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15 Reasons You'll Love a Layover in San Francisco

San Francisco Insider Guides
by Carol Guttery Jul 21, 2017

120,000 PASSENGERS move through San Francisco Airport (SFO) per day. Most of the in-transit passengers just shuffle to their next gate and wait out their layover slumped in a hard plastic chair. But you should consider going into the city for your layover. Whether you are a foodie, a culture vulture, or a kid at heart, San Francisco offers world class museums, hands-on fun, and a food scene almost sure to be better than your ultimate destination.

It will only take you 30 minutes on BART to get from SFO to downtown San Francisco. So, schedule yourself a long layover, head into SF, and take advantage of the following 15 things to do there.


If you are a foodie


1. Have breakfast at Tartine Bakery.

 Tartine BakerySan Francisco, United StatesThe best French bakery in the Mission, Tartine is famous for its scrumptious pastries. My favorites (because I can’t choose just one) the quiche and the bread pudding (pictured here). If you come on the weekend, get ready to wait in line for about an hour. It’s worth it.

Grab a coffee and morning bun from Tartine’s well-stocked case. The bakery is the best in town, so be prepared to wait for a table. Alternatively, if it’s a nice day, grab your breakfast to go and eat it on the grass at nearby Dolores Park.

BART stop: 24th Street, Mission

2. Check out the food stalls at the Ferry Building.

This Beaux Arts landmark is an actual, working ferry building. Its vaulted halls were lovingly restored in 2003 and re-purposed as a magnet for foodies and boozers. Some of the Ferry Building‘s uniquely local food items include an artistically hand-poured cuppa from Blue Bottle Coffee, the grilled cheese at the Cowgirl Sidekick, and the “secret breakfast” ice cream from Humphry Slocombe. Order it to find out what it is.

BART stop: Embarcadero

3. Eat street

Off the Grid organizes food truck flash mobs all over the Bay Area. Check their schedule for the day that you will be visiting or try to get there for lunch on Wednesdays at 5th & Minna, Thursdays at the Ferry Building, or Fridays at the Civic Center.

BART stops: 5th & Minna (Powell), Ferry Building (Embarcadero), Civic Center square (Civic Center)

4. Drink a local brew at Black Hammer Brewing.

Black Hammer Brewing has a rotating selection of 12 beers on tap. Express your own beer persona by ordering a pint of “Witless Zombie”, “Sea Puppy”, or “Blue Me”. Get an early start at their happy hour (12 – 2 PM Mon-Sat) or check their calendar for special events.

BART stops: ~1/2 mile south of either Powell or New Montgomery

5. Go big at La Taqueria.

San Francisco is known for assembling burritos as big as your head and La Taqueria offers up the best. None of this rice filler for them, just your choice of beans, meat, and salsa.

BART stop: 24th street Mission


If you are a culture vulture


6. Visit the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA).

 San Francisco Museum of Modern ArtSan Francisco, United StatesThis museum was recently renovated. They are open late on Thursday nights. It has an extensive modern art collection. Some galleries are part of their permanent collection and some galleries that are rotating. There is also an outdoor garden.

If you are an Andy Warhol fan or would like to see a Picasso in person go!
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SFMOMA has the largest collection of photography in the world. Their 17,000 photographic works range from original tintypes to contemporary experimental pieces. Their exhibits are thought-provoking, inspirational and mind-boggling. The museum building itself is a work of art with light-filled spaces and peek-a-boo windows giving glimpses into the greater SF landscape.

BART stop: Montgomery

7. Visit the Asian Art Museum.

San Francisco is home to a large Asian diaspora. The Asian Art Museum‘s collection serves to share the city’s diverse culture and history in over 18,000 pieces. The museum’s highlights include printed works, textiles and porcelain. While there, you can also check out the rotating art exhibits next door at the San Francisco Library Main Branch.

BART stop: Civic Center

8. Stroll the Art Galleries at 49 Geary Street.

There is a gauntlet of art galleries on Geary between Kearny and Grant streets, and the building at 49 Geary houses twelve of them. Three of the galleries focus on photography but you can also find European contemporary works, American Modernism, and mixed media. Most are open Mon-Fri from 10 AM – 5 PM and Saturdays 11 AM – 5 PM.

BART stop: Montgomery

9. Listen to free music at Union Square.

Union Square is known primarily for its high-end shopping, but the large plaza is also a music venue. The city sponsors a regular schedule of music that ranges from salsa, blues, roots, and swing. Feel free to get up and dance if the urge moves you because everything goes in San Francisco.

BART stop: Powell

10. Take a walking tour of street art in The Mission.

San Francisco’s Mission neighborhood has a proud Latino heritage on technicolor display. Walk down 16th street between Mission and Hampshire and you will see massive commissioned murals that tell the story of San Francisco’s Latino immigrant experience. Be sure to duck down Balmy alley, and also check out Precita Eyes. They are a local nonprofit that supports Latino street art in the Mission.

BART stop: 16th, Mission

11. Touch stuff at the Exploratorium.

The Exploratorium‘s stated mission is to “create inquiry-based experiences that transform learning worldwide.” You can make electricity or examine live tide feeds from the bay. You can make your own optical illusions or toggle your own sound waves. All of it is interactive. Most everybody becomes a kid as soon as they step over the threshold.

BART stop: Embarcadero

12. Go to a Giants’ Game.

The Giants‘ season runs from March to October. Baseball games run long but so plan for a long layover. The stadium is a classic brick ball field with scene stealing views of the bay. While there, go beyond the hot dog and treat yourself to fried chicken, chili, BBQ and tacos. Tickets run from $12 and up.

BART stop: Embarcadero. From there, walk 1 mile down the Embarcadero to the stadium.

13. Take a spin on the Creativity Carousel.

The Children’s Creativity Museum operates the historical LeRoy King carousel. It was originally built for San Francisco but due to the 1906 earthquake and other circumstances, it wasn’t installed there until 1998. While you take your $4 ride, squint your eyes and you can almost see 19th century San Francisco spinning by.

BART stop: Powell

14. Bowl a Lucky Strike.

Lucky Strike has a full food and drink menu and lounge areas in addition to the bowling lanes. It’s best to reserve in advance as it is a popular place, particularly during happy hour.

BART stop: Powell, walk south ~1 mile to Townsend

15. Become a Pirate at 826 Valencia.

826 is a nonprofit literacy program started by author Dave Eggers. They teach kids creative writing. They are also outlaws who run their own pirate store. You can visit the store and pick up all of the garb and gear that you need to take to the high seas.

BART stop: 16th or 24th street, Mission

How to get downtown SF from the airport:

There is a bag check service available which is open from 6 AM to 11 PM. You can find it on the departures level of the international terminal.To get downtown, take the AirTrain to the BART station within SFO. Prices vary according to distance but a one way from SFO to Embarcadero is $5.70.

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