Layovers aren’t always fun. Sometimes, you find yourself at your terminal, twiddling your thumbs, looking for something to do. San Francisco (SFO) Airport is not a terrible place to be “stuck.” In fact, there are a lot of things to do on at San Francisco airport. Here is my guide for activities and what to do in SFO Airport. You will find that a San Francisco layover is never boring!
About San Francisco Airport (SFO)
San Francisco Airport aka SFO Airport is the gateway between the mainland United States, Asia, and Hawaii. If you are flying to those destinations, you’ll likely have a San Francisco layover.
It also happens to be one of the coolest airports around. You’ll have a ton of fun if you know what to do at SFO Airport.
This blog post about things to do at SFO is brought to you in collaboration with San Francisco Travel.
There are plenty of activities in San Francisco Airport’s four terminals. Three of these are domestic terminals, and one is international. You can move between each of these areas using the AirTrain. At SFO Airport, there are museums, observation terraces, and many other fun features you can enjoy.
I wouldn’t mind having a San Francisco layover again because it is a unique and entertaining place.
A special thanks to my friend Kim aka @WestCoastLife who is an amazing photographer and took all these photos.
Things to do at San Francisco Airport
Art at SFO
Art at SFO is the TOP of my list! Most airports are grey and dreary. Not SFO. One of the best things to do at San Francisco Airport is to explore all of its incredible art.
Its collection of permanent art has over 100 pieces. The art featured at SFO comes from local, national, and international artists.
My personal favourite installation was Everywhere a Color by Leah Rosenberg in Boarding Area G.
Additionally, in Terminal One (the Harvey Milk terminal), you can see suspended “tectonic plates” on the mezzanine level. Nearby in Area B is a 13-foot by 33-foot mosaic mural that depicts human connection and diversity. Also in this area is an impressive bronze tubing piece above the walkway.
At the airport’s train station, colourful stained-glass walls illuminate when lights shine through. Finally, you can also see an awe-inspiring canopy of kite-like shapes if you’re staying overnight at the Grand Hyatt.
Another one of the many amazing things to do at San Francisco Airport is to take a self-guided tour of the terminals.
SFO Airport has preset itineraries for visitors to follow in each terminal. These guides are pre-security, so you don’t have to have a flight booked to see their attractions.
Groups with small children would love this activity. Between the hours of 8 am and 8 pm, kids who complete a self-guided tour receive a small prize.
Flight Attendant Museum
Do you ever wonder what flight attendant uniforms have looked like over the years? Even if you didn’t, you could find out at the San Francisco Airport’s Flight Attendant Museum.
I thoroughly enjoyed walking through the exhibit and seeing how United Airlines’ flight attendant uniforms have evolved throughout time. The collection goes back nearly 100 years to the 1930s.
I got a kick out of seeing how the uniforms reflected the trends of each decade. The colors have changed drastically over time – shifting from emerald to blue to red.
The Aviation Museum & Library
If you want to continue exploring aviation history, head to the Aviation Museum and Library. It is temporarily closed due to construction but will be back in late 2021.
At this museum, you can learn about how commercial aviation developed and its impact on our daily lives.
There are exciting artifacts from many airlines housed at the Aviation Museum. Some of the items in its collection include stewardess pins, vintage luggage labels, route maps, and more. This museum emphasizes the Pacific Rim and West Coast.
Kids’ Spot is one of the few activities in San Francisco airport that is ideal for the little ones. This interactive area is a great place to have your kids run around and let out their energy before their flight.
My favourite kid-friendly spot was Spirogyrate. It’s also fun for adults! This spinning glass and acrylic installation have spiral patterns that respond to people’s movement. It is interactive and highly entertaining.
I would recommend visiting this exhibition whether or not you have kids (or are just a kid at heart).
Outdoor Observation Terraces
After being cooped up on a flight, it’s always nice to get a fresh breath of air. Unfortunately, most layover airports are not great for that. They have a reputation for being stuffy and uninspiring.
SFO Airport built the perfect spot to solve this dilemma. Their outdoor observation terraces are the breath of fresh air you need during your San Francisco layover.
It has spectacular views of the airfield and the hills surrounding the airport. There is a cute little garden with sculptures on the deck as well.
Another unpleasant side effect of being on the plane is sore muscles. Head to their yoga room if you’re trying to figure out what to do in SFO Airport during your break.
This tranquil area is available for yoga, relaxation, and meditation. The best part is that it is free to use this facility.
I felt renewed and ready for my next adventure after spending time in this peaceful space.
Harvey Milk Terminal & Museum
Harvey Milk was an important figurehead and leader for LGBTQ rights in the 1970s. Terminal One at SFO Airport honors the late activist and keeps his legacy alive.
You can learn more about this influential man during your San Francisco layover throughout the terminal. It has fascinating information about his time as the first openly gay elected official, advocacy work, and legacy.
Almost fifty years later, everything that Harvey Milk stood for remains timely.
SFO provides all passengers, regardless of gender identity, access to single-stall restroom facilities throughout the terminals as well as an ‘All Gender’ restroom in Harvey Milk Terminal
Freshen Up with a Shower
Let’s be honest. Airplanes are icky. FreshenUp! offers shower facilities where you can refresh yourself before your next flight.
A deluxe 30-minute shower is $25. This package includes soap, shampoo, lotion, shower slippers, a towel, and a hairdryer. Military members and employees have a 50% discount. They also sell other essentials like travel-size toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant, razors, feminine products, undergarments, and more. You can also use their washer and dryer at the facility and iron your clothes for a small extra fee.
No one likes sleeping in airport chairs. They’re stiff, cold, and uncomfortable. Plus, you have to keep an eye on your stuff, and that’s never relaxing. FreshenUp! also has places where you can nap. It’s one of the most rejuvenating things to do at San Francisco Airport.
Each nap room has a bed, complimentary WiFi, desk, mirror, and optional flight board. They rent rooms in 15-minute increments for $10. If you plan on booking the room for over two hours, the rate goes down to $8/15 minutes. There is a discount for employees and military upon request.
Dogs have a way of bringing a smile to people’s faces. The Wag Brigade is a unique program at SFO Airport where trained dogs visit the terminals to uplift passengers.
The airport carefully selects these dogs based on their temperament. There are 16 dogs and a pig who are proud members of the brigade.
After a 20-month hiatus, the squad is back together, bringing airport passengers lots of joy during their layovers. It’s one of the most heartwarming activities in San Francisco airport.
Hydrate with Water Fill Stations
The recycled air on planes can really dry you out. There are many hydration stations around the terminals where you can refill your water bottle.
It’s always a good idea to stock up on water before you depart for your next destination.
Retail therapy is always a go-to activity if you’re trying to figure out what to do in SFO Airport. The terminals have outstanding shopping opportunities.
Places like Brookstone and the 49 Mile Market sell all the essentials you need if you forget something at home. You can also grab a snack or magazine to bring on the plane with you.
Additionally, there are luxury apparel brands like Burberry and Gucci selling duty-free goods. If you forgot to buy souvenirs, stocking up on some is one of the things to do at San Francisco Airport before you leave.
One of the things to do at the San Francisco airport if you want to pamper yourself a little is to hang out in an airline lounge.
Hanging out there eliminates the need to walk around and figure out what to do in SFO Airport.
You have everything you need right in the lounge. There are spaces with computers, high-speed internet, and personal assistance. Many lounges also give guests access to snacks and an open bar.
Work or Browse Social Media – free, unlimited WiFi
If you’re not in the mood to figure out what to do in SFO Airport, you can work or browse social media during your break.
The airport has free, unlimited WiFi you can use. Take advantage of the time to update your social media platforms or catch up on work. You can finally get to those emails that were piling up while you were on your flight.
If you are interested in more California travel tips, you might also like An Active Vacation in Monterey County, California, Huntington Beach – Southern California Road Trip, or Greater Palm Springs – Southern California Road Trip.
Where to Eat and Drink in SFO
You’ll probably get hungry while planning out what to do in SFO and your next destination. SFO has outstanding options for dining.
If you’re looking for some mouthwatering dim sum, look no further than Koi Palace Express between gates 80-90 and the food hall in the International Main Terminal.
A tasty vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free eatery in Terminal One is Amy’s Drive-Thru.
If you want a tasty leisurely meal in Terminal Two, try Lark Creek Grill. It is a full-service restaurant with seafood, steak, and drinks.
Yankee Pier is another outstanding option with fresh seafood and exceptional service near gate 72.
Overall, SFO Airport is a fun place to visit during a layover. It almost feels like a mini-city with a mall, food halls, and museums all in one. You’ll have a great time checking it out and exploring all of its corners. If you have a layover at SFO and visit some of these places, let me know in the comments. A San Francisco layover is never going to be boring!