Buddha and his attendants stay zen at the bustling Virgin Atlantic ticket counter in the International Terminal at SFO. They are part of The Resplendent Stone, an exhibit of Chinese jade pieces on loan from the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco. (Photo: Beth Novey/NPR)

The word “museum” may bring to mind stately buildings, galleries, walls hung with works of art and audio tours. But in San Francisco, there’s a museum with none of these traditional features — it’s in the airport.

The San Francisco International Airport (SFO) is the country’s only airport with a museum program accredited by the American Association of Museums. Exhibits are scattered through various terminals and change several times a month.

Presently in the International Terminal, visitors can see 18th-century porcelain from Meissen, Germany, architectural models of Shanghai’s skyline, and precious jades from China, India and Russia. You can stroll through these exhibits before passing through security — so you can come to the airport just to see the art, on view 24 hours a day. (That’s something you won’t find in travel guidebooks.)


Susan Stamberg