If you do technology, you probably find yourself traveling through SFO, a.k.a. San Francisco International Airport, regularly. Here are a couple of hints. I don’t go across the ocean from there, so thus these exclude the international terminal.

Terminal 1 · It’s grubby and dingy and sort of awful. The airlines working out of here are mostly second-rate. The frequent-flyer lounges are bad and the shopping minimal. You want to eat outside the security gateways; there’s a Mexican place about halfway along that’s not too bad.

Terminal 2 · Its vasty echoing halls are currently unused, except for a thin procession of travelers who went to Terminal 1 when they needed 3, or vice versa. Its rather-nice front hall would be improved by the addition of a huge aggressively-modern conceptual art piece.

Terminal 3 · Not bad. If you’re on United and are a frequent flyer, there are separate check-ins and security off to the right. There are restaurants and shopping right there where you get through security, by gates 68-73, and more at the end of a long moving walkway out to the hub.

The shopping is better at the near end, near security, with an excellent bookstore, a Palm store where you can try on lots of different Bluetooth headsets, and so on. Also at the near end are three nearly-identical restaurants from Gordon Biersch, Anchor Steam, and one other, which serve decent beers with horrid flavorless fatty bar-food. But if there’s a Big Game, it’ll be on the big screen.

Out in the hub there’s an unglamorous but good food-court, I’ve had very competent sushi and Mexican food. The shopping out there is souvenirs, but there’s a Swatch store with an OK selection.

Car Issues · Have a quick visit to my 2004 piece SFO, which has a valuable driving tip for those of you heading south to the Valley from the airport.

Here’s another tip: when you’ve dropped off your rental, do not, as they suggest, go all the way down to the bottom, across the sidewalk, and back up the long escalator to stand waiting in the howling SF Bay winds. Just go back to where you got off the train (same floor for Hertz, up one for Avis) and wait in the comfy enclosed arrival space; when the train arrives, ignore the stupid sign saying “don’t board here” and get on after the people get off but before the doors on the other side open, ignoring the glares from the people lined up over there on the blustery outdoor platform.


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Rich Sharples (Sep 25 2007, at 18:18)

Nice writeup - now I'm a visitor rather than a local; your hints will be useful. I also noticed the car rental return bug - I guess most people would only make that mistake once.


From: Jonathan (Sep 25 2007, at 23:23)

These days, the international terminal has both good food and domestic flights (Virgin America).


From: JB (Sep 26 2007, at 07:16)

Tim-- Why don't you just go to to SJC/Minetta? For my purposes, its "belly of the beast" location makes it more convenient to end destinations (e.g. it's really close to Sun IIRC) and its smallness makes it less likely to reach Critical Airport Overload. The big downside is that if you get stuck there for a long time (my home airport is JFK aka "The American Heathrow", so I always get stuck everywhere due to JFK backups), there is absolutely nothing to eat (besides nasty fast food) or do and you are not close to anything.


From: Mark (Oct 01 2007, at 11:59)

Seconded, SJC is less of a hassle -- you don't have to fight your way out of San Francisco. Car rentals are closer. There is an American Airlines flight to Narita from there. You can stay in a hotel in San Jose or cruise on up to Santa Clara/Mountain View. The first two trips to SV that I made in the mid 90s I came via SFO, but after I discovered SJC I never looked back.


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