Exploring San Francisco, often called ‘SF’, in just 2 days is a thrilling challenge, but it’s definitely achievable! This city, known as the city of a thousand hills, is renowned for its unique blend of counterculture, iconic landmarks, and frequent foggy weather. Despite being packed with countless attractions, San Francisco’s compact size makes it possible to experience its highlights within a short timeframe.
Your 2 days in San Francisco perfect itinerary will include visits to some of its most famous landmarks. The Golden Gate Bridge, a marvel in international orange (not red, as many think), offers breathtaking views and is a must-see. You can’t miss the notorious Alcatraz prison, steeped in history and intrigue. And of course, Lombard Street, famous for its tight, winding turns, is a unique sight. Can you see all this in 2 days? The luck is that it is a compact city and the distances are not enormous between point and point. If you are ready for a non-stop adventure, this is the best thing you can do in 2 days in San Francisco.
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Starting your San Francisco adventure with breakfast is a must, and what better place to do so than at Tartine Bakery, a true icon in the world of artisan bread. Founded in 2002 by Chad Robertson, Tartine Bakery began its journey in the Mission neighborhood and quickly became a sensation.
Chad Robertson’s passion and skill in bread-making sparked a fever for artisanal bread that spread rapidly, akin to wildfire. His techniques are not only exceptional but also genuine, leading him to author a book that many consider to be one of the most influential in the realm of bread-making in recent years.
Having breakfast at Tartine Bakery is more than just a meal; it’s an experience, a taste of a bread revolution that has captured the hearts and palates of people not only in the United States but around the world. As you savor the flavors of expertly crafted bread and pastries, you’re not just eating breakfast; you’re partaking in a piece of San Francisco’s culinary history.
At Chad Robertson’s Tartine Bakery, bread is the main thing, but he’s also great at making other baked goods. You can tell because there are always long lines at Tartine, starting at 8 in the morning. Their croissants, like the plain, almond, or ham and cheese ones, are really popular. They go well with a cup of local coffee and give you a good start to the day.
If you’re in the Mission district, known for its hipster vibe, you should definitely walk around. Valencia Street is the main street here, filled with cool shops, cafes, and lots of colorful street art. Nearby is the Castro neighborhood, which is known for being a welcoming place for LGBTQ+ people. Walking around these neighborhoods lets you see and feel the different cultures and history of San Francisco.
In the Mission district, you’ll see lots of trendy shops, Latin eateries, and street art that’s been around since the 1970s. This area is like an outdoor art gallery with colorful murals everywhere. If you’re not sure where to start looking at this art, go to the Precita Eyes Muralists group on 24th Street. They lead tours to show you the best murals.
Just a short walk from Mission’s center, you’ll find another famous San Francisco sight in Alamo Square. Here are the Painted Ladies, a row of brightly colored Victorian houses. They’re very famous and were even in the “Full House” TV show intro. The whole neighborhood has many of these pretty old houses, and they’re great for taking photos.
After a busy morning in San Francisco, it’s time for lunch, and this city is a great place for food lovers. With so many famous chefs and amazing restaurants, it might be hard to choose where to eat in just 48 hours.
If you’re looking for something more affordable, there are plenty of options. Yank Sing has tasty dumplings, The Melt offers a unique mac and cheese sandwich, and International Smoke is known for its barbecue wings and gochujang pasta. You can also try Japanese hand rolls at Handroll Project, ricotta ravioli at Cotogna, or different dishes at State Bird Provisions.
AFTERNOON AND EVENING
In the afternoon, you have plenty of options for what to do in San Francisco. One choice is to explore the Tenderloin neighborhood, a hub for shopping with Union Square at its heart. Here, you’ll find major department stores like Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, and Saks, as well as popular shops like Supreme and Vans.
Alternatively, you could visit the Financial District, known for its impressive skyscrapers. From there, head over to the Embarcadero. This area is famous for the Ferry Building, a picturesque spot that’s a must-see. The Ferry Building is also a great place to enjoy fresh oysters from Hog Island Oyster Co and explore a variety of restaurants and The Farmer’s Market that happens three times a week.
Don’t miss the chance to enjoy a stunning view of the Bay Bridge from the docks. While it might not be as famous as the Golden Gate Bridge, the Bay Bridge is equally impressive in its own right.
If you’re up for it, consider climbing the steps of Filbert Street to reach Coit Tower. The effort to get there is definitely worth it, as the views from Coit Tower are unforgettable.
For complete relaxation, visit San Francisco Proper, a member of Design Hotels. It is a downtown hotel with 131 rooms in a historic 20th-century flatiron building. It features California-made mattresses, Italian sheets, kimonos, and blankets by Kelly Wearstler, along with Aesop amenities.
The hotel’s highlight is its focus on gastronomy, led by Villon. Here, chef Jason Fox offers top California cuisine, including dishes like steak tartare with pear kimchi and honey-glazed duck. Seafood towers and grilled lamb with smoked polenta are also available.
Make sure to visit Charmaine’s, the rooftop cocktail bar on the top floor, known for its city views and ranking as one of the best rooftop bars in the country.
We’re moving from the city’s tall buildings to one of San Francisco’s most famous areas, known for its steep streets, as often seen in movies and Instagram posts.
In Nob Hill, you can explore on foot or take tourist trams from Union Square. This area, comprising seven hills, offers iconic views like Alcatraz in the distance or Lombard Street. Lombard Street is so steep that it has a unique design for cars to snake down.
For those adventurous enough to explore on foot, there are hidden gems like Ina Coolbrith Park. This park is like an open window offering views of Downtown and the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.
Nearby is San Francisco’s Chinatown, the oldest in the United States. It’s the second-largest Chinese community in the country, second only to New York.
After entering through the iconic gate of Chinatown, it’s a great experience to wander its narrow streets. A key spot is Portsmouth Square, where locals often practice tai chi. Don’t miss Grant Street with its lanterns, and be sure to stop by Golden Gate Bakery, known for its famous moon cakes and iconic egg cakes. However, note that the bakery is only open for about six months each year.
After exploring Chinatown, head towards the Marina District and Fisherman’s Wharf, the heart of the neighborhood. From there, you can take a ferry to see the bay, visit the famous Alcatraz prison, and even pass under the Golden Gate Bridge. The area offers a variety of experiences for everyone.
In the Fisherman’s Wharf area, you have even more to explore. Visit a World War II submarine Pampanito or the SS Jeremiah O’Brien Liberty Ship. Don’t miss the Museé Mécanique, a museum full of vintage video games and arcade machines.
For food, try the famous clam chowder or crab cocktail at the stalls on Taylor Street. Also, walk to Ghirardelli Square, originally Domenico Ghirardelli’s chocolate factory, now a complex with shops and restaurants.
At Palette Tea House in Ghirardelli Square, you can enjoy Cantonese cuisine with dim sum as a special highlight. The dim sum comes with various fillings like shrimp and XO sauce, Peking pork, lobster, and abalone. For dessert, have an ice cream or, if it’s cold, their famous hot chocolate. Don’t forget to visit a Ghirardelli store to take home their famous chocolate bars, like the sea salt caramel.
AFTERNOON AND EVENING
Continuing your walk along the bay, spend the afternoon at Presidio Park, which offers stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, and the entire San Francisco Bay.
To end your 2 days in San Francisco, consider staying at one of the new hotels in the area. The Kimpton Alton, which opened in May 2021 in the Fisherman’s Wharf neighborhood, is a great choice. It has a ‘retro chic and rock and roll’ style, embracing the aesthetic of its 1970s building. The 248 rooms have a vintage feel, with velvet headboards and artistic furnishings, and each room features a Victrola, adding to the retro vibe.
The Kimpton Alton’s connection with music is a key part of its identity. The hotel regularly schedules performances with guest musicians, integrating music into the very essence of the guest experience. Reflecting this musical theme, the hotel features a vinyl library, available at reception. Guests can choose their favorite records to play in their rooms, allowing the music to evolve and enhance their stay throughout the day.
Another major attraction of the Kimpton Alton is its restaurant, Abacá, which blends Filipino and Californian cuisine. Chef Francis Ang, named ‘Rising Star of The Year’ by the San Francisco Chronicle, offers a cosmopolitan and contemporary menu. It includes street food from his native Manila, like pork sausage skewers or tongue with mushroom jam, and traditional dishes such as lumpia, rolls filled with pork, and mango ketchup.
Abacá also offers dishes like pancit with prawns, mussels, and scallops, and sising rice with bacon and pickled onion. They serve breakfast and brunch on weekends, a perfect opportunity to try Filipino pastries. A standout is their ensaymada, similar to a croissant but made with a lamination technique and filled with ube, a purple Filipino tuber.