Only 24 hours in San Francisco? One day in San Francisco is never enough to see everything but we got you covered with this guide for top spots to visit in the city! San Francisco is a must for your California bucket list.
Known for its perpetually cool weather, San Francisco has a bit of everything and honestly, you definitely could spend more days there. But if you only have one day in San Francisco, here are the 10 best things to do, no driving required. San Francisco is one of the top places to visit in California.
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Have more than one day in San Francisco to spare in the area? Check out my 14-day no-driving itinerary in the west coast of the United States and Vegas.
Best Way to Spend One Day in San Francisco
The best ways to get around in San Francisco are definitely by cable car, train or hop on and hop off bus! San Francisco has one of the best public transport networks in the United States and it’s so easy to get to the main places of attractions in San Francisco by a mixture of these public transport.
1-day San Francisco Visitor passport via MuniMobile
To get around, I downloaded the MuniMobile mobile app and bought the one-day visitor pass. The pass gives us unlimited rides on the cable car, historic streetcars, muni metro and buses in San Francisco. The pass costs only USD13 and you can pay using any Visa/MasterCard credit card via the app. I highly recommend you to get this pass! It’s not only cheaper but also much more convenient than having to pay each individual ride. You can also try a hop on hop off sightseeing bus for your one day in San Francisco.
Where to stay to make the best of your One Day in San Francisco?
Union Square is the central hub of San Francisco and you can easily access other places of interest from there. There are also many shopping malls and restaurants around the area so you can catch up on the late-night shopping and supper once you’re done for the day.
Handlery Union Square Hotel
We stayed at the Handlery Union Square hotel which is just a street away from Union Square. The hotel room is cozy and their service staff is friendly. I would say this is a mid-range hotel.
If you have the budget, the Westin is situated at an even more convenient location and definitely more well-equipped. For a more affordable option, Herbert Hotel is just another street further than Handlery from Union Square.
What to do in San Francisco in one day?
Make the best of your day with a jam-packed city tour that covers these 10 free, must-do activities on your one day in San Francisco:
- Fisherman’s Wharf
- Pier 39
- Lombard Street
- Chestnut Street
- Presidio Park
- Palace of Fine Arts
- Crissy Field
- Golden Gate Bridge
- Chinatown -Join a Chinatown Culinary Walking Tour
- Union Square
I promise this one-day San Francisco itinerary is a lot more manageable than it seems!
Start your day early with Sears Fine Food
Founded since 1938, the restaurant is best known for its Swedish pancakes. While I’m not exactly a huge fan of the classic pancakes, I found their eggs benedict delectable and the ambiance pleasantly reminiscent of an old-school diner.
Take the cable car to Fisherman’s Wharf & Pier 39
After the hearty breakfast, head over to Powell Street & Market Street to ride the iconic cable car to the Fisherman’s Wharf area.
San Francisco was the first city to launch these cable cars and remains the last city to use these manually operated cable cars as a mode of transport. The queues for the cable cars may appear long but they move fast. Within 10 minutes of queuing, we sat in the car, enjoying the bumpy ride through the steep streets of the city.
It takes just about 20 to 30 minutes to get to the Fisherman’s Wharf area. Walk down to Pier 39 first and catch the resident sea lions basking in the sun. Trust us when we say it’s strangely therapeutic to listen to the sea lions make their ‘wub-wub’ noises.
While you’re at Pier 39, do yourself a favor and get some chocolate fudge. We bought ours from The Fudge House, which was admittedly expensive, but tasted heavenly. I didn’t even know chocolate fudge was a thing until I visited San Francisco!
Lunch at In-N-Out Burger
Stop for lunch at In-N-Out Burger. The nearest In-N-Out is just a short walk away from Fisherman’s Wharf at Anchorage Square. I absolutely love their buttery toasted buns and well-grilled patty! The animal style fries are definitely sinful but well-worth the calories with the melty American cheese and special sauce.
After lunch, I took a short walk over to Ghirardelli Marketplace to stock up on their signature chocolates to bring back as souvenirs for loved ones.
Lombard Street & Chestnut Street
From Ghirardelli Marketplace, it takes only about 15 minutes on foot to Lombard Street. One of the most iconic sights in San Francisco, 1070 Lombard Street is known for its 8 tight, consecutive curves within the short, steep length.
After you get your photos of the street, hop over to the next junction where you’ll find yourself in Chestnut Street. This was one place I absolutely enjoyed and wished I had more time to explore.
Chestnut Street is best known for shopping and its many boutique cafes. Some boutiques to note include:
- Marine Layer: Known for its soft basics, Marine Layer makes their fabric from recycled beechwood and churns out eco-friendly and sustainable products
- Amour Vert: Another eco-conscious fashion label, Amour Vert makes beautiful, timeless pieces that go a long way in your closet
- Tonlé: A zero-waste fashion label with beautiful apparels and accessories made from fabric scraps by Cambodian makers
Continue down Chestnut Street to Presidio Park, & Palace of Fine Arts
Located right at the end of Chestnut Street, Presidio park was once a former military fort but has now transformed into a national park. Part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, the park is absolutely serene and well-maintained.
Presidio Park also houses Industrial Light & Magic, the arm of Lucasfilm which takes care of animation and VFX. Fans of Star Wars will be excited to see the Yoda statue in the park.
Opposite of Presidio Park is the Palace of Fine Arts. “A monumental structure, which was originally constructed for the 1915 Panama-Pacific exposition” (quoted from Wiki), the site is now a popular place for wedding photography with its elegant Grecian columns and beautiful blooms.
Head over to Crissy Field and see the Golden Gate Bridge
Further down north from the Palace of Fine Arts is Crissy Field which connects to the Crissy Field East Beach. Take the San Francisco Bay Trail along the beach towards Torpedo Wharf then head to the Golden Gate Bridge viewpoint for excellent views of the coastline and the iconic suspension bridge.
There are go-karts and scooters for rent in the vicinity so you could rent those for getting around. We opted to walk instead. Maybe try cycling across The Golden Gate Bridge.
Book your Golden Gate Bay Cruise and sail along San Francisco’s breathtaking waterfront, under the majestic Golden Gate Bridge, and around notorious Alcatraz Island. See San Francisco from a different perspective. Book your tickets here.
It took just under an hour to complete the trail and the view of the iconic Golden Gate Bridge was just incredible. You can take a break at the Warming Hut Bookstore & Cafe on the beach before continuing to the viewpoint.
Mister Jiu’s for dinner at Chinatown
Enough walking for the day; it’s now time to fill your stomachs! Take buses 2, 4 or 30 from the Golden Gate Bridge bus stop to Chinatown.
To treat yourself for accomplishing so much within the day, make reservations at Mister Jiu’s, a high-end restaurant serving contemporary Chinese cuisine. The BBQ pork buns and onion pancakes come highly recommended!
End Your One Day in San Francisco in Union Square
Head back to Union Square for some last-minute shopping. You have everything from Nordstrom to Macy’s to Neiman Marcus! My favorite stores include Modcloth and Gap. If you’re feeling famished after all the shopping, grab supper at Super Duper Burger for some juicy burgers before retiring for the day.
Eunice blogs at eunicetan.co and carves time out of her 9-5 job for traveling. A typical city girl, she loves exploring both city areas and scenic places, then detailing her experiences into practical guides on her blog.