San Francisco in 48 hours

Needless to say, 48 hours is simply not enough for a city such as San Francisco…but then, this is all we had!

Last month we took a road trip with the family; experiencing classic americana that makes up the California Highway Route 1 Road Trip! (nicknamed “California Dreamin”)

Allow us to give you a glimpse…

View out into the ocean

San Francisco embodies the American WOW factor

Steep roads offer sweeping views of the city with postcard-worthy Victorian homes stacked up high on hilly streets, and endless miles of blue Pacific Ocean coastline extending out into the horizon…

San Francisco has a large and well connected airport that makes for a good anchor base if you’re planning to explore the Northern California area (NorCal); or for a road trip to Southern California area (SoCal) along the coast.

But that also means that you may have less time to explore the city itself. So, here’s how to do San Francisco in 48 hours.

How to Pack: San Francisco seems to be perpetually cold! The weather is always a damp cold with regular bouts of fog and a misty haze. The best way to travel is to layer up (shirts, light sweaters and a fall jacket). 

1. Get a hotel before you arrive

San Francisco is the second most densely populated city in the United States after NYC, and is also fast becoming one of the most expensive in the world (almost surpassing NYC). Because of this, you want to book a room in advance!

The city is also facing an increase in the homeless population, so you want to be careful when looking at the areas for hotels. We recommend staying in Union Square, financial district or close to fisherman’s wharf. These areas are well connected with the BART and the trolley stops make for convenient tourist hops!

2. Ride the steep hills in a Cable Car

Start the day by joining the queue for the Powell-Hyde street car for a ride on a bell-clanging cable car (each ride is $6) and get an incredible view of the city’s rolling topography.

Get there early so you can beat the crowd
The trolley ride

Read the instructions while waiting your turn 🙂

pay attention 🙂

So you can grab a good seat (preferably the outside row) and take a quick selfie!

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Family selfie!

Then ride the cable car along a steep incline and hang on for dear life…

Brace yourself for the ride!

Finally, get off at Fisherman’s Wharf to hop on the next item on the agenda!

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Off at the next stop
3. Take a cruise to Alcatraz

Walk to Pier 43 1/2 at Fisherman’s Wharf and get the tickets to one of the spectacular waterfront cruises to get a close and upfront view of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Alcatraz.

We took the 2 Bridge Cruise from the Red and White Fleet line.

Red and White Fleet line – big ships!

While the cruise itself was fun, and we learnt a lot about the history of San Francisco over the years; the weather got misty and foggy offering a limited view of either attraction :/

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Damp and foggy day for a cruise

The views on a bright and clear day are known to be quite incredible!

Ghirardelli Chocolate factory
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Back to the wharf

After the cruise, you will likely be starving! Well, we sure were…

4. Grab a bite at Fisherman’s Wharf

So, walk back to the pier to get a bite of the famous clam chowder, and dungeness crab!

Fisherman’s Wharf

San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf really gets its name from the city’s early days; back to the late 1800s  when there was an influx of immigrant population due to the gold rush. The Italian fishermen came by the bay and established a successful wholesale local fish (and dungeness crab) business in the North Beach area close to the wharf. Since then, the area has remained the base for San Francisco’s fishing fleet despite the re-development in the 1970s (and 80s) into a tourist attraction.

Delicious Dungeness crab

We walked over to Boudin (pier 39) to grab a bowl of chowder and some veggie options for the parents.

Boudin’s bread bowl – Ignore the photo bomb 😉

Walk into Boudin and be ready to step into bread heaven!

The sweet smell of bread is everywhere

You can even watch the process from start to finish, and take in the the heavenly smell of freshly baked bread!

Bread baking process
5. Walk along Embarcadero

Burn those calories by taking a walk along this beautiful stretch of waterfront! Take in the spectacular views and the wide open space of the bay.

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Giant crab on the loose!

Grab some fresh fruit (from the farmers market stalls) and take some time to admire the view. This also makes for some great people watching!

A little break for chomping on those fruits
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That view with the soaring seagull

Walk a little further to see the sea lions at Pier 39. We found a solitary guy hanging out by himself…

The lonely sea-lion!

Until we noticed THIS sign and it all made sense…(really?!?!) Hopefully, you can spot more (sigh)!

Thanks for the sign!

Grab a plate of fish n chips after this disappointment :/

yummy fish ‘n’ chips

And save your food from mean seagulls!

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Watchya staring at?

By now you’ve had enough of the ocean and the waterfront, let’s move on to more urban stuff in Union Square.

6. Late night shopping in Union Square

Union Square refers to the general area surrounding the main plaza for several blocks. This area is one of the largest collection of department stores, upscale boutiques, gift shops and art galleries making this a major tourist destination!  (Think NYC’s 5th Ave on steroids) This is a great point to wrap up your evening with some shopping and a good dinner.

photo courtesy of
7. Wind your way through Lombard street

It’s Day 2 and you are eager as ever to go see the Golden Gate bridge up and close! Now, you can either do that (see #10 below) OR stick with us here…move it to the next day when you drive out to Napa 🙂

Head over to Lombard Street, famous for the twisty 8 hairpin turns all on one street! You can either drive this crooked street, or walk the side to take lovely pictures…

We walked up the steep stairs to get the lovely view
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Beautiful hydrangea flowers in full bloom!
And the view, a bit hazy but still lovely
8. Hang Out in Mission Street

Head over to Mission Street which is the newest hipster haunt with more murals and wall paintings than any other part of the city. There are several gourmet ice cream, donut, coffee shops, casual restaurants serving the most authentic cuisine (think burritos, Indian, Italian). Many of these oldest establishments have been around since the 1940s and 1950s, when workers from Mexico came over to work in shipyards and factories.

Mission Street photo courtesy of

The best way to get here is by taking the BART to 24th and Mission and then walking over a block.

We obviously eyed Gajalee, and salivated at the sight of their coastal indian food. So delicious!

9. Find your fortune in Chinatown

Next, head over to San Francisco’s Chinatown; the largest outside of Asia as well as the oldest in North America! It is most definitely one of the top tourist attractions of this city.

Walk through the labyrinth of shops and store fronts decorated in the traditional chinese colors. The colorful facades and rooftops with fine architectural details practically transport you to Asia!

Don’t miss the opportunity to stop by the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory. The factory has been supplying fortune cookies to Chinatown and (allegedly) around the world since 1962. Although, I think the concept of Fortune Cookie is unique to Chinese-American restaurants. Served after a meal, the hard shell of the cookie must be cracked open to reveal your fortune (and a chinese character). Personally, I just like the cookie 🙂

This is also a good place to buy some souvenirs, as the prices and sheer variety can’t be beat! We grabbed dinner at one of the various Chinese restaurants and walked back to the hotel.

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The view of lanterns down the street
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colorful facades
10. Admire the Golden Gate Bridge 

And finally, THE Golden Gate Bridge! This is definitely the most photographed bridge in the world since it opened its doors in 1937. One of the longest suspension bridges in the world (at 4,200 feet), the structure bridges both US Route 101 and California State Route 1 across the Golden Gate strait.

The best way to admire this spectacular bridge is to drive/bike/walk across the bridge…

We drove across the bridge

And find a parking spot on the other side to take in the gorgeous view of the bay!

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The amazing view from the other side

This was our last stop in San Francisco!

And NOW, packed up for Napa!!! ❤

And to the next destination we go!

What would YOU do differently over a weekend? We would love to hear for our next trip to San Francisco!

Hope you enjoyed reading!

xo, A&A

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