San Francisco, one of America’s most visited cities, boasts of several tourist attractions, which include the famous San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge, Chinatown, beautiful gardens, amusement parks, oceans, trails and museums. Speaking of museums, some of the best museums you can find within the city are the De Young Museum and Legion of Honor, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), San Francisco Cable Car Museum, Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum at Fisherman’s Wharf, Exploratorium and California Academy of Sciences. These museums receive a lot of visitors annually from in and around the San Francisco Bay Area, as well as visitors from other California counties, other states and other countries. However, many people may not have thought of visiting one set of exhibits as part of their tour of San Francisco: the San Francisco Airport Museums. Actually, people who are not too familiar with the geographical location of the San Francisco International Airport think that it is not even part of San Francisco, let alone that it has a beautiful museum to boast of.
Located 13 miles south of the city in San Mateo County, the San Francisco International Airport is under the jurisdiction of the City and County of San Francisco. In fact, its zip code, 94128, is a San Francisco zip code. Therefore, it may not be geographically located within the city of San Francisco proper, but it is definitely a part of San Francisco.
The San Francisco Airport Museums (SFAM) are a product of collaboration between the San Francisco Airport Commission and Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, and the museum program was founded in 1980. The purpose was, according to the SFAM website, to “humanize the airport environment and create an ambience in the airport that reflects the sophistication and cultural diversity of the City and County of San Francisco and the entire Bay Area.”
From its humble beginnings at the North Terminal, now known as Terminal 3, the San Francisco International Airport Museums grew, and now feature displays of rotating exhibits of art, history, science and culture of different nations in the museum program’s twenty galleries. The San Francisco Airport Commission Aviation Library and Louis A. Turpen Aviation Museum display a permanent collection of artifacts that pertain to the history of commercial aviation.
What is excellent about this museum is that you can see all the exhibits without having to pay an entrance fee. The exhibit is open to the public, both passengers and non-passengers alike. However, due to strict security implemented at the airport, the exhibits located near the gates past the screening areas are restricted to people without tickets or boarding passes to flights departing at those gate areas.
The San Francisco Airport Museums are the first of their kind in the United States. Other public places imitated the model; however, nothing, to my opinion, can compare. In 1999, the SFAM received accreditation from the American Association of Museums — the very first museum in an airport to do so.
Last Saturday, September 4th, my husband, daughter and I were able to enjoy the beautiful displays at the International Departure area near the Philippine Airlines departure gates. We took my mother and father-in-law to the airport. They were taking a flight back home to attend my father-in-law’s dad’s funeral. After we bade our goodbyes, the three of us decided to look at the exhibits. We saw the exhibits at A1 and G1 terminals. The title of the collective exhibits was “Shanghai: High-Rise Architecture and the Remaking of China’s Gateway to the World.” The exhibits run from April 2010 through October 2010. The exhibits depicted Shanghai as one of the fastest developing metropolises in the world. The display of replicas of glass high-rise buildings, complete with working lights, left us mesmerized and awestruck. Imagine if we had seen the real, life-size buildings!
I have included the photos that we took from the exhibit here. If not for my in-laws’ emergency trip to the Philippines, we would not have discovered this hidden gem. Talking to some of our friends, they never knew or noticed them. Frankly, I used to work at the domestic airport 10 years ago, but I never knew such a beautiful exhibit existed. Maybe it was because I was just trying to work my 12-hour shift taking care of passengers as a ground crew for a domestic carrier that I never even had the chance to enjoy the airport as a tourist. Even now, as a passenger, I would just rush to my flight. I was so concerned about making my flights that I never noticed. Now, I know better.
Therefore, next time you are traveling to San Francisco, or if you live in and near the airport and you are running out of ideas of places to visit, come to the San Francisco Airport Museums and be transported to another part of the world without taking off on a plane.
San Francisco Airport Museums
San Francisco International Airport
P.O. Box 8097
San Francisco, CA 94128
Phone: (650) 821-6700
Fax: (650) 821-6777
Drive and park at the International Departure parking gates to see the exhibits at A1 and G1. Ride BART from anywhere or tram from long-term parking.