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How To Spend 48 Hours In San Francisco

Picture of Adriana Jones
Updated: 23 October 2016
There are millions of things to do in San Francisco, but being a compact city, if you are efficient and up for the adventure, you can see much of it in just 48 hours. We suggest that for your first day you take the bus rather than use a car (no parking), but for the second day, a car will be more useful.

DAY 1

MORNING

Start your morning with breakfast at Sears Fine Food. Open since 1938, Sears Fine Food is a San Francisco staple, and if you’re a fan of pancakes, then you’re just in luck, the recipe for their famous Swedish silver dollar pancake has been passed down through the family for generations and is incredibly delicious.

After you finish breakfast, head to Union Square for some shopping and exploring. Union Square has more shops in a concentrated area than the rest of the city, so get your shopping done here (plus Westfield Mall is just a couple of blocks away). After the shopping spree, head East towards the Ferry Building on one of the many buses that go in that direction and check out the shops there (free samples anyone?), which include gluten-free treats at Mariposa and vegan donuts at Peeple’s Donuts. From there, walk to Chinatown, it can be fun to catch the cable car, but the lines are absurdly long and it’s not always worth it. Don’t miss the Dragon’s Gate that marks the entrance, as it’s a great photo op.

Union Square © Prayitno/Flickr
Union Square | © Prayitno/Flickr

AFTERNOON

From Chinatown, make your way up to Little Italy, where you will find Italian restaurants, shops, and culture. Enjoy lunch at Tony’s Pizza Napoletana, one of San Francisco’s staple pizza places, and go to Mama’s afterwards for some delicious baked treats. The next stop on the list is Coit Tower, located on Telegraph Hill. Here, you can get great views of the bay, and if you wait in line to take the elevator to the top of the tower, far better views of the whole city and bay await you. From the tower, take the 39 to Fisherman’s Wharf and walk to Ghirardelli Square, where you will find the home of San Francisco’s famous chocolate factory (and lots of samples).

NIGHT

Once you are done exploring Ghirardelli Square, walk back down to Fisherman’s Wharf and explore the area. There are many shops and tourist attractions there, including Ripley’s Believe It or Not, various galleries, and many performers. Pier 39 is close by and holds the aquarium, which is always worth a visit. This is a great area to buy souvenirs, and it is easy to wander for awhile. Catch dinner at Boudin, home of the San Francisco sourdough, and be sure to get the clam chowder in a bread bowl. Afterwards, walk along the piers or take the E-Embarcadero historic streetcar down towards the Ferry Building. Stop off at Pier 15 in order to see the Exploratorium. Depending on what day it is, you may have to plan to see the Exploratorium earlier in the day, but that is simple; take the E streetcar up from the Ferry Building during your time there, and then you can do this day in reverse. If there happens to be a Giants game during your time in San Francisco, it is worth it to go see them play, but if not, you can usually catch a tour of the stadium.

Exploratorium © Sonny Abesamis/Flickr
Exploratorium | © Sonny Abesamis/Flickr

DAY 2

MORNING

Start out by grabbing breakfast at Nourish Cafe, which offers everything from acai bowls to baked goods. Then drive through the Presidio on Arguello Boulevard, stopping at Inspiration Point to enjoy a stunning view of the bay. If you are up for it (literally), sunrises at this spot are stunning and peaceful. This road will take you down into the main post area of the Presidio, which is fun to explore, so spend some time checking out the former military base. Afterwards, head to the Golden Gate Bridge, because no tour is complete without seeing this famous landmark. You can get a good view from the Marin Headlands side, but if you come back across the bridge, you will have to pay a toll. Drive out towards the Lands End to experience both the Legion of Honor and the Lands End park, which includes a labyrinth with stunning views of the bridge. Just south of Lands End are the Sutro Baths, one of San Francisco’s landmarks that is right on the water. Both places are worth walking around and checking out, but it can be cold, so be sure to bring layers.

Golden Gate Bridge © Tom Hilton
Golden Gate Bridge | © Tom Hilton

AFTERNOON

Right next to the Sutro Baths is another San Francisco landmark, the Cliff House. Grab lunch here and then make your way to Golden Gate Park. Starting at the west end, check out the Bison Paddock (yes, San Francisco has its own bison), Stow Lake, Huntington Falls, the San Francisco Botanical Garden, the Japanese Tea Garden, the de Young museum, the California Academy of Sciences, and the Conservatory of Flowers. It is easy to spend your whole day inside the park, especially if you decide to visit the museums, so don’t feel like you are wasting any of your precious time, Golden Gate Park in itself could take 48 hours to see!

California Academy of Sciences © Gary Stevens
California Academy of Sciences | © Gary Stevens

NIGHT

After you romp around the park, head to Haight-Ashbury to find some dinner. There are all sorts of unique and delicious eats there, from Cha Cha Cha to VeganBurg, so there is bound to be something for everyone. Once dinner is over, drive up to Twin Peaks for the view of a lifetime, especially if San Francisco’s own Karl the Fog is not around, and appreciate the views, as your crazy 48 hour itinerary has come to an end.

The view from Twin Peaks © Eric May
The view from Twin Peaks | © Eric May

It should be noted that certain features, especially the museums, are closed on certain days, so if you do intend to visit them, it may be necessary to switch your two days around.