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I'm flying Seattle, USA (SEA) -> San Francisco, USA (SFO) -> Frankfurt, Germany (FRA) -> Edinburgh, Scotland (EDI).

In San Francisco Airport I have a 5.5 layover.

Is it advisable to leave the airport and come back in time for the flight? I'm assuming I'll have to go through security again but don't think I'd need to check in again since I'll get my boarding pass in Seattle.

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I would like to recommend to write out abbreviations of airports in full. –  Bernhard Mar 24 '13 at 18:28
    
What do you want to see? –  Karlson Mar 24 '13 at 18:46
    
Not sure what I want to see yet. Just wondering if it's even viable. 5.5 hrs seems a long time to spend in the aiport. –  wkm Mar 24 '13 at 19:10
    
Despite how it might sound with a Scottish accent, Edinburgh is spelled with a "n", not an "m"! –  Doc Mar 25 '13 at 19:31
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There is also an aviation museum on the airport, which might be worth a look (if it is open when you are there) if you come to the conclusion that the 5.5 hours are not enough for a city trip. Also, there is a shopping Mall in San Bruno (I think), which is only two BART stations from the airport. –  DCTLib Apr 10 at 11:28

4 Answers 4

up vote 12 down vote accepted

Is visiting San Francisco viable in 5.5 hours?

Only to do a drive through and not a very thorough one.

Let's assume that you have your bags checked all the way through the destination and let's further assume that flights will be on time and let's even further assume that there is no traffic going to and from the airport.

Under these circumstances it takes 30 minutes to drive from SFO to Fisherman's Wharf. So that leaves just 4.5 hours. Considering you will need to be at the airport an hour or 1.5 hours before departure leaves about 3 hours.

Now let's put reality back into the picture. With that in mind you need about an hour for the unexpected leaving you with 2 hours of useful time in the city if you arrange someone to drive you around.

If you will go on public transport your in and out time will be much longer and 2 hours will be cut down even further. So if this is enough for you to see the city then by all means...

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Might also add that if you are doing the round trip in a taxi, it will cost you 90-100 dollars. A bit expensive for a two hour excursion. –  Kris Mar 25 '13 at 14:54
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BART from the airport to downtown SF is pretty fast and reliable. It doesn't take much more than 30 minutes and you don't have to account for traffic. –  Nate Eldredge Sep 25 at 19:58

From my own experience it is often more entertaining to have a trip somewhere downtown, eat something nice or even meet some friend for 2-3 hours and going back than being stuck in an airport for that long.

Unless you know a good place to stay at the airport where you can sleep, have internet access or other means of passing the time, it is probably more entertaining to have a small road trip in the middle than to just be bored for 6 hours.

I normally have my bags checked, put my hand luggage in a locker, go to the city, have a nice dinner and then head back. Much more of an experience than burning the pattern of another airport carpet into my retina or spending even more money in the shopping area than a nice dinner would cost.

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I'm not exactly sure what you're arguing? –  Karlson Mar 25 '13 at 16:24
    
@Karlson I am arguing that even a short trip to a city might be better than a long wait in an airport. –  uncovery Mar 25 '13 at 17:46
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Then if he has some friends around SF, he'd better meet them closer to the Airport - San Mateo or such - than spending 1,5 hours getting to SF to see them. –  Vince Mar 25 '13 at 20:01
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The question isn't whether it's more enjoyable to go to the city than stay in the airport, it's whether the logistics of time management make it reasonably possible. –  librik Mar 26 '13 at 6:20

It's do-able, but you won't get a lot of time in the city.

Unless you feel like paying for a taxi, your best option to get to the city is BART which leaves directly from the Airport. Presuming you're there on a weekday, BART leaves every 15 minutes (20-25 minutes evenings and weekends), and takes about 30 mins to the city. Allowing time to get from your plane to BART, buy a ticket, etc, you're going to be talking pretty close to 1 hour.

On return you're going to need to go via security which at SFO can take anywhere between 5 minutes and close to an hour, depending on your status/airline/terminal/time of day. Being an international flight, you'll probably start boarding around 45 minutes before departure time. So allowing for travel time, security, boarding and contingency, you're going to want to be leaving the city at least 2 hours before your flight time.

So out of your 5.5 hours, we've used up 3+ hours, giving you a little over 2 hours on the ground. Whilst that's certainly enough to see something, it's not much. It should be enough time for a quick wander around Union Square (BART to Powell st), Chinatown (BART to Montgomery) or The Ferry Wharf/Embarcadero (BART to Embarcadero) - but it's not enough time to safely get to Fisherman's Wharf or most of the rest of the city - at least not without catching a taxi.

BART will cost $8.25 each way. There's no return tickets as such - when you buy your ticket just make sure you put enough on it for the return journey to avoid having to buy a ticket when coming back.

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SFO, especially the international terminal, is one of the nicer airports. The food is mostly from San Francisco establishments and the quality is good. I especially like Ebisu (sushi) and Burger Joint in that terminal. There are interesting art exhibits both before and after security. I've not been in a million airports but I've been in something like twenty in the U.S., and if I had to pick one to stick around for 5.5 hours, SFO would be it. Consider having a drink instead of rushing into the city for a couple hours. And I say this as someone who once took the light rail from the Saint Louis airport just to stick my head out and see the arch.

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As a Bay Area resident, +1. The only attraction you can visit on this timetable is Chinatown. No Golden Gate Park, no Exploratorium. I do endorse using BART if the OP does go into the city, e.g., his connecting flight is delayed. –  Andrew Lazarus Sep 25 at 23:56

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