17 Things to do at San Francisco Airport During Layover

If you’re stuck at the San Francisco Airport with a layover, don’t worry! There are plenty of things to do to make the time go by quickly. Here is a detailed guide on what to do and where to go. In this guide, you’ll learn about the amenities at the airport, what to do and see nearby, and tips for making your layover more enjoyable.

17 things to do at SFO During Layover

Below are 17 fun things to do at San Francisco Airport when you have a layover:

Get something to eat:

Rather than thinking of your layover as a waste of time, consider it an opportunity to explore the culinary offerings of the airport! You could even turn your layover into a mini food tour. The airport has a great range of to-go kiosks, delis, cafes, and sit-down restaurants. Locals particularly like Andale Mexican, Dogpatch Bakehouse, and Roasting Plant Coffee.

If you’re looking for a leisurely sit down, try Emporio Rulli Gran Caffe, Lark Creek Grill, and SF Uncork’d. Those 3 are my favorites. Some popular chains include Starbucks, Peet’s Coffee & Tea, Pinkberry, and Burger King. And don’t worry if you get hungry in the middle of the night–there are two cafes that stay open 24 hours! One is located in Terminal 1 and the other is pre-Security in the International Terminal.

SFO has a plethora of food and dining options that are not only tasty, but also reasonably priced. At Terminal 1, you can treat yourself to organic ice cream and hand-rolled waffles at Three Twins Ice Cream or savor a cobb salad or burger from Perry’s. If you’re flying out of Terminal 2, make sure to check out Cat Cora’s elegant bistro, the Napa Farms Market (famous for their fresh produce), Lark Creek Grill, and Andale Mexican Restaurant. And if you find yourself at Terminal 3 head straight to Bun Mee for Vietnamese cuisine, Yankee Pier for seafood lovers (try their chowder!), or Sankaku if Japanese food is more your thing.

At the International Terminal, you can feast on Mission Taco House’s custom burritos, Koi Palace Express’ dim sums, Ebisu’s shrimp tempura, as well as Manufactory Food Hall’s tacos and fried chicken.

The San Francisco Airport has an extensive permanent art collection, including sculptures and paintings from local artists. You can explore the gallery while waiting for your flight.

Launched in 1977, the SFO public gallery now hosts 165 pieces of art in all its 3 terminals including international terminal. You can get a sneak peek of what to expect on SFO Arts gallery page here.

The pieces on display range from paintings and photographs to ceramic sculptures and digital works of art. Take your time exploring the different collections, such as “Cityscapes,” featuring city scenes from around the world; “Elements,” featuring works that explore the elements of fire, water, and air; and “Inspiration,” featuring works by female artists. Touring this gallery is a great way to pass the time during your layover.

Take advantage of free Wi-Fi:

San Francisco Airport offers free Wi-Fi throughout all the terminals. You can access the internet from any corner of the airport, so take advantage of this and catch up on your emails or browse online while you wait for your flight.

If you need to get some work done, there are several business centers located in each terminal. In addition to providing free internet access, these centers offer computers and printers with printing services.

Go shopping:

San Francisco Airport is home to several duty-free shops where you can find great deals on a wide variety of items including cosmetics, fragrances, alcohol, jewelry, electronics, souvenirs, and candy. If you’re looking for something stylish but don’t want to break the bank, head over to the airport’s outlet mall. Here you can find designer brands such as Michael Kors, Kate Spade, and Hugo Boss at discounted prices.

Plus, if you’re an international traveler looking for tax-free shopping, several stores offer this service too. Don’t forget to check out the SFO Museum store for unique souvenirs and gifts.

Relax:

Nothing beats unwinding during a layover. San Francisco Airport has several yoga rooms located throughout the terminals where you can practice stretching, breathing exercises, and meditation to help keep you relaxed while waiting for your flight.

The airport also offers massage chairs, which you can find at several locations throughout the terminals. These are perfect for relieving stress and tension after a long day of traveling.

Explore beyond SFO:

If you have time to spare during your layover, there are plenty of things to do just outside San Francisco Airport. You can take a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) train from the airport to downtown San Francisco, where you can explore everything from Chinatown and Fisherman’s Wharf to Union Square and North Beach.

For outdoor enthusiasts, there are plenty of hiking trails nearby as well. Head over to the Presidio for stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Bay or take a stroll through the beautiful grounds of the Palace of Fine Arts.

If you’re looking for something more laid-back, take a short drive to nearby Sausalito and spend some time exploring its charming shops and restaurants. The area is also home to several wineries and breweries, so don’t forget to sample some local wines or craft beers during your visit.

Go sightseeing:

If you have a long layover of at least 5 hours, you can take a hop-on/hop-off bus tour and explore the city. You’ll get to experience some of San Francisco’s most popular attractions, including Fisherman’s Wharf, Chinatown, and the Golden Gate Bridge.

These tours are available at various times throughout the day and tickets can be purchased from most airport kiosks or desks.

No matter how long your layover, San Francisco Airport has plenty of activities to help make the most of your time. From museum visits and shopping trips to yoga classes and sightseeing tours, you can find something enjoyable to do during your wait for your next flight.

Do some yoga:

Looking to ease any tension before your flight? Free airport 24-hour yoga studios are available for all passengers. Find them in Terminal 2, inside Security (D area), or Terminal 3, inside Security near Gate 69.

The studios provide the mats for use and are open 24/7 with no reservation necessary (just show up).

This is an ideal way to take your mind off the hustle and bustle of the airport, relax and get some exercise before your next flight.

Go for a run:

The San Francisco Airport also has an outdoor running track, located near the SFO Museum. It’s a great way to work off some energy before your flight. The track is open from 7 AM-10 PM during the summer months and 8 AM-9 PM in the winter.

Go for a spa treatment:

Get pampered by XpressSpa which has three locations at SFO airport. You can find them on inside security at Terminal 2 at the D area or inside security near Gate 60 in Terminal 3. There is also one at the International Terminal Inside Security near Gate 100.

At XpressSpa you can get a variety of spa treatments such as reflexology, bodywork, and massage.

You can even book in advance to ensure that your treatment is ready when you arrive. Remember this is free if you have Priority pass membership.

Take a shower:

If you’re looking to freshen up after a long flight, there are several showers available throughout San Francisco Airport. The showers can be found at Freshen Up (International Terminal, pre-Security). For $25, you get a 30-minute shower session complete with towels, toiletries, shower shoes and even a hairdryer. There are also discounts for military members. If you’re flying American or Delta airlines, consider buying a pass into their lounges which have showers too. Refer to our San Francisco Airport Guide for more information on this subject matter.

Chill with pubs while petting them:

If your layover is short, perhaps less than 3 hours, you can hang out while petting pubs in Terminal 3. Read more about them here.

In 2013, SFO created the “Wag Brigade” to enhance passenger experience by inviting certified therapy dogs from the San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) into the terminals. This activity is perfect for travelers who miss their pets and just need a little extra love.

These furry friends can be found at various locations around the airport and are available for petting throughout the day. The best spot to find them is near Gate 74A in Terminal 3, where you can hang out with your new friends while sipping a beer from one of the nearby pubs.

Enjoy SFO’s lounges:

If you’re looking to relax in peace and comfort during your layover, then the lounges at San Francisco Airport are the perfect place to be. These lounges offer luxurious amenities such as comfortable furniture, free Wi-Fi, complimentary snacks and beverages, and much more.

The two main lounges at SFO are American Airlines Admirals Club in Terminal 1, Near Gate B13, Level 2, Post-Security and United Club in Terminal 3, Rotunda of the F Gates, Level 2, Post-Security. Both have comfortable seating, complimentary Wi-Fi, and snacks and beverages.

You can also access the lounges with a Priority Pass membership, which allows you to visit lounges all over the world for free or discounted prices.

Though closed at the moment, the American Express Centurion Lounges are located at Terminal 3, near Gate F2, Level 2, Post-Security. See all the lounges at SFO on its website here.

Get some sleep:

If you need to catch some z’s during your layover, there are a few options available. The San Francisco Airport offers two Nap Pods in Terminal 2, near Gate 13, Post-Security. These pods offer soundproof privacy and adjustable lighting, perfect for snoozing away the hours of your layover.

If you prefer to keep your luggage with you, consider renting a room by the hour at the SFO Airport Hotel. Located just minutes from the terminals, this hotel offers comfortable rooms and 24-hour access for travelers who need to get some rest in between flights.

For something more budget-friendly, you can always sleep at one of the massage chairs or couches scattered throughout the airport. There are also several quiet corners away from the hustle and bustle of the terminals, where you can catch some rest in peace.

And if all else fails, there’s always the option of sleeping at one of the nearby hotels near SFO. These options provide a little bit more comfort than the airport, and are usually a cheaper alternative to on-site overnight accommodations.

Refer to our San Francisco Airport Guide for more information on this subject matter.

Visit San Francisco:

If you have time before your next flight and want to explore the City by the Bay, there are plenty of options available outside the airport. Downtown San Francisco is only 14 miles away from the airport and it will take you no more than 20 minutes riding a taxi to get here.

San Francisco has a vibrant culture with plenty of attractions such as the Golden Gate Park, Fisherman’s Wharf, and Alcatraz Island.

Take advantage of the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system to get around easily. The BART station is located right next to Terminal 3 and can take you directly into downtown San Francisco ins just 20 minutes.

You can also take a ride with one of the many sharing services such as Uber and Lyft, which are available at all terminals.

What to do at SFO Airport during Short Layover (less than 3 hours):

If you only have a few hours to spare during your layover, then you should focus on activities that will help make the most of your time. Here are some ideas:

• Visit one of the many restaurants, bars and shops at SFO.

• Take a quick stroll around the airport to explore its different terminals.

• Check out the San Francisco Airport Museum, located in Terminal 3.

• Relax at one of the airport’s lounges.

• Take a walk outside and explore the outdoor areas near the airport.

• Pick up a souvenir or two to remember your trip by.

What to do at SFO Airport During Long Layover (more than 4 hours):

If you have more time to spare during your layover, then you can focus on activities that will give you an even better experience. Here are some ideas:

• Visit one of the nearby attractions such as the Golden Gate Park or Alcatraz Island.

• Head into downtown San Francisco and explore its vibrant culture.

• Take advantage of the airport’s many restaurants, bars and shops.

• Check out the San Francisco Airport Museum or one of its many art galleries.

• Visit one of SFO’s lounges or join an airline loyalty program for discounted access.

• Relax by taking a walk outside and exploring the outdoor areas near the airport.

• Pick up some souvenirs to remember your trip by.

• Take a short nap in one of the Nap Pods or hotel rooms near the airport.

Are there activities for Kids to do during SFO layover?

Absolutely! There are plenty of activities to keep the little ones entertained during your layover. Here are some ideas:

• Visit the San Francisco Airport Museum, located in Terminal 3. This interactive museum is full of fun and educational experiences for children.

• Have a snack at one of the airport’s many restaurants or food courts.

• Take a stroll around the airport and explore its different terminals.

• Take advantage of the airport’s many shopping options.

• Visit one of the nearby attractions such as Golden Gate Park or Alcatraz Island.

Image of Nathan Kip Rotich

Nathan helps travelers find the most comfortable sleep setups during layovers, from cozy airport hotels to futuristic sleep pods. His insights aim to transform layovers into rejuvenating sleepcations, offering travelers an alternative to costly hotels and uncomfortable benches.