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by Jill Loeffler •
Updated: June 8, 2022
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.
Disclaimer: I receive a small commission from some of the links on this page.
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
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
>> Tips on how far in advance to book Alcatraz and other top SF attractions
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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!
>> Learn about the five best cruises on the bay
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 GetYourGuide
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.
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
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
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
If you plan to spend the night, make sure to check out these great deals.
Booking: Find great deals all around San Francisco for your upcoming stay!
TripAdvisor: What's the #1 hotel in San Francisco? Read reviews & find hotel deals on TripAdvisor!
VRBO: In addition to hotels, you'll also find some great places to stay locally through VRBO. Book an apartment or a room and feel more like a local. Find some great places to stay on VRBO here.
Not sure which part of town to stay in? Check out my tips for selecting the best district for your stay.
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
Comments? Questions? Suggestions?
I would love for you join me in my private Facebook group!
It’s a great place to interact with me and others that know the area well.
You can ask questions, get advice for your upcoming stay, and then share your photos and advice with others when you return home. It’s a great community and the fastest way to get answers to those nagging questions about your visit!