Sleeping in Airports

12 things to do on a layover at San Francisco Airport

A layover in an unfamiliar airport doesn’t have to be a waste of time, especially if it’s San Francisco Airport. Voted a top 10 airport in North America in 2017, travellers enjoy the terminals’ ease and the solid options for eating and shopping. Whether you’ve got a quick stop or a long time to kill, here are 12 things to do on a layover at San Francisco Airport.

1. Enjoy a meal

Airport DiningStart your layover with a meal – it will feel less like a layover chore and more like a fun way to sample some good eats! You could even turn your layover into a mini food tour. The airport has many to-go kiosks, delis, cafes, and sit-down restaurants—locals particularly like Andale Mexican, Dogpatch Bakehouse, and Roasting Plant Coffee. For a leisurely sit-down, check out Emporio Rulli Gran Caffe, Lark Creek Grill, and SF Uncork’d. Popular chains include Starbucks, Peet’s Coffee & Tea, Pinkberry, and Burger King. A few cafes stay open 24 hours, one in Terminal 1 and the other in the International Terminal, both pre-security.

2. Relax in a lounge

Airport LoungesHead to one of several airport lounges for all-inclusive access to unlimited food and drinks, WiFi, news and TV, and comfortable seating. A few offer access to any traveller, so you don’t have to fly a specific airline or First or Business Class to get in. Pre-book your visit online or use your lounge membership program to gain entry. Other lounges cater exclusively to travellers flying Delta, United, and American. Details are available in our San Francisco Airport Guide.

3. Shop

ShoppingWith more than five dozen shops, both window shoppers and serious spenders can pass the time easily! You’ll find a wide range of shops, from convenience stores and technology shops to local booksellers and high-end boutiques. There are several locally-owned shops, too, like Marilla, which offers gourmet food and wine (great souvenirs), San Franpsycho for community-minded clothing, and the SFMOMA Museum Store affiliated with the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

4. Take a shower

showersDo you want to freshen up after that last flight? Head to Freshen Up (International Terminal, pre-Security) to use the shower facilities. For $25, you get a 30-minute shower session, including towels, toiletries, shower shoes, and even a hairdryer—discounts for the military. If you’re flying American or Delta, consider buying a pass into their lounges equipped with shower facilities. See our San Francisco Airport Guide for details.

5. Visit the spa

MassageIn need of some pampering? Treat yourself to a manicure, pedicure, facial, massage, or other relaxation treatment. XpresSpa has three locations: Terminal 2, inside Security, D area; Terminal 3, inside Security, near Gate 60; and International Terminal, inside security, near Gate 100.

6. Do yoga

YogaWhether you’re a true yogi or need full-body stretches, check out the airport yoga studios, equipped with free-to-use mats. Two locations: Terminal 2, inside Security, D area, and Terminal 3, inside security, near Gate 69. Open 24 hours.

7. Pet a pup

The airport’s Wag Brigade is a group of 20+ trained dogs who stroll the airport (with their guardians) to help de-stress travellers. You’ll know them thanks to their vests that say “Pet me!” – because they’re dogs!

8. View the art

The airport has many permanent and rotating art exhibits, so see how many you can spot in each terminal. The airport website shows what’s on view while you’re there.

9. Pick up some local history

The Aviation Museum serves up local history around private and commercial flying in the Bay Area, perfect for aviation buffs. It’s also just a nice break from the typical airport vibe. Location: International Terminal, pre-Security. Open daily, 10:30 a.m.- 4:30 p.m.

10. Go sightseeing

Layover SightseeingIf your long layover feels a little (or a lot) too long to stay inside the airport, public transit makes it easy to reach downtown San Francisco for some exploring. If you have at least 7 hours before your next flight, a San Francisco adventure is the best way to pass your layover.

Hop on BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit), which departs from the airport station every 10-15 minutes and has you downtown in about 30 minutes. You could opt for a taxi, but these are pricier and can take longer, thanks to notorious Bay Area traffic.

For a whistle-stop tour, swing by Golden Gate Bridge for an iconic photo, walk or ride down Lombard Street, the crookedest street in the world, ride a cable car from Ghirardelli Square, and eye the seals at Fisherman’s Wharf – you may even see Alcatraz Island on a clear day. Do you prefer wandering a neighbourhood or two? The Mission has plenty of cafes, eateries, and bars, and Lower Haight is within walking distance of the famous Victorian homes known as the Painted Ladies, plus the 1960s hotspot of Haight-Ashbury. Check out the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), the Legion of Honor, and the Conservatory of Flowers at Golden Gate Park for world-class museums. Visit Tripadvisor for more Things to Do in San Francisco.

Keep your eye on the time so you don’t miss your next flight! Leave plenty of time to return to the airport and clear security.

11. WiFi

Thanks to free, unlimited WiFi, spend your layover catching up on social media.

12. Sleep

Airport SleeperJust want to get some sleep? While you shouldn’t have any problems with airport staff, you may have difficulty finding a decent sleep spot. Seating varies depending on your terminal, but if you’re lucky, grab one of the new padded benches scattered throughout. Try moving furniture into a makeshift bed, or plan to sleep directly on the floor. Noise and bright lights are frequent complaints, so bring eyeshades and earplugs to cope. If you prefer a hotel, check out the three nap rooms available hourly at Freshen Up, located in the pre-secure zone of the International Terminal. Otherwise, several hotels are within a 5-minute drive of the airport, and most offer frequent free shuttles. See our San Francisco Airport Guide for details and locations.

These are just a few things to do on a layover at San Francisco Airport. Visit our San Francisco Airport Guide for more information about services and facilities, such as food, WiFi, mobile charging, luggage storage, nearby airport hotels, and much more.