SFO Sky Terrace: The New Avgeek Paradise
A couple weeks ago our family took a weekend trip for my daughter to attend a dance convention in the Bay Area. The NYCDA convention was at the Hyatt Regency San Francisco Airport, and she had a packed weekend of classes and competition pieces with the others on her team from our local dance studio. My wife taught jazz and ballet classes for years at the studio, and she was totally in her element. My job was to keep our two energetic boys entertained for the day, and I decided that a visit to the new SFO Sky Terrace would be a great diversion for a couple hours.
Not that we needed to spend a couple hours at the SFO Sky Terrace, although I was more than game for an extended visit. But with shuttle transit from the hotel, time getting up to it, and transit back, we’d stretch it out a bit. The older of my two sons is very much into aircraft and airports, and I knew he’d love the experience.
How to Get to the SFO Sky Terrace
If you’re not an avgeek or frequent traveler through San Francisco International, you may not be aware of the new SFO Sky Terrace. This awesome new deck was designed to be an awesome indoor and outdoor viewing deck overlooking the airport. You can enjoy views of the aircraft at parts of Terminals 2 and 3, the taxiways, and part of runways 28L and 28R.
The SFO Sky Terrace is located in Terminal 2. This is the terminal used by Alaska Airlines and American Airlines. The viewing deck is open every day from 7:00 AM to 10:00 PM, giving you plenty of time to enjoy the views.
Entering Terminal 2 at the center of the departures level, you should immediately see signs for the SFO Sky Terrace.
The elevator and stairs up to the Sky Terrace is located to the left of the security entrances. There was still a large sign out directing you to it.
The SFO Sky Terrace is pre-security, which is the absolute best part. You don’t need to be flying to enjoy the views. Walking around the corner, we entered the elevator that would take us up.
The SFO Sky Terrace is two floors up from the departures level. Even though you don’t need a ticket, you do need to pass through a simple security check. I’m not sure what sort of scanning they use, as I was instructed to walk through with my phone, camera, and giant mass of keys. This should have set off any reasonable metal detector.
SFO Sky Terrace Indoor Space
The SFO Sky Terrace could comfortably fit a few dozen people, at most. It was pretty quiet when we visited. The space is bright and inviting, and the indoor section contains a number of comfortable chairs.
There are windows looking out to the viewing deck as well as overlooking Terminal 2. Given that it is was a bit chilly outside, even on this sunny winter day, these were by far the most popular during our visit.
Besides being a quiet, relaxing place with great views, the indoor part of the SFO Sky Terrace is also part of the San Francisco Airport Museum. There are pieces scattered across other places in various terminals. The Sky Terrace has incorporated some really cool elements, including prints of the original commemorative SFO airport plaque and a set of Pan Am travel posters.
There are also a couple physical pieces from the original airport terminal that opened in 1954. The large exhibit provides helps you imagine what it would have been like visiting SFO half a century ago.
The Awesome Outdoor Deck
While the indoor section of the SFO Sky Terrace is cool, the real magic starts when you step out into the outdoor area. With only glass panels separating you from the tarmac, the views are amazing. You have roughly a 180-degree view of the airport and surrounding area. There are a handful of chairs and benches, but it’s most fun to stand nose to the glass.
While the access is via Terminal 2, the SFO Sky Terrace positions you between Terminal 2 and Terminal 3, giving you partial views of both. When we arrived, most of the gates at Terminal 2 were occupied. This Alaska 737 pushed back within minutes.
It was also cool to see the new and old United liveries parked side by side.
Unfortunately, neither international terminal is visible. However, if you have a desire to see a number of international aircraft (besides the ones you can catch landing or taking off), head over to the lobby of the Grand Hyatt at SFO. You’ll have great views of part of International terminal A, often able to see British Airways, KLM, Fiji Airways, Korean, and Qantas aircraft parked here, among others.
We spent some time watching planes take off and land. I chatted it up with another guy who seemed to be having the time of his life photographing aircraft. He’d flown up from Phoenix that morning and was planning to spend most of the day here photographing planes.
I’d planned to pull up Flight Radar 24 to see what we might catch during our visit, but he was one step ahead. He’d happily provide notification of each aircraft that was about to land. Here are some I caught during our time at the SFO Sky Terrace with my own low-end camera.
Remember that you are at an airport! The glass shields a good amount of the noise, but between aircraft departing, parking, and taking off, it does get loud at times.
I love the SFO Sky Terrace. I’m typically only at SFO when I’m either flying in, flying out, or connecting. Not living in the area means I likely won’t be back anytime soon. But if you live in the Bay Area or have some time to kill before your flight, head to Terminal 2 and check it out for yourself. I doubt you’ll be disappointed.