San Francisco is incredibly iconic. Both historically and in pop culture. It stands as a beacon in the west and represents extreme wealth, artistry, ambition and openness. I often have friends reach out saying “We’re going to be in San Francisco on Saturday! What should we do if we’ve just got one day?!” Or, “Hey I am going to be in the city for a layover for work! I’ve only got one day in San Francisco and I don’t want to spend too much money, what should I do?”
I’ve played both the tourist and the resident in San Francisco many times. I think all that time has helped me create the ultimate 1 day San Francisco guide.
So when Matthew needed a day off from work, and I was going a wee bit stir crazy at the house we decided to pack up and have a San Francisco adventure.
But first coffee
San Francisco has an amazing coffee scene. There are so many micro roasters and specialized cafe’s it can be really hard to choose. If you can only pick 1 it has to be Philz. They have several locations in the city, but when I lived here about 7 years ago they only had 3! My favorite location is the Castro Street location because I love the Castro and the vibe is so chill. The quality and service are exceptional at all of their locations. So if you only have 1 day and are coming in via the Golden Gate I recommend choosing one that is closest to your first stop. Philz prepares their coffee’s one cup at a time which means they’re able to control the quality of each cup. Additionally, they mix the cream with a cocktail shaker which creates this really smooth velvety texture that’s just out of this world. I recommend the Mint Mojito, I guarantee you’ve never had any coffee like it in your life.
Museums and Art Galleries
San Francisco is home to some of the most amazing Museums and art galleries in the world. There’s over 50 in the city. But if you have just 1 day you can reasonably only see 1 or two.
I think if you have to pick just one it should be the Legion of Honor. I am not saying places like the De Young or the MOMA are not worth seeing, in fact, if you’re here for more than one day I recommend going to both of them. The reason I recommend the Legion of Honor for a one day trip is because of A, its Architecture; It’s beautiful both for what’s in the inside as well as what is on the outside. Reason B is for its location. The Legion of Honor is located in the middle of Golden Gate Park atop a hill with 360-degree views of the city, and the bay. Additionally, it’s very well curated and at $15 per person for general admission + FREE PARKING I think it’s the best option there is for a 1-day excursion.
Japanese Tea Gardens
Since you will already be in Golden Gate Park the Japanese Tea Gardens (in my opinion) are a must see. It costs around $8 per person and it’s such a great place to have a cup of tea, a small plate and take a lovely stroll. There is ample free parking nearby. If you are an Instagram junkie this place will be heaven for you. Additionally, the Botanical Gardens are right across the street. These are also incredible, I just prefer the Japanese Garden.
But after all, that walking through museums and gardens eventually, you’re going to need food.
Eating Chinese Food and Exploring Chinatown
A lot of people like to explore Fishermans Wharf when they come to the city and eat all the fresh seafood and bop along the docks and shops there.
Here’s my opinion on the subject, if you only have a day in San Francisco skip the wharf and go to Chinatown. The reason being is parking in the wharf is nearly impossible and it’s dreadfully expensive (like $25-35 for a few hours). Whereas Chinatown is located in a shopping district with loads of garages and parking structures nearby.
Plus if you’re looking for a cheeky souvenir and a good bargain you’re much more likely to find it here than in the Wharf.
Also DIM SUM!!!!!!! I recommend this place. I will say we made the mistake of waiting a bit too long to eat so by the time we got to Chinatown we were starving. We ended up going into the first place we walked by and it was meh. If I could go back and do it again I would have packed a sandwich or snacks in the rucksack and eaten them on the way to the gardens so that I could have been a bit choosier about my dim sum in Chinatown. Never the less it’s SO much fun here and I mean…. pork buns are Matthew’s jam. I honestly think he had an affair with his pork buns… in front of me… while he ate them.
Another solid alternative to Chinatown is Hayes Valley or Japan town. But as far as cost/ concentration of affordable shopping I don’t think you can do any better than China town. Plus the street art and architecture is sublime.
While you can’t see all of San Francisco has to offer in one day trip, this list is a pretty solid start.
Have you ever been to San Francisco? Do you have any recommendations?! Drop a comment and tell me about it!