The best things to do in San Francisco for an amazing trip.

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Just One Day in San Francisco

December 4th, 2011 · 1 Comment · Alcatraz, Fisherman's Wharf, Golden Gate Bridge

One day to cover the 49 square miles of San Francisco? Say it isn’t so! The city is vast in its treasures, but if you only have a day to spare in this city by the bay, you can still have a fulfilling visit. This itinerary covers all you’ve seen on post cards and brochures related to San Francisco – the trolleys, the hills, marine life at Fisherman’s Wharf, chocolate at Ghirardelli Square, and of course, the Golden Gate Bridge! Do this itinerary in one day and then come back for more.
cable car san francisco
Cable Car Morning

Get in the cable car mood by enjoying a berry crepe and coffee for breakfast at Cable Car Café right off of Union Square in downtown San Francisco. Afterwards, get your ticket at the MUNI stand and join the Powell-Mason line at Powell and Market Streets for a famous cable car ride to Fisherman’s Wharf. Chugging up Powell Street, you’ll pass the shopping center of downtown San Francisco – Union Square. After Thanksgiving holiday, a large tree lights up the plaza and surrounding stores.

Over the hill, try to catch a glimpse of the bay if the fog from the San Francisco microclimate has not blanketed it. When the trolley puts the brakes on, jump off and into the fray of Fisherman’s Wharf near the piers and Jefferson Street. Stop in souvenir shops for the San Francisco fleece to keep you warmer than you thought you’d be in San Francisco.
fisherman's wharf
Marine Life at Fisherman’s Wharf

At the Wharf, there are plenty of activities to bring you into the afternoon. Peer into San Francisco’s marine culture by walking along the piers and stopping for a visit at the Aquarium by the Bay at Pier 39. With over 20,000 marine animals from the Bay Area and conservationist mission, the Aquarium gives you a show of what’s under the water near the city. The more adventurous visitor will like the eight species of sharks that make their home at the Aquarium. You can even touch Leopard Sharks in the Aquarium’s “Touch the Bay” exhibit. While at Pier 39, take a walk outside and follow the grunts – you can see the famous sea lions lie around and flop about.

California Classics for Lunch

It’s time for lunch and only California classics will do.  There are many culinary options all along Jefferson Street and near the piers. For the seafood-inclined, a bowl of clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl at Boudin Sourdough Bakery & Café near Pier 41. If seafood is not on your list of favorite foods, try the classic California burgers at the city’s only In and Out Burger past Pier 45. Order off menu “animal style” to feel like a local (that’s extra pickles, cheese, sauce, and grilled onions mixed up BEFORE it goes on the burger). With a full belly, stroll for down Jefferson and up Hyde Street to Ghirardelli Square and Shopping Center for at least desert from the gift shop, if not for the tour.
Golden Gate Bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge from Chrissy Fields

With a full belly it’s time to head to the Golden Gate Bridge. The distance is walkable, but since you have only a day, jump on the 30 – Stockton bus towards Divisidero and Chestnut along Jefferson Street. Get off at Broderick Street and head towards the water. Crossing Marina Boulevard, you’ll find a path beachside and walk past the expansive and beautiful Chrissy Fields. The Bridge is the beacon at the end of this walk that has long been a local’s favorite. Even if it’s cloudy, the fog dramatically frames the bridge, which rises through. If it’s a rare sunny day, you won’t be alone on the beach or for a glass of hot cocoa at the Warming Hut as locals flock to Chrissy Fields for a jog or stroll when the sun allows it. Touch the base of the bridge at Hopper’s Hands and look up at the orange structure, massive in height and breadth.
palace of fine arts
A Gourmet Dinner in the Marina

After all this walking, it’ll be time for dinner. Walk back into the Marina and take your pick from several gourmet restaurants along Chestnut Street. You’ve earned a trip into San Francisco’s foodie culture. Saddle up to the bar at Mamacita’s for a killer margarita and gourmet Mexican food like the Barbacoa de Cabrito (fire pit-roasted goat tacos) or Carne Asada. Try to finagle a seat at A16, home of seasonal and regional Italian food and wines that make locals return again and again.

After a relaxing dinner, your day in San Francisco is complete! Jump on the 30 towards downtown to head back to where you started from, albeit a little further down Market Street. But, please, do come again. The city has so much more for you to enjoy.

By Kristin Zibell, editor and author of travel blog After two years of traveling around the world, she is currently traveling locally in the city of San Francisco.

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One Comment so far ↓

  • Gerard ~ GQ trippin

    Nailed it! Can’t believe I lived in the Bay Area my whole life and still haven’t rode on the cable car or even visited Alcatraz for that matter.

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