San Francisco Layover Guide (SFO)
San Francisco International Airport (SFO) is an international airport in San Mateo County, California. It is 21 km (13 miles) from the center of San Francisco. Since 1946, the airport has had commercial flights. San Francisco is known for its beautiful environment, architecture, and landmarks, such as the Golden Gate Bridge while serving as the cultural and financial center of Northern California.
Can you leave San Francisco Airport (SFO) airport during a layover? Do you need a visa?
It's possible for certain travelers to visit San Francisco during a layover but others require a visa depending on nationality. (more info).
Tours, Things to do, Sightseeing
Golden Gate Bay Cruise
This is a great opportunity to cruise along San Francisco’s waterfront while seeing its famous landmarks such as sailing under the Golden Gate Bay Bridge and around Alcatraz Island. During the cruise you can spot dolphins, sea lions, whales, and pelicans and also enjoy views of Crissy Field and Presidio’s teeming hills. » book this tour
Napa Valley Tour
Welcome to the world famous, Napa Valley, known for its wines, this tour gives you the chance to learn about the history of winemaking in this area, from the beginning when Spanish missionaries brought grapevines from Europe. Discover how grapes are processed after being picked, crushed, and blended. Explore beautiful vineyards and enjoy wine tasting sessions. Enjoy lunch at Historical Sonoma Square or Vintage 1870 in the heart of Napa. » book this tour
Enjoy the scenic drive through the Great Central Valley with a fully guided coach tour of Yosemite Valley. The rich volcanic soil in the area ensures the farms and vegetation in the area are lush and green. Make sure to spot the majestic El Capitan rock formation, and the breathtaking Bridalveil Falls as well as Yosemite Falls which is the tallest waterfall in North America. Throughout the tour, there will be many places to get an overarching view of the Yosemite Valley but the best vantage point is Inspiration Point which is perfect for photographs. » book this tour
Things to do / Sightseeing
The depths of Alcatraz reveal stories of American incarceration and justice. The small island of Alcatraz once served as a fort, then a military prison, and then a maximum-security federal penitentiary which it became famous for. It once was the prison of infamous gangster Al Capone and murderer Robert Stroud. There are dozens of escape from Alcatraz stories, upon visiting you will get to know the history and be able to tell fact from fable.
Time required: At least half a day should be the minimum.
Airport to here: Typically takes a Taxi 35 minutes and public transport takes an hour on average to get to the ferry to the island.
Aquarium of the Bay
San Francisco’s Aquarium of the Bay is full of beauty and wonder. Uncover the diverse marine life that lives right under San Francisco Bay and its environs. With the “Under the Bay” exhibit, you get a scuba diver’s view unveiling the unique ecosystem. The aquarium houses more than 20,000 aquatic animals including sea stars, sturgeons, sea anemones, sharks, bat rays, jellyfish, starfish, and skates. There are even pools where you can touch the animals in San Francisco Bay’s waters.
Time required: At least half of the day.
Airport to here: Taxi takes an average of 25 minutes while public transport takes almost an hour.
The Fisherman’s Wharf is a very famous waterfront community in San Francisco Bay. There are several vendors offering fantastic food such as fresh Dungeness crab. There are also many gourmet restaurants offering amazing seafood and other local delicacies. Enjoy the electric atmosphere and explore the different shops. .
Time required: A minimum of 2 hours is needed to explore Fisherman’s Wharf.
Airport to here: Typically takes a Taxi 30 minutes while public transport can take more than an hour.
Muir Woods Monument
If you are fascinated by redwoods, you will like the Muir Woods Monument. It is full of ancient groves of giant redwoods that tower over the Redwood Creek. Learn about the history of these trees that can live to be 2,000 years old and have been present on the earth for more than 240 million years.
Time required: You will need at least half a day to enjoy the Muir Woods.
Airport to here: Taxi takes about an hour while public transport can take over 2 hours depending on the day.
Golden Gate Park
Golden Gate Park is one of San Francisco’s greatest treasures and is the perfect place to relax in the populated city. The park is over 1,017 acres in size offering an immense chance of exploration of its lakes, picnic areas, monuments, playgrounds and gardens.
Time required: Set aside 2-3 hours enjoy the park.
Airport to here: Taxi takes an average of 25 minutes while public transport typically takes an hour.
The Twin Peaks in San Francisco offer spectacular views of the Bay Area. It is no wonder then that they are a world-famous tourist attraction The Peaks were initially known as “Los Pechos de la Choca” meaning Breasts of the Maiden since they are adjacent to each other. Both peaks stand at 922 feet. Nearby, there is a 64-acre park left untouched by development and is full of nature.
Time required: Set aside 2 hours to explore the Twin Peaks.
Airport to here: Typically takes a Taxi 25 minutes and public transport takes an hour.
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art has a rich history. It is more than 80 years old and was initially housed at the War Memorial Veterans Building before moving to the location that stands in today. The museum currently holds an estimated 29,000 pieces of work displayed. These include paintings, sculptures, photographs, and architecture.
Time required: Set aside 1 or 2 hours to explore the museum.
Airport to here: Typically takes a Taxi 40 minutes and public transport takes 30 to 50 minutes.
Relaxing and Sleeping
Airport Lounges and Relaxing
There are several lounges in the airport, mostly in Terminal 3 and the International Terminal. » view all lounges or buy a lounge pass or membership online
Hotel and Sleeping
There are many hotels near the airport. » view all or book an airport hotel online
Rest Area and Sleeping in Airport
There are no designated rest areas but there are several padded benches that are scattered throughout the airport.
WIFI/Internet and SIM Card
WIFI/Internet: Free WiFi is available at the airport. Look for "#SFO FREE WIFI" or "#SFO FREE 5GHZ WIFI"
SIM Card: There are several shops within the airport that sell SIM cards. » buy a global sim card for San Francisco, United States that you can use for other countries as well!
Transportation to/from airport
Taxi: There are designated taxi zones located just outside the Arrivals/Baggage Claim Level of all terminals.
Train: Trains that serve the airport include BART Rapid Rail and Caltrain Commuter Rail (more info).
Bus: SamTrans Public Bus Service provides 24-hour connections between the airport, San Mateo County and parts of San Francisco. (more info).
Shuttle: There are numerous shuffle services that take you to your hotel.
Car rentals: The airport has a Car Rental Center. » view available cars or rent a car now online
Parking: Paid parking lots are available and the occupancy can be checked online in real-time.
Luggage Storage & Lockers
Luggage Storage is can be found at the Airport Travel Agency. » book a luggage storage or locker at San Francisco Airport (SFO) online (subject to availability).