So you have one day to enjoy the City By The Bay, where do you start, what should you see, and what should you plan for? Check out these Tips To Explore San Francisco in One Day and start your plans today!
Last month, I had the opportunity to visit San Francisco for the first time while in the area for a retreat. My blogging buddies and I had about 5 hours to enjoy in the city before starting our retreat. We went in ready to explore and see as much as we could. While we did see a lot we did not plan as well as we should have. Today I am excited to share some of our favorite places we visited and some tips on making your day trip even more successful than ours!
Tips To Explore San Francisco in One Day
So, when I first thought about doing this trip I really thought that all of the “must see” sights would be in walking distance, kind of like NYC. Yeah, not the case. So there was my first mistake. And my second mistake? Not doing more planning before arriving in the city.
Start At Fisherman’s Wharf
We started our exploring in the Fisherman’s Wharf area. We had our Lyft driver drop us near Pier 42. Not sure why I remember that, but it was the first one we walked by. Along this area there are a ton of great places to eat so we decided to enjoy some fresh seafood for lunch. While I would never consider myself a big seafood lover I do love crab and shrimp so I knew a nice meal would be great after a long day of traveling.
We ate at Castagnoa’s Seafood and Chophouse. There was both in house seating and patio seating. We went for inside because it was a bit chilly that day and the inside dining room has ceiling to floor windows so you can have a beautiful view of the harbor.
Once we were done with our lunch, delicious by the way, we started walking along the Wharf. Talk about entertaining. Not only do you get to enjoy the sea views but you also get to enjoy a number of creative street performers and artists. This is a busy area so stay close with your travel buddies and enjoy the hustle and bustle!
As a gal from a landlocked state it was so fun to walk around the markets and see all of the fresh crab and and seafood! So fun! Also, while you are visiting Fisherman’s Wharf area you can stop at the Boudin Bakery. While you walk by the bakery you can smell the delicious fresh baked sourdough bread and make sure you take a look in the picture window – while we were there they had an alligator shaped sourdough bread creature! So fun! We also heard that the Boudin Bakery Clam Chowder in a sourdough bowl is simply amazing. Adding that to my list for my next visit.
Well we missed this one. We had no idea we would need to reserve our spot for this activity well in advance. The guy at the Alcatraz booth just laughed at us when we told him we wanted to go to Alcatraz right now! HA! Guess, that doesn’t happen. But from Pier 39 you can see the island and watch the ships run to and from Alcatraz.
We also heard that the best time to do this tour is at night so the next time you are visiting make sure you set up a night cruise. You will need to buy your tickets well in advance, as these are the most popular tickets and they only offer a small number for each tour. You can buy them up to 90 days in advance.
Explore Pier 39
Some of the locals I have talked to would describe the Pier as their Times Square. Filled with tourist traps but tons to do. Since we were short on time we didn’t have much time to do all of those offered attractions like the carousal, bay cruises, shopping and the Aquarium but we did take advantage of the free attractions.
The Views at Pier 39 are amazing. The wind in your hair, the fresh sea air and all of the breathtaking views. Most of those views include the birds who are pretty human friendly. I was able to get some pretty cool pictures of these creatures. We spent a lot of time just taking pictures of the view. Of course Alcatraz looks like you could almost swim there…tempting! HA!
See those California Sea Lions! We didn’t make our way all the way down to the viewing area because it looked crazy busy but we could see those sea lions just basking in the sunshine and chatting away. It was fun to see their free “show” they put on plus it is super rare to see wild animals so up close and comfortable.
Riding the Cable Cars
Once we spent our time exploring the Pier and Fisherman’s Wharf we decided the next thing on our list was to head over to Powell Street to ride the Cable Cars!! I have to admit, this was one of the things I was so excited to do. We decided that we would buy the one day passport for the public transportation in the city. This allowed us to ride the Cable Cars as many times as we wanted, the buses, and the Muni subway. It ended up being the best option for us because we totally did it all!
What was lovely about this stop was that we had time to take pictures on the cable cars. Yes, we were pretending to hang off the cars, which by the way, you are not allowed to do when the car is moving. Honestly, we learned a lot by our ride down Powell Street. Cable cars have the right away and if your conductor is anything like ours, they will make that clear! YIKES!! It was a great way to see some of the city but not have to walk those HILLS! HOLY HILLS!! Look, I am from Colorado, I am used to mountains but these hills in the city were pretty spectacular!
Find more information about the San Francisco Muni Passport here.
Find Those Painted Ladies
By the end of our day we wanted to make sure we had time to see the Full House houses and enjoy the park across the street. Like I said, we really had no idea how spread out some of these “must see” places were from each other. So, after we got off of the Cable Car we took the Muni Subway to our first stop and then hopped on a bus to the Painted Ladies. Seriously, we totally learned the public transit system of SFO! Go us!!
When we arrived we saw those beautiful homes and sure enough people were actually having picnics in the park! And from that point on, I had the song stuck in my head! This brought me back to my childhood and it was really fun too!
Other Sights To See On Your Visit
Our sightseeing ended at the Painted Ladies but here are a few sights I have on my list for the next time I visit San Francisco.
- Lombard Street – an east–west street in San Francisco, California that is famous for a steep, one-block section with eight hairpin turns.
- The Golden Gate Bridge – a suspension bridge spanning the Golden Gate, the one-mile-wide strait connecting San Francisco Bay and the Pacific.
- Ghirardelli Square – a landmark public square with shops and restaurants and a 5-star hotel in the Fisherman’s Wharf area of San Francisco.
- Madame Tussauds San Francisco – a wax museum located in Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco in California.
- The Walt Disney Family Museum – an American museum that features the life and legacy of Walt Disney. The museum is located in The Presidio of San Francisco, part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in San Francisco.
- Chinatown – one of the oldest and most established Chinatowns in the U.S. Beyond iconic Dragon’s Gate, a bustling maze of streets and alleys brims with dim sum joints and other traditional eateries. Also found are herbalists, bakeries, souvenir shops, and dark cocktail lounges and karaoke bars. There are ornate temples, including the landmark Tien How, as well as the Chinese Historical Society of America Museum.
- Union Square – the teeming commercial hub of the city. Many major hotels and department stores are packed into the area surrounding the actual square. Numerous upscale boutiques, restaurants, nightspots and galleries occupy the spaces tucked between the larger buildings. At the intersection of Powell and Market streets, tourists huddle to view one the city’s most unique sites, the manual cable car turnaround.