We’re probably not telling you anything you don’t already know when we say “going to the airport” isn’t exactly on everyone’s bucket list. But just like every destination is different, so is every airport. And just as navigating a new city is challenging in and of itself, so is navigating a new airport. Should I go for Ivar’s chowder or Beecher’s mac & cheese at SeaTac? Do I have time to do yoga at SFO’s Terminal 2? How long will it take to get to ATL’s Concourse E for a cocktail at One Flew South?
If you’re anything like us, then these are the types of questions you have. But never fear, because we have answers to your airport questions with our series of guides to America’s airports. Today we bring you our airport guide to San Francisco International Airport (SFO).
Located 13 miles south of Downtown San Francisco, San Francisco International Airport is one of the busiest airports in the United States. It’s one of the largest hubs for United Airlines and the main base of operations for Virgin America, featuring four terminals. While train service is largely absent from most of America’s international airports, it’s your friend at SFO. San Francisco’s rapid transit system, BART, features routes directly from Oakland and San Francisco. Additionally, SFO’s AirTrain provides 24-hour service to all terminals, parking garages and the rental car center. Last, but certainly not least, complimentary Wi-Fi is offered throughout the airport.
As far as airport dining goes, the food at SFO is pretty good. That’s largely in part to Terminal 2, SFO’s newest terminal, which features many California-inspired restaurants, such as The Plant Café, Lark Creek Grill and Napa Farms Market. San Francisco burger joint, appropriately named Burger Joint, has locations in Terminal 2 and the International Terminal before security. In Terminal 1, you’ll find more in the way of small bakeries and bistros, while Terminal 3 carries on the local trend. Local restaurants in Terminal 3 include Andalè (for Mexican), Boudin Bakery, Klein’s Deli and Lori’s Diner.
Perhaps the best place to grab a drink at SFO comes from celebrity chef Cat Cora, known for becoming the first female Iron Chef. It’s here at her restaurant (by the same name) in Terminal 2 where you’ll find a full drink menu, though the standout is the cocktail menu, with many of their craft cocktail concoctions being locally inspired. Vino Volo (Terminal 2), a wine bar in multiple U.S. airports, is your best option for wine, while Gordon Biersch is where you can find beers that Gordon Biersch brews itself. For more of the non-alcoholic variety, there’s Emporio Rulli, in the International Terminal and Terminal 3, which has a full espresso bar.
If there’s one airport on the West Coast you want to get stuck in, San Francisco International Airport may be it, thanks to a variety of different things you can do. Through each of the terminals you’ll find numerous art, cultural and historic museum exhibits, named SFO Museum, which was one of the first of its kind, established in 1980. Just as unique is SFO’s own Aviation Museum & Library, located in the International Terminal before security.
While the airport part of travel can often be the most stressful part of travel, SFO features options to counter that, including XpressSpa locations, as well as a yoga room in terminals 2 and 3. If you’re traveling with kids, SFO has a few different interactive children’s play areas, dubbed Kids' Spot. Like many international airports, SFO has an extensive list of locally inspired shops and designer stores, including COACH, Burberry and Mango.
Spencer is a seasoned food, drink, and travel writer who has written for publications from Outside Magazine to Travel + Leisure and Los Angeles Times. When he's not traveling, he's perfecting his favorite cocktails in his home bar. He chronicles his adventures (and cocktails) on his travel site, Whiskey Tango Globetrot.