48 hours in San Francisco

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I didn’t have long.

After landing on the tarmac, racing to the baggage collection, and out the door to the waiting shuttle service — I was finally here in San Francisco. Well, I was in a shuttle van on my way to the city, at least. This city is now more expensive to live in than New York, meaning that it is one of the most expensive cities to live in in the world. With that comes limitations — especially since San Francisco has so much to offer.

So if you’re on a budget, not here for long, here’s how to do San Francisco in 48 hours:


Day 1: The Icons

Book Your Tickets Before you Arrive

We’ll start with Alcatraz, because its the first ticket you should book aside from your plane ticket. Alcatraz is that former prison on an island, a short ferry ride from The Bay Area. If you love it as much as Hollywood has (with numerous films and tv series filmed here over the years), then you’ll want to book a ticket as soon as possible to avoid disappointment – they sell out well in advance. Book A Tour Here.

Now that you know when you’re going to set aside time for this, you can begin to plan the rest of your activities around this. Like…

Ride A Cable Car

One of the most iconic ‘must do’ experiences for most visitors is to ride one of the original cable cars. Of course, everyone wants to do it and everyone will queue to do so. To avoid the lines, be sure to make this one of the first things you do when you arrive in San Francisco. If you want to hang out the side, you’ll have to fight for it.

Ride a bike on the Golden Gate Bridge

There are a few ways to approach this – but none could be more enjoyable than to rent a bike and cruise along the Bay until you reach the bridge, ride the length of the bridge in the late afternoon, and enjoy sunset on your return. There are plenty of bike rentals in Fisherman’s Wharf, which is a great place to start and end your journey.

An Evening Meal at Fisherman’s Wharf

Touristy, yes. Crowded, yes. Not the best seafood you’ll find in San Francisco, yes. We’ve heard it all before. But regardless of the critics, Fisherman’s Wharf is still a fun ‘must do once in your life’ experience. Once you’ve finished your cycle, stick around the area for an evening meal. Of course most of the offerings are seafood, but you won’t have to go far to accommodate dietary requirements.

Late Night Shopping in Union Square

If you’ve still got some energy left to burn, make your way over to Union Square for some late night shopping. Here you’ll find everything and anything you’re looking for, particularly international brands and designers.

San Francisco

Day 2: The Real Deal

Now that you’ve got all the tourist hot spots out of the way, its time to see, explore and experience the ‘real’ San Francisco. Instead of visiting ‘places’, on day two its all about visiting neighbourhoods. Here are some of the best neighbourhoods you should hop to and from on day 2 for ‘the real deal’ San Francisco:

The Mission District

 Where: 14th to 30th Streets

This is without a doubt the hippest address in town. To live in Mission District is an honour only bestowed to a select few who can afford the sky-high rent prices, despite its’ gritty and grungy character. Because the area was originally filled with immigrants, much of the ethnic community still live here. As such, there are some great restaurants for cheap, ethnic eats to be found between Van Ness and Potrero avenues.


Where: Haight Street

Any local transportation will in some way or another take you to the renowned Haight Street – home to some of the more colourful murals, buildings, shops, and people in San Francisco. But its not what it used to be in 70’s, so as long as you’re not expecting an authentic hippie time-warped experience, then you can enjoy an hour here strolling Haight Street. There are some great vintage thrift stores and some unique boutiques scattered along the street, but primarily this area is now filled with tourists avoiding eye contact but still managing to boggle over the colours and sights that occasionally lay before them.

The Castro

Where: Between Market & 18th Streets

The Castro is most affectionately known for being the world’s largest and first gay community. This colourful area is filled with lots of great coffee shops, restaurants, bars, and shops. The GLBT History Museum, Harvey Milk Plaza and Castro Theatre are among the more popular/well-known landmarks in the neighbourhood, but equally enjoyable is just to arrive, stay, and wander.


For more information on where to go, what to see and do in San Francisco, I highly recommend referring to the SF Tourism Site for reference.

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    September 18, 2015 at 6:22 am

    The Mission is great for dinner and bars or Dolores Park on a weekend day, but it is still very gritty and packed with newcomer techies (much like Williamsburg, NY). I’d skip it and do a quick walk up Grant Street, through China Town and North Beach, where the heart of San Franisco was really defined. Chestnut Street and The Palace of Fine Arts are beautiful in route to the Golden Gate Bridge, on the nicer side of town. Skip eating in Fisherman’s Wharf altogether, unless you want a $3 T-shirt. Locals NEVER go there.

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    August 5, 2015 at 8:36 am

    […] Here are some tips on how to spend ’48 hours in San Francisco’. […]

    Johnny Explores
    May 25, 2015 at 11:48 am

    On some Sundays Castro Theatre holds sing-a-longs to popular musicals. Go if you get the opportunity. They are a blast. Just remember to buy your ticket in advance, and show up early to get a good seat.

    Hajeong Shin
    April 21, 2015 at 8:37 am

    This is a great post!!! I always wanted to visit San Francisco and this is a great guide 🙂

    April 20, 2015 at 12:50 am


    April 19, 2015 at 9:40 am

    Love this list! One my guilty pleasure bucket list items (is that a thing?) is to rent a red convertible and drive over the Golden Gate bridge a la the opening credit to Full House. Alcatraz and the Painted Ladies would also be a must.

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    April 17, 2015 at 6:45 am

    I’ve only done the more touristy things in San Francisco, but am hoping to return this summer to do some local stuff with friends that live there. I loved Alcatraz so so so so much, it has to be one of my favorite things I have ever done while traveling. Also, I hiked the redwood forests, that was an awesome way to spend one day as well 🙂

    Jeh-C Chung
    April 17, 2015 at 4:23 am

    I’m going to San Francisco next month and this post was really useful.
    I can’t wait to get there and explore the city! 🙂

    Damon and Jo
    April 17, 2015 at 1:22 am

    We’ve been to SF and explored around, and we really think is a comprehensive recap of everything that should be touched upon if you make it to SF. One quick thing: if anyone is reading this and thinking of staying in the Tenderloin near Ellis St – please take a second look at another option. I’ve lived in NYC, Paris, Quito, and Barcelona and have therefore dealt with my fair share of crazies, but Ellis St takes it to a whole nother level – to the point where I, someone who is pretty much never “on edge,” was completely “on edge” there. I didn’t know what to expect. I hope SF has cleaned up this problem in the past few years!

    April 16, 2015 at 9:41 pm

    I visited San Francisco last year for about 4 days but there’s still so much I didn’t get to do! Definitely need to visit the Mission District next time!

    April 16, 2015 at 6:54 pm

    Lovely post! San Francisco is one of the main destinations on my bucket list. Saved this post <3

    Lowest Room Rates
    April 15, 2015 at 11:22 pm

    A great city, has so many things to offer. Need more than 2 days to explore.

    April 15, 2015 at 1:04 pm

    San Fran one of my favorite cities. Lots of culture, nice people, and great scenery.

    April 15, 2015 at 12:56 pm

    I’ve been dying to go to San Francisco for years and your post makes me want to go even more! I even considered moving to San Fran after graduating but decided to start in NYC instead. I definitely want to see the icons like the Golden Gate Bridge and Union Square. But I really just want to experience the atmosphere of the city because I’ve heard it’s so laid-back and cool and the people are all so friendly!

    April 15, 2015 at 4:33 am

    I LOVE San Francisco! I can also recommend checking out the Painted Ladies and the Full House house! Also, if you have time hiking through a redwood forest! you’ll feel so small 🙂

    April 15, 2015 at 3:32 am

    Argh You just made me have even more travel regret that I didn’t get to San Fran last year when on the west coast. 5 months just wasn’t enough! ha Just another excuse to go back!! Happy travels 🙂

    Marie @ Marie Away
    April 15, 2015 at 2:08 am

    San Francisco seems like such a cool city. I’m sure I will make it there at some point–I’ll keep this itinerary in mind for that–thanks!

    Brittany Stopa
    April 15, 2015 at 1:59 am

    Awesome advice! When I was there last month I had only a short time as well, but I think one thing is safe to say…it doesn’t take long to fall in love with San Fran!!

    April 15, 2015 at 1:58 am

    Thank you for all of the suggestions on places to go! I would love to go to San Francisco soon one day, and now I know all of the exact places to visit! Alcatraz seems very interesting, as well as shopping 🙂 I mean, all of it seems interesting.

    Brooke | brookewrote

    Diana | Yellow Mondays
    April 14, 2015 at 10:59 pm

    I love San Francisco! We went for our vacation last year and had the best time! So much history and lots of interesting things to do. I must say you covered the best parts in just 48 hours!

    April 14, 2015 at 10:53 pm

    San Francisco is so full of interesting people and exciting places, that you really cannot avoid having adventures. Every time I visit I bring lots of stories home. My all-time favorite spots are Gharadelli Square (Yeah, it is touristy, but the sundaes are ridiculously good and the customer service is great too!) and Muir Woods National Park. Muir Woods is about a forty minute drive out of San Fran (right across the golden gate), but if you can spare any time is more than worth it. There is nothing like surrounding yourself in the awe-inspiring grandeur of the redwood forests. It is probably my favorite American National Park. Don’t miss it!

    April 14, 2015 at 6:47 pm

    Lovely! SF is on my – will do this one day -list … Love the picture of the Golden Gate bridge.
    – Robin

    April 14, 2015 at 6:29 pm

    All the pics of San Francisco are so awesome. I truly appreciate how you’ve worded your journey. I am very impressed with this information and you’ve managed to keep it interesting.

    Asli Bildirici
    April 14, 2015 at 6:13 pm

    I love the approach of getting the tourist spots out of the way first. I think it is important to see them but so many people end up missing the real life of the cities they visit. Great advice. Thanks!

    Girl Against Oleka

    April 14, 2015 at 5:49 pm

    Awesome photos and I’m so happy you got to visit my city! You did some great areas but there is so much more to see. You can reach out to me the next time you visit and I will give you so more great suggestions. Happy travels.


    April 14, 2015 at 4:35 pm

    San Fran is more expensive to live than in Manhattan, lol. I’d LOVE to visit the city, though, I bet it doesn’t have to be that expensive for a smart tourist! I have to get to the U.S. first, though, haha

    A Life Passport
    April 14, 2015 at 3:42 pm

    Very helpful! I will be in San Fran in July – I can’t wait to get out and explore all these places.

    April 14, 2015 at 3:31 pm

    Wow, shocked to find out that its even more expensive than NY now! I have a potential job opportunity in SF but its still going to be a long process. As always your posts are great for a heads up 🙂 Definitely gonna bookmark this one!

    April 14, 2015 at 3:09 pm

    Your posts lately have left me organising a US roadtrip of my own for this time next year with my best friend! Thanks for all the info Brooke!

    Kris Kainass
    April 14, 2015 at 3:01 pm

    Cannot wait to read a ’48 hours in Phoenix, Arizona’ post from you! Thanks for inspiring me, daily.

    April 14, 2015 at 2:41 pm

    I reaaally love this city. Hopefully I’ll be able to settle in it some day!

    EmilyAnne (Eat All Over The World)
    April 14, 2015 at 2:18 pm

    San Fran. is such an amazing city! I ran Nike Woman’s Marathon there a couple of years ago, great way to get to know a city….run a race there!

    Sarah Park
    April 14, 2015 at 1:25 pm

    I wish you could have done a meet up in SF or had the time to explore a bit more of the bay area 🙂 there are so many amazing places and foods to try! I hope you come back in the near future!

    Escaping Neverland

    April 14, 2015 at 1:22 pm

    This is a quick and good mini sightseeing guide for those who are short on time in SF. Any food recommendations?

    Characters & Carry-ons

    April 14, 2015 at 10:47 am

    I would also add visiting the Palace of Fine Arts, the Painted Ladies and the Japanese Tea Gardens — some of my favourite things to do in the city. Great post and photos 🙂

    April 14, 2015 at 9:54 am

    San Francisco is one of my favorite cities! There is so much character around every street corner it’s almost unbelievable <3


    April 14, 2015 at 7:19 am

    Wow….this is my City and you got it right! The only other thing I would say is just walk the City start at the Ferry building….then walk down Market street…then hit Union Square…..then up to China town….then to North beach for drinks and din din….Perfect! I’ve done this walk it’s a whole day of sight seeing and shopping! I just love your Blog. You have so much information that is so useful. Keep up the great work!