San Francisco is one of the most popular cities in California. It is, perhaps, one of the most popular destinations in all of the United States as well! With so much to do in the region, visitors are often forced to choose a ‘hit list’ of attractions to see within a limited amount of time. You can do it! We’re here to help with our guide to how to see the best of San Francisco in 24 hours.
See the best of San Francisco in 24 hours:
Golden Gate Bridge
The number one attraction in San Francisco is the Golden Gate Bridge. If you don’t visit, some may wonder if you were really in the city at all! This famous suspension bridge is actually red, not gold (or a deep vermillion, depending on how technical you want to get).
It was built in the 1930s and is deemed one of the most beautiful bridges in the world. Did you know its color was chosen to help its visibility in fog? You can learn fun facts about the structure like it’s 2.7 km length (1.7 mile) and more in the Welcome Center.
It connects San Francisco to Marin County and is an incredibly popular photo spot. You can see it from a few different angles, including on the shore, from surrounding parks and on the bridge itself as you cross over it. My favorite way to cross it is to rent bikes and go for a little ride in the area. You can drive to the bridge area but parking in San Francisco, as a whole, is limited, especially in tourist areas. Public transportation is recommended.
If you’ve ever seen photos of San Francisco with a famous zig-zagging residential street you’ll know this spot! San Francisco is one of the hilliest cities in America. If you ever teeter on going to the gym on your vacations, there’s no need here; simply walk around the city for a great leg and buns workout!
Lombard Street dealt with with its angles and incline in a unique way. The street has eight switchback, hairpin turns. Some say it’s the most crooked street in the world. The homes along it are quite beautiful as well.
Photo by Pedro Lastra on Unsplash
This area’s attraction is exactly what its name indicates: a historic fisherman’s area for loading and unloading boats. Its roots date back to the San Francisco Gold Rush, during the mid 19th century. Today this beautiful structure is home to many local restaurants, markets and vendors. Our tip is to make sure you go hungry! There’s seafood chowder for sale, raw oysters, fresh vegetables, and then some. Grab a bite and sit on an outdoor bench to enjoy San Francisco’s perfect, breezy weather.
Fisherman’s Wharf is also the starting point for many bay cruises and charters. Be sure to check out the Living Social and Groupon apps to secure some good deals for those activities and other local tours.
Seal lions on Pier 39
No human I know can resist the cuteness of sea lions! Be prepared for ‘adorable-overload’ at Pier 39, just steps away from Fisherman’s Wharf. There’s a wonderful section of restaurants, shops, experiences and the like here but right next to it is the water area with sea lions galore. They usually just hang out, bath in the sun, ‘talk’ to each other and go for swims. I could spend hours observing them.
Painted Ladies on Alamo Square Park
This city needs to make use of every available millimeter of real estate property. Did you know San Francisco has some of the highest real estate prices and cost of living out of anywhere in the United States? Thus, many homes are built up not out. Alamo Square Park is where you can see some of the most beautiful Victorian homes in the city. Their colors and stature have earned them the name, the ‘Painted Ladies’.
Suggested activities if you have additional time
San Francisco is full of plenty of attractions if you have extra time in the area. Recommendations include:
- Touring Alcatraz, a famous historic prison. A tour may take up to a quarter of your day so ensure you have at least three hours set aside to participate.
- Riding a cable car. They started to run in the 1850s and are truly a piece of San Francisco history. Today they mainly serve as a nod to yesteryear and for the pleasure of tourists. A few residents, however, use them as a mode of transportation to get around the city, even though their routes are limited.
- Having an ice cream sundae at Ghiradelli Square, located near Pier 39. This historic chocolate factory beautifully illuminates in the evening, so consider visiting at night.
- Visiting San Francisco City Hall, a National Historic Landmark. You may even see a couple getting married! It’s a stunning structure, built around 1913-1915. If you love architecture do not miss this! It’s open to the public Monday through Friday, 8:00am to 8:00pm.
If you’re heading to California also check out:
- How to Have an Epic Weekend in Joshua Tree National Park
- The Best of San Diego: A First Timer’s Guide
- How to Spend Two Days in Palm Springs
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Have you visited San Francisco? What would you add to our guide?