what to do at san francisco airport

San Francisco International Airport (SFO) is not just a gateway to the bustling city of San Francisco but also a destination in itself, offering a range of activities and amenities that can turn a layover or wait into an enjoyable experience.

My visit to SFO was marked by curiosity and a desire to explore beyond the departure gates, leading me to discover various facets of the airport that could appeal to any traveler.

Here’s a detailed exploration of what to do at SFO, broken down into sections based on my firsthand experiences.

Art and Exhibitions

SFO Museum: My journey through SFO began with the airport’s impressive array of art and exhibitions.

The SFO Museum curates exhibits throughout the terminals, turning mundane walks to your gate into cultural explorations.

SFO Museum

I was particularly captivated by the aviation history exhibits and the rotating art installations, which featured everything from local artists to international collections.

These exhibits are free to view and offer a peaceful diversion from the typical airport hustle.

Aviation Museum & Library: SFO’s Aviation Museum & Library was another highlight of my visit.

Offering a deep dive into the history of flight and air travel, this museum captivated me with its vintage aircraft models, historical uniforms, and fascinating photographs.

It’s a must-visit for aviation enthusiasts and history buffs alike.

Dining and Shopping

Local Eateries: San Francisco is known for its vibrant food scene, and SFO does an excellent job of reflecting this culinary diversity.

I indulged in some local flavors at eateries that ranged from high-end dining to quick, sustainable bites.

Napa Farms Market stood out for its selection of local wines and artisanal snacks, perfect for a pre-flight treat or to take on board.

Napa Farms Market

Unique Shopping: Shopping at SFO provided an opportunity to pick up last-minute gifts and travel essentials.

The array of shops included luxury brands, local souvenirs, and tech gadgets. I found the bookstore to offer a curated selection of reads that made picking up a new book for the flight a breeze.

shopping at SFO Airport

Relaxation and Wellness

Yoga Rooms: Seeking a moment of tranquility, I ventured into one of SFO’s yoga rooms. These quiet, clean spaces offered a sanctuary for meditation and stretching, complete with complimentary yoga mats.

It was a rejuvenating pause that I highly recommend to any traveler looking to de-stress.

Yoga Rooms SFO

Shower Facilities & Nap Rooms: While I initially sought spa services for relaxation, I discovered that SFO offers an alternative through Freshen Up! located in the International Terminal.

Image By SFO Airport

This facility provides travelers with the opportunity to freshen up via shower facilities and nap rooms, complete with toiletries, ironing facilities, and even undergarments for a nominal fee.

It’s an essential amenity for long-haul travelers or those needing to rejuvenate before their next journey.

Family-Friendly Features

The SkyTerrace: My journey through SFO was further enhanced by a visit to The SkyTerrace, open every Friday to Monday from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

The SkyTerrace SFO

This outdoor observation deck offers panoramic views of the airport and its operations, providing a unique vantage point and a breath of fresh air for travelers of all ages.

Kids’ Spots: Traveling with children can be challenging, but SFO eases this burden with five dedicated Kids’ Spots throughout the terminals.

Kids' Spots SFO

These interactive spaces, maintained in collaboration with the SFO Museum and the San Francisco Arts Commission, feature artwork by Bay Area artists and are designed to engage children in playful exploration.

  • Harvey Milk Terminal 1: Offers two distinct areas, “Near Gate B2,” an interactive play zone with nature-inspired elements and toy animals, and “Tree Town” near Gate B18, which celebrates Northern California’s oak trees with carved play structures from a salvaged oak.
  • Terminal 2: The “Butterfly Wall” near Gate D15, an interactive sculpture that creates a captivating display of mechanical butterflies, and “San Francisco Bay Area Bird Encounters” near Gate D7, featuring a musical mural and benches inspired by local bird species.
  • Terminal 3: “Spirogyrate” near Gate E7, where motion-activated spiraling discs inset into the floor and walls captivate with changing colors, enhancing the children’s exploration area with interactive artwork.

Art and Culture

Video Art Section: My exploration also led me to short-form documentaries and narratives showcased within the airport, highlighting contemporary artists and filmmakers at the forefront of their craft.

Video Art Section
Image By SFO Airport

This initiative by SFO to incorporate video art enriches the cultural experience of travelers, offering insights into modern artistic expressions.

Connectivity and Workspaces

Quiet Work Areas: SFO provides several quiet areas and workstations equipped with charging ports, making it easy for business travelers or those needing to stay connected to work comfortably.

Quiet Work Areas SFO

I found the seating to be ample and the Wi-Fi reliable, allowing me to catch up on emails and prepare for my upcoming meetings.

Mobile App: To help navigate all that SFO offers, I downloaded the airport’s mobile app. It proved invaluable for real-time updates, navigating between terminals, and discovering more hidden gems within the airport.


San Francisco International Airport (SFO) stands out as a hub not only for its efficient operations and comprehensive amenities but also for its dedication to enhancing the airport experience through art, family-friendly spaces, and wellness facilities.

My visit to SFO was not just a journey between destinations but a memorable part of my travel experience, enriched by the diverse offerings that cater to passengers of all ages and interests.

Whether you’re a solo traveler, a business professional, or a family on the go, SFO provides a welcoming and engaging environment that makes waiting for your next flight an opportunity to explore, relax, and enjoy.

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