San Francisco International Airport has become its own destination, with dozens of shops, restaurants, art exhibits, and innovative programs © SFO Airport
Most of us cringe when we encounter a flight delay. Unless that delay happens to be at San Francisco International Airport (SFO), which has quickly become a destination in its own right. The question of what to do in SFO is almost endless, with travellers taking full advantage of one of the most innovative airports in the country. In fact, SFO’s chic Terminal 2 has the highest spend rate per passenger in the U.S., if that’s any indication of what’s on offer here. Have a layover with no time to make it into San Francisco? Not to worry – this airport is a true reflection of its city.
“Over the past five years, we’ve really focused on the rich features and amenities throughout SFO’s terminals. We want to allow travellers to customize their journey at the airport,” says Doug Yakel, Public Information Officer for SFO.
Rich amenities are an understatement. At SFO, skip the fast food joints and sample authentic bites from local artisans. View interactive exhibits and artistic aesthetics throughout the airport. Shop at brand name retailers and small businesses. Get in a last minute workout. Just be sure you don’t miss your flight.
Travelling is a luxury, but let’s face it, sitting in one place for multiple hours can do a number on us. Stretch it out pre-flight at one of the two yoga rooms at SFO. While there aren’t any classes per se, the self-guided rooms offer free yoga mats and a serene space to relax and unwind. The rooms are found in Terminals 2 and 3, and are open during concourse business hours.
“Airports are representations of the regions that they serve,” says Yakel. “Having a yoga room in Northern California makes sense to people, and dedicating a space for this in the airport really resonated with our customers. Nine out of 10 times, I’ll find someone using the space.”
A Work of Art
A trip to San Francisco isn’t complete without a visit to one or two art museums, such as the SFMOMA. While the museum undergoes a massive expansion (slated for completion in 2016), you can get your SFMOMA fix at SFO’s MuseumStore. Bring a piece of San Francisco home with you, like the San Francisco Plate or SFMOMA mug.
SFO is the only airport in the U.S. with an accredited museum program, including works from the San Francisco Arts Commission. Take a moment to appreciate the rotating exhibits in the terminal galleries as a part of the SFO Museum. The museum was the first of its kind in an international airport when it was created in 1980, and continues to wow its visitors. Exhibitions include locally focused subjects, such as the vibrant San Francisco psychedelic rock music poster collection from the ‘60s and ‘70s in the International Terminal.
High on most visitors’ lists of reasons to visit the City by the Bay is, of course, the food. And SFO doesn’t disappoint when it comes to culinary representation. Fresh California produce and unmistakable San Francisco touches are peppered throughout the airport’s dining options, whether it’s a pop-up concession stand or fine dining restaurant.
In Terminal 2, skip the typical airport junk food and opt for a healthy bite at The Plant Café, offering hefty salads, freshly squeezed juices and Oakland’s own Blue Bottle coffee. Or pack your own pre-plane picnic at Napa Farms Market, where you can pick up a fresh baguette and the notoriously delicious Cowgirl Creamery cheeses.
If you thought that Irish Coffee was concocted in Ireland, guess again! San Francisco’s own Buena Vista Café first created the drink in 1952. And at Terminal 3, you can taste it for yourself at SFO’s Buena Vista outpost.
Even Michelin-star chefs have recognized SFO’s appeal. American Express cardholders now have a luxurious space to call their own – The Centurion Lounge (also in Terminal 3). Christopher Kostow of the Restaurant at Meadowood in Napa brings his gourmet touch to Centurion with dishes like slow-roasted pork shoulder or fermented and grilled mushrooms. A Napa-driven wine list and locally sourced cocktail menu top things off, giving you the perfect send off from the foodie capital of California.
Shop To It
A tip from savvy SFO travellers: leave room in your carry-on bag. When it comes to the question of what to do in SFO, you’re going to want to shop. No need to worry if you’ve missed your favourite Union Square retailer – it’s likely to be right here in the airport. Between the Coaches and the Guccis, you’ll find San Francisco’s own Ghirardelli chocolates and places like Destination Green, offering sustainable gifts for your earth-conscious friends back home. In need of a manicure before your trip? You’re in luck – there’s an XpresSpa beauty service shop in nearly every terminal to get you looking glamorous.
Finding an outlet for kids to let off some steam before a long flight is a must for most parents. Three dedicated Kids’ Spots in Terminals 2 and 3 are the place to do just that, offering interactive play areas and exhibits 24 hours a day. Self-guided tours include informational iPad kiosks with itinerary suggestions and thought-provoking tidbits. There’s even something for animal lovers – SFO’s Wag Brigade includes a handful of trained dogs, available to pet throughout the airport. Volunteer handlers roam the terminals with more than a dozen friendly dogs to help travellers de-stress.
Put down the gossip magazines and use your brainpower to network with other travellers passing through. In true San Francisco start-up fashion, #Converge@flySFO in the International Terminal is a dedicated space for guests to network and share brilliant ideas. There’s free wi-fi, a white board, and even a magnetic chalkboard to jot down notes. You may even spark an idea for a start-up of your own. Afterwards, give your mind a rest at the Berman Reflection Room, a space for self-reflection and meditation.
To help travellers get into the holiday spirit, SFO has created a Winter Music Festival, showcasing 30 top Bay Area musicians on four separate stations throughout the airport. Catch live performances between now and the New Year, including everything from jazz and classical music to pop and R&B. And if you hear something you like, you can download the playlist for your in-flight entertainment.
With direct flights to San Francisco from London Heathrow, it couldn’t be easier to experience SFO.
Wondering what to do in SFO? Let us answer your questions in the comments section below.
Written by Lindsay Wright