One day in San Francisco Itinerary: See San Francisco in a day
Only have one day in San Francisco, and wondering what to include on your itinerary? We got you covered. In this detailed travel guide, we will share to see San Francisco in a day, plus day trip options if you are extending your visit!
It is extremely easy to fall in love with a city like San Francisco, even if you have just one day at your disposal. It may not measure more than 50 square miles, but what it lacks in size it makes up in content. In no time it will infatuate you with its drop-dead skyline, historic architecture, and some of the most iconic landmarks you have ever laid your eyes on.
No doubt it is tough for the first-time visitor to pick and choose things to do in any city in such a short time, but this one day in San Francisco itinerary has you totally covered, even after taking into account the highly unpredictable weather at the Golden Gate city is famous for.
One day in San Francisco Itinerary: See San Francisco in a day
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1 day in San Francisco itinerary: In a snapshot
- Golden Gate Bridge
- Palace of Fine Arts
- Golden Gate Park
- Haight Street
- Hayes Valley
- Union Square
- Ferry Building
- North Beach
- Lombard Street
- Fisherman’s Wharf
- Pier 23
- Painted Ladies of San Francisco
San Francisco in a day: Using tours
- San Francisco Guided City tour (3.5 hours, starts at 09:00 am)
- North Beach Food and History Walking Tour (2 hours)
- Alcatraz & Fisherman’s Wharf Tour at night (4 hours)
Preparing for your trip to San Francisco: Travel Tips
It is very important to keep certain things in mind for your San Francisco itinerary, as everything will be fast-paced, meaning no time for a break until it is time to go to bed or head to the airport.
San Francisco city is very tech-savvy and to navigate your way around you need to carry a sufficiently charged mobile phone at all times. The weather patterns here are very odd. While one part of the city could be foggy and chilly, other parts could be basking in the sunshine, so it is a good idea to wear layers.
Your one day itinerary will involve a lot of walking, except for a few bus and Uber trips. (Make sure to download the MUNI app to purchase your bus/train tickets on the phone, rather than waste precious time buying them in cash).
You will want to wear comfortable shoes to walk on this self-guided tour.
The public transportation system is not as efficient as say, London or New York City, so download the Uber app as you will need ride shares often to get to some parts of the city quickly, which otherwise takes multiple transfers and many hours on the bus.
Since you are very short on time, do not travel crammed up in a train, rather use UberPool, which sometimes comes out even cheaper than taking a bus.
We also used hop on and hop off tours in San Francisco with friends and family, and it is surely helpful in getting to various places and exploring the city on a tight timeline. You can grab your 24 hours sightseeing pass here
So you will need some sort of transportation. And once you are at an attraction you will be walking a ton, and San Francisco is a very hilly city, so save your energy for when you really need it.
Sticking to the iconic neighborhoods like Chinatown, Union Square, North Beach or Fisherman’s Wharf will allow you to see the maximum attractions in the minimum time. There may be other worthy attractions farther, but it is useless to see them as you will lose hours and hours just transit hopping all over the city.
Where to stay in San Francisco?
San Francisco is an expensive city, but there are plenty of excellent options, including budget ones, where you can rest your head after you are done with your one day itinerary:
- InterContinental Mark Hopkins (Luxury): Located in the upscale Nob Hill neighborhood, this 4 star hotel has a historic charm, stunning rooms, and breathtaking views! Click to check out photos and view availability
- Omni San Francisco (mid-range): Ideal for exploring the city because of its exclusive downtown location. An easy jumping-off point for the business as well as short visit travelers. Book your stay here
- Green Tortoise Hostel (budget): If you are a San Francisco one time visitor and want convenience on the cheap, this hostel is sure to make your stay enjoyable. This highly rated accommodation is located in North Beach, so you are within walking distance of many restaurants! Book your stay here
So let’s get started on your one day long San Francisco travel guide.
Golden Gate Bridge (0700 hrs)
As you have just a day in hand, it is assumed you are able to start as early as possible. Kick start your trip at the Golden Gate Bridge. Take an Uber (about $6-$8) from your hotel to the parking lot of the bridge. Parking is free till 0800 hrs for those who come by car.
There is every chance you will have the whole bridge to yourself, which otherwise gets very crowded and chaotic over the course of the day. Views from the Golden Gate bridge are quite special, and photography will be far easier without the crowds bumping into you.
Do not waste time by walking to the other end as most people do instead walk up to tower no1 and turn back. You will enjoy watching the surfers riding the waves below or even catch a glimpse of the tourist ferry heading to Alcatraz.
Without battling the crowds, your visit to the Golden Gate will be over in thirty minutes. Now is the time for breakfast.
Breakfast tip: There are many spots nearby but most of them open only by 9 am. Zazie in Cole Valley is a local favorite that opens at 8:00 am and serves authentic French cuisine. The eggs benedict here are probably the best in San Francisco. An Uber ride will take you about 20 minutes from the Golden Gate bridge.
Palace of Fine Arts (09:00 am)
Take the free PresidiGo shuttle that runs along Old Mason street and ask the driver to drop you from where you can see the Palace of Fine Arts.
From the Golden Gate Bridge to Old Mason street (where the free shuttle is) is about a 5-minute drive away.
After a quick ride, you will be able to spot the magnificent structure which was specially built for the 1915 Panama-Pacific exposition, an event marked for the reintroduction of the city after the devastating earthquake of 1906.
This is one of the most popular tourist attractions in San Francisco and your Instagram will not be complete without a picture in front of the Roman columns. It is advisable that you come here early to avoid the crowds that start to gather from mid-morning onwards.
Spend about 20 minutes at the Palace of Fine Arts, after which you can take the free PresidiGo shuttle back to Old Mason Street or call an Uber for your next stop.
Golden Gate Park (10:00 am)
Take an Uber to Golden Gate Park, (nowhere near the Golden Gate Bridge), home to some of the coolest things like bison, windmills, museums, and acres and acres of forested space.
You will have no time for walking, so we suggest you rent a pedicab or car to explore attractions like the Bison Paddock, the Japanese Tea Garden, or the De Young Museum.
So you could easily spend an entire day here, but since you only have a few hours, we recommend the following:
First, take a pedicab to the Conservatory of Flowers, which is only about 5 minutes from the entrance of the park. The Victorian greenhouse was built in 1879 and is one of the oldest still-standing wood and glass conservatories in the world.
Next, head to the California Academy of Sciences, which is located on the other side of the park (about 10 minutes from the Conservatory of Flowers). The research centre and museum have an aquarium, a planetarium, and natural history exhibits on-site. It also houses a rainforest inside a glass dome.
If you have time, also check out the de Young Museum, which is located nearby and has an incredible collection of American art from the 17th through the 20th centuries.
If hungry, no worries – you have plenty of food options inside Golden Gate Park.
Haight Street (11:30 am)
From the corner of Golden Gate Park, walk down to Stanyan, which is where Haight Street begins. The neighborhood is known for its hippie culture, independent shops, and bohemian vibe.
Start your exploration at the corner of Haight and Ashbury, which is considered the epicenter of the 1960s counterculture movement. Then, walk west down Haight Street and explore some of the independent shops and unique boutiques.
Being a busy street, be wary of pickpockets.
Into vintage shopping? Stop at the Decades of Fashion, a vintage store where you can find clothing of all decades.
Hayes Valley (12:30 pm)
Hop on in the #7 bus from Haight Street and get off at Geary Street. Two blocks away, tucked away in a neighborhood of central San Francisco lies Hayes Valley. The buildings are colorful, the shopping upscale and the food scene is excellent.
By now it would be early afternoon and you would have worked up an appetite. So stop by for lunch at the Greek outlet, Souvla, or for whacky flavored ice cream at Salt and Straw.
Union Square (1:00 pm)
Take the #7 bus or any of the MUNI trains from the Van Ness station and get down at Powell Street.
Start from Market and Powell and avoid going by cable car as the lines are always long and you will lose at least an hour waiting for one. Instead, walk up to Union Square, skip the shops but do not forget to take photos.
Keep going towards the North East corner till you reach Stockton Street. When you reach Stockton 2 block, go right from Bush for another block till you reach Dragon’s Gate.
Ferry Building (1:30 pm)
A two-block walk from Union Square will bring you to Market Street.
Ride on the historic F-Market streetcar eastwards towards the water. You will need to pay $2.50 for your next destination, the Ferry Building. This building is home to a thriving farmer’s market and other specialty shops.
The ice cream at Humphrey Slocombe is a must-try.
Chinatown (2:30 pm)
Ride back from the Ferry Building to Dragon Gate, the entrance point of Chinatown, the oldest in the United States. You can enter from here and start exploring the area, but it is a large neighborhood and difficult to explore on foot.
We recommend that you visit the Chinese Historical Society of America Museum, which chronicles the history of Chinese immigrants in the United States. The museum is located on Clay Street between Grant Avenue and Stockton Street.
You might like this tour: 3 hour Chinatown heritage walking tour
Afterward, walk north on Grant Avenue and explore the various shops and restaurants. Be sure to try some authentic dim sum!
There are many amazing places to eat here as well. A food favorite is the takeaway Golden Gate Bakery, reputed for its excellent egg tarts.
However, before picking up food, check out some of the cool spots in Chinatown like the Red Lanterns street and the famous Fortune Cookie Factory on Ross Alley which is in operation since the 1960s. Or go shopping for a bit.
After you have had your fill of Chinatown, grab the egg tarts from the bakery, walk north towards Grant Ave till you hit Broadway and are at North Beach.
Food fan? Book this culinary tour of Chinatown
North Beach (3:30 pm)
Find a bench and enjoy your packed goodies at North Beach, also known as Little Italy.
The neighborhood is home to a large Italian immigrant population and is known for its authentic Italian restaurants and cafes. (If ever you come to Frisco again, you must order an Italian dinner here).
The beach itself is unique as it is near the San Francisco Bay area, once noted for its dance halls, bars and brothels to name a few. On any other day have your lunch at the Washington Square Park for amazing views of the church.
Some of our favorite food spots here include Caffe Trieste (one of the oldest and most famous cafes in San Francisco), and Capo’s (a great spot for traditional Italian cuisine).
You might like this tour: North Beach and Little Italy Food tour
If you prefer to do some sightseeing and walking, then start your exploration at Washington Square, which is located at the intersection of Columbus Avenue and Grant Avenue.
Then, walk north on Columbus Avenue and explore the various shops, restaurants, and cafes.
Lombard Street (04:00 pm)
Now from Columbus Ave, walk up the hill till you reach Lombard Street, which winds back and forth unlike any other street anywhere in the world.
The winding roads are so predominant from the base of the hill that it has become such a popular spot that by early evening it is buzzing with people. This is the most photographed street in San Francisco.
In our opinion, after taking snaps from the bottom, head to the top to catch pictures of the San Francisco skyline.
If you are driving, note that you can drive down it but beware of the tight turns and oncoming traffic. It is one way only! You can walk or cycle down this street as well but be aware that it is very steep.
The section between Hyde and Leavenworth Streets on Russian Hill is what we call “the most crooked street in the world”.
Once you have had your fill of this amazing street, walk down to Leavenworth Street and take a right. This will lead you back to Hyde Street and towards Ghirardelli Square.
Ghiradelli Square – Fisherman’s Wharf (5:00 pm)
Anyone coming to San Francisco will want to have the Fisherman’s Wharf on top of their must-see list. While the locals consider this a tourist trap, they usually avoid it.
But if you love chocolate, be sure to check out the Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory here. You can watch the chocolate being made and sample some of their delicious products.
Afterward, walk around Ghirardelli Square and explore the various shops and restaurants. There are also a few art galleries here if you’re interested.
When you’re done, walk north on Beach Street towards Fisherman’s Wharf. This is one of the most popular tourist destinations in San Francisco.
There are many things to see and do at Fisherman’s Wharf. You can watch the sea lions at Pier 39, visit the Aquarium of the Bay, take a ferry ride to Alcatraz Island, or just stroll around and enjoy the views of the San Francisco Skyline.
There are lots of seafood restaurants around Jefferson Street, especially Tarantino’s, said to make the best clam chowder in the world served in a sourdough bread bowl. (Beware of pickpockets here as this is a popular tourist hub).
Pier 23 (6:00 pm)
If you are looking to rest your weary legs after a long day of sightseeing, keep going from the Fisherman’s Wharf along the Embarcadero to the Pier 23 bar.
If the weather is right, you can sit outside right next to the water and enjoy the views while soaking in the sunshine. This is also a great spot for watching the sunset over the city.
Painted ladies of San Francisco (07:00 pm)
Make your way to Alamo Square Park for a stunning view of the city skyline and the “Painted Ladies” – a row of beautiful Victorian houses, also known as “Postcard Row”.
Sunset is said to be the best time to visit the grassy Alamo square having colorful Victorian homes on one side, especially for a photoshoot as the setting sun casts a rosy glow on them.
If you don’t like crowds, get to the Painted Ladies early to enjoy the views of these 19th century gorgeous buildings located at the crossroads of Steiner Street and Hayes Street.
While there are literally hundreds of excellent dining options in San Francisco, our suggestion will be to return to the Ferry Building for dinner at the end of the day.
Make sure to make a reservation at the Slanted Door, which serves the best Vietnamese fare and has been voted as one of the best restaurants in San Francisco for more than two decades (re-opening in late 2022).
If, however, you prefer a quick and casual bite, head to Gott’s Roadside to sample their signature dish Ahi Poke tacos with a distinct California twist. All the ingredients are locally sourced and they even have a long wine and beers list.
Late-night theatre (09:00 pm or later)
Still not tired? From the Ferry Building, there are plenty of transportation choices to all the major theatres, mostly clustered in the Union Square and Civic Centre areas.
Check out the offerings beforehand at either the American Conservatory Theatre (ACT), Broadway SF, or the San Francisco Ballet and many more depending on the time of your visit.
Optional tour: Evening Ghost Tour in San Francisco
1 day San Francisco Itinerary: Alternate tour recommendations
While this guide has all the main tourist hot spots covered, there are plenty of other options for utilizing your twenty four hours in San Francisco.
We have alternate tour recommendations below, which are perfect for those who wish to take it slow and not be fast-paced!
Option 1: San Francisco in a day with tours
Wake up and get ready for a San Francisco City tour at 09:00 am. In this tour, you will check off Golden Gate Bridge, Civic Center, and the famous Opera House with a tour guide.
- San Francisco Guided City Tour (3.5 hours, starts at 09:00 am)
- North Beach Food and History Walking Tour (2 hours)
- Alcatraz & Fisherman’s Wharf Tour at night (4 hours)
After the tour, take a break, maybe brunch and then make your way to the North Beach. Hang out for a bit, and then join a food and history walking tour (sample delicious food for lunch). This tour lasts 2 hours.
In the evening, set aside 4 hours for a double guided tour of Fisherman’s Wharf and Alcatraz. We recommend heading to the Wharf area at least an hour before the tour starts so that you can enjoy the place by yourself, buy souvenirs, watch the sunset, and take photos, before joining the tour!
Option 2: San Francisco Itinerary 1 day
Start your day with a visit to one of San Francisco’s most iconic landmarks, the Golden Gate Bridge. You can walk or bike across the bridge, or take a scenic drive.
Then after 10:00 am, opt for a 3-4 hour guided tour/s. Like if you’re feeling adventurous, make your way to Alcatraz Island and tour the former prison. (detailed options below)
After that, you can chill out by Fisherman’s Wharf. Go on a walking tour, hang out, and go souvenir shopping. This historic area is also home to some of the city’s best seafood restaurants, as well as attractions like the Aquarium of the Bay and the Cable Car Museum.
Then end your day with a stroll through one of San Francisco’s many beautiful parks, like Golden Gate Park or Dolores Park. Or, take in sweeping views of the city from Twin Peaks or Coit Tower.
So here are some of the tour recommendations to fill up your San Francisco 1 day itinerary
- San Francisco Helicopter and Alcatraz tour (2.5 hours): Fly over San Francisco on a 20-minute helicopter ride. Enjoy stunning aerial views of the major landmarks of the city. After your flight, board the ferry from Pier 33 to Alcatraz for a guided tour of the ‘Rock’ and the infamous cells. Check availability and prices here
- Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito Bike Tour (3 hours): Enjoy a 2.5-3 hour guided tour to Sausalito from San Francisco. In this tour, bikes and related equipment are provided including helmets with a personalized bike fitting. You can book this tour here
- AT&T Park: The park is the main venue of sports in San Francisco as well as being the base of the San Francisco Giants. The AT&T park has not only the best baseball field in America, but the views from the park of the Bay area and the Golden Gate Bridge are nothing less than spectacular. Even if the Giants are not playing, you can visit the field warning track and the press box during the tour of the grounds.
- Coit Tower: Also known as Lillie Coit Memorial Tower, this iconic structure is located on Telegraph Hill and came up in 1933 as part of a plan to make the city look more beautiful. A hit with locals and tourists alike, the top of the tower offers excellent 360° views of San Francisco, quite different from other vantage points.
Sightseeing Map: San Francisco in a day
Day trips from San Francisco: Ways to extend your trip
San Francisco is close to some remarkable seaside towns and nature sites, all within easy reach of the city. Here are some great places to go, if you have a free day in San Francisco:
Carmel and Monterey
The central coast of California is a short drive away from San Francisco and is home to the two pretty seaside towns of Carmel (193 km or 120 miles) and Monterey (185 km or 115 miles).
While Carmel is a romantic destination, Monterey has a more urban feel. The highlight of a trip to these towns is the view from an oceanfront stretch of Highway One, known as the 17-mile drive, said to be the most beautiful of all drives on the West Coast of California.
You can join a combined tour of Carmel and Monterey here
Here are more coastal cities in California to add to your San Francisco trip! Plus here are West Coast USA road trips
Hot balloon ride over Napa Valley
The stunning Napa Valley lies just outside San Francisco and the only way to see it in style and convenience is by way of a flight on a hot air balloon.
Enjoy a sumptuous breakfast with your fellow travelers before embarking on this once-in-a-lifetime experience. Marvel at the lush green vineyards as you soar over Napa Valley’s wine country.
Just 72 km or 45 miles north of San Francisco, lies the perfect day getaway of Sonoma Valley. Irrespective of what your passion is, there is something for someone in this paradise.
From hiking, history, fishing, golf, or gardening there are plenty of activities to enjoy at all times of the year. Spend the day at any of the glittering resorts doing nothing or having an exclusive grapeseed oil massage at the spa.
You can combine a day tour to the Napa and Sonoma Wine Valley
Another amazing wine country tour is to the Muir Woods and then Sonoma Valley. You can check out the day tour here
Apart from amusement parks and surfing, Santa Cruz has a plethora of different activities ranging from hiking, canopy walks, and butterfly spotting. Music fans too can have their fill at Moe’s Alley, a venue of local and international music groups.
Food & drink aficionados can treat themselves to a great meal at Cremer House, located in the Grand Central Hotel, dating back to the 19th century.
Santa Cruz is an and a half hours drive away from San Francisco and if you are visiting in the winter months one must try to spot the impressive butterflies at the Monarch Grove on Natural Bridges State Beach.
Here are more road trips from San Francisco
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park is one of the largest and most visited national parks in the United States. It is about 3 hours drive away from San Francisco.
Instead of driving, join a full-day guided tour of Yosemite that showcases the western Sierra Nevada mountain range.
One of the most popular attractions in Yosemite National Park is the Yosemite Valley. The valley is a U-shaped glacial valley that was carved by glaciers during the last ice age. The valley is home to a number of iconic landmarks, including Half Dome, El Capitan, and Yosemite Falls.
Yosemite is also home to a variety of plant and animal species. Here is the guided day tour to book.
San Francisco Travel Tips
When planning your trip to San Francisco, you will be looking at the SFO Airport, or San Francisco International Airport. It is located about 21 km or 13 miles south of Downtown SF.
When booking your flights, we also suggest checking flights to Oakland and San Jose airports as you might find cheaper options.
The most common way to get from the airport to your hotel is by taxi or rideshare. If you’re taking a taxi, be sure to ask for the flat rate to your destination instead of paying by the meter. This will save you money, as taxis in San Francisco are notoriously expensive.
If you’re taking rideshare, you can use apps like Lyft or Uber to book your ride in advance. This is often cheaper than taking a taxi and you can use the app to track your driver’s progress so you know when they’ll arrive.
To make the most of your experience, follow these tips to experience San Francisco just like a local:
- Eat like a local: San Francisco is known for its diverse food scene. From fresh seafood to world-class sushi, there’s something for everyone. Be sure to try some of the local favorites during your stay.
- Cioppino and not clam chowder is the local delicacy: Cioppino is prepared by the Italian immigrants from the North Beach neighborhood, while Clam Chowder has its roots in New England.
- Pack very wisely: If you think your trip to San Francisco will be warm and sunny, think again. The weather here is very unpredictable, and the wind on some days, even during the summer months is no joke. So leave your tees, shorts, and slippers at home.
- Dress in layers: We liked the foggy and sometimes sunny weather in San Francisco. But for some, it can be chilly, even in the summer. The fog rolls in unexpectedly so it’s always a good idea to have a sweater or jacket handy.
- Bring comfortable shoes: San Francisco is a great walking city, but those hills can be tough on your feet. Be sure to pack comfortable shoes and maybe even an extra pair of socks.
- Explore the off-beat places: Every neighborhood in San Francisco has its own flair, be it Chinatown, Japantown, the Mission, or the Castro. These districts have been shaped by the communities which reside there and are known for their amazing Italian food. Visiting just the touristy places will barely allow you to scratch the surface of this vibrant city.
- See the Golden Gate Bridge from a different perspective: Avoid the popular lookout and instead, check out the other viewpoints of the Golden Gate Bridge. Baker Beach, Crissy Field, Land’s End, and the Presidio are some spots from where you can get much better views, rather than from the lookout which is always crowded.
- Spend a day in wine country: Just a short drive from San Francisco, Napa, and Sonoma Counties offer some of the best wine in the world. Take a day trip and tour some of the local wineries.
- Visit during the shoulder season: San Francisco is a popular destination year-round, but rates for hotels and flights are cheapest during the months of April-May and September-October.
- Get a map: This may seem obvious, but a good map is essential for getting around San Francisco. Be sure to pick up a map at the airport or your hotel so you can orient yourself and plan your sightseeing accordingly. Don’t forget to save this Google Maps added to this travel itinerary.
- Transportation: To maximize your trip and explore San Francisco in a day, you will surely need some type of transportation – Uber, transportation, guided or sightseeing tours.
Budget for San Francisco
Expect to spend around $175 USD, if you are twin sharing, for your one day trip to San Francisco, based on the daily average data collected from past visitors. Earlier travelers have spent $13 USD on transport and $50 USD on meals for one day. The accommodation cost for two in a mid-range hotel is around $212 USD.
If you are traveling in a larger group or with kids, the per-person cost goes down significantly as hotel rooms can be shared and kids pay less. Entertainment and sightseeing typically cost about $40 per head, inclusive of admission to monuments, museums, and other attractions.
Safety in San Francisco
The crime rate in San Francisco is slightly higher than the other metro cities in the US. With simple precautions, the odds of being a target of violent crime are quite low.
The only exception is the risk of car breaking, especially where bags or valuables have been left behind. It is recommended to avoid the following districts of San Francisco:
- Hunter’s Point
- The Mission District
- Market Street
- The Tenderloin District
- Western Addition
Pick pocketing is common in popular touristy areas, so do pay extra attention to your belongings when you are out and about.
Was one day in San Francisco enough?
Frankly speaking, San Francisco is a destination that deserves much more than just a single day to do any justice to the first-time visitor. That said, there is much to be accomplished in a single day, even if you are with kids in tow.
Given that the city is only seven miles long and seven miles wide, it makes access to the major sites pretty easy.
We would however recommend that the visitor should stay at least for a few days and take a few day trips around Northern California, for a far better experience.
We hope you found our post on – one day in San Francisco itinerary useful to plan your upcoming trip! There’s plenty to do in SF if you only have one day in the city!
We hope you enjoy your time here!