Heading to San Francisco? Find out how we managed to pack so much into two days in the city but be warned, prepare to do a LOT of walking!
We kicked off our epic California coast road trip by spending a whirlwind 48 hours in San Francisco, a city that I’ve dreamt of visiting since my teens. With only two days to cram in all of the main tourist attractions it took some careful planning to ensure we could tick everything off our bucket list.
We decided to split our days by area, spending the first around Pier 39/Golden Gate Bridge and the second predominantly exploring the Mission district and Hayes Valley. If you too are planning an action-packed visit to San Francisco I hope this two day itinerary will help you to plan your trip so you can really make the most of your time in the city!
Miraculously we managed to kick the jet lag early on in the trip and woke up at around 6:30am ready for our first full day of exploring San Fran. I’d done my research beforehand and picked out a whole host of brunch spots for us to check out as it is the most important (and Instagrammable) meal of the day.
We decided to make our way across to MyMy Coffee Shop which was around a twenty-five minute walk from our hotel in Union Square. Unfortunately that walk took us straight through The Tenderloin district which was somewhere I knew we were supposed to avoid at nighttime but assumed it would be safe during daylight hours. Although we were safe it wasn’t a pleasurable journey due to the extreme homelessness in the area so I would strongly advise jumping in an Uber if you need to pass through the district.
MyMy isn’t the fanciest of brunch spots but the food was tasty and the portion sizes were pretty epic. We sat outside and although not the best views in the city it was nice to watch the cable cars pass by as we tucked into our breakfast. I (obviously) went for the pancakes, banana soufflé pancakes to be exact and Adam plumped for the corned beef hash which came with crispy potatoes.
Feeling fully fuelled we decided to make our way over to Lombard Street which was around a twenty minute walk during which we started to get our first glimpses of those famous San Francisco city skylines that we’d been eager to set our eyes on. We walked down Lombard Street taking lots of snaps when we reached the bottom and watched as cars manoeuvred around the tight corners.
Then it was time for one of the most anticipated activities of the trip, it was time to cycle across the Golden Gate Bridge! We picked up the bikes from Fishermans Wharf and set off on our journey along the marina and towards the famous bridge. There were definitely more taxing parts on the route that required a bit of uphill cycling but overall it wasn’t too difficult. It probably took around an hour to reach the bridge with several stops along the way to take in the views and snap some pictures.
Top Tip: We booked our cycle hire with Blazing Saddles via Groupon as it was $36 for two which was a saving of around 50%! This was a little tip we picked up from Lora before we left on the trip and saved us some serious cash.
Cycling on the bridge itself was a tad stressful as there are so many lanes of traffic including both bikes and pedestrians so it can get little crowded at points. To get the best shots make sure to carry on to the half way point where the metal railings disappear and you get a clearer view across the water.
Once we’d passed over the bridge we decided to continue on to Sausalito, a town just across the water from San Francisco. We had a mooch around some of the shops and grabbed a drink on the waterfront, all of that cycling was thirsty work! We would have loved to have spent more time in Sausalito as it was a really picturesque town but the clock was ticking and we needed to get back over to San Francisco for our trip to Alcatraz.
Back at Pier 33 and it was time to catch the ferry to Alcatraz, we decided to choose the night time tour as we’d heard lots of great things when we were doing our research. The night tours have a limited amount of tickets available which means that there is just one ferry-load of people on the island making it much less crowded.
Our tour began as we boarded the ferry and began a lap around the island during which the on-board narration shared some facts about Alcatraz and pointed out the hidden spots which were used for attempted escapes. This is something that is exclusive to the evening tours and is a great way to kick off the experience.
Top Tip: Tickets for Alcatraz book up extremely quickly, especially for the night time tour so we booked 90 days in advance via Alcatraz Cruises which is the official ticket seller.
The sun was setting as we touched down on Alcatraz which resulted in some pretty epic city skylines and definitely brought an added atmosphere to the island.
Once docked, we were met by a ranger who led the tour group up the hill to the Cellhouse and highlighted some facts along the way. On thing I didn’t realise before our trip was that the correctional guards who worked at Alcatraz also lived on the island with their families. There were designated apartment blocks for the families to live in and children would make the daily trip back to San Francisco via ferry to attend school. Often these children would be the most popular kids in school as everyone wanted an invitation to Alcatraz for a play date!
It was then time for the most anticipated portion of the evening, the cellhouse audio tour in which you hear from former Alcatraz prisoners and correctional officers. In this time you are free to explore the cells at your own pace as the narrators share stories about life in the prison and walk you through many of the prison breakout attempts. As well as the main cellblock you also get to walk around solitary confinement, the dining hall, library and control room.
After the audio tour wrapped up it was the exclusive portion of the evening and there was a whole host of options on offer from demonstrations to presentations to exhibitions. We chose to attend a talk from a former jail inmate who spoke about the crimes that first landed him in prison as well as how he turned his life around once he was released. It was fascinating to hear about his experiences from his time inside prison and the Q&A portion provided an amazing opportunity to discover more.
Top Tip: After the talk had finished we headed back into a practically empty cellhouse which was an amazing chance to get some shots without crowds of people in.
It was then time to hop back on the ferry and say goodbye to the island after a truly unforgettable experience. If we were to do it again I would definitely look into the behind the scenes tour which sounds great for fellow true crime lovers like myself. We arrived back on dry land at around half past ten and headed straight to the hotel for some much-needed shuteye after an incredible first day.
Another day and another brunch spot! This time we decided to head over to the Mission District to try out Tartine Manufactory. This place appears on most of the top places to eat in San Francisco lists and on arrival there was a forty-five minute queue for a table, which we thought must be a sign we were in for a treat. What we actually experienced was overpriced food, tiny portion sizes and below-average service which left us feeling pretty disappointed. I knew I should have listened to Anna’s opinion but I ended up getting distracted by the hype AND the pretty interiors.
After our less than fulfilling breakfast we spent a bit of time wandering around the Mission District which is definitely somewhere I’d love to explore in more detail next time we visit the city as it has a really cool vibe with it’s independent stores, coffee shops and restaurants.
We then decided to make our way over to The Painted Ladies, which was a long old walk (around 45 minutes) but we thought it would give us more of a chance to explore the area. We stopped en route to pick up some ice cream from Bi-Rite Creamery (which was delicious) and enjoyed it whilst sitting on Mission Dolores Park, a really cool weekend hangout spot with amazing skyline views.
Feeling suitably cooled we continued the walk and after what felt like a hundred hills and a whole lot of steps we finally made it to The Painted Ladies where we took some snaps and dreamt of what it would be like to own one of the pastel beauties. From there we obviously had to check out Mrs. Doutfire’s house which is another solid half an hour walk which I’m not totally sure was worth it. Apart from taking a few snaps and appreciating a beautiful house there isn’t really much to see sadly, that is unless you want to reenact some of the scenes from the film!
From there we decided to jump in our first Uber of the trip and head down to Fishermans Wharf as we hadn’t yet found the time to explore the area. As most people warned us beforehand, it’s pretty touristy so after a quick wander down the pier, checking out a couple of the souvenir shops and saying hello to the sea lions we felt like we’d ticked that off the list.
That evening we had tickets to see the San Francisco Giants so we started the walk down towards Oracle Park stopping off along the way at The Ferry Building, a food hall which is home to a variety of vendors. We enjoyed some yummy empanadas on a bench overlooking the water before rejoining the crowds on the walk down to the stadium.
Baseball games are famously pretty long and a little bit tedious but after seeing how amazing Oracle Park stadium looked whilst we were doing our planning I was determined to grab a ticket for our time in the city. We paid around £20 each for our tickets and had amazing views out over the water. I can’t say that I understood even one minute of the action that was taking place but I really enjoyed the atmosphere and things like the kiss cam made it very entertaining!
We had originally made dinner reservations at Flour + Water but after all of the walking we’d already done that day the thought of heading back over to the Mission District was a little exhausting. Instead we decided to fuel up on some $10 nachos and watch the rest of the game before heading back to the hotel for the final time.
And so that wrapped up our action packed 48 hours in San Francisco. We left feeling satisfied that we’d managed to get most of the main tourist attractions ticked off the list and also pretty damn exhausted from all of the walking. There are still plenty of things I wish we could have fit into our time in the city but I guess they’ll just have to go on the list for next time!