How to Spend a Layover in San Francisco

Wing | © Charles Haynes/Flickr
Wing | © Charles Haynes/Flickr
Photo of Deanna Morgado
14 September 2017

Although finding yourself stuck on a layover may not feel like the luckiest thing, if that layover happens to be at the San Francisco International Airport, think again. The airport is just 13 miles south of downtown San Francisco, making it pretty easy to find something to do in order to kill all that layover time.

Even if you don’t feel like leaving SFO (or can’t), during your layover, the airport has a huge number things that will keep you entertained as you wait for you connecting flight. SFO has a wide selection of dining options. Shopping options are spread throughout the airport, as are DVD rentals, the TripTel Business Center in the International Terminal, a medical clinic, and plenty more.

San Francisco, CA | © Rodrigo Paredes/Flickr

During a layover, sometimes the question isn’t what are you going to to do to kill time but what are you going to do to relax? In SFO’s Terminal 3 and in the International Terminal, XpresSpa can be found. Freshen Up showers are also located in the Main Hall of the International Terminal for those just looking to feel a little cleaner.

Traveling with kids can be fun, yet stressful. During a layover, take the kids to one of the three Kids’ Spots. These kids areas can be found in Terminal 2 Boarding Area D, near Gates 54A and 58B, Terminal 3 Boarding Area E near Gate 62, and Terminal 3 Boarding Area F, near Gate 87A, which also features interactive exhibitions from San Francisco’s Exploratorium. The Kids’ Spot is the best place to take the kiddos to burn off some energy before the flight and may also help them feel less anxious too. Simply walking through the terminals and admiring the art hanging can be a simple and fun activity too.

SFO | © Charles Haynes/Flickr

There is also a Flight Deck, a Christian Science Reading Room and a Meditation Room. In the International Terminal Main Hall, there is an Aviation Museum and Library.

A long layover can definitely be a blessing in disguise because it means you have an opportunity to see some sights San Francisco has to offer. From SFO it is about a 40 minute ride to the very popular financial district. Public transportation is at your disposal with taxis, rental cars, ridesharing, BART, and more. You can even ditch your luggage as you explore outside the airport at the Airport Travel Agency in the International Terminal, Main Hall. If you need to stay over there are there are numerous hotels near the airport. Just always remember to always leave time to get back to the airport, through security, to get to your connecting flight.


San Francisco ihas a wealth of tours on offer. There’s something for every type of visitor and tourist from double decker bus tours, segway and food tours, ferry and helicopter rides, not to mention the infamous Alcatraz prison tour. Most tours are two hours or less, though there are even half-day tours.

Alcatraz | © Hvnly/Flickr

Ride a cable car

The city by the bay would not be what it is today without the iconic cable car. You can hop on one and go through multiple different routes through San Francisco’s streets. You can check out all the different cable car routes in San Francisco here.

San Francisco cable car | © Karlis Dambrans/Flickr

Fisherman’s Wharf and ferry marketplace

Hop on the BART train to Market Street, and then ride the Powell/Hyde route cable car to bring you to the western end of Fisherman’s Wharf. Check out the basking sea lions on the wooden docks, taste some of the most amazing clam chowder you’ll ever have, and don’t forget the breathtaking views of the Bay and Golden Gate Bridge. If your layover time allows, stroll through the piers all the way to the ferry building. The ferry building is great for shopping, some wining and dining, and even has a farmers market.

Market place | © Neeta Lind/Flickr

Lombard Street

The hills of San Francisco are quite unforgettable (and gaspingly steep). Lombard Street is top of the list for the most curvy and crazy street. Catch a taxi, drive down the steep hill, and soak in the city views. At the end of the street, you can get dropped off in North Beach, which has some of the tastiest lunch spots around.

Lombard Street, San Francisco | © Holiday Point/Flickr

Instead of getting bummed over your next layover, get excited and treat it like a surprise mini-vacation. No matter how you decide to spend your layover, with all the options and fun San Francisco has to offer, it will sure be an unforgettable time.

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