48 Hours in San Francisco: The Ultimate Itinerary

Cable Car on Russian Hill

TripSavvy / Melissa Zink

There are about a-million-and-one things to see and do in San Francisco, but it is still possible to have a quintessential SF experience over a mere two days. (Or do you only have one day?) Just be ready to take in the sites and enjoy a crash course in SF living. Here are some insider tips for enjoying your 48 hours in San Francisco to the fullest.

01 of 06

Day 1: Morning

Ferry Building

Melissa Zink / TripSavvy

9 a.m.: Start your first day by fueling up on Red Bay Coffee and exploring the Ferry Building Marketplace, the hallmark of San Francisco cuisine. You’ll find good sourdough at Acme Bread Company, savory pastries at El Porteño Empanadas, and delicious confections at Dandelion Chocolate and Recchiuti Confections. On Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, there’s a farmers market outside with even more vendors, including Roli Roti and Wise Sons deli. 

10 a.m.: Head out to the Marina district for a walk along Crissy Field, where you'll be treated to views of San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz, and the Golden Gate Bridge (that is, if Karl the Fog hasn't already rolled in for the day). It’s about a two-and-a-half-mile flat trek from the Marina Green out to Fort Point: the Gold Rush-era fortress beneath the bridge that also made an appearance in Alfred Hitchcock's 1958 thriller "Vertigo."

Alternatively, you could sign up for a guided e-bike tour with Blazing Saddles, which will have you cycling the 8 miles from Fisherman's Wharf to Sausalito in Marin County with moderate effort. As you make your way through Fort Mason, Presidio National Park, and of course, across the Golden Gate Bridge, you'll be treated to some of the most breathtaking views the city has to offer. From Sausalito, you can take the ferry back to the city. You'll arrive at either Pier 41 or Pier 1; check the ferry schedule before you depart.

Continue to 2 of 6 below.
02 of 06

Day 1: Afternoon

Union Square, San Francisco

TripSavvy / Melissa Zink

2 p.m.: There are a number of great places to grab a bite to eat near SF's waterfront. For a quintessential meal, we recommend either Red's Java House, which has been serving cheeseburgers and hot dogs along the Embarcadero since the 1930s, or Boudin, the city's oldest continuously operating business and makers of SF's original sourdough bread.

3 p.m.: You have a few different options based on what you like to do. For those who want to see SF's most iconic attractions, make your way to Fisherman's Wharf if you didn't wind up there for lunch. In addition to watching the city's beloved sea lions nap on Pier 39, you can spot some 24,000 local marine animals at Aquarium of the Bay, tour historic ships at San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, and dive into a decadent hot fudge sundae at the Original Ghiradelli Ice Cream and Chocolate Shop. From Hyde and Beach Streets, board one of SF's classic cable cars, which will take you all the way to Powell and Market Streets in Union Square in about 22 minutes. (Note that you must purchase your fare in advance.) Once you reach Union Square, you'll find plenty of high-end shopping to keep you busy until dinner.

If you're into beatnik history and literature, however, head to City Lights Bookstore in SF's North Beach neighborhood. An indie bookshop that doubles as a publisher, City Lights is most widely known for publishing Allen Ginsberg's "Howl and Other Poems," which got co-owner Lawrence Ferlinghetti arrested due to its obscene content. Browse the shelves and purchase a book to bring home before heading to the Beat Museum, which features Beat memorabilia such as original manuscripts, letters, and rare books. For those in the mood to imbibe, grab a cocktail at Vesuvio Cafe, a go-to hangout for Jack Kerouac and other poets.

Continue to 3 of 6 below.
03 of 06

Day 1: Evening

Grant Ave at night

TripSavvy / Melissa Zink

7 p.m.: North Beach is brimming with dining options. Known as San Francisco’s Little Italy, this hillside community features everything from tiny mom-and-pop pasta eateries to pizza joints and fine-dining establishments. You can get nearly any style of pizza you want at Tony's Pizza Napoletana, just be ready for a wait. In the interim, make yourself at home at next door's Original Joe’s with a budget-friendly martini and a fireside spot (the perfect date-night perch, FYI). For pasta lovers, head on over to Ideale on Grant Avenue. This tiny trattoria whips up homemade spaghetti, pappardelle, tortelloni, and every other kind of pasta imaginable, plus the owner is an incredibly friendly Italian who loves to share details and stories about the neighborhood.

9 p.m.: Once you've eaten to your stomach's content, top your evening with a nightcap. North Beach is full of good bars, like the beer-savvy Church Key, and 15 Romolo, with 20-plus years of keeping conversations lively with quality sangria and cocktails. Finish off your night with a trek up the stairs of Telegraph Hill to bask in the illuminated beauty of the iconic Coit Tower (the tower itself is closed at night, but surrounding Pioneer Park offers exquisite city views, including those of the Bay Lights on the Bay Bridge, which simply illuminate the sky). 

Continue to 4 of 6 below.
04 of 06

Day 2: Morning


TripSavvy / Melissa Zink

10 a.m.: Lace up your comfortable shoes because you’ll be spending a lot of time on your feet today. After a leisurely a.m., begin your explorations with a visit to the recently remodeled San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), home to seven floors full of contemporary artworks. Grab a cup of STEPS Coffee on the second floor before perusing everything from German impressionism to pop art, not to mention three sculpture terraces. It's a big place to tackle in a day, so choose the exhibits that most interest you. 

Continue to 5 of 6 below.
05 of 06

Day 2: Afternoon

Golden Gate Park, San Francisco

TripSavvy / Melissa Zink

12:30 p.m.: Next, get ready to explore San Francisco’s wild side! Take a Lyft out to Golden Gate Park to explore the city's Botanical Garden. You’ll find blooms from as far away as Australia and Japan, as well as 150-year-old redwoods grown from seedlings right inside the park. If you're craving a bite to eat, take a side trip to San Tung Chinese Restaurant in the nearby Inner Sunset. This popular eatery focuses on Chinese fare like dry-fried chicken wings and black bean sauce noodles that's out-of-this-world taste-wise and just a few-minute stroll from the gardens. 

4 p.m.: Later, continue west to San Francisco's Ocean Beach, and the Sutro Bath ruins to take in the sunset. Watching the sun dip below the Pacific from the remnants of this once-great bathhouse (which mysteriously burned down in 1966), is an unforgettable experience. 

Continue to 6 of 6 below.
06 of 06

Day 3: Evening

Dolores Park, San Francisco

TripSavvy / Melissa Zink

7 p.m.: San Francisco’s buzziest neighborhood is by far the Mission. It's filled with exciting new restaurants and old divey bars that have somehow withstood the city's rising rents and the tests of time. It feels almost wrong to find yourself in this neighborhood and not try Mexican food, and you'll find some of the best Mission-style burritos (meaning "packed-to-the-gills") at Taqueria Cancun and Pancho Villa. For a more sit-down affair that's still south of the border, opt for Lolinda. This Argentinian steak house is large enough to take walk-ins, but still full of delicious menu surprises (although both steak and ceviche are musts here). Afterward, head up to El Techo, the restaurant’s affiliate rooftop bar, for a margarita paired with spectacular city views. Looking for a casual hangout? The Homestead serves up free popcorn and heavy pours. For great people-watching and fantastic skyline views, head to Mission Doroles Park post-dinner.

10 p.m.: If music is your thing, DJs at the Make-Out Room get dance parties going with everything from funk to hip-hop. Meanwhile, Public Works is a "community-minded nightclub" that hosts international DJs, live bands, and a rotating calendar of events like comedy shows and story slams.