San Francisco in One Day
One of the biggest requests we have received is from people who have a very limited amount of time in San Francisco, and they want to get suggestions on what to do. Many people only have 24 hours in the city, and they want to maximize their time here. So, since we love our readers and want to provide you the best trip possible to SF, we have put together a one day San Francisco itinerary! If you have a quick layover in the city, or you’re just passing through, read on to figure out how to have an amazing 24 hours in this town!
Note: For this itinerary, we recommend getting yourself a Go San Francisco Discount Card. For some of the attractions we’re going to visit today, the GoSF card will give you a large discount.
8:30 AM – 9:30 AM: Breakfast in North Beach
The first thing you’re going to want to do is to pick up some breakfast. We’d recommend stopping in at Mama’s on Washington Square. They have some of the best breakfast in San Francisco. But in addition to that, you’ll be in a perfect location to walk around the city–right next to North Beach/Little Italy, Chinatown, and Fisherman’s Wharf. This family owned restaurant is an institution, so be sure to get there early to avoid the longlines!
10:00 AM – 12:00 PM: A Free Walking Tour
The best way to start any trip to a new city is with a walking tour to help you familiarize yourself more with the area. We offer several different name-your-own-price walking tours including our All-in-One Tour, Downtown San Francisco Tour, North Beach/Little Italy Tour, Fisherman’s Wharf Tour, and Chinatown Tour, which all cover fascinating neighborhoods located very near our recommended breakfast spot.
The All-in-One Tour is 6 hours and includes a break for lunch. Though it will take up a large part of your day, this tour is a fantastic introduction to the city of San Francisco. The other tours are each just 2 hours and focus specifically on the history of that neighborhood. If you’re not sure which tour is best for you, read our comparison of each.
12:00 PM – 1:00 PM: Lunch at Fisherman’s Wharf
While there are hundreds of great options for lunch in San Francisco, Fisherman’s Wharf is a great location full of wonderful seafood restaurants. From fresh fish caught that morning to San Francisco dungeoness crab, you can’t go wrong with a meal at the Wharf. But the most popular, and the most traditional, typical San Francisco meal you can get is clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl. Our favorite location is Alioto’s restaurant. If you go upstairs into the restaurant, you can get a great table by the window overlooking Fisherman’s Wharf.
If you’re in the mood for some delicious seafood, then check out our post comparing the best seafood restaurants in Fisherman’s Wharf!
1:00 PM – 2:00 PM: A Cruise Around the Bay
One of the greatest parts of San Francisco is the view from the water. With your time in the city, we would definitely recommend taking a cruise around the bay. The 2 most popular cruise companies are Red & White Fleet and Blue & Gold (click the link for a comparison of them). Fortunately, both of these are included on discount passes. Normally $30, you get on free with your discount card!
Not interested in going on a cruise around the Bay? Consider taking a bus tour that visits the Golden Gate Bridge, Haight-Ashbury, and the Castro instead!
2:30 PM – 4:30 PM: Visit the California Academy of Sciences
San Francisco is home to some of the best science museums in the world. The California Academy of Sciences is an incredible museum that really appeals to visitors of all ages. We love its exhibits on earth science and natural history, as well as the aquarium, living roof, and planetarium. The California Academy of Sciences, which is in Golden Gate Bridge Park, is about a 15 minute cab drive from the pier.
You can get in for free at either one with your city discount card, saving you $35!
5:00 – 6:30: Take a ride on San Francisco’s famous cable cars!
A ride on San Francisco’s historic cable cars is a must do for any first time visitor to the city. Of the 3 different lines, Powell-Hyde is by far our favorite. On this route, you will journey across Lombard Street, known as the “Crookedest Street in the World,” and then past Union Square. From here, you can enjoy stunning views of Coit Tower, Alcatraz Island, and San Francisco Bay. You will also pass by the Cable Car Museum, which is well worth a visit if you have the time! The ride concludes near Nob Hill, which is a spectacular place to watch the sunset.
If you plan to have dinner at our #1 recommendation (see below), then stay up here and then take the cable car back down after you eat. It runs until 1am, so no need to worry about timing. Otherwise, if you’d rather dine at our #2 recommendation, then take the cable car down Russian Hill as it’s near Fisherman’s Wharf. If you’d prefer option #3, then it doesn’t matter too much whether you ride the cable car back down or not as you’ll need to hop in a cab to get there anyway!
7:00 – 8:30: Have a Well Deserved Dinner
You have hundreds of great dinner options around San Francisco. If you want to narrow it down, we have a few favorites:
2. Hog Island Oyster Company – If you’re going to visit this city, you really need to eat some of the world class seafood we have to offer here. You can get some of the freshest fish, oysters and other ocean foods. Hog Island is a great place to start!
3. Tony’s Pizza – Every city in America is going to tell you that they have the best pizza in the world. And since we’re representing SF, of course we’re going to say that San Francisco has the best. But we have the awards to back it up!
Wrapping it Up
San Francisco is one of the greatest cities in the world. That’s what keeps all of us living here! (And also why it’s so expensive to visit here!) And you can’t possibly see everything in one day on the ground, but if you happen to have a 24 hour layover here, you might as well go see everything you can. And if you get through the items in this guide, you will have gotten a good feel for what this city has to offer.
If you only take one walking tour in San Francisco, it should be this one! We will take a trip through the best parts of SF to show you all the greatest sights. We visit Gold Rush criminals, Nob Hill palaces, Chinatown secrets, North Beach delights, and take a cable car ride to see the entire city in one day.
Note: To sign up for this tour, you will be charged $7 per person for your cable car ticket. We will give you the ticket when you arrive at the tour. If you cancel the tour in advance, we will refund the cost.
Take this five hour (lunch break included) tour through the best parts of San Francisco:
Sites we cover include:
- The oldest buildings in San Francisco
- Backstreets and hidden alleys of Chinatown
- Sunken Gold Rush-era ships buried underneath the city
- Nob Hill mansions of the 1800s
- The biggest cathedral in the city
- Modern skyscrapers of Downtown San Francisco
…and many more!
Where: We meet at the Transamerica Pyramid, at the corner of Montgomery & Clay Streets. Use our Google map for directions to the tour starting point . Look for your guide with the orange shirt.
Duration: The tour lasts about 5 hours, which includes a lunch break during the tour. The total walking distance is about three miles (5 km).
When: View our Calendar
Cost: This is a name-your-own-price tour. That means the tour is free to take, and at the end of the tour, you decide how much the tour was worth to you. Our guides are happy to take cash or credit card, whatever is most convenient to you!
Save even more money in San Francisco with a discount tourist pass!
For more ideas about visiting San Francisco with kids:
8:30 AM – 9:30 AM: Breakfast along the Bay
Once again, we recommend starting the day with a hearty breakfast near North Beach, Chinatown, or Fisherman’s Wharf. One of our favorite restaurants that are very conveniently located and overlook the San Francisco Bay is Eight Am. It features a very family friend menu and homecooked food that will keep your family full until lunchtime. After breakfast, take a stroll along the pier and get some great photos of the Golden Gate Bridge before it gets too busy.
10:00 AM – 12:00 PM: Walking or Hop-on, Hop-off Bus Tour
Whether you’re traveling with kids or not, we always recommend that you start the day with a tour. As mentioned above, we have many different walking tours including our All-in-One Tour, Downtown San Francisco Tour, North Beach/Little Italy Tour, Fisherman’s Wharf Tour, and Chinatown Tour. Our guides know all the tricks when it comes to keeping kids entertained, so each of these are well liked by kids of all ages.
However, if you’re not sure your family will be up for a walking tour, then consider taking a hop-on, hop-off bus tour! This was you can familiarize yourself with the city and move at your own pace. Check out our full post comparing the different hop-on, hop-off bus tour options so you can choose the right one for you.
12:00 PM – 1:00 PM: Lunch at Pier 39
Pier 39 is a fun and vibrant place to have lunch with the kids. Browse the local shops, listen to talented street performers, visit the Aquarium by the Bay, and enjoy a hardy serving of clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl — a signature San Francisco dish since the mid-1800s! Also be sure to say hello to the sea lions who have been making Pier 39 their home since 1990.
1:00 PM – 2:00 PM: Rocket Boat around the Bay!
Want to really treat your kids to a memorable afternoon exploring San Francisco? Opt for a ride on the Rocket Boat! This speed boat cruise around the Bay offers beautiful views for the adults, and lots of thrills and excitement for the kids. In fact, many families rate the experience as a highlight of their trip. And better yet, the Rocket Boat comes at a discount with the San Francisco Go Card!
2:30 PM – 4:30 PM: Visit the Exploratorium
Though we love the California Academy of Science, nothing beats the Exploratorium for kids. Their hands-on exhibits let you experiment with science yourself and will keep your family entertained for hours! Located conveniently along the water, it is just a 10 minute walk from Pier 39, so this is a perfect activity to follow your boat cruise!
You can get in for free with your city discount card, saving you $35!
5:00 – 9:30: Watch a Giant’s game!
Whether or not you’re a fan of baseball, everyone can have fun at a San Francisco Giant’s game! The ballpark is located right along the Bay and offers a unique perspective of the city. Get there early to have plenty of time explore the stadium and scout out the best dinner options. There are also several apparel stores around the park, so allow some extra time to browse through those if you want some souvenir fan gear to take home.
For more ideas about visiting San Francisco on the cheap, check out:
8:30 AM – 9:30 AM: Grab breakfast from your hotel and eat it on the Bay!
Most hotels and hostels have some type of free breakfast included in their stay. Grab a croissant or some fruit, and then head out to North Beach to enjoy beautiful views of the Bay while you much away! If you’re staying somewhere that didn’t offer breakfast, then pop into a cafe for a quick take-away snack. Sit-down meals are much pricier than food you can order to-go and they usually don’t include beautiful views of Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge. So, take advantage of your time in San Francisco and dine outside!
10:00 AM – 2:00 PM: Free All-in-One Tour
If you’re really looking to get the most bang for your buck during your time in San Francisco, then we highly recommend that you take our All-in-One Tour. This combines many of the stops featured on our other tours… and all for a price that you choose at the end! A lunch stop is included about mid-way through, so you don’t need to worry about finding the most budget friendly restaurant on your own. Our guides will direct you to the best places to eat, so you can just relax and enjoy the views!
2:30 PM – 4:00 PM Visit de Young Museum
After a long day spent outside, wander into the de Young Fine Arts Museum to see some of the best art in the country. The exhibitions change periodically, so be sure to check their website to see what is on during your visit. Past exhibitions include ‘Summer of Love’, ‘Lines on the Horizon: Native American Art From the Weisel Family Collection’, and“Picasso: Masterpieces from the Musée National Picasso, Paris.”
And best of all? It’s completely FREE!
4:30 PM – 5:00 PM: Go to the beach
Take a brief break from the chaos of the city to walk along the sand and dip your toes in the Pacific Ocean. Even if it’s a cold day, you should still check this off your bucket list! And all the while, enjoying stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge. There’s no better place to take photos!
5:15 PM – 6:15 PM: Walk across the Golden Gate Bridge
This is probably our favorite free activity on the list! Don’t just take pictures of the Golden Gate Bridge… walk across it! If you’re able to time it right, then you can go right at sunset to get some spectacular views of the Bay. It’s about 1.5 miles all the way across, so allow plenty of time to get to the other side and back. There are restrooms on either end of the bridge if need be. Also, be sure to stay close to the rail as there are lots of cyclists who use the path as well!
6:30 PM – 7:30 PM: Dinner in Chinatown
Chinatown is one of the best and cheapest neighborhoods to have dinner in San Francisco. We suggest that you ask your guide on the All-in-One Tour for specific restaurant recommendations. However, some of the most popular places include:
- Begoni Bistro
- Capitol Restaurant
- City View Restaurant
- Hunan’s Home Restaurant