There are countless reasons to fall in love with San Francisco, and it’s easy because you only have 48 hours. The city by the bay is famous for its fog (known affectionately as Karl), cable cars steep hills Ghirardelli chocolate, and those amazing Golden Gate Bridge views! A blend of touristy must-do’s plus local gems will easily fill your days here making this place feel like home before leaving. Even after just one full day of exploring all that downtown has to offer…you’ll be dreaming about returning to this iconic city!
Arriving to San Francisco
When you first arrive in San Francisco, it can be overwhelming. If money is tight, it’s easy to get around the city with Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) and public transportation. But it does take a lot of time to get from SFO to the main downtown area so, I highly suggested using ride sharing apps like Lyft or Uber. Taking this will get you through the traffic that can build up from airport commuting and ultimately help you get more time in your day. Make sure to download these ride-sharing apps before arriving so that when we arrive at our destination all there is left do it enjoy what this beautiful town has waiting!
I have rented a car while in San Francisco, but let me just say, these steep hills are no joke and can be kind of scary to navigate. The streets are tight and parking is hard to find in some neighborhoods, so riding-sharing is the way to go in my opinion.
The best part about San Francisco, (depending where you’re staying) , it’s pretty walkable and bike-able!
Where to Stay in San Francisco
The San Francisco hotel scene is as vibrant and glamorous now, it was back then when this city served as America’s westernmost port. Avoid the tourist-heavy hotels lining Fisherman’s Wharf or Union Square; instead head to Nob Hill where you’ll find stunning views plus classic architecture that can be found in many historic sites throughout our beautiful town! Some swanky accommodations are available here like The Fairmont Hotel. This stunning hotel has so much history including hosting the first group of statesmen (that culminated in the creation of the United Nations). It was also home to the first bar in San Francisco post-prohibition, along with other firsts such Tony Bennet singing his illustrious “I Left My Heart in San Francisco”, and employed America’s first concierge, Tom Wolfe. If you’re a history buff, lover of luxury or simply want a quintessential San Francisco experience – the Fairmont San Francisco is for you.
Chinatown & North Beach
Head to the heart of San Francisco and from the Fairmont hotel to China town for lunch. There are so many great restaurants to get delicious home made Chinese Food. Make sure to add The Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory in your route. You can go there between 9am-2pm although, this small “factory” has big crowds every day!
If Chinese food isn’t your vibe, head to North Beach for delicious Italian food!
Continuing north towards Washington Square and the North Beach neighborhood, your next stop is Molinari Delicatessen. Established in 1896, Molinari’s is one of the oldest delis in the United States and a must for lunch. Moltinari Delicatessen is a must for lunch. Grab the grilled focaccia sandwich special (stuffed with prosciutto, fresh mozzarella and sun dried tomatoes) while you people-watch at Washington Square Park for a picnic.
Head to Washington Square Park, then northeast Coit Tower and Pier 33 for an amazing view of San Francisco. Head down along The Embarcadero towards Fisherman’s Wharf and stop into Boudin Bakery – famous among its sourdough loaves that are worth getting just because they’re so delicious! It’s cliche, but the chowder soup in a sourdough bread from Boudin Baker is just so delicious and heart warming!
Wonder around a bit into the touristy shops, and make sure to wave hello to the sea lions at Pier 39! The touristy elements may make some travelers want to run and never go back. But personally, I love the happy vibes, and the jaw-dropping views of the Golden Gate bridge, Alcatraz and San Francisco Skyline, and are well worth the visit!
Feeling adventurous? Grab an electric scooter parked at Fisherman’s Wharf and head to dinner. Heading west from the pier towards Bay Street. Soon, you’ll quickly trade tourists from Fisherman’s Wharf for lululemon wearing locals in Marina District. Try out one of many patio spots like Tipsy Pig or Causwell’s for their famous burgers.
If you’d rather do an outdoor picnic, grab a box of pizza from A16 (I hear their Italian food is also stellar) and some cool beverages and head down to Crissy Field East Beach. Here you’ll enjoy stunning sunset views of Golden Gate bridge views along with lengthy walking trails – perfect after long day exploring city.
End of Day 1 in San Francisco
As you relax after your day exploring San Francisco, it’s time to party! The first thing on the agenda for tonight? Grab an Uber back to the Fairmont Hotel and instead of heading back to your room, go straight towards the Tonga Room. This is another historic (and kitschy) watering hole. No trip through these San Francisco hills would be complete without stopping at one iconic spot-The Tonga Room. You’ll find yourself surrounded by rain screens plus piped-in thunder while enjoying delicious Polynesian foodie treats crafted and strong tiki cocktails. So worth it!
Day Two in San Francisco
The second day of your trip to San Francisco is all about exploring the city’s neighborhoods and checking out some more unique places. Start off with brunch at Mymy, which offers a variety sure to please anyone! You can enjoy Challah French toast or Crab Cake Benedict among other tasty dishes. Located at the corner of California and Larkin street in Nob Hill, this small family-run restaurant is well worth the wait.
Home to the Hippy movement of the 1960’s and original Flower People, Haight Street is full vintage shops bookstores, independent coffee shops and more. Retrace steps taken by famous artists who flocked here to get their creative juices flowing (among them John Lennon). Grab a snack at The Haight Street Market before heading North into Alamo Square and the Painted Ladies.
The Painted Ladies are one of the most famous and colourful Victorian-style homes in San Francisco. These picturesque houses stand out as a destination for photographers looking to take their perfect picture on “Postcard Row”, which also hints at how these locations were once popular tourist attractions before being transformed into icons that represent old California charm with modern flair.
A quick Uber (or scenic 25-minute walk south) will bring you to the Castro, synonymous with LGBTQ history and culture. Stroll the Rainbow Walk, inlaid with sidewalk plaques honoring LGBTQ activists. You can’t visit The Castro without acknowledging its most famous and influential resident, Harvey Milk. Harvey Milk is famous for being the first openly gay elected official, but his legacy lives on in The Castro neighborhood of San Francisco. This area has been synonymous with LGBTQ history and culture. This community commemorates influential people who have fought against discrimination or helped promote acceptance among other sexualities throughout time periods ranging from pre-historic to modern day!
Choose Your Californian Adventure
Your final evening in San Francisco will depend on your interests, the season and day of the week you happen to be visiting.
If you are looking for an unforgettable experience that will make your heart pound and palms get sweaty, then I highly recommend taking the Alcatraz boat tour at night. It’s sufficiently spooky with all those haunting prison cells floating around in darkness! Whether you’re a history buff or just looking for something different, this tour is sure to please. The Alcatraz island prison has been transformed into an otherworldly scene at night with its looming presence in the San Francisco Bay area waters making it one of America’s most famous landmarks even without as many people as the daytime tours.
A sunset bike ride across the Golden Gate bridge to Sausalito will get your adrenaline pumping amidst stunning views. Enjoy a seafood dinner at Salito’s Crab House and Prime Rib. Then take the ferry back to the Ferry Building after a nighttime ride back to your 24 hour bike rental drop off location at Fisherman’s Wharf.
Not up for an outdoor adventure? Head over to the Mission District!
How does dining, romance, and an outdoor movie sound? The perfect date night is Foreign Cinema located in the Mission District! With a heated and covered outdoor patio, glowing string lights projections of old movies onto the brick wall while you enjoy your California-inspired food flight or wine in candlelight.
Another personal favorite restaurant in the Mission District is Lolinda. If you’re looking for a delicious Argentinean meal in the heart of San Francisco, look no further than Lolinda. Serving up steaks and small plates with an eclectic cocktail selection that will have your taste buds asking for more – this vibrant restaurant is sure to please any palate!
Wake up early and grab a coffee and breakfast in Union Square to take in the more quiet moments of this bustling shopping center. Head back to the Fairmont before check out to grab your belonging and give your Uber a call at least 3 hours before your flight time.
While a mere 48 hours in San Francisco may not be enough, there’s always chances to come back and revisit the city by the Bay. I fell in love with San Francisco many many years ago and it will always hold a special place in my heart. I hope this guide allows you to take in all the beauty and sights of San Francisco!