If you are one of those people looking at beautiful pictures of San Francisco and thinking that one day it will be you, don't wait anymore. Start planning your trip.
Usually, San Francisco will be just one of the stops on your bigger west coast journey - for example, combined with the Grand Canyon or Las Vegas. So, first-timers should spend at least 2 or 3 days maximum here.
With this in mind, we prepared this short but detailed 2 Day San Francisco Itinerary that can give you a general overview of the city and its most significant attractions, like Pier 39, Alcatraz, and the Golden Gate. We also focused on lovely but less popular spots close to the town.
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Using the map of San Francisco, you can explore all the days and stops.
On day one, we suggest focussing on the Fisherman's Wharf. We can't imagine visiting San Francisco without spending at least a couple of hours in this historic waterfront district. From this place, you have access to the famous and unique Alcatraz Island with the prison.
To get here, we suggest booking your tickets ahead for the selected day and time. You will spend no more than 2-3 hours on the island and 15 minutes on the boat to get there.
To finish your day with great views, we recommend going to Twin Peaks - from these hills, you will have fantastic panoramas of the city with its market street, all the skyscrapers, and even bridges in the background! It is just the best sunset spot in town!
You should start the day by visiting Pier 39, which is part of Fisherman's Wharf together with Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory and some museums. Pier 39 is not as old as it looks - its development started only in 1977 and finished in 1978.
Originally, this place featured 50 stores and 23 restaurants. Many of them are still active today. The area has been changing over time, getting carousels, an aquarium, a Players Sports Grill & Arcade, and finally, the only floating restaurant in the world - Forbes Island!
But probably the most alluring attraction of all is the sea lions - they started to come to the pier in 1990 and the population has grown over the years. The city is supporting them by adding new floating docks.
When you are here, you should see the sea lions, ride a carousel, visit the aquarium of the bay and attend juggler or other performer shows.
Depending on how much time you have, what time of day it is, and how hungry you are, we recommend eating fresh seafood for lunch or dinner at the Fisherman's Wharf market nearby.
One of the most popular attractions in San Francisco is the trip to Alcatraz Island and the visit to the legendary prison. It was operating from 1934 to 1963, and it hosted Al Capone, among other famous criminals. Now, it's such a popular tourist attraction that you should book your tickets ahead to make sure your date is available.
To get to the island, you must board the ferry at Pier 33. The ride lasts 12-15 minutes, and after landing on the island, you have as much time as you want for wandering. Just make sure to be back to the dock before the last departure. Ferries usually depart every 30 minutes.
When you are on the island, make sure to get your audio guide - it's a source of valuable information about the history of the prison. It helps you better understand the purpose of the selected buildings.
For us, it was fun to visit the ruins of the old Warden House, the gardens of Alcatraz, the recreation yard, and the seabird colonies (activity depends on the season). This prison is one in the world, and it is one of the musts.
Protip: Take the Alcatraz tour at night! It doubles your emotions!
After the day that you spent in the historic waterfront district, we recommend going uphill. Plan your trip to be on the Twin Peaks around 1 hour before sunset. It might be a crowded place at this time of the day. If you want to take cute pictures of the city, it's a good idea to take a tripod with you.
The Twin Peaks are two hills with an elevation of 282m and is located near the geographic center of the city. The only higher point is Mount Davidson (283m). Native people of California used the peaks as a lookout for hunting grounds.
When Spanish settlers arrived, they called the place "Breasts of the Indian Maiden" and devoted the vicinity of the mountains to ranching. Americans changed the name to the current one in the 19th century.
We came here for the view - a unique spot in the city, and we recommend you do this as well. You can consider not only the sunset but also a sunrise or night visit.
The only problem might be safety - don't come here alone. San Francisco got more hazardous in recent years. If you are afraid to go alone, you can try one of the organized tours.
The Golden Gate Bridge - the jewel of the city, is a must-see attraction. And after spending many days in San Francisco, we are sure the best time to go here is for the sunrise. For the best sunrise spot for the bridge, it's close to the town of Sausalito, where you can have a fantastic breakfast with a view.
When you are not hungry anymore, get back to the city and visit Ghirardelli Square, then go for a walk to Lombard street and catch the cable car at the top. Finally, you can hop-off at Chinatown and wander there for a little bit.
The bridge is an icon of the city. It was opened to the public in 1937 and connected San Francisco to its northern neighbors. It's a must-see attraction - the symbol of the city. And after 20 years of traveling to San Francisco at different times of the year, we decided that the bridge looks best at sunrise from Battery Hill.
Just drive from the city through the bridge to the north, and after the bridge, turn right on the 442. You will cross the 101 underway and get to the spot for the sunrise. Be there 30 minutes before sunrise to enjoy the view. Sometimes the gate is closed, but it opens just on time, so be patient and wait for the ranger to open it.
This point is excellent for photography. You can take it with your phone or camera. If you plan to use your camera, we recommend taking a tripod with you. And it's a good idea to grab some coffee at the gas station on the way here.
Another good point to spend the morning and enjoy the bridge is the Golden Gate Bridge View Vista Point - at the opposite side of the bridge.
From the Golden Gate viewpoint, you are close to the charming town of Sausalito, and the timing should be right to have a fantastic breakfast in the cafes here.
Sausalito is a city in Marin County, California, across the Golden Gate from San Francisco. And from this city, you will see the San Francisco skyline from a distance. The view is excellent.
We recommend sitting in one of the waterfront restaurants like the Lighthouse Café.
If you like the smell of chocolate, you should visit Ghirardelli. The company was founded in 1852 by the Italian chocolatier Domenico Ghirardelli. He worked in South America, then moved to California to build what is now the third-oldest chocolate company in the United States.
Unfortunately, the popular factory tours are not available anymore. Still, we recommend visiting Ghirardelli square, seeing the factory building, and tasting one of the best chocolates in the world at the Ghirardelli Ice Cream & Chocolate Shop.
Protip: don't forget to buy some chocolate to go - it's a great gift idea for your family and friends!
Lombard Street, aka the "Crookedest Street in the World", is surrounded by Russian Hill villas and is another iconic place in San Francisco. There is an exciting fact that switchbacks were built to increase the safety of the street. The grade was too steep, and in 1920, the owner decided to rebuild the street. Since then, it turned out to be more scenic but also safer for pedestrians.
Each day, hundreds of tourists visit the street to take a picture or have a ride from the top to see how it feels to get through the switchbacks. It's so popular because it is surrounded by many other attractions and is always on the way.
So when in San Francisco, don't miss this place, try to have a ride or at least take a picture!
If you visited Lombard street without a car, you could try to catch a cable car at the top of the hill (Powell-Hyde Line - it carries yellow destination signs). With this line, we suggest riding it to the next stop - China Town. Just get off at Clay Street.
The San Francisco cable car system is the world's last manually operated cable car system and another iconic North American landmark of the city. Between 1873 and 1890, it had 23 cable car lines, and nowadays, there's only three left. This way of transportation is used not only by tourists but also by commuters. However, the majority are tourists.
It would probably be easier to get into the cable car at one of the turnarounds, but you are allowed to get on the car at any stop along the route. In such a case, be prepared to pay for the ticket to the attendant (prepare the proper amount of money).
Or, you can have a ticket bought in advance. Single ride cable car tickets are available at ticket booths at Powell and Market or Hyde and Beach. They are also available at the San Francisco Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Chinatown in San Francisco is the biggest outside of Asia. It all started around 1848 when there was significant demand for laborers because of the railroad construction and the gold rush. Chinese people were allowed to come and work in the US.
After railroad construction was finished in 1849, they were looking for new jobs and competing with white Americans. It led to limiting their rights and where they could live within San Francisco's borders. All of this caused the creation of the Chinatown that currently occupies 24 blocks.
Nowadays, it is one of the most popular attractions in the city. You can spend half a day or even more here exploring the local shops with original Chinese items or restaurants with authentic cuisine. Actually, statistics are saying that more tourists are visiting this neighborhood than the Golden Gate bridge!
We found the scent of Asia in Chinatown. It is so authentic that you can forget that you are in the US. People around you live like in their own country. It's completely different than the rest of the city. If you are here, don't forget to take a picture in the Dragon's Gate, buy some cookies at the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory and visit the Tin How Temple.
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