How to spend 36 hours in San Francisco
This June, I visited California for the first time as an adult, and as part of that, I spent just under two days in San Francisco (not counting airport time!). A gorgeous city by the ocean, it reminded me of London in its bustle and foodieness, albeit with far taller buildings, an ocean breeze, and bigger hills. Due to its proximity to Silicon Valley, all tech innovation starts here, including gimmicky robot baristas and an abundance of electric scooters.
My time in SF was limited, but I enjoyed it to the utmost, and so, loosely inspired by those popular New York Times guides, I decided to write this post to describe how I spent my two days in the city. It may seem like a lot of activities, but in actual fact most of my time was spent just walking around and taking it all in!
This is not a comprehensive guide to the city. It doesn’t include the trendiest hotspots, or the quintessential tourist activities. I knew I couldn’t do it all, so I just picked and chose what sounded appealing, and frequently changed my mind along the way (the joy of spontaneity in solo travel!). Knowing that I’ll be visiting more often (one of the perks of my new job) also meant I didn’t worry about missing out on things, as I can just save them up for future visits!
I have also marked all the places I mentioned below on this custom Google Map, which may help you plan your visit a little!
Things to keep in mind
SF is expensive
I have lived in Switzerland and London, but the prices here really astounded me ($15 for a dosa?!). Also, you can never take them at face value as you need to add tax and tip before you pay!
SF is hilly
Google Maps doesn’t clarify which roads are uphill, so you often turn a corner and are suddenly faced with a very steep incline. Take it in stride – it’s a good way to work off the great food! And always wear comfortable shoes.
SF is windy
I was very lucky with the weather, as I missed out on the dreaded fog and enjoyed clear skies and sunshine the entire time. Nonetheless, the wind sometimes just came out of nowhere! Pack a light jacket or hoodie for sure.
11am: After dropping my bags, I headed straight to Tartine Manufactury in Mission for brunch. It’s known for its bread, and even for a Swiss person who lives in Germany, I have to admit it’s pretty damn good. A lovely bustling atmosphere and fantastic coffee, too. Expensive, but that is par for the course.
12pm: Time to work off those carbs! Golden Gate Park is beautiful and pretty big – I started my walk at the Conservatory of Flowers and then continued through until I reached the ocean, passing various gardens, and even a bison paddock along the way! (Note: You have to pay to get into the gardens, so I just continued walking instead)
It took me 1.5-2 hours for this walk, but I stopped frequently and kept a medium pace. An alternative would be to cycle or take an electric scooter, if you want to save a bit of time.
Once I reached the end of the park, I stopped off for a lemonade at the popular Java Beach Cafe – I felt it was overrated as it wasn’t actually on the beach, and also, I’d forgotten how sickly sweet American lemonade is. Skip this place, and just head straight for the water.
2pm: Walking along the promenade, I enjoyed the sea breeze to cool down and then continued uphill, past Cliff House and through some greenery, finally reaching the Lands End Lookout and catching a glimpse of that oh so elusive bridge! This is a great viewing point as there were hardly any people – I must have spent at least 20 minutes there, just staring. And of course, I took a selfie.
4pm: I’d heard about the aptly named rooftop bar El Techo, so I hopped in an Uber (the easiest way to get around) and arrived there around 4pm – perfect timing, as there was a minimal queue (I waited about 10 minutes to get in). Any later, and you’ll be waiting far longer. A great view and atmosphere, with fab drinks and heavenly guacamole (oh, California), but it got quite crowded so I didn’t stay too long.
5pm: Wandering through Mission, I found a wonderful bookshop called Dog Eared Books, where I browsed for a while. I then continued on to Dolores Park – a prime spot for people watching, and a great place to just sit for a while.
7-8.30pm: Whenever I travel, I like to try out a local dance class, and so I found myself at City Dance Studios, grooving to a bit of K Pop! If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, there are endless bars in Mission that you could check out too.
9pm: I met my cousin for dinner at Lolo, a famed Mexican place. Unfortunately though, the wait was far too long for a table, so we ended up going to Dosa across the road instead, which was excellent! I do miss good Indian food, and although this was definitely Western levels of spice and pricing, I loved the paneer and masala dosa.
10am: I was staying in the Financial District, and so I decided to walk down Market to get to my brunch date. It was Pride month, and so the flags were out in full swing, music was everywhere, and the atmosphere was just buzzing.
11am: Brunch at August 1 Five, an Indian-fusion restaurant with an extensive menu and stunning cocktails. I never thought it would happen, but this brunch dethroned Dishoom for me! The Lamb Curry Benedict (on spinach naan with curried Hollandaise), the goat’s cheese naan, the cocktail topped with yogurt foam… I was in absolute heaven. I am definitely coming back here the next time I visit!!
2pm: After a couple of cocktails, I wandered slowly back along Market and stepped into a few shops (Old Navy is a favourite!).
4pm: I headed up towards Union Square, where there was a festival celebrating the Philippines going on, before continuing down Grant Avenue to pass through Chinatown. Enticed by the smells, but still full from brunch, I continued walking just past Coit Tower and caught a glimpse of the famous Alcatraz Prison across the Bay!
From here, you can walk all the way down to Pier 39, but I had to head to the airport soon, so I turned around and walked back along Montgomery.
6pm: I stopped for a brief coffee, picked up my bags, and headed to the airport. A short visit it was, but oh so sweet!
Do you have any tips on how to spend a limited amount of time in San Francisco? I would love to get more inspiration for my next visit!