Travel Guide: 2 Days in San Francisco
Are you doing a fun West Coast road trip, and want to spend 2 days checking out San Francisco? Yessss, good for you. You should definitely do it. San Francisco is one of my favorite cities in the entire United States. Hands down.
If I couldn’t live near New York (for whatever reason), I’d immediately choose San Francisco for my new home. I know, I know. I totally pick the most affordable places to live, don’t I? But you’re a visitor so don’t worry about San Francisco’s notoriously high rents.
San Francisco is one of those cool cities that everyone knows. It’s been the setting of many Hollywood movies such as Mrs. Doubtfire, Milk, Vertigo and The Birds, and Zodiac. It’s incredibly popular for a good reason.
Now, just throwing out a disclaimer, I won’t pretend I’m an expert on San Francisco, but after spending a week there, I definitely have some great ideas for seeing San Francisco in two days.
San Francisco in Two Days is a Great Trip
San Francisco is a wonderful city. Do I sound like a broken record yet? Haha. As you know, I kinda wish I lived in the Bay Area so I could plan a weekend getaway in San Francisco at least once a month. Personally, I think you can either travel to San Francisco alone or with a group of friends. It’s a great time regardless of your “travel” status.
I’m sure you’re thinking “Is two days in San Francisco enough? Will I regret not spending more time there?”
I understand your concern. Let’s talk more about the best ways to maximize your time.
Is 48 Hours in San Francisco Enough?
Like I said, you’ll be fine dedicating two days to a San Francisco vacation. You won’t frantically rush and feel like you missed everything.
Sure, while having more time in San Francisco would be ideal, you’ll still have a solid experience taking a two day trip to this Californian city. Why’s that?
First and foremost, geographically, San Francisco isn’t very big especially compared to a city like New York. It’s a compact city that’s very walkable and connected by a good public transportation system. You can get around easy. I walked for most of the time and was fine. Just keep in the mind that the hills can make a mile stroll ten times more difficult. Take the cable cars or buses whenever you’re tired.
Since a lot of San Francisco’s sites are close by, you don’t have to worry about sitting in traffic for an hour crossing the city. However, having a plan for each day immensely helps.
Ultimately, don’t skip San Francisco because you only have two days to spare. That would be a mistake.
What to See in San Francisco in 2 Days?
Like all my other guides, this “San Francisco in 2 Days Itinerary” contains plenty of suggestions for your time in the city. Of course, you’re more than welcome to adjust these ideas depending on your preferences. I personally love learning about history and spending time outdoors, and this itinerary reflects those interests.
Two Days in San Francisco – Day #1
1. Take a Walking Tour.
As always, I want to recommend taking a walking tour for your first morning in San Francisco.
These walking tours allow you to get acquainted with your new city and teach you a little bit of history at the same time. For example, Free Tours by Foot offers multiple walking tour options for visitors. Select one based on your interests.
I took a walking tour at my hostel and had a great chance to learn about Chinatown and Nob Hill, with us ending in Fisherman’s Wharf.
Finally, for solo travelers, you increase your chances of meeting other people by taking a free walking tour. On my San Francisco trip, I met three other girls and we all had a blast together after the walking tour. It was so much fun!
2. Eat Lots & Lots of Chocolate at Ghirardelli Square.
I’m a sucker for chocolate. Seriously, my sweet tooth has absolutely no limits. My favorite delicacy at the tender age of four was Godiva Chocolates. I’m crazy like that.
Without a doubt, you should visit Ghirardelli Square and devour a lot of sugary milky goodness. Ghirardelli Square is located at 900 North Point Street not too far from Fisherman’s Wharf.
Buy a bar of chocolate to keep in your backpack for an afternoon snack. Yummy. On the other hand, I recommend being like me and ordering a huge chocolate milkshake inside the Ghirardelli store. You’ll burn calories walking San Francisco’s hills, I promise.
If you’re not into chocolate (gasp), there are still plenty of shops at Ghirardelli Square for you to appreciate.
3. Venture Out to the Golden Gate Bridge.
You simply can’t visit San Francisco without seeing the iconic and stunning Golden Gate Bridge. Taking pictures of this bridge was one of the highlights of my trip to San Francisco.
The bridge has a Welcome Center that will give you all the information you need to know. My advice is to visit Fort Baker, which served as an army post til the mid-1990s and borders nearby Sausalito. You might also want to rent a bike to go back and forth across the bridge and take advantage of every possible views.
Keep in mind that Golden Gate National Recreational Area is under the authority of the National Park Service. Respect the surrounding nature.
4. Go Riding in a Cable Car.
San Francisco’s cable cars are almost as iconic as the Golden Gate Bridge. No trip to San Francisco would be truly complete without taking a spin on one.
What’s especially cool is San Francisco’s cable car system is the last manually operated system of its kind in the United States. You feel as if you’ve jumped back in history. You can go from Union Square to Nob Hill, which makes the routes perfect for sightseeing.
And don’t feel scared riding outside the cars. The wind whipping through your hair as you soar up and down San Francisco’s hills isn’t something you want to miss out on.
5. See the Most Iconic Streets & Houses.
One of my favorite moments visiting San Francisco was walking down its famous streets and taking photos of really cool Victorian-style houses.
I absolutely loved seeing the Painted Ladies. These are among the most photographed homes in San Francisco. You’d be hard-pressed to imagine a prettier row of colorful Victorian homes than the Painted Ladies. Find the Painted Ladies near Alamo Square.
Another well-known street you ought to see is Lombard Street, which has some insanely steep turns. I don’t know if I’d recommend driving on it, though, haha. I’d be too scared to dent the rental car.
Read More: Lonely Planet Pocket Guide for San Francisco
Two Days in San Francisco – Day #2
1. Visit Alcatraz in the Morning.
Alcatraz is, without a doubt, the most well known attraction to see in San Francisco along with the Golden Gate Bridge. Taking a tour of Alcatraz is free, but you need to pay for the ferry to reach the island. And, no, there’s no other way to reach this infamous historical prison. You can’t exactly swim in the San Francisco Bay. You’d probably drown.
You depart from Pier 41 on Alcatraz Cruises which is the authorized ferry service, and you must reserve your tickets in advance. Like a month or more ahead of your trip to San Francisco. Don’t try to show up last minute, or else you’ll feel massively disappointed.
In my opinion, I personally think it’s worth visiting Alcatraz despite the hassle to get there. The audio guide is free and one of the best I’ve ever heard in all my years of traveling. You learn so much about life in this prison that it makes you appreciate your freedom a million times more.
2. Explore Fisherman’s Wharf.
Although it’s touristy, you still want to take a walk at Fisherman’s Wharf. My favorite thing to do at Fisherman’s Wharf was seeing sea lions at Pier 39. They’re so adorable! I wanted to cuddle with them, haha. Fisherman’s Wharf has a lot of bike rentals that you can use for visiting the Golden Gate Bridge. Most of the ferries leave from this area, too.
Additionally, it’s easy to find fresh seafood at Fisherman’s Wharf, but since it’s such a popular place with visitors, you might be better off eating in another location. Just my opinion.
3. Spend an Afternoon Exploring Sausalito.
Wanna get out of the city? You have plenty of options! Sadly with only 2 days in San Francisco you need to wisely budget your time. I don’t think it’d be worth it to spend an entire day in Napa Valley, for example, unless you’re truly interested in food and wine.
However, Sausalito is a short ferry ride away from San Francisco and easy to squeeze in an afternoon. I had a great time walking around this small town. Sausalito has lots of charming places to eat, which are, in my opinion, better than the restaurants on Fisherman’s Wharf. And don’t forget to see all the boathouses!
4. Pick a Cool Neighborhood for Dinner & Fun.
San Francisco has an abundance of great neighborhoods for you to explore and eat a delicious dinner. Really, the sky’s the limit, especially concerning good food and drinks. Here are four of my favorite neighborhoods to roam in San Francisco!
San Francisco’s Chinatown covers more than 24 blocks. You must see the Chinatown Gate, one of the most photographed spots in the neighborhood, and then take a walk down Grant Avenue. I had a lot of fun visiting the Fortune Cookie Factory. You’ll also want to get lost in the Chinatown alleys and stumble upon good places to eat. I wish I would’ve spent more time simply soaking up the energy of the neighborhood.
2. The Mission District
Looking for absolutely fantastic Mexican food? Then you need to go to the Mission District for dinner. I mean, burritos and tacos? Yes, please.
In addition, the Mission has become trendy in recent years with tons of brightly colored street art and murals, as well as a thriving nightlife scene. The Mission is a lot of fun to explore after the sun goes down. Finally, for all my fellow readers, the Mission is home to many independent bookstores such as Dog Eared Books where you’re able to buy used books from its expansive collection.
Haight-Ashbury is one of the most well-known neighborhood in all of San Francisco. Think of the 1960s and hippie era. It was the heart of the “flower power” generation. Today the best thing to do in Haight-Ashbury is shopping. Don’t miss the famous Haight Ashbury legs above the Piedmont Boutique.
4. Nob Hill
Wanna feel insanely rich and sophisticated? Then you want to visit Nob Hill. The cable car runs through this neighborhood making it super accessible for tourists. There’s even a Cable Car museum for you to check out! Also swing by Grace Cathedral – one of the most beautiful churches in San Francisco.
Read More: Pack Your Lonely Planet Guide for California
Where to Stay with 2 Days in San Francisco
After deciding what to see San Francisco in 2 days, then you need to select the best possible accommodation for your getaway. Luckily, San Francisco has plenty of options for you to choose from. Don’t go broke if you can avoid it.
For instance, as a budget traveler, I stayed in USA Hostels San Francisco property which is not too far from Union Square. It was perfectly situated near the BART, providing easy access to the airport, and I had no problems seeing all the attractions.
As for neighborhoods, you want to stay in a central location especially with only 48 hours to spare. Coming in from outside the city will only waste your time.
Just one final word of warning. If you’re a solo female traveler, then I’d advise against staying in the Tenderloin. This neighborhood is known for its grittiness and large homeless population, and I don’t think the warnings are exaggerated. I wandered through the Tenderloin by mistake (whoops) and needless to say, I wouldn’t be comfortable staying in the area, especially if I had to move around at night.
What would you do with 2 days in San Francisco? Have you ever visited San Francisco? Leave all your suggestions and cool ideas in the comments!
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