Updated: Jun 7
"If you're going to San Francisco
Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair
If you're going to San Francisco
You're gonna meet some gentle people there"
San Francisco by Scott McKenzie or the famous song California Dreaming by The Mamas & the Papas are just a few of the many song lyrics that fueled the California dream.
A narrow spit of land, dotted with mountains and with lakes set like diamonds. The most precious of all? Lake Tahoe that made Mark Twain exclaim "The shadow of the mountains silhouetted on the surface of the lake, I think it is the most beautiful image in the world", and honestly, I couldn't agree more!
Descending from Lake Tahoe towards San Francisco means feeling the strong call of the famous American myth. You feel a great sense of freedom, while your gaze is lost among urban jungles and wild landscapes and images that range between JFK and Bob Dylan music, between the concept of the New Frontier and the hippie wave coming into mind, and it rumbles loudly in your ears the sound of rock, country, jazz and all African-American music.
A revival in which noises also find a place: the roaring of Jack Kerouc's Cadillac, which in his famous On the road takes you to the West in search of who knows what, or Hemingway, Capote, Dickinson,. . a variegated and multicolored kaleidoscope that tries to fill that feeling of expectation and impatience that one feels at the thought of visiting a city like San Francisco
If you are a first-timer and have 2 days in San Francisco, you can see a lot of the city and get a good idea of its atmosphere and of what it has to offer.
Incredibly multi-cultural, with an out of this world art scene, blissfully open-minded and liberal, it’s easy to fall in love with San Francisco, one of the most beautiful, lively, interesting cities in the US.
2 days aren’t really enough to do San Francisco justice. But if that is all you have, you may as well try to make the most of it. Prepare in advance; reserve tickets for the most popular attractions and stick to a plan, and you’ll be able to see loads.
Continue reading for the best San Francisco 2-day itinerary, packed with useful tips.
I Left my Heart in San Francisco
Ah, San Francisco! Home to clam chowder in bread bowls, big hills, squeaky cable cars.
This is one of those inspiringly beautiful places that is on bucket lists the world over. San Francisco appears as lying on rolling hills, nestled in a bay overlooking the Pacific Ocean. It goes by affectionate nicknames Frisco, San Fran, SF, Fog City in honor of its omnipresent fog (called Karl), The Golden City, The Paris of the West .
This San Francisco itinerary is perfect for travelers who don’t have a lot of time to spend in the city by the bay. It hits all the great destinations and things to do that you just can’t miss. You’re bound to have a fantastic time, no matter what you do, but this San Francisco itinerary will give you all the tips and advice you need to fit in as much as possible.
Early morning walk
The first tip that I'd like to give you is to take time to walk , specially early in the morning, San Francisco waking up it's incredibly fascinating. You can take advantage and do that the first morning, when you are maybe a bit jetlagged , I could be a nice way to kinda break the ice with the city. I was staying in the financial district, close to Union Square as well, my walk started something like 30 minutes before the sunrise, I was starving and I was looking for something to eat but nothing was open around there (probably also because it was Labor Day and I didn't know, even Starbucks was closed lol).
I kept walking till I began to see the sky changing, becoming clear and a little pink-ish so I went in that direction and after like 20 minutes walking I was looking at the Bay Bridge framed in one of the most beautiful sunrise that I've ever seen!!
On my way back I crabbed a delicious breakfast in a place that was basically right outside the Hotel, The Grove Soma. (690 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94105, United States)
For the rest of the day we’ll be focusing on the North Beach area of San Francisco for your first day in San Francisco. This is when you’ll get to see some of the landmarks that San Francisco is most famous for, and some of the best views the city has to offer. Strap on your walking shoes and bring a jacket (whatever time of year it is) because San Francisco is also known for its micro-climates. While it will be sunny and warm in one area, it can quickly turn to windy and overcast so it’s best to be prepared.
And then Alcatraz, The Rock, the prison that housed the most ruthless criminals where cell 14D is considered one of the most haunted places,one of the notorious "holes" where rebellious inmates were confined in total isolation.
The biggest tip everyone gives, is that those who are non-negotiable on a visit to Alcatraz have to book well in advance, sometimes months before your trip, to ensure there are still spots available on the ferry to Alcatraz. Well, in my experience that's absolutely not true! I was there last year, at the beginning of September and to be honest I didn't have any problems booking my tickets just one day in advance, I might have been lucky tho!
Once you arrive at Pier 33, jump in line for the ferry and prepare to grab a seat that will give you a great view. Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary was a maximum security prison, located on an island in San Francisco Bay. The prison was built in 1910 – 1912 as a military prison; it became a federal prison in 1934 and operated until March 1963, when it was closed due to the very high maintenance costs.
It’s said that San Francisco is best seen from the water, and while there are lots of great vantage points, I have to agree that seeing the city from a ferry in the middle of the bay is a great way to do it. Your ferry ticket pays for entrance to the prison island, along with a short guided tour up to the jail, if you opt to take it. Once inside Alcatraz, you’ll be taken through the prisoner processing area – where some of the country’s worst criminals were stripped, washed, and issued their prison attire. Read more about Alcatraz.
From here an audio guide will walk you through the building that served as a prison from 1934 to 1963 for the likes of gangsters like Al Capone. It quickly got a reputation for being an inescapable prison, because the freezing waters of the bay were not forgiving to those who managed to make it out of the cells alive. But Alcatraz isn’t just about the prison, take your time on the island, see the garden if it happens to be open, and wander at your leisure before hopping back on the ferry to Pier 33.
Once back I crabbed a quick bite right outside the Pier. There were those guys with this kind of grills full of veggies and sausages or weird Hot-Dogs. I know it might sound gross but it was smelling wonderfully, I was starving and this was so easy to get, even if a little expensive, 10 dollars for an hotdog is a bit too much I think. I just sat in the grass, under a tree and enjoying the view!
Golden Gate Bridge
Yet, simply look at the entrance to the bay to be fascinated by the beauty of the Golden Gate Bridge with towers that rise to the sky, 227 meters high. A fiery red golden bridge. The reason for this choice seems to be due to the fact that when it was installed for the first time, the steel of the bridge was covered only by a red paint. That color pleased one of the engineers who participated in its construction who suggested keeping it.
Crossing the bridge on foot or by bike with the wind ruffling your hair and cutting your face is a unique and unrepeatable experience. Wrap yourself up because it's cold, bitter cold even in summer, a cold that made Mark Twain exclaim "The coldest winter I ever had was a summer in San Francisco."
I think I'm in love with the Golden Gate, I've crossed it by car, by bike, by walk(partially), from Baker and Marshall Beach and from a couple of view points (Battery West Trail, Golden Gate Overlook), but one of the best way to admire the Golden Gate Bridge, in my opinion, it's by the water, sailing in the "Frisco Bay" can give you unique sights of the bridge , you can even pass under it!
How to find a sailing boat or a catamaran to sail in the Bay? I personally booked my adventure through GET YOUR GUIDE , super easy and trustable, this app has wonderful deals and a loads of incredible activities that you really don't wanna miss when travelling.
See the sea lions at the Fisherman's Wharf
Fisherman’s Wharf is San Francisco’s equivalent of a board walk in many coastal cities and towns. It’s got an amusement area with sideshows and lots of souvenir shops, but be wary, this is a very touristy area of San Francisco and things are priced accordingly. The biggest reason for visiting Fisherman’s Wharf is to see the sea lions, who regularly loll about on floating piers in the marina. You will smell them before you see them, that’s a fact, especially if the wind is blowing in your direction. A small group of the sea lions stay in the marina year round, but most of the 300-strong colony migrate to the Channel Islands during the summer.
Start your day with a Breakfast at Cafe Venue!
It was such a great luck to find this place!
We were actually getting a bit lost, didn't really know where to go so we decide to head back to our hotel when we saw Cafe Venue from across the street. We where hungry and thirsty (it was already super hot at like 10:30am) so we stopped and we had a delicious breakfast. An avocado tostie for me, with eggs and salad and and full English breakfast for my friend, we both were very satisfied of what we've got!
The Hustle and Bustle of Chinatown
After eating we bought fresh water and we went to the super colorful Chinatown. Did you know that this one in San Francisco is one of the oldest around? It was created in 1848 and since then the Chinese community has become an integral part of local society. It’s also the most densely populated area in the US. There are all sorts of shops –
Make sure to visit the Fortune Cookie factory (they were invented there) to learn about the history of this famous cookie. For the best photo, head to Eastern Bakery – between Grant and Commercial St: the combination of Chinese temples pagoda, street sights and lights make it a fabulous spot.
As of 2012, 21 per cent of San Francisco’s population was of Chinese descent, so it stands to reason that the city also has a thriving Chinatown district. You’ll find all the shopping you could ever hope for, starting from leather shops to butchers and fruit stall at more realistic prices than at Fisherman’s Wharf, so it might be a good place to stock up on souvenirs. As you wander down Grant Avenue you’ll see the Sing Chong and Sing Fat buildings, on the corner of California Street. These were the first two buildings that were built in Chinatown after the great earthquake of 1906, that virtually levelled San Francisco. Continue down Grant Avenue and you’ll notice lots of great little shops along your way, until you get to the intersection with Bush Street, where the Chinatown Dragon gate stands. It was a gift from Taiwan back in the 1960s and features carved dragons and koi fish.
After that we started our way to the Palace of Fine Arts, check out Lombard Street on your way, famous for the 8 hairpin turns.
The Palace of Fine Arts is one of the most iconic buildings in San Francisco. Originally built for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition, rebuilt in 1965 and having undergone several restoration works (both for the building and the garden surrounding it), it now hosts art exhibits and it’s a popular wedding location.
How could we miss to get a sneak peak of Castro! This is the gay neighborhood of San Francisco. Among its landmarks there are the rainbow crosswalk and the Castro Theater, as well as the GLBT Historical Society Museum. You’ll also find plenty of interesting shops, good cafés, great bars and nice restaurants.
Bi-Rite Creamery makes some of the best ice-cream in town and it’s right between Castro and Mission District. Just sayin’!
The Twin Peaks are two hills from where you can get incredible views of San Francisco. You can hike up or – if you are in a rush – take an Uber.
Really tired after all the adventures, we had dinner at The Crab House, at the Pier 39. Yes kinda touristic place, a bit expensive for sure but the Clam Chowder was really amazing and, if are starving but tired and not really in the mood of walking around too much, I really recommend this place, specially if you're craving Clam Chowder :) !
Where to stay in San Francisco
If you look for the perfect place to stay in San Francisco The Hyatt Regency in Soma could be the perfect place for you. This location was so wonderful, close to the Bay and to Union Square, this hotel can offer the best stay. Super comfortable rooms with breathtaking views of the city and its skyscrapers, the Hyatt Regency in Soma (financial district) will make you feel you San Francisco adventure much easier an anc comfy than you can imagine!
As most of the big American metropolis , San Francisco could be really complicated to visit, long distances to cove plus the daily traffic could discourage many and honestly I can understand why. Staying here in Soma can make your life a lot easier because of the location (very close to the main attraction) and also because this hotel can satisfy all the needs that a fellow traveler could have. Spacious rooms with everything you'd need, delicious breakfast, extra comfy beds and a great neiborhood, will make your stay really amazing!
We stayed there and honestly, I'll rebook it once I'll be in San Francisco again, it was just perfect!
San Francisco Travel Tips
-This is where I give you all the tips that locals tend to know, but visitors aren’t up to speed on. I cannot stress enough the importance of bringing warm clothes to San Francisco, not matter what time of year it is. It will be warm and sunny in some spots but at the same time, it will be cold, windy and overcast in others. Don’t be one of those tourists who is shivering away in a singlet and shorts, you won’t have as much fun as if you were fully prepared because it can get really cold, a bitter cold even in summer, a cold that made Mark Twain exclaim "The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco".
-For a truly hassle free day, consider joining a guided tour. Take Walks San Francisco in a day: Golden Gate Bridge, Chinatown, Fisherman's Wharf and Cable Car Ride is an excellent option. The tour is guided, it lasts 8 hours and costs just $80 USD, and hits all the attractions on this day’s itinerary.
3 Curiosities about San Francisco you didn't know
-San Francisco appears as lying on rolling hills, nestled in a bay overlooking the Pacific Ocean. She is not haughty, made proud by her irrepressible charm. It calls itself not so much with its high-sounding names La Misión de Nuestro Padre San Francisco de Asís, in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, which the Spaniards gave it when they founded it in 1746 or Yerba Buena, so called under Mexican rule. It goes by affectionate nicknames Frisco, San Fran, SF, Fog City in honor of its omnipresent fog, The Golden City, The Paris of the West.
-If the fog wraps you in its veil, you may come across various characters and even ghosts. Ghosts?!! Yes, just ghosts. In fact, the Golden Gate Bridge is considered the place in the world that has the highest number of suicides, tormented souls, attracted by the height of the bridge and induced to put an end to their existence. Yes, because what is little known about San Francisco is that it is part of the black triangle of magic together with London and Torino. A whole series of circumstances contributed to fueling the dark charm of this city, starting with the fact that it was inhabited by the indigenous people of the Olons, who practiced various forms of shamanism. Furthermore, the 1906 earthquake, with its thousands of victims, infested the city with disturbing presences and souls in search of peace. In San Jose, just south of San Francisco, stands the villa of the widow Winchester - wife of the famous arms manufacturer - who, after her husband's death, dedicated the last years of her life, between the end of the nineteenth century and the twentieth century, to the construction of a house, full of disturbing oddities, to house the hundreds of wandering souls killed with firearms produced by her husband. And then Alcatraz, The Rock, the prison that housed the most ruthless criminals. A haunted place, where cell 14D is considered one of the most haunted places. Death continues to hover in Colma. During the gold rush, in fact, many miners who could not find burial in San Francisco died, for this reason the bodies were transported to Colma which hosts more dead than alive so much that the city's motto is "It's great to be alive in Colma. "
-“One by one the stars reveal themselves and I breathe in the coolness that the color of the sky leaves me”. Nothing better for refreshment than stopping to drink Irish coffee, a hot drink with coffee, sugar, whiskey and cream invented in Ireland. A journalist from the "San Francisco Chronicle" tasted it and decided to praise its goodness in an article. Word spread quickly and Frisco bars began making it, thus spreading the recipe around the world. And together with this hot drink, fortune cookies, a particular type of cookie attributed to Makoto Hagiwara who, at the end of the 19th century, Hagiwara served in the Japanese tea garden in Golden Gate Park.
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