Airport Reviews: San Francisco International, SFO

THE AIRPORT

San Francisco International Airport, SFO

THE FLIGHT

UA60 in Melbourne, Australia

THE ARRIVAL

The airport is about half an hour by taxi from downtown San Francisco and is connected by a Skytrain that takes you easily to all five terminals: 1, 2, 3 and International A and G.

THE LOOK

In a word: artsy. San Francisco has a citywide rule that 1% of the construction cost of any new building must be spent on public art. It’s the city of Haight-Ashbury and the Summer of Love and the home of Silicon Valley and he wants you to know he loves creativity so the airport is full of public art and art exhibits constantly evolving, including a festival of short films.

The white walls of the new Harvey Milk Terminal 1 feature black-and-white photographs honoring the titular LGBTQIA+ crusader as well as colorful murals that act as traveler signposts by artists such as Jason Jagel. There are even retro winged SFO chairs worth $8,000 apiece. There’s a very golden age of travel vibe here, a place you’d be happy to show up early to just hang out, and it’s a quiet airport so announcements are kept to a minimum.

THE LIVING ROOM

The United Polaris lounge has undergone constant upgrades over the past couple of years and has become a premier lounge in the world and is only yards from where you end with security. Spread over two levels, the lower level has a series of quiet rooms and reading chairs in a cozy library setting. Climb the double escalators and you will appreciate the size of the living room, with more seating, a huge bar, a buffet and a private dining room. Grab a table and order dishes like San Fran’s signature dish, a plate of cioppino, fresh seafood cooked in tomato sauce with a side of fresh bread.

SECURITY

It’s a bit overzealous with the body search if you forget to take everything out of your pockets for the full body scan, but it’s moving along at a good pace.

REGISTRATION

Straight to the office for Polaris Business Class with helpful service so plenty of time for me to walk around.

FOOD AND DRINK

What’s great about the fast food offerings here is that they’re mostly local, so you get the San Francisco experience until you get on the plane. Chains like Bun Mee Asia food, Mexican restaurant The Little Chihuahua and Amy’s Drive Thru organic give you convenience but with a local twist. There are also a few coffee bots like Cafe X to give you that Silicon Valley vibe.

RETAIL THERAPY

There are a few standard airport shops like high-end fashion and Brookstone gadgets, but for better deals try DepARTures for an artsy take on the gift shop or the District Market which sells some of California’s finest wares, Thomas Keller chocolates with olive oil. and some great sandwiches from the deli counter.

PASSING TIME

One of the main ways to pass the time here is to look at the 45 art spaces curated by the SFO Museum and spread throughout the airport (sfomuseum.org). You can also check in with the Wag Brigade, a group of therapy animals, including a pig and an Angora rabbit, depending on who is awake. Or head to the Grand Hyatt’s bar and restaurant at SFO (hyatt.com), one for airplane nerds as it sits right on the tarmac and makes full use of the view of the runway.

THE VERDICT

There have been very few times in my travel career where I have thought “Well, I wish I had more time at the airport”. It’s one of them.

OUR SCORE OUT OF FIVE

★★★★½

Paul Chai was a guest of United Airlines and San Francisco International Airport.

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