San Francisco International Airport Guide

The best things to do on your SFO layover, from wine bars to yoga rooms to cuddly puppies

Megan McCrea
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The best of the terminals

Welcome to San Francisco International Airport! Whether you have a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it connection, an hour-long layover, a whole afternoon, or even an overnight, you can enjoy your time here. To help with that, we’ve rounded up the greatest places to eat, drink, shop, caffeinate, feed your mind, and find zen at SFO. We’ll take you from the crunchiest sourdough loaves to the tastiest tequila drinks to the airport’s secret gardens. Fasten your seatbelts, and enjoy the ride.

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Quick bites

You’ve cleared security, your flight boards in 15 minutes, and you’re starving. Fear not, hungry traveler! You needn’t look far for a quick bite. Outside security in Terminal 1, the airport outpost of Berkeley’s PIQ serves braided ricotta bread, paninis, and pizza by the slice. Meanwhile, in Terminal 2, Napa Valley Farms Market (pictured) gathers beloved local brands—Acme Bread, Cowgirl Creamery, Kara’s Cupcakes—under one roof, making it easy to create a dreamy in-flight picnic. For a satisfyingly crunchy sourdough loaf—or sandwich—hit Boudin Bakery and Café, in Terminal 3. Ebisu’s Sunset district location draws flocks of fans with fresh, tasty sushi. But you, lucky traveler, can enjoy their specialty rolls, ramen, and miso soup right here in the International Terminal.

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Sit-down meals

Capricious flight schedules or, perhaps, Karl the Fog-related weather delays, have left you with time to spare. And you’re in the (airport of) America’s greatest food city! Here are the best bets for a great sit-down meal. In Terminal 1, Perry’s, an offshoot of a venerable local tavern, slings classic American fare. Try the Cobb salad, tomato bisque, or bacon-topped Perry’s Hamburger. Iron Chef America winner Cat Cora (pictured) serves lobster mac ‘n’ cheese, oysters, and small plates at her eponymous eatery in Terminal 2. And if you didn’t make it to San Francisco’s Buena Vista Café, you can still score that iconic Irish Coffee in Terminal 3. Pairs well with a Buena Vista Burger and bread pudding.

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Did you just brave an hour-long check-in line? Circle the parking lot for an eternity? Share a row with a screaming infant? Whatever the reason, you deserve a glass of wine. Conceived by the founder of Ravenswood Winery, Terminal 2’s classy Vino Volo (pictured) offers wines from around the globe. The knowledgeable bartenders can steer you to a palate-pleasing flight, glass, or bottle. And if you love what you taste, you can buy a bottle to go as well. Terminal 3’s SF Uncork’d serves French champagne, California Cabs, and everything in between. Grab a flight of local wines and pair with nuts, charcuterie, or dessert.

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Need something a bit stronger—shaken, stirred, or on the rocks? At Terminal 2’s Lark Creek Grill, you can sip a classic cocktail (they’ve got martinis, mojitos, and mules) or a cleverly named specialty drink, such as the Transatlantic or the Red Eye. Mission Bar & Grill, in Terminal 3, boasts a deep scotch roster, as well as scratch-made Bloody Marys. Open—and pouring drinks—from 8 a.m. to midnight, the International Terminal’s Andalé Mexican Bar and Restaurant (pictured) has tequila for days. Whether you’re partial to light, bright blanco or rich, aged añejo, you’ll find the perfect agave nectar here.

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Sweet treats

You’re at the beginning (or middle or end) of a great journey: what better time to treat yo’self? Indulge your sweet tooth in Terminal 1 at Three Twins, an outpost of the popular SF ice creamery that offers unique flavors such as Dad’s Cardamom and Lemon Cookie. Or trick out your fro-yo at Terminal 2’s Pinkberry (pictured), where toppings include Nutella, popping boba, and pomegranate juice. Locally loved organic yogurt joint Fraîche has a location in Terminal 3. We dig their classic tart flavor, topped with homemade mochi. International travelers can grab a milkshake—or a root beer float—at Burger Joint.

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You’ve got your laptop, an impending cross-country flight, and the great expectations for productivity but…you’re exhausted. Luckily, coffee joints abound here. Terminal 1’s Green Beans, a pop-up coffee shop-turned-international chain pours mochas, lattes, and, for the extremely exhausted, the Mother Of All Coffees: a house coffee topped with four shots of espresso. In Terminal 2, local chain Peet’s (pictured) serves cappuccinos, cold brew coffee, and tea of all kinds. In addition to breakfast goodies, Terminal 3’s Klein’s Deli offers espresso beverages and their own house coffee, a special blend from Sonoma County’s Flying Goat Coffee. Larkspur-based Italian café Emporio Rulli has a location in the International Terminal; fuel up there before heading to the gate.

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You got stuck in a horrendous security line, ran through the terminal, barely made it to the gate on time…then learned that your flight had been grounded indefinitely for mechanical issues. You’re ready to punch someone, but…take a deep breath. Here’s where you can get your zen back. In Terminal 1, you can read or meditate in the peaceful Christian Science Reading Room. If you’re in Terminal 2 (or 3), head to one of the Yoga Rooms (pictured)—dimly-lit, cellphone-free zones, complete with yoga mats—where you can do Downward Dog to your heart’s content. Terminal 3 boasts two locations of XpresSpa (a.k.a. massages, pedicures, and facials). The International Terminal’s Berman Reflection Room is another quiet meditation area, ideal for calming jangly nerves.

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Edible souvenirs

You meant to bring an edible San Francisco souvenir back for your co-workers but, somehow, you just remembered. At the gate. It’s not too late! You’ll find Ghirardelli chocolates at Terminal 1’s Simply Gourmet, and Boudin sourdough at Greetings from San Francisco, in Terminal 2. (If you’re picking up a quick meal at Napa Valley Farms Market, you’ll find excellent edible souvenirs there, too.) Terminal 3 is a chocolate lovers’ paradise, with outposts of both Ghirardelli and local, artisanal sweet shop XOX Truffles. In the International Terminal, Embarcadero Treats also carries the ubiquitous Ghirardelli squares, along with Scharffenberger chocolates and other treats.

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Artsy souvenirs

Need to buy a remembrance of your trip that’s not an Alcatraz t-shirt or a Golden Gate Bridge shot glass? Terminal 2’s colorful Mosaic Gallery (pictured) sells handmade local artwork, American crafts, and other design-minded gifts that pay homage to Bay Area museums. In Terminal 3, light-filled Boucle stocks watches and jewelry made by area artists and designers, from delicate pendants to necklaces which feature California maps. While the SF MoMA may be closed for renovations, the SF MoMA Museum Store lives, in the International Terminal. Swing through to snag that Frida Kahlo t-shirt you’ve been coveting.

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Between the departure/arrival boards, the muted CNN, and your own cell phone, airports can get pretty overwhelmingly screen-y. Need a break? Want to learn something? Fortunately, you can check out the SFO Museum exhibits (pictured) in every terminal. Founded in collaboration with the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the SFO Museum presents exhibits on topics from celebrity jewelry to baobab trees. You can visit us at Sunset News in Terminal 2, and grab a book, newspaper, or, of course, a current issue of Sunset. Owned by local independent bookseller Books Inc., Terminal 3’s Compass Books offers reading options beyond the usual airport page-turners. And you can study up on the history of flight in the International Terminal, at the Aviation Museum & Library, a gallery housed in a faux-airport lobby, based on 1930s-era SFO.

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Kid-friendly spots

Got kiddos who are bouncing off the walls before a long flight? Keep them entertained with a Self-Guided Tour of Terminal 1—instructions available online—an “I Spy”-type game which helps them explore their surroundings. In Terminal 2, you can find the wee ones a movie for the flight at InMotion Entertainment (pictured), or take them to the Kids’ Spot to monkey around. Pint-sized air traffic controllers-in-training will love Terminal 3’s Flight Deck, a group of touchscreens full of information about SFO and San Francisco. And then there’s always Brookstone, in the International Terminal, with its endlessly amusing massage chairs, 3-D doodle pens, and other gadgets and doodads.

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Creature comfort

If yoga, ice cream, and cocktails weren’t enough to tame your travel stress, you can always turn to a member of the Wag Brigade. These specially trained therapy dogs, deployed at the airport in conjunction with SPCA, stand ready to calm frayed nerves with snuggles and kisses. While the dogs vary in shape, size, and breed—from a sweet Shih-Tzu named Carson to a friendly Saint Bernard, Sofia—they all share one trait in common: love. Look for the vests that read “PET ME!”

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Perhaps, after a long day of travel, you’re sick of the concrete jungle. You’re dreaming of drinking a latte outside, in a garden. Believe it or not, you can. Right here at SFO. Just exit the arrivals level of Terminal 1, follow signs (and spray-painted paw prints) toward the Animal Relief Area, turn a corner, and bam! Just like that, you’re in a secret garden. Built by the airport’s crack team of landscapers, The Garden Patio features massive striped agaves, crimson-colored grasses, flowering succulents…and an inviting sitting area. So you can get your daily moment of zen.