Miles Of Wonder: 24 Hours In San Francisco

Miles Of Wonder: 24 Hours In San Francisco
| 9 min read

Contemplating how to go about your upcoming long layover in San Francisco? Just be delighted by this wonderful opportunity and leave the planning to us. San Francisco is beautiful. Yes, the world knows it. Praises are sung and poems have been written in its honor, but now you are going to have your own saga related to these forty-nine miles (seventy-nine kilometers) of wonder.

Here, we guide you on places you can visit and things you can indulge in when you are out and about exploring San Francisco during a 24 hours layover.

San Francisco International Airport

International Terminal of San Francisco International Airport
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Constantine Kulik... used under CC BY 3.0

Before you land, be equipped with all knowledge of the requirements so that you get through the airport faster. For example, prepare for airport security, have your boarding passes on your phone, and download a map of the airport so that you can easily navigate without losing much time when you are there. San Francisco International Airport (SFO) is the largest airport in the San Francisco Bay area, with four runways, but the friendly staff, fast security checks, and top amenities aid you in getting through faster.

For people wondering if they require a visa to leave the SFO, this heavily depends on the citizenship you hold. US citizens do not require a visa when they visit another US state, but this proves to be different for citizens from other countries. Here is a guide for you to use for visitors who hold a different citizenship:

Visa for Layovers

Website: Transit Guide

San Francisco International Airport (SFO)

Address: San Francisco, CA 94128, USA

Contact: +1 650-821-8211


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Luggage options

No, you do not need to carry your heavy luggage while visiting the attractions of San Francisco if that is what you are worried about! Luggage storage is available at the Airport Travel Agency, on the Departures Level of the International Terminal. The other business services and products offered also include faxing, photocopying, bag wrapping, baby/child care seat rental and many more.

Airport Travel Agency Luggage Options

Address: Located in the SFO International Terminal

Price: charges per a 24-hour period — vary by object

Opening Hours: 6 am – 11 pm daily

Contact: (650) 877-0422

Website: Airport Travel Agency

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Things to do at the airport

1. Relax at the Yoga Room

Yoga room in Terminal 2 at SFO
Source: Photo by Flickr user Matt Zimmerman used under CC BY 2.0

Breathe out all your travel stresses and take the time to stretch and mediate at this relaxing free-of-charge Yoga Room. Maintain the perfect zen outlook after using this 150 square-feet blue, dimly lit, hardwood sanctuary equipped with yoga mats and mirrors for the ultimate serene experience.

Yoga Room

Address: Located at SFO Terminals 2 & 3

Price: free of charge for all

Opening Hours: 24/7 daily

Website: The Yoga Room

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2. Explore the Aviation Museum & Library

Editor's Note: Photo taken from the establishment's official social account

SF Fire Department and SF Police Department Chiefs currently holding press conference in SFO Aviation Museum. #Asiana214

Posted by San Francisco International Airport (SFO) on Monday, July 8, 2013

In partnership with Louis A. Turpen Aviation Museum, the San Francisco Airport Commission Aviation Library provides visitors the chance to explore the development of commercial aviation and the role it plays in our everyday lives. Located in the International Terminal, feast your eyes on the architectural adaptation of the Airport’s 1930s passenger lobby, as well as the many other exhibitions (Italian motorcycles, portraits of marine invertebrates, ancient arts and pop culture), research services, and educational programs that are offered to the public free of charge.

Aviation Museum & Library

Address: International Terminal Main Hall, Pre-Security

Price: free admission for all

Opening Hours: 10.30am - 4.30pm daily

Contact: 650.821.9900

Website: Aviation Museum & Library

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3. Doll and pamper yourself up at Xpress Spa

Editor's Note: Photo taken from the establishment's official social account

Posted by San Francisco International Airport (SFO) on Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Worried that the long flight might make you look like a wreck? Pamper yourself with relaxing services that includes massages, manicures, pedicures, facials and waxing - the perfect cure for a sleepless and uncomfortable journey if that was what you faced. Be sure to try out the top 5 most popular treatments, the foot massage - the neck and back massage, mani-xpress, the stress and tension eliminator, and the pedi-pure.

Xpress Spa

Address: International Terminal Boarding Area G near Gate 100

Price: from 40 USD for 15 minutes for a foot massage

Opening Hours: 7am - 11pm daily

Contact: 650.821.1042

Website: Xpress Spa

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4. Let your kids have some fun at the Kids' Spot!

Editor's Note: Photo taken from the establishment's official social account

Fun is everywhere at SFO! The kids can enjoy different areas to have fun within the airport at the Kids' Spot! Visit for more info on traveling with kids ??

Posted by San Francisco International Airport (SFO) on Friday, June 28, 2019

Kids’ Spots are fun and active areas to allow kids to let off some steam after their long and restless flights. With a total of three spots in the SFO, give your kids the time to explore the interactive display of water elements from the Exploratorium in San Francisco at Terminal 3 near Gate 87A, or admire the beautiful original artworks by Bay Area artists Walter Kitundu and Charles Sowers that operate as interactive learning and play stations in Terminal 2 located post-security near Gates 54A and 58B. Now, you can relax and do your own things in peace while your children have a ball of a time!

Kids' Spots at SFO

Price: free of charge for all

Opening Hours: 24/7 daily

Website: Kids' Spots!

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5. Shop till you drop!

Posted by San Francisco International Airport (SFO) on Thursday, November 19, 2020

Forget about Terminal 1 and 2 and their lack of shopping choices, head up to Terminal 3 and the International Terminal for something special. Whether it is a souvenir for your love ones or a small something for your boss, the unique selections in SFO will definitely find you something. Take a look at the organic cosmetics from 100% Pure at Terminal 3, original art and handicrafts from local artists and artisans at Collector and Boucle, delicious chocolates from famed Ghirardelli and See’s Candies and locally sourced olive oils, soaps and lotions from McEvoy Ranch. At the International Terminal you will see more high-end brands such as Burberry, Gucci, Coach and Hermes.

Shopping at SFO

Website: SFO Shopping Guide

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Transportation options to the city

BART Station, San Francisco International Airport, California
Source: Photo by user Ken Lund used under CC BY-SA 2.0

To cover the 13 miles (21 kilometers) between San Francisco International Airport (SFO) and downtown, you can either opt for a range of public transits or take a taxi.

Among all the public transportation options, BART Rapid Rail is quite popular with tourists. For boarding the BART train,ride from any terminal by SFO’s AirTrain to the Garage G/BART Station stop. There is no charge to board AirTrain. The BART station is located in the International Terminal, and the train usually arrives every fifteen minutes. The BART is functional from 4 am to midnight on weekdays, 6 am to midnight on Saturdays, and from 8 am to midnight on Sundays. You can easily buy a ticket from any of the ticket vending machines at the entrance of the International Terminal. A one-way BART ticket will cost 8.65 USD. Children under the age of 4 can travel on the train free of cost. The train takes thirty minutes to reach downtown, and you can choose to make an exit at any of the downtown destinations. However, if you want to go near to San Francisco Bay, disembark at Embarcadero Station.

Another way to commute is by the SamTrans public bus service. This is a 24-hour bus service that connects the international airport with San Francisco. Routes KX, 292, 397 and 398 stop right at the airport terminals, whereas routes 292 and 397 stop at North McDonnell Road at the Airport Business Center. The fare starts from 2.25 USD.

Grabbing a taxi is the best option if you do not want to use public transport. No matter from where you exit, each terminal has a taxi stand. A taxi ride generally costs around 40 USD to reach downtown, while the exact fare depends on where you get down.

Public Transit at San Francisco International Airport

Website: Public transit at SFO

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Things to do in the city

1. Watch the sea lions at Fisherman’s Wharf (from 52 USD)

Fishermans Wharf, San Francisco (5589590292)
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Pedro Szekely used under CC BY-SA 2.0

Fisherman’s Wharf is one of those super touristy places that you want to brave the crowds for, just to feel the city. If you reach here early in the morning, it would be ideal. When coming from SFO airport, take the BART train and get off at Embarcadero Station. From Embarcadero Station, you can walk all the way to the Ferry Building and then take a MUNI F-Line Streetcar (costs 2.25 USD) to Fisherman’s Wharf. Alternatively, take exit A2 from the BART station and take a taxi from near the Hyatt Embarcadero. The taxi costs from 10 to 20 USD.

The wharf includes many fabulous seafood joints and tourist attractions like Ghirardelli Square and Pier 35. The best things to do here are the aquarium, a boat cruise, and Pier 39. The playful sea lions and the wonderful city skyline at Pier 39 will surely delight. The wharf warrants a whole day if you decide to see everything but, when on a layover, it is best to spend a couple of hours seeing the sea lions and enjoying the food.

Walking Tour of Fisherman's Wharf and North Beach with Cable Car Ride and optional Alcatraz Ticket

Price: from 52 USD

Duration: around 2 hours required

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2. Ride a cable car to Union Square for sights and shopping (from 30 USD)

Your trip to San Francisco will be incomplete if you do not take a cable car ride in the city. These cable car rides are fun with beautiful surprises all along the way. The Powell / Hyde cable car line is picturesque and has a turnaround at Hyde and Beach Streets. Ensure a spot on the outer side for a closer view of the amazing sights.

Get down at Union Square and enjoy the amazing vibes of the district. Union Square is one of San Francisco’s fun places to hang out. With a joyful and artsy ambiance, it is a perfect place to shop. From designer boutiques to department stores and from art galleries to beauty salons, this place has it all. Visit the Museum of Modern Art if you are an art lover, or get busy shopping in stores like Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, and Macy’s. You can also try Boudin’s clam chowder near Macy’s if you didn’t indulge at Fisherman Wharf.

Walking Tour of Union Square and Chinatown

Price: from 30 USD

Duration: around 2 hours required

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3. Get foodgasm in Ferry Building (from 68 USD)

Sitting on water, the Ferry Building is a delightful building that houses the freshest farmers’ produce in California. It is home to all things delicious and unique gift items, as well as offering glorious views. Opened in 1898, this building reflects a very primeval side of San Francisco. When coming from Union Square, you can also choose to walk to this food and transportation hub. This building is a 20-minute walk via Market Street. When looking to save more time, simply walk to Powell Street and take any MUNI underground train to Embarcadero Station and you will be right there.

Start with a stroll and chat with friendly farmers in the ferry marketplace. Sample the delicious and unique produce and check out the numerous shops for gifts to take back home. Once you are done with eating and shopping, grab a glass of wine or a cup of amazing coffee. Sip your drink while enjoying the beautiful views of San Francisco Bay from the building.

San Francisco Food Tour: Ferry Building and Ferry Plaza Farmers Market

Price: from 68 USD

Duration: around 2 hours required

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4. Admire the views at the Coit Tower (from 49 USD)

Want to see San Francisco at it its best? Visit Coit Tower for astounding views of the city. This 210-foot-tall (64-meter-tall) landmark is located right between Fisherman’s Wharf and the Financial District. The tower is a six-minute taxi ride from the Ferry Building. You can take the F Line streetcar from the Ferry Building too. If you use the F Line, you should take the Filbert or Greenwich Stairs from Sansome Street up to Coit Tower. The tower can also be accessed by a bit of a walk uphill on Lombard Street from North Beach. Another alternative is taking bus 39 from Washington Square Park.

Entry to the monument is free, but if you are taking the elevator up for the views, there is a charge of 7 USD for adults and 2 USD for kids aged between five and twelve. If running short of time, you can also enjoy the views from outside. Resembling a colossal fire hose nozzle, the tower is a sight at night when it is all lit up.

San Francisco Urban Hike: Coit Tower, Lombard Street and North Beach

Price: from 49 USD

Duration: around 3 hours required

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5. Walk across the Golden Gate Bridge (from 30 USD)

The Golden Gate Bridge is one of those things that you wouldn’t want to miss for the world when in San Francisco. Standing tall between the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay, it is not merely a bridge but an art piece and a brilliant engineering structure. You would have seen it many times from the tower and other attractions during the day, and millions of times in movies and your Instagram feed, but to see it up close with your own eyes is a great experience.

The bridge is sixteen minutes from Coit Tower when taking the route via Lombard Street. The distance is walkable, but you can also choose to take a car, bike, tour bus, or any public transportation. When opting for public transportation, board the MUNI bus #28. The many city tour buses will also take you to the bridge. You can book a ticket online or at Fisherman’s Wharf. However, the bridge can be spotted from afar by its resplendent orange color, shining in the daylight and glimmering at night. When there, walk across the bridge and marvel at the quirky historical facts behind its construction. Did you know that it takes 10,000 gallons of paint every year to maintain the unique orange color of the bridge?

Golden Gate Bay Cruise

Price: from 30 USD

Duration: around 60 minutes required

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Let the magic of the city rub off on you!

With so much to see and do in just 24 hours layover, imagine the sights and attractions you can admire and discover in a full-fledged trip! San Francisco welcomes you with open arms, so don’t be afraid to start planning for a proper trip once you are done with your short teaser!

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Any must-sees we missed? Tell us about them in the comments section or write a post here to help out fellow travelers!
Disclosure: Trip101 selects the listings in our articles independently. Some of the listings in this article contain affiliate links.


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Akansha is a former crime journalist from India. Her action-packed adventurous life took her to most obscure places in various parts of her country. In addition to crime, she also has extensive...Read more

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