I may be from California, but before this summer, I had only been to San Francisco once. When my parents decided to take our family for a weekend trip to the bay area, my sisters and I were thrilled. With only one day to spend in San Francisco, we had to figure out a way to squeeze a whole lot of sights into a short amount of time.
We pulled it off! Our day was packed but we covered a lot of ground. The best part? We saved a lot of money by going on foot instead of paying for an overpriced tour bus. That extra dough was better spent on delicious food and souvenirs.
For the first part of our trip, we loosely followed Practical Wanderlust‘s self-guided walking tour directions. I stumbled upon the website while scrolling through Google. This tour is well-organized and covers many of the locations we wanted to visit. My family and I skipped a few stops, but this was a good outline to build off of.
After about 6 hours on our feet, we circled back to our car and finished the last couple stops. I wish I could’ve walked across the Golden Gate Bridge, but after all day on foot, I was more than happy to settle for a drive over.
Follow these directions if you want to hit many of the major San Francisco tourist attractions in one day:
Shop local at Ferry Building Marketplace
We started our day at the Ferry Building. Grab some artisan coffee and start your morning walking around this industrial structure. It is located on the coast on Embarcadero Street and is filled with stalls of unique, local vendors. No Starbucks Coffee or McDonald’s! Walk from shop to shop and find everything from vegan donuts to savory empanadas and colorful pottery to fresh oysters.
Bonus: If you go on a Saturday morning, there is a farmer’s market outside of the building. We were lucky enough to make on a Saturday. The rows of stands were filled with delicious-looking warm meals as well as fresh-picked produce. So many yummy smells filled the air.
Watch the sea lions play at Pier 39
After leaving the Ferry Building, we walked along the coast and passed the many piers until reaching Pier 39 at the end. If you walk along this route, you will pass the Exploratorium and aquarium. We skipped both even though they both looked like a blast since they seemed like all day events. If I am ever in the city again, I would like to go back and check those places out.
You will also come across the Alcatraz Ferry. Again, this is another longer exploration that takes up a good chunk of your day. If you really want to visit the island (which I would like to do in the future), plan far in advance. When we passed by, the next day with openings for tours of the island was a month out.
Pier 39 is a bustling tourist spot with no shortage of sights and smells. Watch street performs. Go on a ride on the carousel. Jump on the a bungee trampoline. If you want a San Francisco souvenir, Pier 39 is the perfect place to shop around. There is a wide variety of stores to choose from including the Cable Car Shop, Del Sol, Alcatraz gift shop and the Hard Rock Cafe shop.
My favorite part was by far the seal lions! If you go to the end of the pier, you can look out to the docks filled with sea lions. Unfortunately, you can’t get close enough to touch them, but you can still hear them bark and watch them play. Near the lookout point sits the Sea Lion Center if you would like to learn more about the marine mammals.
Eat seafood at Fisherman’s Wharf
Once we have finished our shopping and snapped some pics of the seal lions at Pier 39, our stomachs started to rumble. We followed the smell of seafood in the air to Fisherman’s Wharf. With many enticing restaurants to choose from, the decision was not easy. Satisfy any seafood craving you have, whether it be clam chowder, crab cakes or fish ‘n chips.
We ended up at Boudin Bakery, a popular bakery known for its fresh-baked bread. You can choose to sit upstairs at their restaurant, order at the bistro counter or just grab some bread to-go. Finding a seat after placing our order was not the easiest of tasks, but the food was worth it! Each of us ordered something different so I got a few bites of several items. My recommendation would either be the cake cake sandwich or shrimp pesto pizza. But, if you want to go traditional, the bread bowls of soup sure looked appetizing.
Snack on a piece of chocolate at Ghirardelli Square
With some fuel in our bellies, the next stop was Ghirardelli Square. While I would have liked to grab a “world famous hot fudge sundae,” the line was crazy long. I guess that means they really are amazing. Instead, we walked around the chocolate shop to take some treats with us for later. The best part? We were each given a free Ghirardelli caramel square sample. The kind employee must have known that was my favorite flavor!
Wind down Lombard Street
Our next leg consisted of the long trek up Hyde Street in order to reach the famous Lombard Street. The reason I call it a “trek” is due to the steep incline. My legs were burning and lungs puffing during the walk. Thank goodness my family and I were able to giggle our way through the pain.
If you want to skip this walk, you can hop on the cable car near Ghirardelli Square and take it up to Lombard. The only catch is the long line to get on the cars.
The trip is definitely worth the fun of Lombard Street. This short stretch of the road is steep and windy. As pedestrians, we were able to walk down the steps alongside the street as cars slowly zig-zagged their way down. The sight is comical.
Oh and I forgot to mention the spectacular views of the coastline and skyline as you increase in elevation. You will soon see the spectacular beauty of San Francisco.
Visit the Fortune Cookie Factory in Chinatown
After the walking down the winding road, we continued down Lombart to Columbus for another short walk that led to Chinatown. As you enter this neighborhood, it feels as if you stepped into another world. The culture and environment are unique. Walk through the small markets and look at all the fresh fruits, vegetables and meats being sold by locals.
If you go to one place in Chinatown, it must be the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory. I put the address (56 Ross Alley) into my phone, but was a little hesitant when I was led down a small, empty alley. I almost told my family that I must have made a mistake and had them turn around, but part of me was curious. I am glad I ventured a little further as we stumbled upon the fortune cookie factory. Only a small, crowded storefront, the room was occupied by three large metal machines operated by three generous men and women. It was mesmerizing to watch them rhythmically pull off the cookies, place a fortune inside and fold them into the perfect shape.
The employees were so kind as to let us watch and ask questions while they worked away. Even better, they gave us free samples of the imperfect pieces! For only a couple of dollars, we walked out with two large bags of flat “duds,” some even in chocolate and strawberry flavors. Yummy!
Pose in front of the Full House house
Chinatown was the end of our walking adventures. We headed back to the parked car near the Ferry Building after a short stroll through the financial district. Our feet were
getting sore so we decided to travel to our last few must-see spots by car. Plus, these sights were much farther away.
After only about a 15-minute drive, we pulled up outside of the house from Full House located at 1709 Broderick Street. Others stood in line outside for their turn to walk up the front steps and pose for a picture. However, I was surprised that is wasn’t more crowded. Within a few short minutes, it was our turn!
Even more surprising was the fact that the house is in the middle of a typical residential road. We even saw the neighbors walk out of their house to walk the dog. A list of rules are propped up outside, one of which is “Do not yell out “How rude!”
Drive over the Golden Gate Bridge
Last but definitely not least was the Golden Gate Bridge. You cannot go to San Francisco and miss this prime tourist location. You go over the bridge on foot, but we decided to pass on the walk after the long day we had already exploring the city. From afar, the bridge looks huge, but when it doesn’t seem as large when you are traveling over it. I was surprised by how quickly the trip went. Just an FYI, you must pay a toll electronically ($7.50 for a 2-axle vehicle) to drive over the bridge.
While there are many more sights I would like to visit in San Francisco, I am impressed that we were able to cover so much ground in such a short amount of time! There are so many neighborhoods in the city. Traveling on foot for the majority of the time allowed us to appreciate the uniqueness of each and every area we passed through.
What are some of your favorite tourist locations in SF? Comment below. I need to start planning my next trip to the bay area!
Until next time,