The hilly, north California city of San Francisco, surrounded by the San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean, is one of America’s most visited cities. It’s known for its Golden Gate Bridge, a world renowned red suspension bridge; Alcatraz Island, an island prison once home to some of the US’ worst criminals; Fisherman’s Wharf, a touristy waterfront neighbourhood; its many pastel coloured Victorian homes and of course its iconic cable cars. There are so many things to do in San Francisco that it can be quite overwhelming to plan a visit there. So, in this post, I will be sharing an itinerary of how to spend the perfect day in the city! I’m not exactly a local to San Francisco, however I was born just outside of the city and I have visited quite a few times over the years, so I do know the city considerably well.
Disclaimer: If you’re looking to follow this itinerary, remember that it can be adjusted to fit your circumstances.
8:30AM – Cafe De La Presse
The perfect spot to stop for breakfast in SF is Cafe De La Presse, a 1930s French style cafe serving all meals of the day, located just across from the main entrance to Chinatown and a five minute walk away from Union Square. When we last visited San Francisco, we stayed in the Triton Hotel, located right next to the Cafe De La Presse, making it a convenient place to stop for breakfast. I’d definitely recommend stopping here if you’re in the area, but if you’re staying somewhere far away from the cafe then there are many other good options for breakfast within the city.
9:15AM – Chinatown
After a filling breakfast, head to SF’s world renowned Chinatown, the largest outside of Asia. Throughout Chinatown, which is also the oldest in North America, you’ll find tons of beautiful wall art, many unique shops, and of course a lot of Dim Sum restaurants and Chinese bakeries. Dragon’s Gate, the entrance to SF’s Chinatown is pretty much right outside of Cafe De La Presse, which makes it a fitting next stop. I wrote an entire separate post all about this neighbourhood, so if you’d like more information on it make sure to read that post here.
(5 min walk)
10AM – Union Square
Next, head to Union Square, located a short five minute walk from Dragon’s Gate. The commercial hub of the city is home to many shops, cafes, and restaurants. It’s a super fun place to explore and shop at, and pretty much everyone can find a store that they like there!
(15 min walk)
11:15AM – Ferry Building
Being probably my favourite spot in all of San Francisco, I had to somehow include the Ferry Building in this itinerary, so I decided to make it the lunch spot of the day! The beautifully designed building was once SF’s main port, and it is now filled with many unique stores and amazing restaurants. Some of my favourite spots within the Ferry Building include Humphry Slocombe; a well known ice cream parlour; Boccalone, a shop selling “tasty salted pig parts”; and Marketbar, a nice lunch and dinner restaurant. Just outside of the Ferry Building you’ll find the Bay Bridge, the lesser known sister to the Golden Gate that links SF with Oakland.
(20 min drive)
12:30PM – Golden Gate Bridge
You can’t visit the city by the bay without visiting its most famous bridge, so your next stop of the day is fittingly the Golden Gate Bridge. This icon of the city offers breathtaking views of Alcatraz Island, the SF Bay, and SF itself to the east, and the Pacific Ocean to the west. As there’s no fee to walk across the bridge, there’s no excuse for not walking at least part of it.
(15 min drive)
2PM – Alamo Square
After some time near the water, head back into the city to check out another of its iconic spots; Alamo Square! Alamo Square is a small park within SF that is home to the Painted Ladies, a row of pastel coloured Victorian style homes. These homes are famous for being in the intro of the ‘80s TV Show ‘Full House’, as well as for being known as the “postcard row”. This park is the perfect place to stop for an authentically San Franciscan photo, with the city and homes serving as the background.
(15 min drive)
2:30PM – Lombard Street
Your next stop of the day is another classic San Francisco stop, Lombard Street! This east-west street is known for its one block section with eight hairpin turns, that is known as the crookedest street in the world. Along with a very hard-to-navigate street to drive down, Lombard Street also boasts breathtaking of San Francisco, including the Coit Tower and the SF Bay.
(15 min walk)
3PM – Ghiradelli Square
A quick fifteen minute walk away from Lombard Street is Ghiradelli Square, the former factory of San Francisco’s Ghiradelli chocolate company or any chocolate lover’s paradise. The square is full of cute shops and unique boutiques, as well as many Ghiradelli shops where you can sample and purchase their world renowned chocolate. After exploring the square a bit, I’d suggest spending a bit of time at the nearby San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, a sea travel national park located right in front of Ghiradelli Square.
(15 min walk)
3:50PM – Alcatraz Island
Another short walk away from your last stop is Alcatraz Island, a small island located in the middle of the SF Bay famous for its former life as a federal prison for some of the country’s worst criminals to date from 1934 to 1963. It is said that no one has ever been able to escape from the prison, as it is quite difficult to escape due to the cold waters and rough currents the island is surrounded by, however an escape attempt in 1962 has yet to been completely solved. A popular activity to do while in San Francisco is to tour Alcatraz, which is what I allotted a few hours in this itinerary to do. I’ve personally never toured Alcatraz, though I wish I did during my last visit to San Francisco, so I’d definitely recommend doing it if you’re visiting (check out tickets here)!
6:30PM – Boudin Bakery
After your tour of Alcatraz, head to dinner at San Francisco’s iconic Boudin Bakery. This restaurant is located in Fisherman’s Wharf, a touristy seaside neighbourhood famous for its delicious seafood and sea lions (which we’ll visit after dinner!). Boudin Bakery itself is known for its sourdough bread, which is incorporated in pretty much all of the restaurant’s meals, from pizza to bread bowls. If sourdough isn’t your thing, there are a ton of other dinner options (which are mostly seafood) that can be found throughout Fisherman’s Wharf.
7:30PM – Pier 39
Finally, end off your day in the city by visiting SF’s famous sea lions found at Pier 39. These animals enjoy sunbathing on the pier’s floating docks daily, and they pull a ton of tourists. The sea lions do make a lot of sounds, and they do slightly smell, but they’re quite entertaining to watch and I’d suggest checking them out for a least a couple minutes.
Spending more than a day in San Francisco? Check out some of my other posts on the city for some more ideas on what to do with your other days in the city.
That’s all for my one day San Francisco itinerary! I worked really hard on it and I hope it is either helpful or entertaining to you all. Have you ever visited San Francisco? Let me know in the comments below.
Thank you for reading!