Stuck at SFO? Not a Bad Place To Be

Travel Tips, What's New — By Mary Polizzotti on March 24, 2011 at 6:54 pm

Back in my frequent business traveling days, I was killing time at the dreadfully grey St. Louis airport, eating a sad salad at the crowded bar of a Chili’s, my only dining option. Next to me, an alleged cop tried to engage me on how Seattle’s homeless population had migrated to San Francisco, and how I had an eyelash on my face. What? I tried to wipe it away, and he said “No, no, it’s still there. Here, let me help you, close your eyes.” For some reason, I did, and the next thing I knew, the guy planted a kiss on my lips. Flabbergasted, I threw cash on the counter, and hurried off towards my boarding plane. I could hear him behind me yelling “Can I walk you to your gate?!”

San Francisco International Airport, the entry point for many visitors to our lovely city, is the only airport in the United States I like, if not love. Not to say it isn’t subject to random strangers kissing in airport bars, but SFO doesn’t even have a Chili’s! In a country where airport cuisine is limited to fast food, and where the only activity is sitting on the linoleum floor…waiting, SFO is an anomaly in its breadth of dining, shopping, and activities.

SFO International Airport at nightPhoto courtesy of Don Fulano/Flickr

If you have more than a 3 hour layover, why not check out San Francisco? BART stops right outside the International Terminal. It’s a quick 30 minute ride to downtown and even quicker to the Mission, get off at 16th or 24th St to wander around. The ride will cost you $8 each way. FYI, a taxi to downtown will run about $35-40.

SFO is the only U.S. airport that’s also an accredited museum. The aviation museum resides within the international terminal, and Japanese ceramics are also on display there. Currently, terminal 3 is showing folk art made from recycled remnants, as well as landscape photography by Noah Beil. Portraits and collage done by SF high school students accompany the permanent aquarium in terminal 1.

Dining options at SFO reflect the diversity of eateries in San Francisco. Personally, I love flying in and out of terminal 3 because of Sankaku for sushi and the Anchor Brewing Company for its tasty microbrews and above average pub food. The international terminal has the most variety outside of security including Japanese, Chinese, and European cafés. Terminal 1 is pretty weak in terms of food, but it does have the standard bar and grill.

Dozens of stores, like Burberry, Coach, Gucci, and Tumi, lure shoppers with their expensive eye-candy. You’ll also find San Francisco’s iconic treats like Napa wines and Ghirardelli chocolate. The SFMOMA museum store (international terminal) is a worthy spot to stock up on inimitable gifts.

SFO has rapid charging units for your gadgets throughout the airport. Showers are in the main hall of the international terminal pre-security, as is baggage storage. You can also rent DVD’s and DVD players at InMotion Entertainment’s 3 SFO stores. Wi-Fi is available throughout the airport and you can fill up your water bottle with pure Sierra snowmelt at various hydration stations post-security. The AirTrain is free and loops around all terminals quickly and efficiently.

Terminal 2 is reopening this April after a $383 million renovation project. A sustainable food focus is planned for all concessions, and the terminal is hoping to achieve LEED Gold Certification, the first U.S. airport terminal to do so. Even better, a Pinkberry will be opening!

Newly renovated terminal 2 at SFO International AirportPhoto courtesy of

Tags: airport services, BART, best airports, dining, museum, san francisco, san francisco international airport, SFO, shopping, stuck in the airport


  • Mitch says:

    hope you didn’t pay 8 dollars for bart both ways.. I believe you meant round trip

  • Mary Polizzotti says:

    Nope, it actually is $8 each way! Check out the fares and schedule here –
    $7.95 one way to 24th St Mission
    $8.10 one way to Powell St, downtown

  • k says:

    Is it easy to go in and out of terminals? I’m going to have a quick layover (less than an hour) and wouldn’t mind grabbing some Pinkberry. 🙂

  • Mary Polizzotti says:

    the AirTrain zips between terminals in a loop and some terminals are definitely walkable


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