How To Spend A Day In San Francisco

Photo of Megan Cosgrove
19 October 2016

Exploring the San Francisco “7×7” under a time crunch isn’t easy, so we’ve done some of the planning for you. Check out our food filled, action packed 24-hour itinerary, perfect for your next layover in the city.

View of Yerba Buena Island | © Wikimedia

07:00 – Morning Stroll on the Pier

While notorious for its crowded piers and nightmarish parking, Fisherman’s Wharf has nonetheless earned itself a spot in our itinerary. Benefits of arriving early include more elbow room and the opportunity to enjoy the area as a working harbor. Pier 39 and its sea lions usually steal the spotlight, but for a change, show some love for Pier 45 and check out the active fishing boats unloading their catch alongside restored World War II vessels.

Mama’s Monte Cristo | © Simon Doggett/Flickr

08:00 – Breakfast at Mama’s

Sugar fiends, brace yourselves for inundation by French toast and pancakes because Mama’s knows how it’s done. Take your pick from the extensive menu, and no skimping on the house made jam.

Coit Tower | © Jackie Torgerson

09:30 – Morning Option A: Coit Tower -> Biking “Scavenger Hunt”

While you’re in the neighborhood, venture the extra half-mile to Coit Tower. If the idea of walking is less than inspiring, the MUNI bus 39 stops right outside Mama’s and can take you to the top of the hill.

The Bay Area Bike Share system is another great way to see the peninsula. From Coit Tower, find the closest stop at the junction of Grant Ave. and Columbus Ave. The 24-hour pass ($9) entitles users to an unlimited number of 30-minute rides. Want an extra challenge? Turn this into a “scavenger hunt” with friends by riding between bike stations at major landmarks before each half-an-hour period runs out. If you’re feeling particularly ambitious, you may also want to consider tackling some of the Bay Bridge bike trails.

See the Bay Area Bike Share station map here.

San Francisco Cable Car | © Wikimedia

09:30 – Morning Option B: Cable Car “Trek”

If you prefer to leave the work to machines, the local cable cars are at your service, running on three lines across key areas of the city including Chinatown, Nob Hill, and Fisherman’s Wharf. Acquaint yourself with the ticketing regulations beforehand, but otherwise, feel free to hop on and off as you please. Discounts are available for senior citizens and young children.

See three cable car routes and schedules here, under the “Cable Cars” tab.

San Francisco Chinatown | © Gary Stevens/Flickr

12:30 – Refuel at Chinatown

No frills fast food welcomes you with open arms at Delicious Dim Sum. Located in the heart of the country’s largest Chinatown, this eating establishment offers familiar favorites, such as steamed pork buns and shrimp dumplings, as well as delicacies for more adventurous palates, like sesame seed balls with red bean filling.

Follow this up with a visit to the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory, which has used the same recipe since 1962. Tag along with the right crowd and you may even land some free samples.

Mission Murals | © Jackie Torgerson
Mission Mural Map | © Megan Cosgrove

14:30 – Afternoon Option A: Thrift and Art in the Mission

“A bargain is something you don’t need at a price you can’t resist,” and you are guaranteed to find many such deals while thrifting in the Mission. If there were ever a place to get caught up on that Christmas shopping, it’d be here with generous discounts galore.

While you’re at it, take some time to enjoy the street art around you. For a walking tour of the Mission District’s key murals, start at the BART station at 24th St. and Mission St. and proceed to:

1. Precita Eyes Muralists: 2981 24th St.

2. Balmy Alley: 24th St./25th St. & Treat St./Harrison St.

3. Horace Alley: 25th St./26th St. & Shotwell St./Folsom St.

4. Cypress Alley: 25th St./26th St. & Capp St./S Van Ness Ave.

5. Lilac Alley: 25th St./26th St. & Mission St./Capp St.

6. Osage Alley: 25th St./26th St. & Bartlet St./Mission St.

View from Presidio | © Guillaume Paumier/Wikimedia

14:30 – Afternoon Option B: Nature in the City

On the other side of the city lies the Presidio, enticing visitors with its trails, scenic overlooks, and outdoor exhibits. Take note of the free Presidio shuttle, which runs circuits around the park and downtown. To find more information about the schedule and routes, check out the park site here.

Cruffin | © Margot McKelvie

Anytime – Snack Delights

Mr. Holmes Bakehouse

What to get: Croissant-muffin hybrids, known as “cruffins.”

Or for our readers interested in other hybrid pastry creations.

Smitten Ice Cream | © Smitten Ice Cream

Smitten Ice Cream

What to get: The seasonal flavor or the “Dough My Goodness” sundae.

Taqueria Cancun

What to get: Supreme Burrito

Baker Beach | © Margot McKelvie

18:30 – Bonfires, Sunsets, and Picnics

This time of year the sun stays out fairly late, and so should you. We recommend ordering takeaway, perhaps snagging one of those Supreme Burritos, and savoring the last few minutes of daylight with a picnic on Baker Beach or Crissy Field.

21:00 – After Hours at Elbo Room

The day may have finished for some, but you’re still going strong. As you reach your final hours in the city, head back to the Mission District, which will now have lit up with swanky bars and clubs, all promising a good time. If live music appeals to you, give Elbo Room a go. Their live music calendar is available online here, but its pinball machines, photo booths, and comfy couches will win you over, too.

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