How to spend 24 hours in San Francisco is a topic of thought, given how much the city of Northern California has to offer.
Set on more than 50 hills, San Francisco is an atypical American metropolis on the edge of the Pacific Ocean.
The fact that it belongs to the San Andreas Fault, which predisposes it to a constant threat of earthquakes, was an essential criterion that determined the architecture to be mainly built horizontally, avoiding as much as possible the skyscrapers, respectively their collapse in the case of strong shocks.
The biggest earthquake occurred more than a century ago, in 1906, when the city was destroyed both by its magnitude and by the fires that burst afterward.
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1 day in San Francisco
However, San Francisco has been reborn in what today we can call a real American metropolis, inhabited by about 1 million people and visited by more than 25 million tourists.
Remember my 10-day West Cost road trip itinerary? Since I heard so many good things about this city, I decided to spend 1 day in San Francisco.
As a result, I came up with this travel guide for What to do in 24 hours in San Francisco.
Best options for a last-minute trip to San Francisco
If you are on the last hundred meters with planning a vacation in San Francisco, then this list is your main help to do it quickly and efficiently:
Best experiences and tours in San Francisco:
♦ Alcatraz Visit – you must see the famous prison
♦ Skip-the-Line 1-Hour Bay Cruise – unique way to see the city
♦ Muir Woods Redwoods and Wine Country Tour – the perfect way to see the Sequoia trees
♦ City Walking Tour – enjoy and find out valuable information
♦ Golden Gate Bridge Catamaran Cruise – a beautiful experience
Best hotels to stay in San Francisco:
♦ Inn San Francisco – authentic Victorian décor
♦ Parker Guest House – great breakfast included
♦ Cavallo Point – a breathtaking view of the Bay
How to spend 24 hours in San Francisco
Cross The Golden Gate Bridge
Don’t be intimidated that this is the place chosen by some to end their lives, and tick this when you visit the city built on more than 50 hills: cross the famous reddish bridge, Golden Gate.
It’s definitely one of the top things to do if you only have one or 2 days in San Francisco.
Depending on the time you have, you can choose a walk where you can see even the most minor details.
Or, you can improve your physical condition by crossing it on the two wheels of a bike, or you can choose the most convenient and quick method, travel it by car, and stop at one of its ends to admire it.
There are many points from which you can have a beautiful view of the bridge that connects The Fog City to the town of Sausalito, but we landed in the north on Golden Gate Heights, and we stopped in Vista Point.
🠲 Cross the Golden Gate Bridge on a 3-Hour Sausalito Cycle Tour
Why is the Golden Gate Bridge red?
Although I didn’t enjoy the most serene sky, I took some beautiful photos of the bridge, and I was pleasantly impressed by its grandeur.
Its total length is 2.7 km, and its height reaches 227 meters. The impressive construction, completed in 1933, is considered “the most photographed bridge globally.”
You probably wonder why the red color. It was not the aesthetics that mattered the most, but the fact that it needed an intense color for the bridge to be visible to the ships going to pass under it, especially on the foggy days, in San Francisco Bay.
However, what we consider bright red is, in fact, in its official name, orange international.
Initially, the U.S. Navy wanted to color the bridge in yellow and black stripes for even better visibility.
Still, it was decided that Golden Gate would be “dressed” in the famous red hue to be more aesthetically. What would the bridge look like if the first color version had been accepted?
Of course, you can also admire the Golden Gate Bridge on a Bay Cruise that will help you discover San Francisco’s fascinating history and see some of the most famous places around the city.
I’m not sure if a cruise is a good idea if you only spend 24 hours in San Francisco, but it might be if you wish to see many things at once.
READ ALSO: 10 must-see places in California
Visit Transamerica Pyramid, the second-tallest building in San Francisco
Take a look at the city’s Financial District for a few moments and measure the second tallest building in the city, as well as the most recognizable Transamerica Pyramid.
The 260-meter-high building was surpassed this year by another impressive tower, Salesforce Tower.
Although it has over 3000 windows, the building design allows them to rotate 360 degrees, so they can wash them from the inside, which looks pretty ingenious to me.
People could go up to the 27th floor for a top view of the city in the past. However, this was banned after September 11, 2001.
🠲 Admire San Francisco from above on a scenic helicopter flight
Transamerica Pyramid | How to spend 24 hours in San Francisco
Walk along Lombard Street, the most crooked street in the world
Lombard Street is the most crooked street globally and has gained an international reputation and a well-deserved place in the Guinness Book.
It’s one of the best things to do if you decide to visit San Francisco in a day.
We already know that San Francisco is a city built entirely on the hills, so steep slopes have led to situations where the only solutions were that the streets have enough bend to facilitate the climbing of cars.
It seems that the Russian Hill is so steep that Lombard Street had to be very “straggling” and, therefore, extremely attractive for tourists worldwide.
🠲 Go on an Alcatraz and Big Bus City Tour
I strolled down among the hundreds of tourists from all corners of the world.
Interestingly, you can walk up and down, using the over 500 steps on both sides of the street. I loved the multitude of trees and pastel-colored houses.
If your favorite flowers are hydrangeas, you have another reason to love Lombard Street because here, you will find a lot of them in blue and pink shades.
We didn’t see them in their best period, given that we visited the street in October. Still, I am sure that the landscape will become extraordinarily colorful and beautiful during the summer.
Lombard Street | How to spend 24 hours in San Francisco
Although it’s only 180 meters long, you need a few minutes to cross Lombard Street by car, especially as many tourists do the same thing daily.
Oh, and from the top of the road, you can easily spot the famous Alcatraz prison. It’s worth visiting it if you have more than a day in San Francisco.
Lombard Street | 1 day in San Francisco
Explore the streets of San Francisco | How to spend 24 hours in San Francisco
Even if you’ve already seen one of the prettiest, Lombard Street, that doesn’t mean you have to stop here.
Exploring San Francisco for a day should include walking on the streets and visiting the city on foot or by car as much as possible.
San Francisco is a charming city from any angle you look. The fact that it is built on the hills contributes to its uniqueness. Walk on the streets, admire the architecture, look at people, and admire the beautiful trees.
There are a lot of beautiful streets in San Francisco. The most appreciated and visited by tourists are Lincoln Blvd, Balmy Alley, and Macondray Lane.
Include a few of these in your one-day trip to San Francisco.
Admire the city from the top of Twin Peaks
Twin Peaks are two downtown San Francisco hills that offer a beautiful view of the city.
They are also the tallest hills in the city, with 282 meters. From here, you can even admire the ocean, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Transamerica building.
Less well-known is that the two hills are named Eureka and Noah. You have to get here on a clear day to enjoy a complete view.
Try to get there after dark to admire the illuminated city skyline if you have time.
READ MORE: Best 15 places to stop on the Pacific Coast Highway
Twin Peaks | One day trip to San Francisco
Go see the Painted Ladies, the gorgeous Victorian houses in San Francisco
The most photographed houses in San Francisco are the famous Victorian houses in Alamo Square, colored in pastel colors.
Specifically, the row of houses of obvious beauty is located on Steiner Street, also known as “Postcard Row” or “Seven Sisters.”
What sets these houses apart from the rest is the color and the architectural elements. Their beauty can be seen in details such as elevated front porch, front-facing gables, or lacy decorative spindlework.
Such a house has a value of around 4 million US dollars.
An extraordinary amount, but obviously, not everyone has the opportunity to live in such a house, and it doesn’t happen too often to be for sale.
If you’re still wondering what to do in San Francisco in one day, I recommend you not miss this place. It really is one of the perfect picture postcards from San Francisco.
READ MORE: 10 things to consider before road tripping the Pacific Coast Highway, USA
Painted Ladies | 24 hours in San Francisco
Visit Fisherman’s Wharf | How to spend 24 hours in San Francisco
An area you don’t want to miss even if you only have a day trip to San Francisco is Fisherman’s Wharf.
The place is a gourmet paradise, with an impressive selection of restaurants serving fresh food, mainly seafood-based.
It’s the perfect place to end your 24 hours in San Francisco with an ideal feast.
The place has kept its name since the 19th century from some Italian immigrant fishermen.
It seems that the name has remained unchanged, but also that you will still find many fishermen in the area.
The ocean is quite generous here. They come early in the morning and stretch out their fishing rods, waiting for their catch.
Also, in Fisherman’s Wharf, you will find other famous locations that are worth exploring, such as Pier 39, Ghiradelli Square, or Wax Museum.
Pier 39 is known for its colony of sea lions that sit here in the sun. They are usually admired by locals and tourists alike. They are a kind of symbol of the city.
🠲 Fisherman’s Wharf & Waterfront Segway Tour
Visit the Palace of Fine Arts
If you are looking for the most Instagram-friendly places in San Francisco, you must visit the Palace of Fine Arts in the Marina District.
The building was built more than 100 years ago for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition.
The place is lovely, consisting of a long pergola, a vast dome, carefully decorated columns, and a mini-park with a lake and white swans.
Although more than 100 years old, the 1989 earthquake and other events over time have made the renovation and rebuilding essential for it to survive.
Where to stay in San Francisco:
If you are visiting the city for the first time, and especially if you want to see San Francisco in one day, it’s best to stay in a central area.
From here, you will have easier and faster access to the city’s points of interest. My recommendations are Union Square, North Beach, or Nob Hill.
San Francisco is a relatively expensive city, one of the most costly in the United States, so you should expect the price of hotels to match. Here are my suggestions for accommodation in San Francisco:
- budget: Hotel 32One – private parking, Wifi, good location
- mid-range: Club Donatello – fitness center, private parking, bar, good breakfast, central location
- luxury: Hotel Triton– fitness center, room service, Wifi, excellent location