One-Day San Francisco Travel Itinerary

Posted by Craig Wesley on

Anne, who's originally from Thailand, has had quite a few visitors over the years and I like to think I've perfected the one-day San Francisco Itinerary. As you'll see below, I actually skip a lot of the main tourist attractions because I find a lot of our visitors are already staying near them. For example, a lot of our guests will stay near Union Square and from there they're able to see Chinatown, San Francisco Ferry Building, North Beach, Fisherman's Warf, Coit Tower, Lombard Street, and everything in between either on foot or public transportation, including the Cable Cars.

Unfortunately, my itinerary does require access to a car and GPS or the willingness to use Uber or Lyft, which would help you avoid a lot of time finding parking in crowded spots. Note: I use Google Maps because you can just input obscure landmarks rather than full addresses.

1. Twin Peaks

I always like to start the day off at Twin Peaks. Twin Peaks sits about 925 feet above the center of San Francisco with a 360 degree view. I like to start there because it's the best spot to get the layout of the entire city, which is actually quite small. San Francisco is the exact opposite of the urban sprawl that is Los Angeles and one could pretty much see the entire city from the Twin Peaks.

While some come for the sunrise or the sunset, I go when there tends to be more people because Twin Peaks has been known to have robberies and, on rare occasions, murders. OK, you're probably wondering how I could suggest such a spot, but if you go late morning when there are other tourists around, then you'll be fine and should feel safe. On the other hand, if you're go and there are almost no one there except for people who look like they're looking for victims, then just drive by and enjoy the view on the drive down.

Another word of warning, Twins Peaks is a bit hit or miss when it comes to the weather. I've been up there when the view is completely fogged out, which is actually quite a view by itself, and I've been up there with a clear view across the San Francisco Bay.

Besides the drive up, I usually allocate only about 10 minutes for this spot, unless you're a serious photography who needs to set-up more.

2A. Haight-Ashbury

I use to come to Haight-Ashbuy during high-school and I found it fun and exciting. As an adult, it seems quite boring now. I put Haight-Ashbury as optional. Those who'll tend to enjoy it will be those who enjoy shopping vintage clothing, as well as boutique clothing. In my opinion, the history of Haight-Ashbury is pretty much gone and so visitors will not likely feel the nostalgia of what Haight-Asbhury meant during the "Grateful Dead" era. In fact, visitors looking for that will probably feel extremely disappointed.

2B. Golden Gate Park

Personally, I usually go to Golden Gate Park straight from Twin Peaks. There is honestly so much to do in Golden Gate Park, but because I usually only have one day with out-of-town visitors we will only go to one attraction and just drive through a portion of the park. Because of time & budget constraints, we usually opt for the Conservatory of Flowers. Not only is it a great place to take photos, inside and out, but also it's budget friendly and takes at most one hour. For example, the California Academy of Science is really fun, but to really see everything the official website suggests you spend at least 1 hour to up to 4 hours and admission is $35.95 (8/10/2017) for adults. Conservatory of Flowers is $8 for adult, $6 if you're a San Francisco resident.

Before or afterwards, I'll drive by the Music Concourse, which is between the California Academy of Science and de Young Museum. BTW, as an adult, the de Young Museum is actually my favorite and at $15 not a horrible price of admission.

3. China Beach or Baker Beach

This is the first of five different spots I would suggest to view the Golden Gate Bridge. I know it sounds crazy, but we actually go to at least four of five spots, though only for about 5-10 minutes each, because the drive alone has a lot of great views between the spots. China Beach or Baker Beach will actually take more time because there's a bit more walking involved, especially if you'd like to walk along the beach. Baker Beach has a closer view of the Golden Gate Beach, but beware if you're traveling with kids, there are nudist sunbathers close by. China Beach is further away from the bridge, but I actually like it more as a personal preference. Also, no nude sunbathers.

4. Battery East or Warming Hut Bookstore & Cafe

Be sure to set your Navigation specifically for Battery East (Parking Lot) or Warming Hut Bookstore & Cafe. You should have a great route through the Western section of the Presidio. Battery East is actually just right next to the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center, but a lot less crowded and I feel the view is better. The Warming Hut Bookstore is located a little bit further than Battery East, but if you want to get another sea level view of the Golden Gate Bridge then you can't go wrong here.

5. The Lone Sailor

Time to finally drive over the Golden Gate Bridge. Be warned, when you come back into San Francisco, the toll is $7.75 (8/11/2017), but at the same time you're on vacation so go for it. You're heading to the opposite side of the bridge from Battery East. You'll be able to see the San Francisco Skyline and Golden Gate bridge from the North Bay. This vista point is pretty popular, but just like most spots, people only stay about 10 minutes so parking turnover is high.

6a. Battery Rathbone McIndoe

If you're not tired of the Golden Gate Bridge and there's at least one hours of sun left, then set the GPS for Battery Rathbone McIndoe. Another fair warning, the drive there is a little more dangerous than previous routes. If you're not comfortable with curvy two-lane roads, then skip this spot. There view of the Golden Gate Bridge actually isn't that great here, but I enjoy this spot because it gives you the view of where the Ocean turns into the San Francisco Bay. Also, it's actually quite a wonderful (and safe) spot to catch a sunset.

7. Palace of Fine Arts Theatre

The route back will bring you back over the Golden Gate Bridge, where you'll pay the $7.75 toll. The Palace of Fine Arts Theater is really one of those spots I don't mind visiting over and over again with guests. Even though there are older buildings in San Francisco and across the world, there's definitely something special about the architecture and setting of the Palace of Fine Arts Theatre. 

Even though I only listed about seven locations, it's usually quite a full day, especially when you add in lunch, dinner, and random snacking.

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