How many major cities sit on the edge of the world’s mightiest ocean, with hilltop views, skyscrapers, quaint houses and fast access to everything your heart could possible desire, including some of the best gastronomy on the planet? Even compared to the world’s greatest cities, San Francisco is a total showstopper, and that’s especially true if you watch Sean Connery classic “The Rock”.

And no, you’re not allowed to dangle anyone out of the window of a suite at the Fairmont, like Sir Sean. RIP!

If you’ve got limited time in San Francisco when travel restrictions drop, and things reopen like most travelers do, it’s hard to know where to start, and what to actually prioritize.

Everyone may have different interests, but it’s the topography, food and the unique NorCal culture which makes this place what it is, so here’s how to get a taste of it all in just 24 hours including where to start, where to eat and what to skip. Yep, here’s an actual, usable San Francisco itinerary for you with step by step tips.

To cram all this goodness in, we recommend ditching the hip clothing for something you can move comfortably in – like sneakers. And yeah, we’re gunna start touristy and tick off those must see boxes, but then we’re going deep into the heart of true San Francisco culture.

a bridge with a city in the background

6:00AM: Golden Gate View Point

It would make sense that the place where ride sharing launched has an abundance of ride sharing options. Uber, Lyft and a variety of other services work very well in San Francisco, and if you want to tick a big box first thing, hail an Uber to “Golden Gate View Point”. No really, it’s a place. This strategy will work best on a clear morning, but if it’s overcast, you could always do this last.

This area offers perfect, snap worthy views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay Area and is the best starting point because it’s the further point out. You’ll work your way back in from here. It’s always good to get the most “touristy” – but actually awesome – stuff out of the way first.

sunset crissy field beach san francisco
Sunset at Crissy Field Beach, San Francisco

6:30AM: Walk The Golden Gate Bridge

You can easily walk from the Golden Gate View Point to the Golden Gate Bridge and enjoy the safe, car free walkway. This isn’t the quietest or most peaceful experience, but it’s pretty cool to say you’ve done it and you may even see some dolphins below, depending on the season. Seeing out to the great Pacific Ocean is pretty cool, too.

The nice part about the walk is that it spits you out in one of the most enviable San Francisco locales, along the Presidio and Crissy Field Beach. You’ll find locals walking dogs, people out for morning jogs and get a feel for a beautiful part of town, before continuing on.

a row of multicolored houses

8:00AM: Travellers Choice, Breakfast And More

From Crissy Field Beach and Presidio, you can go a couple different directions, depending on your interests.

Just a short drive, bike ride or walk you can head over to Golden Gate Park to enjoy art museums, a little peddle boat action or a casual stroll through the beautiful manicured gardens. If that doesn’t sound like your thing, you can carry on walking along the coast toward the city, bringing you to the Marina District and North Beach. Even if you go with Golden Gate, hail a ride to Marina District.

The Marina District, particularly along Chestnut or Union street and areas nearby are great places for a spot of breakfast, lunch or dinner. If you’re a fan of Italian food, this may be the best gem in SF.

As we’re talking about morning here, Chestnut Street Coffee Roastery is a good place to aim. From here, you can head back along the water for a loop around Fort Mason.

famous lombard street in san francisco at sunrise
Lombard Street in San Francisco at sunrise

9:30AM: Famous Lombard Street And Hilly Walks

There’s nothing wrong with being a tourist, especially when you’re checking out something as unique in the world as zig-zag icon Lombard Street. Make your way from Marina or North Beach to Lombard and Hyde St, which you can do with the Hyde/Powell Cable Car, a walk, or an Uber.

This will put you at the top of this picture worthy icon, with amazing views of the cars zig zagging by, and also of the bay down below. Once there, Russian Hill Park nearby is another great vantage point.

If you’re feeling fit, or just want to tire your legs out even more, walking down Lombard St is almost as challenging as going up. At the bottom, you can take Columbus Avenue to journey through the local areas of Telegraph Hill, Jackson Square and Chinatown. Keep in mind: any turn could lead you up or down a real hill, as the names might suggest.

If you’re a Banksy fan, “If at first you don’t succeed, call an air strike” can be found at the corner of Columbus and Broadway. Just make sure to look up, like way up…

a large building with a clock tower and a body of water10:45AM: Embarcadero And Ferry Market

As you may be noticing at this point, you’ve been carefully steered away from Fishermans Wharf. If you like Ruby Tuesdays, Bubba Gump Shrimp and Starbucks, go ahead and ignore that advice and head down that way.

If on the other hand you prefer local cafes, world class coffee and and heaps of character, stay on track and head to the Ferry Market. This entire area has seen a huge upsurge in recent years, and even Bloomberg has headquarters nearby.

So what’s in the Ferry Market building? It’s kind of like a better version of Chelsea Market, with a world class wine bar, outrageously good Southeast Asian food at the Slanted Door, great bakeries, a lovely Blue Bottle coffee bar and an oyster spot too. With indoor and outdoor seating, it’s a great place to watch the day go by, and definitely highly recommended for lunch that suits all budgets.

San Francisco, USA - May 19, 2016: Tourists wait at terminal cable car turnaround station, the end of the line at Hyde Street, Fisherman's Wharf with Marin Headlands in background. Horizontal

1:00PM: California St Here We Come And Nob Hill Too

It’s hard to fully appreciate the terroir of San Francisco until you’ve experienced its original high brow neighbourhood atop Nob Hill. From the Ferry Market you can blaze a slow trail up California Street until you hit The Fairmont. This is the iconic hotel where Sean Connery jiggled an FBI Director out of the window in The Rock, and the area is home to some seriously impressive views.

Head to Polk Street to poke around these beautiful little areas or carry on along Hyde, using the cable car to give your legs some well needed rest. Cable cars in San Francisco are just too cool to pass up. This area is just ridiculous when it comes to world class eateries offering everything from donuts at Bob’s to Michelin starred stunners like Acquerello. Seven Hills is also a local favourite.

a mural on a building

3:00PM: Mission District And Impossibly Hip Shopping

The Mission District has been gentrified a lot in the last decade, but it’s still freaking cool. For some, maybe even too cool.

Think melt in your mouth taco joints, super hipster coffee and unique clothing shops with clothes made locally using organic cotton, or maybe even… hemp. 16th Street is the place to be here, and however you choose to get to this part of town, you’ll be so glad you did. This area combines the Latin soul of San Francisco with the young energy which is keeping it from going to the dark side.

Just wander up and down Guerrero, Mission or Valencia Street and take it all in. If you’re a street art person, this is everything. Go for Four Barrel Coffee, Tigerlily, Tartine Bakery, Dandelion Chocolate, Heath Ceramics or basically anything creative, cool and worth packing a suitcase for. Chances are, you’re going to want to stop back at the hotel to drop your haul off after this.

a city skyline with a body of water and a sunset

6:00PM: Rest, Hotel, Shower And Night Moves

At this point, you’ve had a hella crazy day, as they say in California. You’ve covered much of the 7 mile city, stuffed your face, probably bought some weird stuff and if the weather is in your favour, you may even have a sunburn. You’ve conquered San Francisco in a day, and now the only thing left is a grand finale.

If you’re a planner, you probably already made dinner reservations months ago and are committed somewhere. If you’re not, this is the time to reflect on your day and figure out which neighbourhood you could see yourself living in, and which of the exceptionally good establishments you might have found yourself regularly eating in, in another life. Go there.

For nightlife and slightly cheaper eats, the Mission where you were just chilling is tough to beat. For high end dining, Marina and North Beach are iconic, as is Nob Hill. If you need inspiration, the Eater Guide to 38 essential San Francisco restaurants is pretty solid and will be highly unlikely to steer you in the wrong direction.

aviation cocktail in SFO

9:00PM Nightcaps In SoMa, Mission And Hayes Valley

It’s incredible what you can fit into a day, and it’s also incredible just how satisfying a nightcap to top it all off can be too. For the kind of drinks that may you say “holy sh*t, that’s good”, SoMa, Mission and Hayes Valley are the kings and queens of cool.

One might not exactly call many of these places next door, but with less than 1.6 miles between virtually any of these bars, it’s easy to hop around. If somehow you find yourself walking toward Tenderloin, turn around – it’s a bit too sketchy for most people at the moment.

To toast your perfect day in San Francisco, go for Wildhawk, Bar Agricole, Trick Dog, Smuggler’s Cove or ABV. You can’t go wrong. Just make sure you wake up in time for your flight the next day, because these things are almost as potent as many of the other aromas you’ll find around the city.

By the time you wake, your time is up. Go home, or head to Napa and Sonoma.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. During the summer months, you’re very unlikely to get any views of the Golden Gate Bridge (or anything else) early in the day due to the fog. It tends to roll out nearer lunchtime.

    Also, the bit about the Marina being the best place for Italian food is a bit of a head scratcher

  2. Don’t miss the peeing tours. You pee on the front door of five different homes while covering your face and then make a run.

    You are responsible for fines if caught.

    Highly recommended.

  3. What about Land’s End, Ocean’s Beach, Twin Peaks, 16th St tiled steps? I’d think the first I’d a must-see

  4. Great to see a list for first-time visitors that doesn’t include Pier 39 or the Wharf. Be sure to grab a burrito in the Mission.

    Staying away from the Tenderloin is a solid piece of advice. And if you’re considering renting a car, don’t. It’ll just get its windows smashed and there’s nowhere to park anyway.

  5. I lived in SF for 3.5 years and I think this is a pretty good list. I would just add that getting a burrito at El Farolito or La Tacqueria in the Mission is a must – they are the classic “mission burrito”

    Also in your mission list, SF people don’t really go to Tigerlily or Dandelion, but Tartine is a staple and an amazing place. Highly recommend it, but you gotta go early to get the famous bread.

      1. It’s the Ferry Building. I live in SF and not heard it called Ferry Market not even by those who aren’t transplants of which there aren’t many these days.

        Technically the “market” ie the high end shops they put in to appeal to the tourists is called the Ferry Building Marketplace. Then there is the Ferry Building Farmers Market on Tues, Thurs and Sat.

  6. Living here I would add the following: After the Golden Gate Bridge go in to Sausalito and have breakfast at a dinner then drive up Conzelman Road which has the best views of the city. The best walks in the city with ocean views are over next to Cliff House where you can have breakfast a burger or salad for lunch and pure ocean views. Most of the other spots you have mentioned are also worthy but the best spots in San Francisco are seen from having a car and driving to a free parking space. And the food and wine scene along Silverado Trail in Napa makes San Francisco seem junior high…………..

  7. If you rent a car, opt for the smallest one you possibly can. Never accept an “upgrade” to a larger vehicle. The reason is that small cars may sometimes fit into parking spaces that larger ones can’t, and parking spaces in SF are in very short supply.

  8. Yeah, no.

    San Francisco is filthy, despairing and dangerous. Add incredibly expensive, inequitable, and inscruitible and the votes are in. 15 years ago, all these suggestions would have been fine.

    If you want to see them now, go to any search engine’s images section. Absolutely zero reason to support spending your travel dollars there now.

      1. What makes it insane? It’s a point of view, based >100 unique trips to SF and the bay area during the past decade.

        So, you support “press freedom”, but decry ideas as “Insane” if they don’t align with yours?

        1. I’d say it’s just a pretty grim look at a city which still has so much going on. Press freedom is your right to say your opinion, and my right to call your opinion insane. We get to agree to disagree. That’s freedom.

          1. Included should have been, if you have a car, your windows most likely will get smashed, the amazing number of homeless which use the streets as a bathroom and a chicken dinner that costs $23 then you add in tax, tip and surcharge. I’m one of the lucky ones, my windows were smashed only twice. It’s not the city it once was.

  9. Living here I would add the following: After the Golden Gate Bridge go in to Sausalito and have breakfast at a dinner then drive up Conzelman Road which has the best views of the city. The best walks in the city with ocean views are over next to Cliff House where you can’t eat because it’s closed but has pure ocean views. Most of the other spots you have mentioned are also worthy but the best spots in San Francisco are seen from having a car and driving to a free parking space. And the food and wine scene along Silverado Trail in Napa makes San Francisco seem junior high…………..Locals in the know are dining in Yountville, Healdsburg or Calistoga and drinking some of the world’s best wines between meals!

  10. Super awesome post! I smiled as I read it and chuckled a coupleof times. I love your writing style and that you give options for all budgets. Thank you for this relatable and practical advice! This will be my main guide for my hopeful visit to SFO this summer. Again, gracias!

  11. What you say about these places to visit is true. But, you should also point out the negative sides of visiting SF. Currently the negatives out weight the positives and is probably a city to avoid now. Also, for SF, they should have rental category of the cheapest cars to rent for smashed window(S) replacement. It’s a shame overall how bad this city has become.
    I advise people to visit other areas of the region.

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