San Francisco is a must on anyone’s US Bucket List, featuring some of America’s most iconic landmarks and historic sites, such as the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz and Lombard Street. There is so much to see and do in San Francisco and I’d be lying if I told you it is possible to ‘see it all’ in just 48 hours. However, if 2 days in San Francisco is all you have, do not fret, because this San Francisco Itinerary will walk you through the in’s and outs of the iconic city.
My first trip to the bustling city was back in 2011, I spent 5 days exploring all of what San Fran has to offer. I was 16 years old and in awe at the fact that I had made it to the set of ‘that’s so Raven’. Fast forward to 2018, on my road trip from the east to the west coast of America, I found myself in San Francisco once again. This time was different, I began to appreciate the history and importance of this great US city. I walked the city at a slower pace and really enjoyed the ‘chilled vibe’. Today’s itinerary will ultimately allow you to visit the top see attractions in San Franciscos in 2 days! Let’s dive in.
2 Days in San Francisco: Visit all the Must-See Attractions & Hidden Gems
My first visit to San Francisco was with my family, we opted into purchasing a ticket for the hop on hop off bus tour. Now, I do see the benefit of these bus tours when time is limited. However, I quickly learned that San Francisco is a very walkable city and a bus tour is most defiantly not needed.
So, if you are willing to walk, I’d suggest doing so. For starters it’s a budget-friendly approach, it’s better for the environment and it’s overall good for your health 😉 Just be prepared to stumble up a hill or two as you stroll.
Day 1: A Self Guided Walking Tour
Day 1 of our weekend in San Francisco is all about ticking off those major city attractions. We will pay a visit to the famous Golden Gate Bridge, the Place of Fine Art, Lombard Street, Hyde Street Pier, Fishermans Wharf and even take a sunset Cruise.
1. Walk Across the Golden Gate Bridge
You see it in all the pictures, it’s featured in all the movies and it’s talked about in all the travel brochures, the Golden Gate Bridge is the most iconic landmark in all of San Francisco. Therefore, no visit to San Fran is complete without walking across the famous bridge.
I’d recommend doing this first thing in the morning to avoid high crowd levels and in hope for some nicer weather as San Francisco is known for having some rather cloudy and windy days.
A one way walk across the bridge can take anywhere from 25 minutes to an hour. It really depends on how many pictures you take along the way. Depending on how you arrive at the bridges starting point you may have to walk back across to collect your car.
Golden Gate Tip: Watch out for cyclists, make sure you stay on the pedestrian sidewalk. I nearly got ran over by a bike twice.
Once you make it to the city side of the bride, there are many viewpoints that enable visitors to capture an iconic shot of the Golden Gate. Some include Strauss Plaza, Marshall’s Beach and Fort Point National Historic Site.
2. Palace of Fine Art
It is easy to spend hours taking photos of the Golden Gate, however, I’d suggest walking along the waterfront towards the Palace of Fine Art.
From there, you’ll get a great view of the bridge with the city in the background.
The Palace was designed in 1915 as part of the Panama Pacific Exposition. It is situated in a city park and it is the perfect place to go for a 30-minute stroll.
The Palace makes you feel as if you have been transported back in time to the ‘Roman Era’.
With its detailed architecture and grand design, you won’t be able to help but marvel at the beauty of this historical building.
3. Lombard Street
Next on our San Francisco 2 day itinerary is the famous Lombard Street.
The streets is known for being the ‘most crooked street in the world’ with 8 sharp zig-zag turns.
The street is one of San Frans top tourist attractions and at times can see up to 17,000 visitors per day. Now that is one busy street!
Now, don’t worry, you don’t need to walk in a zig-zag fashion in order to walk up Lombard Street. There is a pedestrian sidewalk to the right-hand side, giving visitors the perfect side profile view of the street.
It is also super fun to watch the brave soles who attempt to drive down the street. I know that is something I’d be scared to do!
4. Have Fun on the Streets of San Francisco
So, one thing I find with those planning their 2 days in San Francisco is that they leave little time to ‘freely’ explore.
Designing an itinerary that is jam packed can be overwhelming and intimidating. There is so much more to this charming city than it’s leading tourist attractions.
I’d advise giving yourself some time to ‘get lost’, walk along the steep hills and really get a feel for what the city has to offer.
For an hour or two, have no plan, just admire the scenery, take fun pictures and enjoy.
This picture is probably my favourite from the trip 😉
5. Hyde Street Pier
The next stop on our San Francisco itinerary is Hyde Street Pier. The Pier is home to a range of historical ships. Including the Balclutha (pictured), which was built in 1886 and is a registered US National Historic landmark.
Also pictured above is the Eureka, the world’s largest wooden ship. The ship was built in 1890 and is also a US National Historic Landmark. Some of the ships docked at Hyde Street Pier offer free admission on board and allow passengers to explore the deck.
If you’re interested in history and maritime culture, then this is definitely the place for you. You’ll be able to learn about the vessels and their journeys, as well as take some incredible photos of these impressive ships.
There’s also a gift shop on the pier where you can purchase souvenirs or grab a snack.
6. Fisherman’s Wharf & Pier 39
A short stroll away from Hyde Street Pier takes you to the bustling area of Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39, renowned for its vibrant atmosphere and stunning waterfront views.
An iconic part of San Francisco, Fisherman’s Wharf offers a range of attractions.
Here, you can treat yourself to fresh, locally-sourced seafood, browse through unique shops, and even meet the famous sea lions who have made Pier 39 their home.
At the end of the pier lies an outstanding view of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz and San Francisco Bay.
I’d advise spending an hour or two shopping, taking pictures and eating at Fisherman’s Wharf.
7. Cruising Underneath the Golden Gate Bridge
I’d highly recommend taking part in the sunset cruise through San Francisco Bay. Now, it’s clear from the picture above that a ‘sunset’ in San Francisco can be hard to come by. But…. still, this cruise is AWESOME! Even though I didn’t see a picture-perfect sunset as I cruised beneath the Golden Gate, I still had an amazing time aboard.
The cruise costs 60 dollars and includes 2 drinks, finger-sized food and a 1.5-hour cruise. As you sail down San Francisco bay, you will get up close and personal with the Golden Gate Bridge, have a 360 view of Alcatraz Island and dance away to some AWESOME music. If this sounds like something you’d enjoy, be sure to book tickets in advance to avoid disappointment.
What to do in San Francisco in 2 days: Day 1 Map
Below is a map of all the locations mentioned on day 1 of our 2 days in San Francisco. As you can see the city is extremely walkable. Making the day 1 itinerary perfect for anyone looking to do a self-guided walking tour of San Fran.
Two Days in San Francisco – Day 2
Day 2: Alcatraz, Union Square & the Painted Ladies
Day 2 of our two days in San Francisco will allow us to see some more of those San Fran highlights. We will visit the famous Painted Ladies, do a little bit of shopping in Union Square and head back towards pier 39 for a cruise out to Alcatraz Island.
1. The Painted Ladies
Visiting the Painted Ladies is one of the most famous picture opportunities in the city, home to an iconic row of Victorian houses, also known for being in the opening credits of the classic TV show ‘Full House’.
These pastel-painted homes sit as a backdrop to the city ‘s skyline and Alamo Square Park, offering a breathtaking view that is not to be missed.
They survived the 1906 earthquake and the subsequent fires, standing as firm reminders of the city’s resilience.
Visiting the Painted Ladies offers not just a photo opportunity but a chance to appreciate the beauty of San Francisco’s past in the midst of its bustling present.
The Painted Ladies are also a prime example of Victorian architecture, characterised by intricate details such as ornate woodwork, stained glass windows, and steep roofs. These houses were built during the reign of Queen Victoria from 1837 to 1901, which influenced much of the architectural design during that time.
2. Union Square
Union Square is where all the tourist action takes place. Here, you will find most hotels, Airbnb’s and hostels. It is the ideal location to shop to you drop, get a delish bite to eat or check out San Francisco’s theatre district.
Things to Do in Union Square:
- Shopping: Explore the numerous high-end boutiques and department stores such as Neiman Marcus, Macy’s, and Saks Fifth Avenue. This area also boasts several flagship stores, including Apple, Nike, and Louis Vuitton.
- Dining: Union Square offers an array of restaurants catering to all tastes. From the renowned Cheesecake Factory located at the top of Macy’s to local eateries serving San Francisco’s famous clam chowder, there’s something for everyone.
3. Visit the Theatre District: Catch a show at the American Conservatory Theater or the Curran Theater, both prominent venues in the city’s vibrant performing arts scene.
4. Art Galleries: For art enthusiasts, Union Square showcases numerous art galleries with pieces ranging from contemporary to classic.
5. Relax in the Public Square: The heart of Union Square is a public plaza where you can relax, enjoy a coffee, or simply people-watch against the backdrop of the city’s hustle and bustle.
If you don’t feel like walking from your hotel all the way down to Fisherman’s Wharf, there is a San Francisco cable car that leaves from Columbus Ave & Bay St that takes 15 minutes 😉
3. China Town
Did you know that the China Town in San Fran is the oldest in all of North America, it offers a vibrant mix of history, culture, and food that is unlike any other spot in the city.
From traditional Chinese herbal shops to bustling markets and authentic restaurants, this neighbourhood is a must-visit for those looking to experience the unique fusion of Eastern and Western influences in San Francisco.
In addition to exploring China Town’s rich cultural heritage, visitors can also participate in various activities such as cooking classes, tea tasting, and guided tours to learn more about this vibrant community.
You can even visit a Fortune Cookie Factory, where you can see how fortune cookies are made and even make your own personalised cookies!
And for a unique experience, head over to China Town’s famous Dragon’s Gate at night, when the iconic red lanterns light up the streets and create a magical atmosphere.
Don’t forget to try the delectable dim sum and other mouth-watering dishes at one of China Town’s many restaurants for a true taste of Chinese cuisine.
4. Alcatraz Island
The moment we have all been waiting for. The Ultimate ‘MUST SEE’ in San Francisco… Alcatraz Island.
Words can not describe how amazing a trip to Alcatraz Island is. The Island is located in San Francisco bay and was home to the most famous prison in the US.
The prison began operation from 1934 to 1963 and housed some of the Worlds deadliest criminals.
Visitors are transported over to the Island, otherwise known as ‘The Rock’.
Here, they learn about some of the prisons most famous inmates and their attempt to escape the prison. Although considering the prison is surrounded by water, it is uncertain if some of the inmates ever made it to land.
I must stress how important it is to book your tickets to Alcatraz well in advance as they DO SELL OUT! I learnt this the hard way as on my second visit to San Fran as I could not get tickets to Alcatraz. No matter how hard I tried. Now, I was lucky as I had been before, but I know many of my friends that I met on my travels were left rather disappointed.
Once you have finished your tour of Alcatraz Island, I’d suggest heading back to pier 39 for a bite to eat.
2 Day San Francisco Itinerary – Map of Day 2
Below is a map of all the locations mentioned on day 2 of our San Francisco in 2 days itinerary. I hope this comes in handy in planning your trip to San Francisco.
Getting to San Francisco from the Airport
Flying into San Francisco is a really easy option due to cities public transport facilities. I have compiled a list of ways to make it into San Francisco from the airport to save you from having to do extensive research.
The BART: The BART service runs all the way from the airport into Union Square. Generally speaking, the journey takes a half hour to complete, for information on fare costs please visit the BART website.
The SamTrans: Alternatively, if you are not staying in Union Square and don’t want the hassle of transferring you may consider catching the SansTrans buses. These busses drop off at various locations throughout the city. Please but mindful that the journey time is hard to predict due to traffic levels on the day. Click here to check out the various routes from the airport into San Francisco.
Uber or Lyft: If you are looking for a more direct way to arrive in the city, then why not consider availing of services such as Uber or Lyft. This option is of course more expensive but it does ensure door to door drop off. Perfect for those who are a little jet-lagged 😉
Getting Around San Francisco
As I mentioned at the beginning of this blog post, San Francisco is quite a walkable city. It is easy to get from A to B without the need for public transport or a taxi service. In saying that, sometimes we do need a quicker option… or perhaps we can simply no longer fight the dire need to sit down after a long day of exploring. That is why I have put together a quick guide to getting around San Fran when your ‘leg’s don’t work as they used to before’ 😉
Public Transport: There are many public transport options throughout the city, including the BART, Muni, Muni Metro, historic streetcars, cable cars and SamTrans. Odds are on your visit to the iconic US city you are going to want to take a ride on the world-famous cable cars. If you plan on taking more than one trip on public transport, it may be worth checking out the visitor passport which has a 1, 3 and 7-day pass. Please be mindful that the pass only covers the Muni, Muni Metro, historic streetcars and cable cars. The BART and SansTrans are not included in this service.
Bike Your Way Through the City: Another cool way to make your way through San Fran is by bike. Lyft offers a rental bike service throughout the city. I’d highly recommend checking this out before you arrive, so you have the app downloaded and your information ready to go.
Where to stay in San Francisco
It’s no secret. San Francisco is an EXPENSIVE city. Therefore, making it extremely difficult to find an affordable place to stay. Especially for those of you who like me, tend to travel on a budget. Throughout my travels, in the US I grew rather fond of the HI hostel group. Below is a list of 3 options in San Francisco.
HI San Francisco Downtown Hostel (the one I stayed in): This hostel is centrally located near Union Square, with easy access to public transportation and many of the city’s top attractions. It offers clean and comfortable dorm rooms as well as private rooms, making it suitable for both solo travellers and groups.
HI San Francisco Fisherman’s Wharf Hostel: Located in the lively Fisherman’s Wharf area, this hostel is just steps away from popular tourist spots such as Pier 39 and Ghirardelli Square. It offers a variety of room options, including female-only dorms and private rooms with ensuite bathrooms.
HI San Francisco City Center Hostel: Conveniently located in the heart of downtown, this hostel is within walking distance to many of the city’s famous landmarks such as Chinatown and Union Square. It offers both dorm rooms and private rooms, as well as a shared kitchen and lounge area for guests to socialize.
Alternative Options for less Budget conscious travllers
For travellers with a higher budget, the Fairmont San Francisco presents an unrivaled luxurious experience. Situated atop Nob Hill, it provides breathtaking views of the city and the bay. The hotel boasts of grandeur, with lavishly decorated rooms and top-notch amenities, including a choice of fine dining restaurants on-site.
For a boutique, high-end experience, consider the 1 Hotel San Francisco located in the bustling heart of downtown, this eco-friendly hotel showcases modern and sustainable design. It offers spacious rooms with big bright windows, providing stunning views of the city skyline. Guests can also indulge in locally sourced and organic cuisine at the on-site restaurant.
When to Visit San Francisco (with a weather guide)
San Francisco boasts a mild, Mediterranean climate throughout the year, making it a destination that can be enjoyed in any season. However, mild does not mean warm…remeber that. San Francisco is known for it’s coastal wind so pack accordingly with layers and jackets! To help you decide when to visit, below is a weather guide for each season:
Spring (March – May): This is considered the best time to visit San Francisco as the weather is pleasant, sunny, and not too hot. Temperatures range from 10°C (50°F) to 18°C (64°F). However, keep in mind that this is the peak tourist season, so expect higher hotel rates and crowds at popular attractions.
Summer (June – August): The summer months are the busiest and most crowded in San Francisco. Temperatures range from 12°C (54°F) to 20°C (68°F), with occasional heat waves reaching up to 27°C (80°F). This is a great time to visit if you enjoy outdoor activities and festivals, but be prepared for higher hotel rates and summer crowds.
Fall (September – November): The fall season in San Francisco brings cooler temperatures ranging from 10°C (50°F) to 17°C (63°F), and the famous fog begins to roll in. This is considered the shoulder season, so you can expect lower hotel rates and fewer crowds. It’s also a great time to visit if you want to catch some of the city’s popular food and wine festivals.
Winter (December – February): The winter months in San Francisco are mild with temperatures ranging from 9°C (48°F) to 15°C (59°F). Rain is common during this time, but you can also expect some sunny days. This is the low season, so you’ll find lower hotel rates and fewer crowds. It’s a great time to visit if you’re looking for a quieter experience and want to take advantage of off-season deals.
In addition to the weather guide, here are some other factors to consider when planning your trip to San Francisco:
- Holidays and Events: Keep in mind that certain holidays and events, such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve, can affect hotel rates and availability. If you’re planning to visit during these times, be sure to book your accommodations well in advance.
- Weekends vs. Weekdays: Hotel rates tend to be higher on weekends, so if you’re on a budget, consider visiting during the week. You’ll also find that popular attractions and restaurants are less crowded on weekdays.
- Local Events: San Francisco is known for its vibrant arts and culture scene, with various events held throughout the year. Be sure to check the city’s event calendar when planning your trip to see if there are any festivals, concerts, or exhibits that you’d like to attend. It’s also worth noting that some events, such as the popular Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival, can make hotel rates go up.
Tips For Those Visiting San Francisco
San Francisco is generally a safe city, that is if you have your wits about you. Like when visiting all major cities, it is important to take extra caution when walking about. You don’t want to run into problems like pickpocketing. And try not to do things to draw attention to yourself and you will be fine.
As I said, San Fran can be COLD, even in the summer months. I’d 100% advise bringing a sweater, jeans and a jacket. You never know when the sea breeze will decide to make an appearance. Other than that, pack accordingly for the season in which you plan to visit.
💡 Budget Tips
San Fran is one expensive place, one that is pretty hard to do on a Budget. One bit of advise I can give to those looking to spend a little less money is to try to avoid going on ‘expensive’ nights out. If you do choose to drink while visiting considering taking part in FREE bar crawl or hostel events. You can also go to the grocery store and cook your food in your hostel to avoid spending money on expensive meals.
2 Day San Francisco Itinerary Q&A
Is 2 days in San Francisco enough time?
Yes, while you will not be able to see everything, you will have enough time to explore the highlights including the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman’s Wharf, Alcatraz Island and more.
Is San Francisco expensive as a tourist?
Yes, San Francisco is known to be one of the most expensive cities in the United States for tourists. The costs of accommodation, dining, and attractions are relatively high compared to other cities.
For instance, a meal at an inexpensive restaurant can cost around $20, whereas a three-course meal for two at a mid-range restaurant can cost around $80.
Similarly, a one-night stay at a mid-range hotel can cost around $200. However, there are ways to navigate the city on a budget.
Opting for public transportation, visiting free attractions, and trying out affordable local eateries can help manage expenses.
Is San Francisco still worth visiting?
Absolutely, San Francisco is definitely worth a visit. Despite its relatively high cost, the city offers a unique blend of natural beauty, vibrant culture, and rich history that is hard to find in other cities.
There’s something for everyone, from the bustling Pier 39, the serene beauty of the Golden Gate Park, the historic charm of Alcatraz Island, to the colourful neighborhoods like Chinatown and Mission District.
Also, the city’s food scene is diverse and innovative, offering a range of culinary experiences, from food trucks to Michelin-starred restaurants.
What is the best month to see San Francisco?
The best time to visit San Francisco largely depends on what you’re looking to get out of your trip. Typically, the months of September to November offer the most pleasant weather, with average temperatures ranging from 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit, making it ideal for sightseeing.
This time of year is also far less busy compared to the peak tourist season from June to August.
What month is rainy season in San Francisco?
The rainy season in San Francisco usually kicks off in November and lasts through March. During this period, the city experiences a significant amount of its annual rainfall, with the heaviest showers typically occurring in January and February.
However, the rain rarely continues all day, and there are often breaks in the weather, allowing visitors to enjoy the city’s attractions. Despite the rain, many outdoor activities are still possible, and the city’s indoor attractions, such as its world-class museums and vibrant arts scene, offer plenty of entertainment options.
Is it free to walk the Golden Gate Bridge?
Yes, it is free to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge. There is a pedestrian walkway that is open during the day and offers stunning views of the city and bay. The walkway stretches 1.7 miles from end to end, so it can be a substantial walk depending on your pace.
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Thanks for Reading!
I hope my San Francisco blog came in handy and helped you plan your trip to the iconic US city. As I mentioned my second trip to San Fran was part of my coast to coast road trip with Trek America. If you two are including San Fran in your US road trip be sure to check out my packing list here.
I have linked some of my favourite stops from my American road trip down below:
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