2 Days in San Francisco: The Ultimate Guide

2 Days in San Francisco The Golden Gate Bridge
Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California, USA

There is no denying it! San Francisco is one of the top must visit cities in the USA. The city features 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 blog post will walk you through the in’s and outs of the iconic city. Ultimately allowing you to visit most San Franciscos ‘must-see attractions’ in just 2 days.

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 highlight my favourite spots from my both trips to San Francisco.

2 Days in San Francisco – Day 1: A Self Guided Walking Tour

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 to these bus tours when time is limited. However, I quickly learned that San Francisco is a very walkable city and 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 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.

2 Days in San Francisco | Walking the Golden Gate Bridge
Walking the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, USA

Stop 1: A 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 view points 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.

Palace of Fine Arts Theatre, San Francisco, USA
Palace of Fine Arts Theatre, San Francisco, USA © Purchased Stock from Deposit Photos

Stop 2: Palace of Fine Art

It is easy to spend hours taking photos of the Golden Gate, however, I’d suggest walking along the water front towards the Palace of Fine Art. That way you can still look behind and see a picture perfect view of the bridge, while making you way to the next stop.

Next on our 48 hours in San Francisco Itinerary is the Palace of Fine Art. 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’. A Must See on a trip to San Francisco.

Lombard Street, San Francisco, California, USA
Lombard Street, San Francisco, California, USA

Stop 3: Lombard Street

Next on our San Francisco 2 day itinerary is the famous Lombard Street. The street’s is known for being the ‘the crookedest 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!

San Francisco, California, USA
San Francisco, California, USA

Stop 4: Have Fun on the Streets of San Francisco

Ok, so next on the list isn’t a stop so to speak but San Francisco is renowned for being one of the ‘hilliest’ cities in the world. With steep hills around nearly every corner, why not take the opportunity to take some AWESOME pictures.

‘Go on without me, this hill is too steep’
Hyde Street Pier, San Francisco, California, USA
Hyde Street Pier, San Francisco, California, USA

Stop 5: Hyde Street Pier

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 above), which was built in 1886 and is a registered US National Historic landmark. Also pictured above is the Eureka, the worlds 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 explore the deck.

Sea lions at Pier 39, San Francisco, USA
Sea lions at Pier 39, San Francisco, USA © Purchased Stock from YAY Images

Stop 6: Fisherman’s Wharf & Pier 39

The Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39 is the Ultimate spot for tourists on vacation in San Francisco. The Pier is known for it’s range of souvenir shops, delish food and boutiques. At the end of the pier lies an outstanding view of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz and San Francisco Bay. Pier 39 is also the famous bathing spot for the iconic San Fran Sea Lions. I’d advise spending an hour or two shopping, taking pictures and eating at Fisherman’s Wharf.

Cruising San Francisco Bay, California, USA
Cruising San Francisco Bay, California, USA

Stop 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.

Day 2: Alcatraz, Union Square & the Painted Ladies

Day 2 of our two days in San Francisco will allows 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.

Painted Ladies, Alamo Square, San Francisco, USA
Painted Ladies, Alamo Square, San Francisco, USA © Purchased Stock from YAY Images

Stop 1: The Painted Ladies

When I mentioned the ‘that’s so Raven’ vibe that the city of San Francisco gives off the painted Ladies is exactly what I was referring too. If fact, the exterior house used in That’s so Raven is actually located in San Francisco (461 Ashbury Street).

The Painted Ladies are famous for their stunning victorian style and individually painted colours. They are often seen in movies and on television programs. I’d advise taking sometime to explore the streets of San Fran, you never know what cute architecture you may come by.

Stop 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 theater district.

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 😉

Chinatown of San Francisco, California, USA
Chinatown of San Francisco, California, USA © Purchased Stock from Deposit Photos

Stop 3: China Town

Chinatown in San Fran is one of the oldest in all of the United States making it a must see on any San Francisco itinerary. The town is full of bustling streets with traditional Chinese restaurants, corner shops and architecture.

It was also interesting to see the different types of street art and murals along the streets of Chinatown. I’d recommend spending a half hour or more exploring and having fun!

2 Days in San Francisco Alcatraz, San Francisco , California, USA
Alcatraz, San Francisco , California, USA

Stop 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 most 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 where 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.

Day 2 Map of 2 Day San Francisco Itinerary

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 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 SamsTrans: Alternatively, if you are not staying in Union Square and don’t want the hassle of transferring you may consider catching a 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 😉

2 day San Fransisco Itinerary Posing with a Cable Car

Getting Around San Francisco

As I mentioned in 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 of 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 like 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 SamsTrans. 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.

Lyft and Uber: Finally, Lyft and Uber rides are generally much cheaper than a taxi service and is the best way to avail of door to door drop offs.

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.

When to Visit San Francisco (with a weather guide)

I think it can be pretty hard to predict the weather in San Francisco. Put it this way, both my trips where at the same time of year (August), yet the weather was world’s apart.

For my first trip, we where super lucky as most days we where greeted with sun. In saying that, IT WAS EXTREMELY COLD. That was something I was not expecting.

On my second trip, the weather was quite over cast but it was warm…ish. Well, it was warmer than the first time anyways.

I’ll attach below an average temperature guide for each month. All information was summarised from the CurrentResults website.

MonthTemperature (fahrenheit)Temperature (celsius)
Janurary46 to 57°F 8° to 14°C
Feburary48 to 60°F9 to 19°C
March49 to 62°F9 to 16°C
April49 to 63°F10 to 17°C
May 51 to 64°F11° to 18°C
June53F to 66°F12° to 19°C
July 54° to 67°F12° to 19°C
August55° to 68°F13° to 20°C
September55° to 70°F13° to 21°C
October54° to 69°F12° to 21°C
November50° to 63°F10° to 17°C
December46 to 57°F10° to 18°C

Tips For Those Visiting San Francisco

Safety Tips: 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 cation when walking about. You don’t want to run into problems like pickpocketing. And try not do things to draw attention to yourself and you will be fine.

Packing Tips: 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 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.

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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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