Impressive architecture, epic landscapes, a thriving food scene, oh and not to mention, resident sea lions…
San Francisco is the city that has it all.
Packed with a whole host of different things to see and do, the city is one of the most diverse and vibrant in America.
In an ideal world, you could easily spend five days exploring this wonderful city.
But for those of you who are short on time, I have compiled the ultimate San Francisco 2 day itinerary packed with all the best places to visit in the city.
Now, seeing San Francisco in just two days is no easy feat, so make sure you pick a comfortable pair of walking shoes and get ready to get those steps in!
This article is written by Faraway Lucy writer, Christina Patel.
Where is San Francisco?
San Francisco can be found on the west coast of the USA, in Northern California.
It’s home to over 900,000 people and is a city built on over 50 hills!
How to get to San Francisco
The best way to get to San Francisco is to fly into San Francisco International airport.
The airport is located approximately 13 miles from downtown San Francisco which equates to a 20-30 minute drive into the center of the city.
The most popular way to get from the airport to your accommodation is via Uber or Lyft but you can also catch a train if you’d prefer.
Where to stay in San Francisco
There are so many vibrant areas of San Francisco to choose from when deciding where to stay.
Each area caters to a different need depending on what you want from your holiday, of which I have listed below:
Union Square and Fisherman’s Wharf: To be close to other tourists
Sausalito and Nob Hill: Best for couples
Mission, SoMa, and Castro: Best for nightlife
Mission, SoMa, and Hayes Valley: Best for food
Like most cities in the world, there are certain areas you want to avoid and in San Francisco, this is the Tenderloin area.
It’s best to avoid staying in this area and walking through (especially at night).
How to get around San Francisco
San Francisco isn’t the best place in the world for strong public transport links, but you do still have a few options to choose from when it comes to exploring the city.
The first option to choose from is buses and/or trams.
You have the option to purchase 1, 3- or 7-day visitor passes that will get you unlimited rides throughout the city.
Secondly, you can hire a bike to get you across the city for around $25 per day, with the option to choose from an hourly rate if you don’t want to hire it for a full day.
But, this option does come with a warning: San Francisco is the city of hills, and some very steep ones at that.
So it’s something to be mindful of if you’re considering hiring a bike.
Alternatively, if you’re short on time, you can travel the city with Uber or Lyft.
The average price of a journey from point to point around the city is between $10-$20.
And last but not least, you can walk, but if you’re following this San Francisco 2 day itinerary you might need to choose a faster mode of transport from time to time.
On my two-day trip, I chose to do a mixture of Uber/Lyft rides and walking (and one tram ride for the experience), which enabled me to see everything on this itinerary.
My final piece of advice for getting around San Francisco is to not rent a car.
Parking is hard to find, and very expensive when you do, so stick to the other options listed above!
San Francisco 2 day itinerary
The following itinerary is the exact order in which I visited these locations, starting at 7 am and getting back around 9/10 pm.
Day 1 of your San Francisco 2 day itinerary
Early morning: Enjoy breakfast at Pat’s Cafe
Address: 2330 Taylor St, San Francisco, CA 94133
Phone number: +1 415-776-8735
Before your day of adventuring, you’re going to want a nice hearty breakfast to keep you going, and the best place to fill yourself up is Pat’s Cafe.
The cafe serves up traditional hearty, American food (think pancakes and bacon galore!).
You’ll be leaving full and ready to go.
The best bit?
It’s just around the corner from your first stop of the day.
Early morning: Make your way up Lombard Street
Lombard Street is one of the most famous and impressive streets in the whole of San Francisco as the road comprises multiple, sharp, winding hairpin turns.
Not only is the street itself cool to look at, but the view of the city from the top is pretty spectacular too!
Early morning: Visit Pier 39
Address: The Embarcadero, San Francisco, CA 94133
Phone number: +1 415-705-5500
If you want to see the cutest herd of sea lions, then Pier 39 is the place to visit.
The sea lions hang around here for most of the year, from late July to mid-May where you can see anything from 150 to over 600 sea lions.
And if you’re wondering why the sea lions have decided to make a home here, biologists believe that it’s to do with the amount of food in the area.
(Animals after my own heart, that’s for sure!)
Late morning: Go on an Alcatraz Tour (Departing from Pier 33)
Address: The Embarcadero, San Francisco, CA 94133
No trip to San Francisco is complete without a visit to Alcatraz Island.
It’s one of the most iconic places in San Francisco (after the Golden Gate Bridge, of course).
Alcatraz is the world-famous prison located on an island 1.25 miles off the shore of San Francisco.
The prison was home to some of the world’s most notorious criminals in history, such as Al Capone and Machine Gun Kelly.
This is the perfect place to immerse yourself in history and learn about the famous criminals incarcerated here.
The tour is extremely popular so make sure you secure a booking ahead of time.
Tickets start at $49.
Midday: Wander around Ghirardelli Square & Aquatic Park
Address: 900 North Point St Ste F301, San Francisco, CA 94109
Phone number: +1 415-447-2846
Ghirardelli Square is a former chocolate factory that has been recreated into a small but impressive complex filled with boutique stores and restaurants that overlook the bay.
Come here to get ice cream from the famous Ghirardelli Ice Cream store and sit down by the water.
Early afternoon: Walk or cycle over the Golden Gate Bridge
Address: Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, CA
Phone number: +1 415-921-5858
Just like a visit to Alcatraz, your trip to San Francisco won’t be complete without a walk or cycle over the Golden Gate Bridge.
To get here, head to the Golden Gate Overlook viewpoint, soak up your first official view of the bridge, then begin the journey over.
If you’re a picture-taking keen bean like me, it’s better to walk over than cycle; otherwise, you’ll be stopping your bike every 20 seconds.
Early afternoon: Check out Golden Gate Bridge View Vista Point
Address: Parking lot, Golden Gate Bridge, Sausalito, CA 94965
If you walk/cycle along the Golden Gate Bridge from the city, you’ll see this viewpoint on your right-hand side as you exit the bridge.
The view of the city from this point is pretty special and worth the stop before you head down to Sausalito.
Mid-afternoon: Visit Sausalito
Want to escape the hustle and bustle of the city for a moment?
Well, Sausalito is the place to visit.
Sausalito is located on the north side of the Golden Gate Bridge and is a tranquil seaside town that has total Mediterranean vibes, and some of the most amazing houses I’ve ever seen.
It’s a great place to come to grab a moment of calm and a glass of wine overlooking the calm waters of the bay.
You can either cycle here or catch the ferry from Pier 41 in the city.
Mid-afternoon: Have a late lunch at Barrel House Tavern
Address: 660 Bridgeway, Sausalito, CA 94965
Phone number: +1 415-729-9593
Stick around in Sausalito to have lunch at the Barrel House Tavern.
They serve up some pretty delicious cocktails and rustic food with a contemporary twist.
If you can, try to grab a seat on the balcony, so you can enjoy lunch overlooking the harbor.
Late afternoon: Enjoy the view from Battery Spencer
Address: Conzelman Rd, Sausalito, CA 94965
Phone number: +1 415-561-4700
If you’re wondering where that iconic Golden Gate Bridge photo spot is, well you can stop searching.
You can find it here at Battery Spencer viewpoint.
(Yes, I know, another viewpoint. But in my opinion, you can never see too many pretty views.)
Back in the early 1900s, it was used by the military as one of the main protection points for the city.
After WWII, it was scrapped as a military location and is now a popular tourist landmark.
Battery Spencer is located on the north side of the Golden Gate Bridge, on the opposite side of the road to the Golden Gate Bridge View Vista Point.
The view here is spectacular and so worth the visit.
Early evening: Walk along Marshall’s Beach
Address: San Francisco, CA 94129
Marshall’s Beach is one of my favorite places in San Francisco.
It’s a wonderful secluded beach and a great place to chill on the rocks and listen to the sound of the crashing waves.
It’s also another perfect spot to witness the Golden Gate Bridge from a slightly different perspective.
My advice would be to head here just after sunset to see stunning twilight colors in the sky, against the backdrop of the bridge.
And if you’re a fan of photography, this is an ideal shooting location where you can get some stunning shots.
Getting to Marshalls Beach involves a hike along the Batteries to Bluff trail but I promise you it’s worth it!
Please note this beach is not a suitable place for swimming due to strong currents and freezing temperatures.
Late evening: Enjoy dinner at Nob Hill Cafe
Address: 1152 Taylor St, San Francisco, CA 94108
Phone number: +1 415-776-6500
After your day of exploring, refuel with some dinner at Nob Hill Cafe.
This is a family-run restaurant that has been in the city for over 20 years.
The interiors are no-frills, but their Tuscan-style food is incredible and very reasonably priced.
Day 2 of your San Francisco 2 Day Itinerary
Early morning: Check out the Transamerica Pyramid
Address: 600 Montgomery St, San Francisco, CA 94111
With San Francisco being situated very close to the San Andreas fault, the city is extremely prone to earthquakes.
The Transamerica Building’s unique pyramid shape was designed to withstand the effects of these earthquakes.
This distinctive building truly adds to the uniqueness of the cityscape so it’s worth a look.
Unfortunately, the observation deck is now closed to the public, but you can still take a trip to the visitors center.
Late morning: Visit the Ferry Building Marketplace
Address: 1 Ferry Building, San Francisco, CA 94105
Phone number: +1 415-983-8000
The Ferry Building is located in San Francisco’s Embarcadero, which is the center of the transit hub that connects all of San Francisco’s neighborhoods.
Inside the Ferry Building, you’ll find a vibrant farmers market with a diverse selection of high-quality organic and artisan produce.
Late morning: Grab breakfast in the Ferry Building
While in the Ferry Building, pick up some breakfast to fuel your day ahead.
(Take it from a self-confessed grilled cheese sandwich addict!)
Midday: Ride the Powell-Hyde Tram Route
Did you know that San Francisco is the only city in the world to still utilize a manually operated cable car system?
Make sure to take a ride on one of these routes to get the full San Francisco experience.
For the best views of the city, try out the ‘Powell-Hyde’ route.
On this route, you’ll get to see epic views of Alcatraz as you ride down the hill towards Fisherman’s Wharf.
A one-way ticket will set you back $8, and the easiest place to catch the tram is from one of the city’s Cable Car turnarounds.
Coming from the ferry building, the closest one can be found on Powell Street which is approximately a 20-minute walk.
Early afternoon: Explore Haight-Ashbury
Haight-Ashbury is one of the coolest parts of the city.
The area is lined with quirky shops and rainbow-colored townhouses galore.
This is a great place to visit if you’re after vintage clothing, old record stores, tarot card readings, and a spot of coffee and cake.
Haight-Ashbury is also home to many notable houses seen in American sitcoms such as Full House and Disney channel’s That’s So Raven.
(And if you’ve not heard of those TV shows that means I’m getting old.)
Early afternoon: See the Painted Ladies
Address: Steiner St &, Hayes St, San Francisco, CA 94117
The Painted Ladies is a popular landmark in Haight-Ashbury, found on Alamo Square.
They are a set of ascending colorful Victorian houses that are backdropped by the San Francisco city skyline and are worth a quick visit!
Early afternoon: Grab lunch at Street Taco
Address: 1607 Haight St, San Francisco, CA 94117
Phone number: +1 415-525-4435
Stop in Haight-Ashbury for lunch and grab some delicious Mexican food from Street Taco.
This is a super cheap eats restaurant, that serves up huuuuge portions.
I recommend the ‘Street Bowl’ with extra guacamole – you won’t be disappointed.
Afterward, if you have enough room after lunch, pop into Zam Zam’s for a quick drink.
It’s a super cool bar with very quirky interiors.
Late afternoon: Enjoy the view from Twin Peaks
Just a 30-minute walk from Haight-Ashbury is Twin Peaks, yet another spectacular viewpoint.
Make sure you climb up to the top of the peak to witness 360-degree panoramic views of the San Francisco bay area.
The best time to visit is just before sunset so that you can experience the sun setting behind the peak, while you watch the moon rise over the city skyline.
I’ve got to warn you though, it can get pretty windy up here so make sure you have a coat handy and prepare for the windswept look.
Evening: Enjoy dinner and cocktails at Charmaine’s Rooftop Bar
Address: 45 McAllister St, San Francisco, CA 94102
Phone number: +1 415-735-777
For your final few hours in San Francisco, head over to Charmaine’s Rooftop Bar back in the city.
Grab yourself a cocktail and some dinner and sit back and enjoy the view.
I can promise you it’s the perfect way to end a pretty perfect two days.
So there you have it: the ultimate San Francisco 2 day itinerary!
It’s safe to say this San Francisco 2 day itinerary is sure to keep you very busy.
But what part of the itinerary are you most looking forward to?
Please let me know in the comments below!