Here come the holidays and, with them, the hair-pulling, elbow-throwing, hurry-up-and-wait drama of airport travel. Our advice? Don’t enter the gauntlet of delayed flight hell without a game plan.
Luckily for Bay Area travelers, San Francisco International Airport is tops when it comes to airports: So says The Wall Street Journal, which just named SFO the number-one best airport in the country. Among SFO's bona fides are a commitment to sustainability (the airport was the world's first to achieve LEED Platinum certification); a celebration of local cultural heritage (with rotating exhibits that highlight LGBTQ+, Indigenous, and Latino communities); an incredible art collection; and, not at all least, partnerships with some beloved Bay Area restaurants.
Despite the current hiatus at SFO’s gourmet, pre-pandemic airport hot spot Manufactory Food Hall, there are still plenty of good eats tucked among the gates. Add in a few unexpected ways to pass the time (semi-secret movie theater, anyone?) and your wait will be over before you know it…at least, until they announce another delay.
Here’s how to make the most of your time stuck at SFO this holiday season.
The Best Eats at SFO's Harvey Milk Terminal 1
The new Ritual Coffee outpost at SFO.
(Courtesy of @flysfo)
Wake up for that ungodly early flight at SoMa coffee-roasting darling Ritual’s new SFO location. The cafe pairs their popular batch-brewed coffee and espresso drinks with pastries, fresh salads, sandwiches, and wraps right by the B Gates security checkpoint in Terminal 1. // ritualcoffee.com
Where: Harvey Milk Terminal 1, near B Gates security checkpoint
When: 6am to 1pmWednesday through Monday
Find out why Starbird’s fried chicken sandwich was once named the best in the Bay at their SFO outpost. If you’re not feeling a sandwich, try the Nashville hot tenders or a crispy chicken chop salad made with roasted corn, avocado, and pepitas. If you’re short on time, order in advance and grab it on the way to your gate.// starbirdchicken.com
Where: Harvey Milk Terminal 1, near Gate B13
When: 5am to 11pm daily
Amy’s Drive Thru
Bay Area–born Amy’s, queen of the frozen foods aisle, hocks her brand of plant-based noms from SFO’s Harvey Milk Terminal. The organic, non-GMO menu is big on variety with options like breakfast sandwiches and steel cut oats in the morning and veggie burgers, three styles of mac 'n’ cheese, and chili cheese fries served all day long. // amysdrivethru.com
Where: Harvey Milk Terminal 1, near Gate B6
When: 5am to 9pm daily
The Little Chihuahua
Beloved SF taqueria Little Chihuahua is wrapping up burritos daily in Terminal 1. The local chain is known for its variety of wholesome fillings including options like fried plantain and black bean, garlic shrimp, and al pastor served in a bowl, a burrito, or in two tacos. Early morning, chilaquiles and “todo dia” breakfast tacos will get your engine revving. // thelittlechihuahua.com
Where: Harvey Milk Terminal 1, Gate B3
When: 5am yo 9pm Sunday through Friday, 5am to 7pm Saturday
Sure, it's not quite the open-air experience you're used to getting at Drake's Dealership in Oakland, but Drake's Flyaway still offers craft brew lovers the opportunity to taste their way through some of the brewery's most popular year-round releases. Besides, what else to do you have to do while you're waiting for your plane to pull into the gate? Sip an IPA and pair it with pizzas, salad, sandwiches, and breakfast fare. // flysfo.com
Where: Harvey Milk Terminal 1, Gate B20
When: 5am to 11:30pm
Where to Eat and Chill in SFO's Terminals 2 + 3
The SkyTerrace at SFO.
(Courtesy of @flysfo)
Craving a punchy sandwich to fuel you pre-flight? Stop by Bun Mee for soft-on-the-inside, crusty-on-the-outside baguettes stuffed with everything from five-spice chicken to sloppy joe-style red curry ground beef. They’ve also got flavorful bowls, salads, and starters like Momma Tran’s crispy egg rolls made with ground pork and wood ear mushrooms. With two SFO locations, chances are you'll be nearby no matter where you’re flying. // bunmee.co
Where: Terminal 3 between Gates F11 to F22 + Harvey Milk Terminal 1, Gate B3
When: 6am to 10pm daily
Ladle & Leaf
The days of finding absolutely nothing healthy to eat at the airport are gone. East Bay–based Ladle & Leaf works with local farmers and ranchers to build healthful salads, grain bowls, sandwiches, and soups. Dig into a quinoa feta avocado bowl or Brussels sprouts caesar and actually feel good when you arrive at your destination (minus the jet lag—not even plants can solve that). // ladleandleaf.com
Where: Terminal 3, near Gates F11 to F22
When: 7am to 10pm daily
You may have been disappointed to learn that the legendary yoga room in the international terminal closed down during the pandemic. Now, more than two years later, not only has that space reopened, but the airport has added a second studio to downward dog your way through your flight delay. Find them stocked with mats, blocks, and foam rollers in Terminals 2 and 3. // flysfo.com
Where: Terminals 2 + 3, near security checkpoints
When: 7:30am to 10:30pm daily
Take in some fresh air on the SkyTerrace while watching pilots maneuver their giant flying machines around the tarmac. Pick up a snack on your way up—food and beverages are permitted—and don’t forget to stop by its little SFO Museum exhibition space, which currently houses a display of artifacts from the 1954 San Francisco International Airport Terminal. No boarding pass needed to enter; free. // flysfo.com
Where: Terminal 2, 4th Floor before security
When: 10am to 6pm Friday through Monday
Where to Eat + Kill Time at SFO International Terminals
Grab burgers and more at Gott's Roadside in the International Terminal.
(Courtesy of @gottsroadside)
1300 on Fillmore
Jazz District favorite 1300 on Fillmore brought its Southern-inspired eats to SFO in 2017 with a menu full of comforting favorites. Grab a seat at a table or the marble-topped bar and order up a satisfying fried chicken and bacon salad, pulled pork sandwich, or shrimp hushpuppies. Don’t forget the cocktail. They’ve got a full bar ready to ease your delayed flight woes. //flysfo.com
Where: International Terminal G, near Gate G13
When: 1pm to 6:30pm Wednesday through Sunday
Get a taste of something local before flying abroad. Gott’s Roadside’s SFO station has many of the same hand-held eats you’ll find at their full-service locations including Niman Ranch franks and burgers, Baja fish tacos, and chicken schnitzel sandwiches. At their fully stocked bar, find enough Northern California beer and wine to keep you occupied until they finally let you board. // gotts.com
Where: International Terminal A, near Gate A13
When: 7am to 10:30pm daily
Turpen Aviation Museum and Library
You don’t have to share your pop’s love of aeronautics to enjoy SFO’s Aviation Museum and Library. The tranquil, two-floor institution located before security on the departures level of the International Terminal wraps around the airport’s original 1930s Spanish revival waiting room. Explore its archives, browse its books and displays, or just grab a seat and enjoy a few minutes of quiet before the boarding chaos begins. No boarding pass needed to enter; free. // sfomuseum.org
Where: Departures level, International Terminal Main Hall
When: 10am to 4:30pm daily
Video Arts Gallery
Save your digital content for the flight. At SFO’s black box movie theater, the Video Arts Gallery, you can get lost in short-form documentaries, animation, and experimental films from innovative contemporary artists and filmmakers. November’s films celebrate Native American Heritage Month with shorts made by Navajo, Gwich’in, and other Indigenous filmmakers. // sfomuseum.org
Where: International Terminal, Departures level before security
When: 7am to 10pm daily
Need to feel the fog on your face one last time before getting on a long-haul flight? Head up to the International Terminal’s succulent garden and observation deck. This open-air space has 180 degree views of the airfield and comfy seating.
Where: International Terminal G
When: 7am to 11:30pm daily