San Francisco Itinerary
Guest post by Michelle Maraj at Travel After Five
You can’t visit the West Coast without taking a trip to San Francisco, the city by the bay. This San Francisco itinerary has you covered for two days in San Francisco, including the best places to visit in San Francisco.
One of the major populated cities in the United States, San Francisco is one of the best places to visit on the west coast. In this post on a two day San Francisco itinerary, you’ll find information on how to get to San Francisco, places to visit in San Francisco, and the best time to visit San Francisco.
How to get to San Francisco
There are many ways to get to San Francisco, with three different airports to choose from. San Francisco International Airport is a common choice, as it is one of the largest airports in the nation with many direct flights. Oakland Airport is also close by, followed with San Jose which is further south but still within the Bay Area.
If you have two days in San Francisco, I recommend that you spend your first day on the peninsula visiting popular tourist sites. You will recognize many of these sites from scenes in movies and television that depict life in San Francisco. For your second day in the Bay Area, consider taking a day trip to one of the many nearby cities.
Day One in San Francisco
During your first day in San Francisco, get the most popular tourist sites out of the way. Even if you prefer to go off the beaten track, it’s difficult to visit the Bay Area without seeing these sites at least once in your lifetime.
Start your morning off at Pier 39, which has a variety of touristy shops for you to explore. You can see Pier 39’s famous sea lions bathing out on the pier, and enjoy the views of the ocean, including both the Bay Bridge and Golden Gate Bridge, and views of Alcatraz.
From here, you can make your way west to Fisherman’s Wharf, and maybe try some of the fresh sourdough at the Boudin Factory. Sourdough comes from San Francisco, so you’ll definitely want to try some of the city’s most famous bread. Isidore Boudin, a French immigrant, came to San Francisco in 1849 during the Gold Rush, and produced the first loaf of sourdough bread – you can’t visit San Francisco without trying the sourdough!
The best views of the city are from the water (or Oakland!), so book a boat ride on the San Francisco Bay for a chance to cruise under the Golden Gate Bridge, and see Alcatraz from up close. A tour of the San Francisco Bay is a must for any San Francisco itinerary. For those who are interested in learning more about “The Rock”, book a visit to Alcatraz Island and learn about the infamous federal penitentiary that was home to some of America’s most notorious criminals.
From the wharf, where you’ll depart and arrive on your boat tour, you can continue walking west until you come to Ghirardelli Square. Along the way you will continue to see a bunch of unique shops, or even food stands selling popular clam chowder. Ghirardelli Square is the site of an old chocolate factory, you can now stop by and try a chocolate shake or sundae.
If you don’t mind the walk, you can head south from here to Lombard Street, the curviest road in the world. While you can’t get as good of a view from the street, you can still climb up the street to look out at the city.
Explore the greenery on your San Francisco itinerary
After lunch, head over to the Presidio of San Francisco. This park is a former military fort and is a popular recreational area. If the weather is nice, consider walking across the Golden Gate Bridge. The bridge is 1.7 miles long, however most people just walk to the first tower before turning around.
You can walk, or even bike across the bridge. It will be chilly, but the walk can be a bucket list item for some people, and no San Francisco itinerary would be complete without visiting the Golden Gate Bridge.
Once you come back to the peninsula, take an Uber or Lyft over the Alamo Square Park, where you can see The Painted Ladies. These are the houses from the opening credits of Full House, and are a very popular photo opportunity. If you are interested in walking the hills of San Francisco, visit the 16th Avenue Tile Steps for another quick photo opp. Check out the different local neighborhoods such as Bernal Heights in San Francisco for excellent snacks and sites.
Land’s End and Golden Gate Park
Alternatively, head to Lands End in the Golden Gate Recreational Area, and walk along the popular trail, the Land’s End Coastal Trail, that hugs the coast. This beautiful coastal trail has several paths that lead to beach access, and will give you beautiful views of the Golden Gate Bridge.
The entire Land’s End walk is about 1.5 miles, each way, or 3 miles out and back. When you visit Land’s End, be sure to see the previous site of the Sutro Baths, a once popular bathing spot for San Franciscans before it was torn down. Today you can still see the remains of the famous baths.
From Lands End you can grab a coffee or a bite to eat at the famous Cliff House overlooking the Pacific Ocean, or just head to nearby Golden Gate Park, home to over 1,000 acres of endless park to explore.
At Golden Gate Park you’ll find tons of locals exercising, picnicking, and enjoying life. Golden Gate Park is also home to the Conservatory of Flowers, the California Academy of Science, and the DeYoung Museum. If you’re planning on visiting Golden Gate Park, make sure you check out the map so you find your way around this huge green space!
Where to eat in San Francisco
You’ll be spoilt for choice with all the incredible dining options in San Francisco. Chinatown and Japantown are great places to explore if you love Asian cuisine. Stop by either neighborhood early to stroll the surrounding streets in Chinatown or Japantown to do some shopping and pick up goods from China and Japan.
enjoy either Mexican food in the Mission District or Chinese food in Chinatown. With over 4,000 restaurants in San Francisco, with 54 Michelin star restaurants, it will be easy to find something that fits your mood.
For a complete list of the best places to eat in San Francisco, check out SF Eater.
Day Two in San Francisco
For your second day in your San Francisco itinerary, consider taking a day trip. You can rent a car in the city, our look for a tour that could take you out of town. Within two hours of the city, there are many day trip options available:
Located just in the South Bay, San Jose is home to Silicon Valley. With many famous company headquarters, you can visit gift shops at companies like the Google HQ or Apple Visitor Center. Drive to see famous garages, such as the garage where HP was founded marking the birthplace of Silicon Valley. Further south, you can visit the mysterious Winchester Mystery Mansion for a guided tour, or the SAP Center to watch a San Jose Shark’s game. If you’re looking for something off the beaten path near San Jose, consider visiting Los Gatos, a great stop for art lovers.
Napa or Sonoma Valleys
If Italy is too far away from you, consider a visit to Napa Valley or Sonoma Valley instead. With beautiful rolling hills and an endless supply of wineries to visit, you can spend your entire day exploring this wine region. With a winery tour you can have the option to taste test multiple wineries with a designated driver, or you can explore on your own. Most wineries will have sampling counters, and some wineries even have tours where you can see their cellars or explore the fields.
Just north of San Francisco is Muir Woods National Park, one of the most popular places to see the famous redwoods trees. These are the tallest trees in the world, and are definitely a must-see at least once in your life. There are many hikes to choose from at varying levels – you could spend just an afternoon, or an entire day in Muir Woods. If you decide to visit, keep in mind that you are now required to make parking or shuttle reservations in advance of your visit.
Monterey and Caramel-by-the-sea
If you are interested in a beach day, consider driving down to Monterey and Caramel-by-the-sea. Monterey is home to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and fun place to learn about the aquatic life in the area. You can then spend your afternoon in Carmel, a small town with architecture based on European villages. You can stroll through the shops, grab a nice dinner, and then watch the sunset on the beach.
Another popular coastal town, the drive to Santa Cruz makes for a fun day trip. From San Francisco you can drive along the coast and feel the fresh breeze of the ocean – or you can come through the south bay and drive through the hills. The Santa Cruz Boardwalk is a popular place to spend an afternoon, with carnival rides and snacks right on the beach.
Best time to visit San Francisco
Be sure to check the weather forecast before arriving in San Francisco. Even though it is California, this city by the ocean will likely be colder than expected! Many locals will wear pants all year around, and you will definitely want to bring a jacket or sweater. The famous San Francisco fog often will block out the sun, making it chillier than other locations in California.
There really is no wrong time to visit San Francisco. During the winter you’ll have a much better chance of rain in the city, but that being said, it typically doesn’t rain constantly, and the temperature doesn’t drop too low there, so you’ll be fine to visit in the winter.
Visitors to the city do not need a car, unless you decide to go on a day trip. There are no day passes for public transportation, you always pay by the distance traveled. Because of this, many locals turn to Lyft or Uber as it’s a much more convenient way to get around.
San Francisco is a fun place to spend a weekend, with many activities to offer. With only two days on your itinerary, you are bound to have a packed trip.
Where to stay in San Francisco
San Francisco is relatively small compared to other big cities, but it will still take you quite awhile to get around the city. Hotels tend to be concentrated around the Financial District, and near the touristy areas along the water.
If you stay in these areas, you could actually walk to several destinations, like Pier 39, Fisherman’s Wharf, and the Presidio. Sure, it would take awhile to walk, but it would be beautiful if and get you great views of the city, and walking will help you see more great places to visit in San Francisco.
Looking for more great things to do in California? Check out these posts:
- The ULTIMATE California bucket list
- 10 reasons you have to visit Mammoth Lakes, California
- Explore the Shasta Cascade Wonderland at Castle Crags
- SoCal Road Trip: Los Angeles to San Diego
- 5 Hipster things to do in Sacramento, California
Did this post help you plan your San Francisco itinerary? Let us know in the comments below
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Gabby is a native (Northern) Californian who spent the majority of her 20’s living the expat life in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, exploring Europe and beyond. 27 countries later, she’s relocated back to her home base in California where she explores her passions for the travel and the outdoors.