10 Things To Do On A Long Layover At San Francisco Intl Airport

Layovers could be a very monotonous experience, but if you find yourself at the loggerheads of the same, and you’re stuck at the San Francisco Airport, there are plenty of things to do here. From exploring nearby attractions to indulging in retail therapy or local cuisine, SFO keeps you on your toes and entertained.


In this article, we will enlighten you to make the most of your time while highlighting the top 10 things to do during layover in San Francisco Airport. Here’s the San Francisco Airport layover Guide for you!

Love skygazing and planes? Then, check out Sky Terrace!

If you have a long layover in San Francisco and enjoy plane watching, be sure to visit the Sky Terrace – the outdoor observation deck at Terminal 2. Here you can experience the breathtaking panoramic vistas of the airfield and beyond. This vantage offers a fantastic view of the bustling activity and all 4 runways at SFO.

One of the top things to do in SFO where you can relax in the state-of-art seating areas that offer a great view of the landscape. While you’re there, don’t miss the opportunity to explore the SFO Museum’s exhibition. Partake into the ongoing “The 1954 San Francisco International Airport Terminal,”installed at the Sky Terrace lobby. This interactive exhibition showcases the history and architecture of the previous facility, which was the functional SFO terminal in the 1940s, that occupied the same spot where SkyTerrace now stands.

Located at Terminal 2 near pre-security, the SkyTerrace is accessible to the general public between 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Entry is free. It is open for the general public from Friday to Monday every week.  You can bring your own food and beverages while enjoying your long layover in San Francisco airport. Please note that smoking is not allowed here.

Browse the Public Art at SFO

Explore your artistic side to make the most of your layover in San Francisco. SFO takes a hearty pride in its extraordinary public art program that showcases a remarkable collection of paintings, sculptures, and artifacts that reflects the vibrant and diverse culture of the city.

things to do in sfo

There are more than 165 captivating pieces in a range of styles and mediums. One such is Janet Echelman’s breathtaking ceiling installation, “Every Beating Second,” which grabs the attention of the passing visitors with its mesmerizing beauty. More than that, there are over 30 commissioned and purchased artworks at Harvey Milk Terminal 1. These installations further enhance the airport’s vibrant culture, thus immersing travelers in a world where creativity and imagination intertwine.

Popular Art Installations & Exhibitions at SFO Airport

One of the artistic things to do in SFO Airport is to check-out the following installation. We have curated a terminal-wise list of ongoing artistic exhibitions and installations –

TerminalArt InstallationsLocation
Four CornersUnfolding Space (in Gold) 2020Departure Level 2
Voyage Connector – Level 2
Flight PatternsBoarding Area C – Level 2
Split Departures – Level 2
Four CornersDepartures – Level 2
OrionDepartures – Level 2
Terminal 2Flourish Terminal 2 entrance
Long Arc of DayDepartures – Level 2
Cilindro CostruitoDepartures – Level 2
Welcome North, Welcome South, Welcome East, Welcome WestBaggage Claim – Level 1
San Francisco Bay Area Bird EncountersChildren’s Play Area – Level 2
Air Over UnderExterior – Level 2
Terminal 3Behind Ted McMann’s GarageBoarding Area E – Level 2
The HesperidesBoarding Area E – Level 2
Billboard SeriesBoarding Area F – Level 2
Two Wings for Wall and PersonElevator Lobby – Level 1
SkyBoarding Area E – Level 2
Outside TerminalPohinaLong-Term Parking
Coding (Sky stained glass installation)Long-Term Parking
This Infinite Gateway of Time and CircumstanceGrand Hyatt, Level 4
Circadian TransitGrand Hyatt, Level 4

Discover Nearby Attractions

A lengthy layover can unexpectedly turn into a chance to explore the attractions that San Francisco has to offer. Fortunately, SFO provides convenient access to the city’s popular financial district, which is approximately a 30-minute ride. There are several transportation options available that let you accomplish your ‘Things to do near San Francisco airport’ goals. You can have access to taxis, rental cars, ridesharing services, and the BART public transit system.

things to do in sfo

If you’re in for SFO overnight layover you can conveniently store your luggage at the Airport Travel Agency located at the Main Hall of international terminal.

What are the popular attractions near SFO Airport?

San Francisco has plenty of attractions to explore. Some of the popular things to do near SFO airport includes- 

  • Explore the vibrant Fisherman’s Wharf – Take a BART train to Market Street, followed by a delightful ride on the Powell/Hyde cable car route. At Fisherman’s Wharf House,observe the sunbathing sea lions on the wooden docks or simply indulge in sampling the local cuisine. This is where you get the awe-inspiring vistas of the Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge.
  • Visit the Lombard Street – This is where you can leisurely stroll and indulge into the panoramic views of the cityscape. Thanks to its mesmerizing and winding streets which are renowned for their steep inclines.
  • Ride the cable car – San Francisco owes much of its charm to the iconic cable car system, which has played a significant role in shaping the city’s identity. Hop aboard one of these historic vehicles and embark on a journey through the streets of San Francisco, exploring various routes that showcase the city’s unique character.

Sample Local Cuisine

There are plenty of things to do at SFO Airport, one such is the vibrant food scene at the airport. The airport offers a taste of the city’s culinary delights.From gourmet sandwiches to international cuisine, there’s something to satisfy every palate.

Some of the major outlets include –

Restaurant NameTerminal
Napa FarmsTerminal 2
Burger JointTerminal 2
Café XTerminal 3
Sidewalk JuiceTerminal 3
Joe & The JuiceInternational Terminal G
Dolores Park CafeTerminal 2
Proper FoodHarvey Milk Terminal 1
Proposition ChickenTerminal 3
Koi Palace ExpressTerminal 3
Bacon BaconTerminal 3
Dogpatch Bakehouse & CaffèTerminal 3
Gott’s RoadsideInternational Terminal A
Peet’s CoffeeTerminal 2
Roasting Plant CoffeeEd Lee International Main Hall
Potrero GrillEd Lee International Main Hall
Bistrot Bay AreaHarvey Milk Terminal 1
San Francisco Giants ClubHouseTerminal 3
Koi Palace ExpressEd Lee International Main Hall

Go Shopping at SFO Airport

things to do in sfo

When it comes to satisfying your desire for retail therapy, SFO offers an impressive selection of shops that accomplish your ‘SFO airport things to do’ list. Whether you’re in search of luxury brands or prefer browsing through local boutiques, the airport has something for everyone. 

Discover the enticing duty-free stores, where you can find tax-free deals on designer goods. You can also peruse the charming collection of souvenirs and gifts thus allowing you to bring a piece of San Francisco home with you.

Which shopping stores are available at SFO Airport?

Store NameTerminal
GucciInternational Terminal A
BrookstoneEd Lee International Main Hall
DFS Watches, Jewelry & Accessories (WJA)International Terminal G
CoachInternational Terminal A
See’s CandiesTerminal 3
DFS Sunglasses and WatchesInternational Terminal A
The Chocolate MarketTerminal 3
Jo Malone/Tom FordTerminal 3
DFS Duty FreeInternational Terminal A

NOTE: This is not the exhaustive list. To know more outlets, visit the SFO airport’s website.

Relax at the Lounges

things to do in sfo

One of the most relaxing things to do in San Francisco airport is finding solace and comfort in its lounges. Indulge in a quiet atmosphere, away from the crowds, as you catch up on some work or simply indulge in complimentary meals and beverages. For instance, there’s Jetblue Airways San Francisco Airport Terminal which is the home to numerous lounges.

List of lounges at SFO Airport with their locations-

LoungeLocationHours Of Operation
Air France – KLM Lounge – TemporaryInternational Terminal A, near Gate A1, Level 4Sunday – Saturday: 11:30 am-3:00 pm
Alaska AirlinesTerminal 2, Retail Street, Level 2Sunday – Saturday: 5:00 am-11:00 pm
American Airlines Admirals ClubHarvey Milk Terminal 1, Near Gate B13, Level 2Sunday – Saturday: 4:30 am-11:30 pm
The Centurion LoungeTerminal 3, near Gate F2, Level 2Sunday – Saturday: 5:00 am-9:00 pm
British Airways LoungeInternational Terminal A, between Gates A5 and A9Sunday – Saturday: 5:00 am-11:30 am, 1:30 pm-6:45 pm
China Airlines LoungeInternational Terminal A, near Gate A1, Level 4Sunday – Saturday: 8:00 pm-12:30 am
Delta Sky ClubTerminal 2, near Gate C3, Level 2Sunday – Monday: 4:30 am-10:30 pm
Emirates LoungeInternational Terminal A, between Gates A2 and A6Sunday – Saturday: 12:45 pm-4:45 pm
Japan Airlines Sakura LoungeInternational Terminal A, near Gate A1, Level 4Sunday – Saturday: 10:20 am-2:50 pm
United ClubTerminal 3, Rotunda of the F Gates, Level 2Sunday – Saturday: 5:00 am-12:00 am
United ClubTerminal 3, near Gate E2, Level 3Sunday – Saturday: 5:45 am-10:30 pm
United Global First LoungeInternational Terminal G, between Gates G6 and G9Sunday – Saturday: 7:00 am-10:30 pm
United Polaris LoungeInternational Terminal G, near Gate G1Sunday – Saturday: 6:30 am-10:30 pm
Virgin Atlantic ClubHouse LoungeInternational Terminal A, near Gate A1, Level 5Sunday – Saturday: 1:00 pm-9:30 pm

Some Other Places to Relax

San Francisco International Airport offers a variety of art installations, exhibits, and amenities to keep you engaged and entertained during your layover.

Visit the Yoga Room, available in Terminal 3 and Terminal 2. One of the top things to do in SFO airport, these dedicated spaces offer tranquil vibes that let you stretch, meditate, and rejuvenate. If you’re a fan of aircraft, make sure to explore the Aviation Museum & Library in the Ed Lee International Main Hall.

Lastly, do not miss out on SFO Museum Exhibits located in Terminal 2 and Terminal 3-

Kids’ SpotHarvey Milk Terminal 1
Yoga RoomTerminal 3
SFO Museum ExhibitsTerminal 2
Christian Science Reading RoomTerminal 2
SFO Museum ExhibitsTerminal 3
SkyTerraceTerminal 2
Yoga RoomTerminal 2
Shower Facilities & Nap RoomsEd Lee International Main Hall
Kids’ SpotTerminal 3
Kids’ SpotTerminal 2
Kids’ SpotTerminal 3
Outdoor TerraceInternational Terminal G
SFO Museum ExhibitsHarvey Milk Terminal 1
Aviation Museum & LibraryEd Lee International Main Hall
Video ArtsEd Lee International Main Hall
SFO Museum ExhibitsEd Lee International Main Hall

Visit the Unknown Museum

One of the best things to do in San Francisco Airport is to experience the Unknown Museum. Here you can have a glimpse into America’s history and culture. You can reimagine your experience here like that captivating movie “Fantastic Voyage,” where scientists ventured inside a human body. Similarly, a visit to this unique museum is a complete immersion in contemporary art and American southern culture to the core..

Prepare to get mesmerized by a vast display of daily-life objects and souvenirs which are collected from the late 18 th century to the 1940s. As you explore this serene space, the museum invites you to reflect on the past, triggering the nostalgic recollections, and encouraging you to form your own interpretation of the past artifacts.

Here you will discover one-of-a-kind installations that captivate the imagination. These include Colonel Sanders statues, captivating dioramas nestled within aquariums, hollowed-out TV sets, and vintage mannequins adorned in fashionable attire from the mid-century era. The Unknown Museum currently operates as a private museum and a lending archive at Departures Level 2, Gallery 2A.

Enjoy Luxurious Stay at the Airport with Stunning Views of the Bay

things to do in sfo

If you are looking for something away from the bustling and peak crowds at SFO, you can book your stay at the luxurious on-Airport hotel offering unparalleled views of the bay. Situated conveniently at the entrance of SFO, this prestigious hotel is easily accessible from all terminals.

This is one of the perfect things to do in SFO airport if you want to alleviate stress, jetlagged and simply want to rejuvenate before your upcoming flight. There are over 350 elegant rooms, including 22 suites at your disposal. There’s also a Business & Conference Centre which is perfect for gatherings of any scale. There’s also a state-of-the-art 1,500-square-foot fitness center, complete with a dedicated yoga center.

Partake in Day Trips from SFO

For travelers with a layover in San Francisco of 4 hours or more, there are plenty of day trips available. Provided it is one of the perfect things to do around SFO airport.

There are day trips available for San Mateo County where you can take BART to the Millbrae Station and transfer to the Caltrain rail service. The ride typically takes around 12 minutes.

DestinationBART StationTravel time from SFO
San Francisco
The Mission District16th Street, 24th Street25 minutes
Civic CenterCivic Center28 minutes
Union SquarePowell Street29 minutes
Chinatown & North BeachMontgomery Street30 minutes
South of Market & Yerba BuenaEmbarcadero, Montgomery Street30 minutes
Embarcadero & Financial DistrictEmbarcadero33 minutes
San Mateo County
Palo AltoPalo Alto45 minutes
Redwood CityRedwood City40 minutes
San MateoSan Mateo20 minutes
BurlingameBurlingame17 minutes

Indulge into the extraordinary things on your layover at San Francisco Airport. Here you can embark on the larger-than-life experience that will leave you awe-inspiring and leave behind the everlasting cherished memories.

Who are we?

Travellers can access all the assistance and services they require through ContactForSupport. Instead of sitting on hold for a long time, passengers can just call our customer service representatives and expect a quick response. For instance, call us right away if you need assistance finding or reserving any services at the SFO airport to experience a hassle-free journey.

Frequently Asked Questions

What to do near San Francisco Airport?

Discover iconic attractions such as the mesmerizing Golden Gate Bridge, lively Fisherman’s Wharf, and historic Alcatraz Island.

What to do in SFO Airport?

Explore captivating art installations, gaze planes’ take-off and landing at SFO airport, immerse yourself in a world of shopping and gastronomic delights.

Does San Francisco airport have sleeping pods?

Yes, SFO features nap rooms that come with shower facilities, toiletries, and ironing facilities.

Can I sleep at SFO Airport?

SFO provides designated sleeping areas where you can rest and recharge during your layover. 

What to do at SFO for 4 hours?

Explore the airport’s art exhibits, dine at local restaurants for a taste of San Francisco cuisine, and relax at an airport lounge or outdoor terrace to make the most of your 4-hour layover at SFO.

Where to hang out at San Francisco Airport?

SFO offers various hangout spots, including the Sky Terrace, and the dining & shopping areas.

What to do during an 8 hour layover in San Francisco?

With 8 hours to spare, you can indulge in exploring the airport, including dining and shopping to your heart’s content. You can also explore the city to visit the nearby attractions.

Can I leave the airport during layover in San Francisco?

Yes. However, be mindful of the time required for immigration and transportation to and from the city.

What can you do on a 5 hour layover at SFO?

You have several options to make the most of your time. There are plenty of dining and shopping establishments or you can simply head to one of its many lounges.

What to do in San Francisco for a 10 hour layover?

On a 10 hour layover, consider visiting iconic attractions such as the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island, or Fisherman’s Wharf. There are also plenty of Day Trip tours available for San Francisco and San Mateo County.

Published June 13, 2023
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