Sign up for email & receive your FREE copy of our 

2017 Planning Guide!

We respect your email privacy

One Day in San Francisco

10 Fun Things to Do On a Short 24 Hour Visit

Do you only have one day in San Francisco? Even with such a short stay, you will be able to squeeze in quite a bit of what the City by the Bay has to offer.

My list includes 10 of the best things to do while you are here. You can stroll across the Golden Gate Bridge, visit Alcatraz or cruise around the bay. Foodies will love our tasting tours and art lovers will enjoy our top rated museums.

Read on for tips on what to do during your 24 hour visit to SF.

One Day in San Francisco: 10 Fun Activities for Your Short Visit

For some of the links on this page, I receive a small commission when you purchase. You don't pay more when you buy through me and it gives me the chance to offer you all this great content for free!

1. Visit the Golden Gate Bridge

If you only have one day in San Francisco, you'll probably want to visit the city's best known landmark: the big, beautiful Golden Gate Bridge. This bright orange architectural masterpiece made history in 1937 as the longest suspension bridge ever built, crossing a straight once believed impossible.

Now, it connects SF to quaint waterfront towns, Muir Woods, and wine country to the north, and is a very popular tourist attraction, whether you visit on foot, in a car, by bike, or in a boat passing underneath it.

>> Read more about the history and tips to visit

2. Explore Alcatraz Island

For many visitors, a trip to Alcatraz is the obvious choice for their one day in San Francisco because it's so famous. This ex-federal prison has been featured in many movies and TV shows for its unique setup, and is often referred to as "The Rock," since it's basically a large rock in the middle of the bay from which any prisoner would have to swim 1.5 miles in frigid waters to get to shore.

When you ferry over and take a tour of the grounds, you'll learn about its history, notorious prisoners, and escape attempts.

>> How to book your tour to Alcatraz

3. Stroll Around the California Academy of Sciences

On a short trip to San Francisco, you won't have time to check out all of its incredible museums, but one that's definitely worth making time for is the California Academy of Sciences.

California Academy of Sciences

Because it houses a four-story living rainforest, an aquarium, a planetarium, and a natural history museum all under one signature eco-roof, it's really like visiting four museums in one, each with amazing exhibits for adults and children alike. Fun and interactive, visiting this museum in Golden Gate Park is a truly memorable experience.

>> Buy skip the line tickets in advance to save time at the door

>> See photos, get directions, and more details about the museum

4. Enjoy the Museum of Modern Art

If you love admiring paintings and sculptures by renowned artists like Henri Matisse and Diego Rivera, you're in luck because San Francisco's newly remodeled Museum of Modern Art now has 10 floors and over 30,000 pieces for you to enjoy. Some of the ongoing exhibits include "Approaching American Abstraction" and "Pop, Minimal, and Figurative Art."

The sleek design of the building is in itself a work of art, and is conveniently located downtown across from the Yerba Buena Gardens.

>> Find out more about what you can see at the SF MOMA

5. Sample Some of Our Amazing Cuisines

Another must-do on your one day in San Francisco is to try the food the locals love. Thanks to the great ethnic diversity in this city, you'll find excellent options in every genre, including Chinese, French, Mediterranean, Mexican, Thai, and Italian, as well as good quality, fresh American cuisine.

Choose from fancy, international, vegetarian, seafood, gourmet food trucks, and more. The guide below will give you the best recommendations depending on what you're in the mood for or what neighborhood you're in.

>> Check out one of our food tours to a great sampling of cuisines all around town

>> Find the best bites in San Francisco

6. Admire Our Street Art & Murals

San Francisco has plenty of art museums, but to get a real taste of the local art and culture, all you have to do is be observant as you walk around. There are thousands of murals throughout the city that make our streets come alive with their colors, history, and powerful messages.

Street Art One Day

You'll find a lot of street art concentrated in the Mission and North Beach districts, as well as some commissioned works hiding inside Coit Tower, the Rincon Center, and the Beach Chalet.

>> Where to look for SF street art and murals

7. Cruise the SF Bay

Another fun way to spend one day in San Francisco is by cruising the bay and enjoying wonderful views of Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the SF skyline from the water. There are many tours offered every day, and you can choose by duration, price, and special features.

Some take you sailing, others offer brunch or a sunset toast, and yet others will take you under both SF bridges. Read about the different tour packages in the link below, and get ready to enjoy the nice sea breeze of SF's natural beauty!

>> Find tickets at up to 50% off the 60-minute bay cruises on Goldstar

>> Learn about the five best cruises on the bay

8. Take a City Tour

If you only have one day in San Francisco and want to see all the top sights, taking a half-day city tour is a great way to pack it all in and still have time to explore a bit on your own.

This option is thorough and convenient, as your driver-guide will take you from Golden Gate Park to the famous Victorian homes, the Golden Gate Bridge, Palace of Fine Arts, Fisherman's Wharf, Chinatown, North Beach, and Twin Peaks for a panoramic view. Each tour lasts 3.5 hours, and you can choose the morning or afternoon. You can even upgrade to include a one-hour cruise on the bay! Get the details below.

>> Find out more about this half-day tour on Viator

9. Discover Our Hidden Gems

Maybe you've already seen most of the major tourist attractions in San Francisco and want to spend your day off the beaten path. This city is full of hidden treasures like mosaiced staircases, vintage arcade games, quirky museums, wine tasting rooms and breweries, the oldest camera obscura in the US, and so much more.

Hidden Gems in SF

If you know where to look, you'll have a blast exploring these unique and lesser-known attractions while delving a little deeper into the history of San Francisco.

>> Discover 25 hidden gems in San Francisco

10. See a Show

Nearly every day of the year, you will find some sort of show to attend in San Francisco. If you are a fan of the fine arts, check out the SF Ballet, Opera, and Symphony calendars, or catch a stage play or Broadway musical at one of SF's many theaters.

There is live music almost every night of the week in concert halls, cafes, or parks. You can even choose from comedy and circus shows. In addition to live entertainment, San Francisco hosts lots of large tradeshows and craft fairs, so you'll always have the opportunity to acquire new knowledge and souvenirs.

>> Find out what shows will be offered during your visit

Save on Your Stay with These Half-Priced Activities

If you have just one day in San Francisco, make sure you check out the deals on Goldstar for your visit. Here is where you will find tickets at up to 50% off on popular tours such as cruises, food tours, and more.

These are just some of the most highly rated options. Click the links to visit Goldstar to learn more and to find other great deals all around town.

  • 60-Minute Bay Cruise: Cruises around the bay, leaves from Fisherman's Wharf, several cruises a day, Full price $31, Goldstar price $15.50*

  • Cable Car Hop On/Hop Off Tour: Ride around SF on a cable car on wheels, hop on and off at up to 15 stops around town, Full price $30-$45, Goldstar $20-$30*

  • Sunset Cruise: 2-hour sunset cruise around the SF Bay, step aboard the Privateer, each ticket includes two drinks, offers spectacular views of the city of San Francisco, Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, and more, Full price $60, Goldstar $45*

*Small service fee at checkout.

Sample One-Day Itinerary

Another option if you only have one day in San Francisco is to use this "Perfect Day" itinerary I created just for you. This self-guided tour of the city lets you be in charge as you hit the most popular attractions and grab delicious bites along the way.

I'll show you how to take a trail with beautiful views from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Palace of Fine Arts, bus over to Fisherman's Wharf for seafood and other attractions, cruise over to Alcatraz, and end the day with a fabulous dinner and drinks in North Beach.

>> Get the details about how to spend the perfect day in SF

Best Places to Stay

If you plan to spend the night, make sure to check out these great deals.

TripAdvisor: What's the #1 hotel in San Francisco? Read reviews & find hotel deals on TripAdvisor!

Booking: Find great deals all around San Francisco for your upcoming stay!

Not sure which part of town to stay in? Check out my tips for selecting the best district for your stay.

Other One-Day Sample Itineraries

San Francisco is such a diverse city with so many distinct little pockets that, to get to know it well, you could spend a whole day in each one of its districts.

All of the one-day itineraries I've put together include a detailed walking route with a few alternative options so you can explore the best of each neighborhood--including the obvious attractions, lesser-known gems, best museums, bars and restaurants--in depth, without backtracking or having to take taxis to see what most interests you.

>> Check out these one-day self-guided tours of Chinatown, Pac Heights, the Mission, and more

More One Day in San Francisco Ideas

Wine Lovers
Fisherman's Wharf
Columbarium
Ideas for
Wine Lovers
50+ Fisherman's
Wharf Activities
Free Things
to Do

> SF Attractions > One Day in San Francisco

New! Comments

Thanks for visiting! Do you have a question or comment about what you just read? Leave me a note below!

Back to the Top

SF ebook

Free 2017 SF 
Planning Guide!


Sign up for the SFTourismTips email 
& get your free guide today!

chinatown

walking tours

about the author

cheap and clean lodging

50 free things to do

north beach

fishermans wharf

murals in sf

pier 39

sf with kids

wine tours

theater calendar

Contact | Home