Welcome to San Francisco! There is more diversity, action, culture and charm packed into this small city than almost anywhere else on earth, and that’s before you even step foot out of the San Francisco International Airport (SFO).
Airports are not known for being the most exciting or calm places on earth, but SFO is in a league of its own. With nearly 58 million guests travelling through the Airport each year, SFO has a mix of bookstores, gift shops, travel outfitters, designer brands and luxury boutiques. Many retailers are local, featuring authentic San Francisco souvenirs and merchandise.
Aussies travelling to San Francisco from Sydney can expect the journey to take about 13 hours and 40 minutes. From seeing icons like the Golden Gate Bridge, Chinatown and Golden Gate Park up close through to sampling the very best of cuisines from across the globe – there’s something new around every corner.
Arriving in the US:
Australia is a participant in America’s Visa Waiver Program, which means Aussies don’t need a visa for trips of 90 days or less. However, we do need to obtain the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) through the Department of Homeland Security site.
Connecting Between Terminals:
Passengers can transfer between the terminals by taxi or by easily riding the AirTrain, an automated people mover system. AirTrain is wheelchair accessible with space allocated at the end of each car. See the terminal map below courtesy of SFO.
Throughout the five terminals, SFO International Airport has 17 airline lounges, six of which are by Star Alliance partner United Airlines. The remaining lounges include those from Air France, American Airlines, American Express, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, China Airlines, Delta, Emirates, Japan Airlines, Philippine Airlines and Virgin Atlantic.
The Wag Brigade:
Probably the most exciting airport attraction to have ever been invented, SFO’s Wag Brigade is a group of certified assistance dogs brought to the airport by the Society Against Cruelty to Animals. Passengers are able to play (yes truly) with these loving and calm dogs. The quaint idea of the Wag Brigade originated as a way to help remove some of the stress and anxiety experienced by passengers when going through the experience of flying. It’s safe to say those fortunate to come across the brigade consider it to be a surprising and delightful experience.
Where to eat:
San Francisco and the Bay Area are world-famous for local cuisine. Whether you're hurrying for a quick snack before a flight or have time for a leisurely meal, you will be spoilt for choice of local eateries at SFO. Many of the airport’s dining are branches of local restaurants, bars and cafés, so you can get a real taste of San Francisco.
Terminal 2 is SFO’s newest terminal, which features plenty of Cali-inspired restaurants, such as The Plant Café, Lark Creek Grill and Napa Farms Market and San Francisco burger joint, aptly named Burger Joint, which has locations in Terminal 2 and the International Terminal before security.
Wellness, Pampering and Entertainment:
If you’re after a last minute manicure, facial, or massage before your lengthy flight, you won’t have to go far with XpresSpa located in all terminals.
If it’s a little quiet time that you’re after or some stretching before your flight there’s the Berman Reflection Room, a center for quiet self-reflection and meditation in the International Terminal Main Hall or the free Yoga Rooms dedicated to relaxation, self-reflection and practicing yoga, located in Terminals 2 Secure connector between Terminal 1, Boarding Area C and Terminal 2, Boarding Area D and Terminal 3, boarding Area E near Gate 69.
You can also view short-form documentaries and narratives of a range of contemporary artists and filmmakers who are at the leading edge of their craft in the Video Room of the International Terminal Main Hall
Created in 1980, SFO Museum was one of the first cultural institutions of its kind located in an international airport. SFO Museum presents approximately forty exhibitions throughout the terminals annually on cultural, art, historical and scientific topics. The museum exhibitions can be found in the International Terminal Main Hall, near Boarding Areas A and G as well as in Terminal 2 and 3 Departures Level.
There is also the Aviation Museum & Library located in the International Terminal Main Hall which features exhibitions, research services, and educational programs in an architectural adaptation of the Airport's 1930s passenger lobby.
Transport to the City:
If visitors have a layover of over four hours they are able to leave the airport, a perfect opportunity to see some of the city’s main attractions. The Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system takes visitors from SFO’s International Terminal to almost the doorstep of several top attractions. The Airport is located just 22 kilometres (14 miles) from the city.