By Chloe Mulliner, on August 25, 2015

Best ways to spend a San Francisco layover

If you think a long San Francisco layover means a day wasted mindlessly browsing Facebook while trying to find a comfortable spot in the airport lobby, think again. With hours to spare until your next flight, there’s plenty of time to ditch the terminal and explore “The City by the Bay.” 

Getting around

With a flight to San Francisco booked, you’re halfway to starting your adventure. More than likely, your plane will land at San Francisco International Airport (SFO), which is roughly 15 miles south of the downtown area and some of the city’s top attractions.

For the quickest way to get to the hot spots, your best bet is to hail a taxi or rent a car in San Francisco. You’ll also find public transportation options at the airport, as three SamTrans buses and the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) service the terminal. Whichever option you choose, take into account rush hour traffic and public transportation schedules to make sure you get back in time for your next flight.

Best spots to see

Trust us when we say it’s no easy feat to choose just a few attractions when you only have a day in San Francisco. However, if it’s your first time in “Fog City,” there are several major landmarks that offer a quintessential San Fran feel, the Golden Gate Bridge being one of them.

First, pray that it’s an unusually clear day so you can take in the view, and then decide if you want to venture out on the bridge itself or see it from afar. To see all its glory up close, head to the east sidewalk, and saunter across the 1.7-mile suspension bridge. Marvel at the 80,000 miles of cable used to support the bridge as you stand 200 feet above the water. Prefer to see the bridge against the scenery? Check out the view from Lands End Lookout at the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. From this cliffside spot, you can see the bridge’s vermillion orange shade, which was purposely chosen to illuminate its color even on the foggy days. 

Next, further explore the “City by the Bay,” or brave the eerie island of Alcatraz. If you choose to dig a little deeper into the city scene, check out some pop culture icons, such as the Saints Peter and Paul Church, which was featured in Clint Eastwood’s “Dirty Harry,” or the “Painted Ladies,” the colorful Victorian homes that appear in the opening credits of the ’90s sitcom, “Full House.” Weave through the winding streets and climb the steep hills for unbeatable views of the skyline.

If time allows, a visit to Alcatraz is a must. Head to the Ferry Building on the Embarcadero, and cruise over to the Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary. Although the prison closed in1963, its stories are alive and well. Take a tour of the building that once held some of America’s most merciless criminals—from Whitney Bulger to Alvin Karpis—and learn about the notorious prisoners and tales of escapes.


With a long layover, it’s easy to experience San Francisco in a day. You might even be tempted to extend your stay, in which case there are plenty of San Francisco hotels you can book at the last minute. Whether you’re taking a peek at the iconic landmarks or getting a sense of mid-century prison life, this is one layover you’ll actually appreciate.

What are your favorite must-see attractions in the city?

Viewfinder Tip: Regardless of when you’re visiting, pack a sweater as it gets chilly, even in the summer months.