I fly a lot. And that means I have spent an inordinate amount of time at airports over the course of my frequent flying career. Luckily, most airports have improved immensely over the last few decades, but there are still some that I love a lot more than others.
Not surprisingly, one that sits at the top of my list is my hometown airport San Francisco International (SFO). So when National Car Rental asked me to write up a sponsored post about tips, advice and secrets about SFO, I jumped at the chance. So here we go:
1>A SECRET GARDEN. Regrettably, SFO does not yet offer any outdoor terraces from which to view the tarmac, but that should change when a new Grand Hyatt opens on airport grounds (mid-2019) offering views from a rooftop bar. In the meantime, the SFO gardeners, who stay busy keeping the plants inside the airport thriving, recently created a gorgeous outdoor space for airport employees to take a break—but anyone, including passengers, can also enjoy the space surrounded by a verdant collection of drought-tolerant plants and succulents. It’s located outside Terminal 1. (More details) NOTE: New construction around Terminal 1 has encroached a bit on the Secret Garden, but it’s still a nice place to chill out!
2>SECRET PASSAGE. One of SFO’s biggest achievements is the recent re-do of Terminal 2 (T2), now a standard bearer in airport design and amenities. The light and airy facility houses the operations of American and Virgin America and offers fresh, healthy food provided by local restaurants, mod hotel-style furnishings, awesome runway views, water bottle refill stations, and a constantly changing museum exhibition. It was one of the first airport terminals to receive LEED certification. Last year the marvels of T2 opened up to even more flyers when the airport completed a behind-security passageway connecting it to Delta’s more prosaic wing of Terminal 1 (T1). Unfortunately, a similar passageway does not connect T2 with United’s bustling and always-crowded Terminal 3. (SFO map here)
3>FOOD TRUCKS. If you are stuck in a fog or rain delay at SFO (regrettably common) and have a hankering to hang with some locals, dine at a food truck! Every Thursday at lunchtime (11 am-2 pm), the airport allows local food trucks to line an unused portion of the upper deck (departures level) of Terminal 1. For a truly San Francisco experience, grab a mission-style burrito, easily the city’s most loved (and consumed) meal. After a meal like that, you’ll sleep well on the plane, I assure you.
4>HITTING THE ROAD. Most folks flying into SFO and renting cars are headed to Silicon Valley (30 mins south), Wine Country (1-2 hours north), or Monterey, Big Sur or Carmel (2 hours south). Luckily SFO’s AirTrain (Blue line) connects all terminals to a nearby centralized car rental facility. In a hurry? National’s Emerald Club members get on the road faster than others because, once off the AirTrain, they bypass the counter and simply walk to the car of their choice (the keys are in it), load up and hit the road. No lengthy wait to check in, get keys or sign contracts. And if the sun is out, consider upgrading to a convertible on the spot! This is California after all, right?
5>A PLACE FOR AVGEEKS. Most frequent travelers like me are also aviation geeks. To us there’s not much better than a day of plane spotting, and no better airport than SFO to do so. As the Bay Area economy has bubbled over in recent years, airlines from all corners of the world are fighting to add nonstop service. As a result, tarmacs are full of beautiful and exotic birds from around the world. One of the best places to watch planes take off and land is in the newest section of United’s Terminal 3 called “T3E.” At the very end of this concourse (near gates 65 and 66) you’ll find floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking runways where giant jumbos take off, bound for Europe, Asia, the South Seas or the Middle East. The best daylight hours for plane spotting run from about 1 pm until 3 pm. If that is not enough to sate your interest, check out SFO’s Aviation Museum, tucked away in a corner of the international terminal. It’s chock full of constantly-changing, super-size model aircraft hanging from the ceiling, plus aviation exhibits (like collections of vintage flight attendant uniforms, or in-flight amenity kits). Entry to the museum is free of charge and open to the public.
6>RELAX! These days, SFO is a super busy, sometimes hectic place. So finding a spot to chill out, regroup or practice your downward facing dog is essential. Back when SFO opened its state-of-the-art Terminal 2, it opened a “yoga room.” While SFO’s yoga room is not that much different than the chapels or meditation rooms found in other airports (except for the yoga mats), the concept was a PR coup for the airport. It’s tough to find any story about SFO that does not include mention of. Yes, that is yoga “rooms” plural: Just last year, the airport opened a second yoga room in United’s Terminal 3.
Disclosure: Thank you for reading TravelSkills! We will periodically send out messages like this one from commercial partners about topics relevant to frequent travel. Our sponsors’ support, and yours, help us keep TravelSkills a free publication. This post is sponsored by National Car Rental.
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