3 Hour Tour of San Fran
February 28, 2008 9:43 PM   Subscribe

My parents are going to Hawaii for their 25th wedding anniversary. They have a 3 hour layover in San Fransisco. They are going to be getting in around 1ish. The question is do they have time to get out of the airport and see anything in San Fransisco and still make their flight? My parents have already seen the Golden Gate Bridge so thats not really high up on their list but is there anything else they can see in that time span?
posted by lilkeith07 to Travel & Transportation around San Francisco, CA (15 answers total)
Not a San Franciscan, but with only a 3 hour layover, I would *never* leave the airport. You have to remember that boarding occurs as much as 45 minutes in advance of the scheduled departure, so that whittles down your time right there. Additionally, and this is weird, I was once on a flight that left twenty minutes *early*. I didn't even think that was allowed; everyone must have been on board or something. But in my opinion as someone who's flown a lot, 3 hours is not enough time to risk missing a flight to Hawaii.
posted by awesomebrad at 9:48 PM on February 28, 2008

They dont have enough time.

The airport is outside the city. Presumably, they'd take BART to get in. That's a half-hour ride each way, not counting time spent waiting for the trains to show up. So thats over an hour gone right there. And if the BART system has problems, which it often does, goodbye trip to Hawaii.

You also will have to go back through security and be at your gate a bit early. So you want to arrive back an hour before your flight leaves to be safe.

So now you have less than an hour. If there was something specific they wanted to see, we could go from there. But thats not enough time for just wandering around.
posted by vacapinta at 9:51 PM on February 28, 2008

Taxi to the main drag of South San Francisco for lunch and back again: About fifteen minutes maximum each way, and there are some interesting Asian and Mexican greasy spoons there (have the taxi driver take them to his favorite). Unfortunately, into San Francisco proper for anything more than immediately turning around is too far for a three-hour layover.
posted by gum at 9:54 PM on February 28, 2008

Even with a cab, it's still a half hour in and a half hour out of the city. If they want to be at their Hawaii flight an hour early to get through security, that's giving them a *maximum* of an hour of tourism, and that's still cutting it pretty close. They're better off having lunch at the airport and not feeling rushed, I'd say.
posted by judith at 9:55 PM on February 28, 2008

Traveling, catching flights and maneuvering through airports is stressful (at least for me). With only three hours they would be too rushed and pressured to enjoy anything they could feasibly see. Personally, the potential hour they might squeeze out is not enough to risk missing a flight to Hawaii.
posted by silkygreenbelly at 10:02 PM on February 28, 2008

Best answer: I wouldn't do it. There's not much within a radius of Millbrae worth risking that short layover for, and SFO is actually not that bad to check out for an hour or so - there's art installations and a decent selection of restaurants (for an airport!): Andale has an outlet at Google, Ebisu and Fung Lum are also branches of well-regarded SF places, and there's Il Fornaio and some other OK ones to boot.

It takes at least 30 minutes to get into SF via BART or taxi on a good day when everything is going your way. Getting from 101 or 280 in SF to .. anywhere .. is already over your time budget, let alone spending time doing something once you get there.
posted by kcm at 10:04 PM on February 28, 2008

I live in SF. I wouldn't try it. It's 30 minutes each way if you're going somewhere near the freeway and there's no traffic. But it's easily 45 minutes if things go badly. Not enough time left to have fun.

It's barely possible to go out for a decent meal in San Mateo, Burlingame, or Millbrae in that span of time. If 3 hours in an airport seems impossible I'd go to the middle of Burlingame for an hour.

If they're stuck in SFO for 3 hours, the international terminal is quite pleasant. There's a nice library outside of security that's quiet and comfortable.
posted by Nelson at 10:28 PM on February 28, 2008

Nope. Not enough time. The airport is too far from the city, and the modes of public transportation are too dang slow to make it other than nerve-wracking. Like Nelson said - San Mateo, Burlingame or Millbrae are accessible in that amount of time. But, leaving that 3 mile radius before their flight would be foolhardy - and yes, the international terminal is quite nice.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 11:07 PM on February 28, 2008

I'm not saying "yes" or "no," but here's what it would look like if they tried it. Say they got in at 1 pm and in an amazing feat, sprinted to the BART connection, caught the 1:09 train, and arrived downtown at the Embarcadero at 1:41. More realistically, they missed that one, they would leave at 1:24, and they'd arrive at 1:56. They'd want to catch a return train at 2:24 pm, to arrive at the airport at 2:59 pm, the recommended hour early. So, assuming it take 4 minutes on either end to get in and out of the BART station, they'd have twenty minutes downtown. They could probably walk to and from the Ferry Building, an upscale downtown landmark with specialty food stalls from local farmers, where they could, like, buy some artisanal goat cheese, or just have a drink and look out at the Bay. Not that they'd have time for a drink in 20 minutes. I wouldn't do that -- you could easily spend half that in the BART station if you got turned around or had trouble figuring out how to buy a ticket. But if they're people who don't care about being a full hour early, or if the plane got in just early enough that they could catch the 1:09, they could add 15 more minutes and then it starts to be worth it.

Now, if they're not solely upscale downtown types, they could take that same 1:24 train, get off at 16th Street Mission, and be in the graffiti / Latino / hipster Mission District at 1:49. Not needing to catch a train back until 2:31, assuming 4 minutes twice again for the station, they have 34 minutes (or even 15 more). For me, that'd be enough to try it (half just out of homesickness: "ah yes, that's what SF looks like. Okay, back on the train!"). But if they'd figured out where they were going while riding the train, they would have enough time to head half a block up 16th, look in the bookstore across the street, or buy a really good burrito at Pancho Villa. Or go another block and have a drink (not a leisurely drink) at Dalva. A better parents bar in that area might be Ti Couz, also on that same block, with great crepes and good Bloody Marys. (Maybe someone else can come up with something more scenic to do with their 34 minutes than buy a burrito.)

If they wanted to try this adventure, they should print out a few BART time tables, a map of the airport so they could find the BART link quickly, and a couple Google Maps to get a sense for where they're going. And they should know the BART fares ahead of time, get in two separate lines for the ticket dispensers (you need separate tickets), and purchase round trip BART tickets so they wouldn't have to waste time buying tickets on the way back. Every minute would count!
posted by salvia at 12:04 AM on February 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't even try it with a 6 hour layover, to be honest.
posted by ORthey at 12:38 AM on February 29, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for all the answers guys. I just checked the weather here in Boston and hopfuly they will even make it to San Fransisco on time, let alone have time to spare.
posted by lilkeith07 at 2:18 AM on February 29, 2008

posted by Doohickie at 5:51 AM on February 29, 2008

As others have said, no F'ing way. Never go outside security if you don't have to, let alone outside the airport. The way security lines are these days, returning only an hour before your flight would seriously risk missing it. To go to Millbrae or Burlingame would be absolutely pointless. No offense to anyone that lives there, but there is nothing worth seeing there whatsoever, they are very typical suburban towns. Have a nice meal in the airport, get a drink, buy a magazine or two and be done with it.
posted by hihowareyou at 9:38 AM on February 29, 2008

I agree with everyone else. However, presuming they are taking the same flights on the way back, if they're really gung-ho about seeing SF, they could always try and get a later SF-Boston flight and have a reasonable amount of time to check out SF.
posted by EatenByAGrue at 10:55 AM on February 29, 2008

No. Stay in the airport, eat in the International Terminal, and inspect the exhibits -- the stuff in the International Terminal, and if they're flying United, the displays en route to the gates in Terminal 3 (behind security, alas).

I wouldn't even try it with a 6 hour layover

I would, for sure -- 6 hours would allow plenty of time for a brief downtown tour, and salvia just showed us how. For more details, given more time, see this previous question: SFO, quick!
posted by Rash at 12:31 PM on February 29, 2008

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