48 Incredible hours in San Francisco, is that enough? The answer is always yes! Any time in San Francisco is always time well spent!
San Francisco epitomises everything that is cool about California. There are so many different aspects of the city to explore and oodles of iconic sights to say you’ve seen. Plus, you’ll discover parts of the city you didn’t even know existed! Two days allows for just enough time to get around some of the most important parts, and add a sprinkling of a little bit more as well. Here’s our itinerary of how to spend 48 incredible hours in San Francisco.
Understanding San Francisco
We stayed in the slightly shonky end of town called Tenderloin. On booking we had no idea about the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ parts of San Francisco.
An arrival we could see for ourselves that Tenderloin was a little rougher than other areas of the city. There were masses of homeless people down the street from where we were staying and this was really hard to see at times. I did worry about the kids a little bit but, thankfully, they didn’t seem to notice it.
However, the room was cheap, much much cheaper than in any other part of the city and you didn’t have to walk far to catch a bus or a tram east or north to the more touristy parts.You also didn’t need to walk too far to enter into some of the other nicer areas either.
We booked Alcatraz about four months prior to our visit. I wasn’t sure if it was going to be worth it since we were travelling with kids, but it really really was!
We booked ourselves onto the earliest ferry, which meant our bus ride up to Fisherman’s Wharf and walk along to the pier was wonderfully quiet and peaceful.
Our eager and excited children shared the sidewalks with only early morning runners and dog walkers. The throngs of people I expected to see were apparently still in bed.
We had bought breakfast the day before as we arrived late into the afternoon and took it with us to eat by the water while we waited for the boat. This became one of my favourite moments of the whole trip!
Once we boarded the ferry and made our way out into the bay we experienced a true San Franciscan moment. Both the Golden Gate Bridge and the Oakland Bay Bridge were shrouded by San Francisco’s famous light grey mist. The sea birds flew in long lines alongside the boat skimming over the water as we made our way to the island. The weather felt anything other than Californian, but it was perfect.
Our time on the island
Our time on Alcatraz was incredible. I don’t know if it was because I had very low expectations of the visit or because the place is truly remarkable. However, I enjoyed every single second.
There are strict rules around eating on the island as it is actually a bird sanctuary. You may drink water but food must be eaten on the dock.
To get the most from the visit, take your time and walk slowly. Take in the views, the history and the feel of the place. It is quite amazing that so much happened here in such a short amount of time.
The audio guide is good and you’ll benefit from paying attention when you get into the prison, just so you don’t miss anything.
We stayed for around four hours and I could have easily stayed for longer.
If you are undecided about whether to visit with children I would say do it! The boat trip alone is a great experience for them (and for you!) and there is so much to look at and explore. There isn’t really a chance for them to get tired of the place.
Pier 39 – 48 incredible hours in San Francisco
Pier 39 seemed a sensible next stop after our Alcatraz visit.
The pier is essentially a pleasure pier and we took time to enjoy the hustle and bustle of the shops, the over-sugared buckets of donuts and the views out into the bay.
We stayed to have lunch here, which consisted of sourdough (the oldest in the Bay Area apparently) bread bowls filled with clam chowder. They were so yummy and so filling I couldn’t quite manage to finish mine.
We then went to see if the famous Pier 39 sea lions were in residence. Lucky for us they were! There’s lots of space available to stand and watch the sea lions, but it does get busy. Expect large crowds all over Pier 39 and be aware of this when travelling with small children.
From Pier 39 we walked to Ghirardelli Square to experience some of San Francisco’s most beloved chocolate. The square is very very quaint and there is lots to enjoy. Plus, there’s a whole lot of chocolate for you to try and buy too!
We’d done a fair bit of walking by this point and there were murmurs among the group of needing a sit down and a beer. We just so happened to walk into the San Francisco Brewing Co and it was the best decision we could have ever made!
The place was really friendly and children were welcomed. This was such a relief for us!
The drinks were good and the beer choice exciting (ever had Nerds in beer?) and above all there was the biggest shuffleboard any of us had ever seen right in the middle of the pub!
We spent several beers (and gins) in here playing on this monster of a shuffleboard. It was just perfect for the spectrum of ages we were travelling with, which included a 70 year old and a 2 year old!
Lombard Street – 48 incredible hours in San Francisco
Refueled and re-energised we walked to Lombard Street. If you have read any of our other posts you’ll know we always try and walk everywhere. Our 48 incredible hours in San Francisco was no exception.
From Ghirardelli Square the walk to Lombard Street only takes about 15 minutes. However, it is a lot of uphill walking. It was here that my sister and brother-in-law told us that they were expecting their first baby, so Lombard Street holds a little bit of sentimental value for us all now.
The windy section of the street is very small and not nearly as impressive as they make it look on screen. However, I walked up and down it (just to say I had done it) and watched as car after car after car drove down the winding road with their phones or heads out of their rental car windows to get the best view they could before it comes to an abrupt end only 100 metres later.
End of the day
From Lombard Street our day ended. We went back to the hotel and put the kids to bed and ate leftover pizza. However, the rest of our party went out to dinner somewhere around the War Memorial Opera House. Eating options in San Francisco are endless.
Day 2 – 48 incredible hours in San Francisco
San Francisco City Hall
We made an early start on day two. This started with a coffee shop breakfast and caffeine hit for us grownups.
As we drove into the city from the airport I noticed some lovely play parks outside San Francisco City Hall. Our hotel was only a couple of blocks north from here, so I had already pencilled in to spend some time here to let the kids run of some energy.
The playgrounds were beautiful and gated. They also had their own attendant looking after them. This was either genius or slightly worrying – i’m still not sure which it is.
Golden Gate View Point – 48 incredible hours in San Francisco
At this point we had collected our own rental car. Our two day hotel stay in the city had come to an end and we were due to drive east to Tahoe. Before we left the city I wanted to have a look at a little area I had seen on Google Maps just under the Golden Gate Bridge.
Once there I only wished we could have stayed longer. The views of the Golden Gate Bridge were brilliant!
There were views in every direction! On the left hand side you could see Golden Gate Beach, Crissy Field and Alcatraz. Straight ahead just below the bridge there were surfers riding waves in the water and to the right was Fort Point National Historic Site.
Fort Point National Historic Site
Our trip to San Francisco was a perfect collection of hidden gems and Fort Point was no exception. We came to the viewpoint to see the bridge, however, it was Fort Point that stole the show!
It was built to defend San Francisco from attack during and after the US Civil War.
Entry is free and you are encouraged to explore the site as much as you would like. The scale of the red brick structure and the architecture inside is impressive and the views from the top are fantastic!
There is also a section that shows you how soldiers would have lived and worked in the fort during the Civil War, which we all found very interesting.
Golden Gate Bridge and Other Look Outs – 48 Incredible hours in San Francisco
We then drove north over the Golden Gate Bridge and spent some time at various look outs on the other side looking back into the city.
It is worth mentioning that if you travel north on the Golden Gate Bridge away from the city there is no toll. However, if you travel south on the Bridge you will need to pay the toll and prices can be found here.
Obviously this is just a snapshot of what is on offer in San Francisco. The more time you have the more you will see. However, if you find yourself in this wonderful city for a couple of days, this itinerary would be a good start.
What would you add to the list? Let me know in the comments below!