- Cathy Neubauer
48 Hours in San Francisco
Updated: Mar 7, 2021
"If you're going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair"- Scott McKenzie
San Francisco has a special place in my heart. Many moons ago I thought I would surely live there but le sigh, as the tech bubble grew bigger so too did the cost of living...which is how I landed in Los Angeles. Even though I don't live in the Bay area I still love it there, I'm drawn to what was once the epicenter of the American counter culture movement. Even though a lot has changed since the summer of love it's still a wonderful place to visit, rich in art and history.
I usually only get a few days at a time to visit so here are my top things you must do when in San Francisco (in no particular order).
What does a protected national park, former civil war fort and federal penitentiary have in common? One guess...Alcatraz!!! The famous island prison off the coast of San Francisco Bay housed some pretty dangerous guys like Al Capone (guys you gotta pay your taxes), George 'Machine Gun' Kelly, Robert Stroud 'The Birdman of Alcatraz' and Alvin 'Creepy' Karvis (the first "public enemy #1"). On top of being a former and defunct federal prison, it's also now a protected nature and wildlife preserve! Pretty cool huh?!?! Alcatraz is a must see if you're visiting the Bay. You have to take a pretty short ferry ride near fisherman's wharf to get to the island. Keep in mind that these ferries get booked up so be sure to get your tickets ahead of time here. The ferry ride is actually a pretty nice way to relax, get some snacks and drinks and enjoy the views of the bay. Once on the island you can take a guided or self-guided tour. I highly recommend the self-guided audio tour which is pretty immersive and lets you walk through the main cell block (broadway) and into the mess hall and office centers. You can even take some time to get in a cell and see how a few inmates escaped years ago. Make sure to set aside some time to explore the beautiful flowers that grow on the island and see the nesting sea gulls that have decided to call Alcatraz home. Warning: There are a lot of photos ;)
2) Citi Lights Books (North Beach Area)
North Beach, a buzzy neighborhood steeped in Italian heritage, draws locals and tourists to its checked-tablecloth trattorias, coffee shops and retro-flavored bars. The spirit of the Beat Generation can be felt at the storied City Lights bookstore and the memorabilia-filled Vesuvio Cafe bar. In Telegraph Hill the Filbert Steps offer a scenic hike to the iconic Coit Tower, with WPA-era murals and panoramic views.
3) Proper Hotel and rooftop bar
I have to give the Proper Hotel a shout out not only because it's one of the best rooftop bars in S.F. but also because one of my oldest and best friends helped design the interior and lights throughout! Located near the civic center, the Proper Hotel and Charmaine's rooftop bar are the epitome of luxurious boutique hotels. Grab a few friends, some drinks and a spot outside near a heat lamp and lookout over the city. Make sure to take time to explore the beautiful lobby and restaurant Villon downstairs.
4) Fishermans Wharf
Ahhhhhh what else can I say about Fisherman's wharf? There's so much to talk about but suffice it say this is THE spot to check out for food, food and food. There's lots of shopping and touristy areas and it's (you guessed it) right on the water so it's incredibly beautiful. Honestly, you could probably close your eyes and point to a restaurant and find a good one. Most are going to be seafood oriented so you absolutely have to have clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl, garlic crab and my favorite cioppino (a stew made with lots and lots of seafood, broth and a hunk of garlic bread to dip it all up). As if that's not enough food, make sure to take some time and wander through Boudin Bakery and see their crazy sourdough creations that range from turtles to crabs.
5) Get lost driving up and down the zig zaging Lombard street in Russian Hill
Lombard Street is an east–west street in San Francisco, California that is famous for a steep, one-block section with eight hairpin turns. Stretching from The Presidio east to The Embarcadero, most of the street's western segment is a major thoroughfare designated as part of U.S. Route 101. Russian Hill is a quaint, upscale residential community known for the famously crooked Lombard Street, a major tourist destination. The iconic San Francisco cable cars crest the neighborhood’s hills, which provide views of a number of city landmarks including the Golden Gate and Bay bridges. Commercial stretches along Polk and Hyde Streets offer an assortment of trendy and old-school restaurants, bars and shops.
6) Pier 39
Sea lions? Pier 39's got 'em and I mean a lot of them. I could literally hang out there all day and watch these beautiful tubs of blubber lounge around on top of each other. There's also the Aquarium of the Bay and other shops and restaurants in this area.
7) Ghirardelli Square
Like sundaes? Ghiradelli invented them! Go get the biggest sundae with extra cherries on top.
8) Palace of Fine Arts
The Palace of Fine Arts in the Marina District of San Francisco, California, is a monumental structure originally constructed for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition in order to exhibit works of art presented there. One of only a few surviving structures from the Exposition, it is still situated on its original site
9) Have the best Chinese food in S.F.'s Chinatown
This is one of the oldest and most established Chinatowns in the U.S. Beyond iconic Dragon’s Gate, a bustling maze of streets and alleys brims with dim sum joints and other traditional eateries. Also found are herbalists, bakeries, souvenir shops, and dark cocktail lounges and karaoke bars. There are ornate temples, including the landmark Tien How, as well as the Chinese Historical Society of America Museum.
10) San Francisco Ferry Building
The San Francisco Ferry Building is a terminal for ferries that travel across the San Francisco Bay, a food hall and an office building. It is located on The Embarcadero in San Francisco, California.
11) Twin Peaks
Twin Peaks, named for a pair of 922-foot-high summits, is a remote residential neighborhood with modern homes densely packed on steep lots along winding streets. A grassy 64-acre hilltop park is a popular attraction, with its hiking trails leading up to wind-swept peaks and 360-degree views of the Bay Area. The triple-pronged Sutro Tower antenna that soars over the neighborhood is a fixture in the skyline.
12) Drive across the Golden Gate Bridge (or look at it from Baker Beach)
Need I say more?
13) Golden Gate Park and Haight-Ashbury
Birthplace of the 1960s counterculture movement, Haight-Ashbury draws a lively, diverse crowd looking to soak up the historic hippie vibe. Upper Haight Street is a hodgepodge of vintage clothing boutiques, record shops, bookstores, dive bars and casual, eclectic restaurants. Bordering Golden Gate Park, the neighborhood features many colorful, well-preserved Victorian homes, including the storied Grateful Dead House.
14) Sutro Baths (enter through lands end lookout)
The Sutro Baths were a large, privately owned public saltwater swimming pool complex in the Lands End area of the Outer Richmond District in western San Francisco, California. Built in 1896, it is located near the Cliff House, Seal Rocks, and Sutro Heights Park.
15) See the Painted Ladies
Any fan of 'Full House' will remember these Victorian Row houses, which were famous for being featured in the opening credits of the show. Have a picnic on the hill and enjoy.
On top of all of these recommendations, be sure to try S.F. favorites like clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl, garlic crab and Mai Thai's!
Here's my quick itinerary for getting the best out of S.F. Let me know what you think or if there are any other places/recommendations you have please post below :)