I’ve been lucky to have made around half a dozen trips to San Francisco over the past few years. Both of my brothers live in the Bay Area and my work takes me there quite a bit, so I’ve spent a fair share of time checking things off of my Northern California bucket list. The best piece of advice I can give is to pack lots of layers. Even after all of these trips, I almost always end up having to buy a new jacket or coat (twist my arm) because I look at the 70 degree weather and get overly optimistic. That 70 degrees often (and quickly) turns in to 40 degrees, sometimes immediately. Once I spent $90 on ugly orange San Francisco branded hats and a blanket from the Golden Gate Bridge Visitors Center after a bottle of wine at sunset. But what a great story.
So once you’re properly packed, you’ll love exploring the history, parks, restaurants, and the beach to the Bay. Similar to New York, it can be a little overwhelming. That being said, there are endless options and ways to make the most of a quick trip. Here are my recommendations for how to spend one day in the Bay!
1100 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94102
This hotel opened in November 2017 and has already become a favorite hotel of mine. I've stayed here my last two trips and have been extremely impressed. The hotel has 131 guest rooms (with incredible mixed-print wallpapers and textures) an Instagram-worthy lobby and restaurant, Villon, and a rooftop bar which has been known to have a line out the door as soon as it opens. Don't worry, if you're staying at the hotel you won't have to wait.
The Ritz-Carlton San Francisco
600 Stockton St, San Francisco, CA 94108
This hotel is located in a landmarked building over 100 years old in Nob Hill and went through a huge renovation in 2016. The hotel has 336 guest rooms, Parallel 37 restaurant, a lounge that overlooks the city, and is the city's only AAA Five-Diamond hotel. If you’re planning to ride a cable car while you’re in town, you won’t have to venture far since they stop right in front of the hotel.
Sip and Savor
There is no shortage of restaurants, cocktail bars, and coffee shops in San Francisco so it would take quite a while to make it through all of them. If you only have one day in the city, here are my picks for the best of each:
Villon at the Proper Hotel (I would come here even if I wasn’t staying at the hotel. The food is outstanding, the décor is beautiful and you can’t help but start your day off right after breakfast here. Just make sure you order the Ricotta pancakes!)
Leo's Oyster Bar (Palm print wallpaper, amazing oysters and Instagram-worthy décor make this Financial District seafood restaurant the perfect glamorous lunch spot.)
Vive Le Tarte (Belgian Bakery with an open kitchen South of Market. Try the Oatmilk Hot Coco and the Turmeric Monkey Bread)
Mr. Holmes Bakehouse (Be prepared to wait at the Nob Hill bakery but rest assured that if the cruffins are sold out, you can’t go wrong with any of the pastries.)
Foreign Cinema (California-Mediterranean cuisine in The Mission. This is one of my favorite places to have dinner because you can sit outside and have classic movies in the background. If you’re in town on a weekend, they also serve brunch.)
El Techo de Lolinda (This rooftop is in The Mission next door to Foreign Cinema and is always a great time. I’ve eaten dinner here as well and the Latin-American food doesn’t disappoint.)
Here are some of the quintessential San Francisco sites to see. Some of these are quick and others could take up your entire day, so depending on where in the city you are, you can decide how much you can explore. I recommend renting bikes (just be prepared to get a full workout in since many of the streets are uphill!)
Golden Gate Bridge (Arguably the most famous bridge in the country and a must-see. There are several great places to view this from. My personal favorite- take a bottle of wine and a blanket and watch the sunset.)
Painted Ladies (Side note: these are the colorful houses in the opening of "Full House" This is a great view of the city as well, but if you're looking for the "Tanner" house, that's in Laurel Heights)
Golden Gate Park (This park sits on over 1,000 acres and over 3 miles long. Some of my favorite parts of the park are the Japanese Tea Garden and the Conservatory of Flowers.)
Lombard Street (Known as the Crookedest Street in the world, which can be driven or walked.)
Coit Tower (One of the best ways to view the city)
Cable Cars (San Francisco has the world’s last manually operated cable car system, which are super touristy and can have long lines, but can be a fun way to get around the city.)
Sutro Baths/Cliff House (Visit Sutro Baths which is a historic site at the north end of Ocean Beach and stop by Cliff House for lunch or cocktails with breathtaking views.)
California Coast Trail (Walkway that starts just above the Cliff House and then ends by China Beach. The trail is a mile and a half and takes less than an hour.)
Lands End (At the end of the California Coastal Trail and is a great spot for views of the Golden Gate Bridge but much less crowded.)
Hayes Valley (Walk down Hayes Street)
Union Square (Walk down Maiden Lane and Grant Avenue)
The Mission District
I hope you have as much fun as I always do in the Bay Area! If I missed something you love, let me know.
And if you have more than one day, take a look at additional recommendations below.
More than One Day to Wander?
More Hotel Recommendations:
More Breakfast Options:
Pearl (Richmond District)
Le Marais (French, Multiple Locations)
The Mill (American, Alamo Square)
More Lunch Options:
Marlowe (California Comfort, South of Market)
Cotogna (Italian, Jackson Square)
Jane (American, Multiple Locations)
Blue Barn (American, Salads, Multiple Locations)
Outerlands (New American, Outer Sunset)
More Coffee Options:
More Sweets Options:
Dandelion (Chocolates, The Mission)
Loving Cup (FroYo, Multiple Locations)
More Dinner Options:
Liholiho Yacht Club (Hawaiian, Indian and Chinese, Nob Hill)
Cala (Mexican, Hayes Valley)
Zuni Cafe (French and Italian, Hayes Valley)
Dirty Habit (New American, Union Square)
MKT at the Four Seasons (New American, Union Square)
Flour + Water (Italian, The Mission)
Barbacco (Italian, Financial District)
More Drink Options:
Bourbon and Branch (Tenderloin)
Top of the Mark (Chinatown)
Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar (Chinatown)
More Places to See:
Presidio Heights (If you have time, take a leisurely stroll through the streets of the Presidio neighborhood and pick out your dream home. This is one of the few quiet areas and very close to some of the best parks and hiking trails.)
Ferry Building/Bay Bridge (The Ferry Building Marketplace has cute shops, cafes and a great view of the Bay Bridge.)
Pier 39 (Sort of like Coney Island but smells worse…this is one area I would most always say to avoid. But if you must, just go and see the seals and then find somewhere to eat that’s far away.)
Alcatraz (I’ll be honest, in all of my trips to San Francisco I’ve never been here. And that’s mostly because I’ve never had an ounce of desire to visit. It usually gets pretty mixed reviews but if you’re in to former prisons and want to see where Al Capone was a convict, go for it. At a minimum you’ll get a nice ferry ride with pretty views of the city.)
Sausalito (This is a cute little city in Marin County 4 miles north of San Francisco that you can access by driving or taking the ferry.)
If you're looking to get out of the city, I highly suggest taking a road trip to Sonoma/Napa or Big Sur/Carmel. I’ll have guides to each of those areas coming soon!