, unlimited WiFi

When taking a break at SFO Airport, instead of stressing about what to do, take advantage of the free and unlimited WiFi to stay productive or entertained. The airport’s reliable internet connection allows you to catch up on work, respond to emails that have been piling up since your flight, or simply browse social media and keep your online presence updated. With ample time to unwind, you can use this opportunity to tackle those pending tasks or simply relax and pass the time.

Where to Eat and Drink in SFO

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When planning your itinerary for San Francisco International Airport (SFO), it’s easy to get sidetracked by the mouthwatering dining options available. SFO offers a diverse range of culinary delights, catering to various tastes and dietary preferences.

For dim sum enthusiasts, Koi Palace Express at gates 80-90 and the food hall in the International Main Terminal are must-visits. Meanwhile, vegans, vegetarians, and those with gluten intolerance can indulge at Amy’s Drive-Thru in Terminal One.

If you have time to spare for a leisurely meal, head to Lark Creek Grill in Terminal Two, offering a full-service dining experience featuring seafood, steak, and drinks. Alternatively, Yankee Pier near gate 72 serves up fresh seafood with exceptional service.

With its eclectic mix of shopping, food halls, museums, and other attractions, SFO Airport has the makings of a mini-city. Take advantage of your layover to explore its many corners, and don’t hesitate to share your experiences in the comments. A San Francisco layover is sure to be anything but dull!