An SFO Museum Field Trip

Three years ago I did something a bit peculiar: I flew to San Francisco Airport for a few short hours solely for the purpose of checking out an exhibit the SFO Museum had organized on the history of mountain bikes. Since I was there for a spell, I also wandered around the airport to several other exhibits on display. Eventually I was spotted by a museum staffer because I had been posing photos of my little tour on Instagram with the hashtag #SFOfieldtrip. She said that to the best of their knowledge, I was the first person to fly to SFO purely for the purpose of viewing the museum exhibits! I was a little surprised to hear this. The museum puts on top-notch exhibitions throughout the airport and much of it is located before security. The International Terminal in particular has some great spaces to display items from their collection. Due to my limited time at the airport I had to decline her offer of a tour of the museum archives, but I still managed to see quite a few of the current exhibits.

The museum is definitely worth a visit, even if you’re just passing through on your way to distant lands. They usually have some interesting photography and Asian art on display, so make the most of your next layover there and go for a walk around. So when I realized this month that I needed to do a mini mileage run in order to keep my status with Virgin America and that it had been 152 weeks since that little adventure, I decided to pay a return visit to SFO. This time though, I opted to fly up on a Saturday, which turned out to have both positive and negative effects on my second SFO field trip.

For starters, I made a rookie mistake of forgetting to add my flights to TripIt. Because of this (and my habit of normally doing so), I didn’t discover my flight was delayed by an hour until I arrived at LAX. “No big deal,” I thought. “I’ll just head up to the Virgin America Loft and relax for a spell.” The Loft recently introduced several operational changes, including the removal of prepared food and most alcoholic drinks from the included complimentary amenities. Wine, beer, and non-alcoholic drinks are still free, along with an assortment of light snacks. Everything else has a price. For those with status on the airline, you no longer receive free passes but instead are offered a discounted admission price. When I checked in a reception I learned I still had one free “legacy” pass left on my eleVAte account, which was a pleasant surprise. Betty assured me she’d keep me posted on my flight’s departure time and I made my way to the bar for a mimosa.

I arrived just in time to hear the bartender tell another guest that they had no wine of any kind at the moment and she couldn’t get anyone on the phone to deliver more. By the sound of it, she’d been telling this to people all morning and clearly felt both bad about the situation and helpless to do anything about it. I revised my order to a pint of Prohibition ale and proceeded to wait out my delay, which ended up being just over two hours. SFO is notorious for its weather delays.

The delay left me worried that I wouldn’t get to see all of the exhibits on my to do list, but as it turned out, this may have been the one case where it was a blessing. See, I didn’t realize that the SFO Museum’s main gallery is closed on Saturdays and two of the exhibits I had on my list were in there. Had my flight not been delayed, there’s a good chance I would have been sitting in the terminal, twiddling my thumbs while I waited for my flight back home. I suppose I could have done some yoga to pass the time. Even though I “lost” two hours, I still made up some of that sightseeing time thanks to completely nonexistent security lines because very few people opt to travel on a Saturday evening. It might just be one of the better-kept secrets of hassle-free travel.

At any rate, here’s a glimpse of what I saw on my SFOfieldtrip. I’m just gutted that I missed Catch Our Style, one of the exhibits in the main gallery, which runs through November and showcases the fabulous fashion and design of California regional airlines. Hopefully they’ll put a similar display up again soon!

The Tushanwan Pagodas (International Terminal & SFO Museum Main Gallery)
The pagodas were created for the China Pavilion at the 1915 Pan-American World’s Fair in San Francisco to celebrate the architecture of China and the craftsmanship of the Tushanwan workshops in Shanghai.

Japanese Mingei (International Terminal)
Mingei means “arts of the people” and was originally inspired by the arts and crafts movement that swept through the United States & Europe in the early 20th century. Most folk toys in Japan served both as amusements and as spiritual accessories, such as amulets or expressions of a desire to bring success, wealth or happiness into one’s life.

I Love California (International Terminal)

Classic Monsters (Terminal 2)
The entire collection on display is on loan from the personal collection of Metallica member Kirk Hammett

Around SFO Airport
Art is placed liberally throughout the airport even though it may not be part of a curated exhibit. Here’s a small sampling of what you can see.

Find out about the latest goings on at the SFO Museum by following @SFOMuseum on Twitter. And if any of you happen to come across my copy of The Perks of Being A Wallflower at SFO, please drop me a line so I can return it to the Library. The overdue fees are going to be nasty.

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