San Francisco is such a fun city to visit because of its rich and diverse culture, amazing foodie scene, and unique streets and architecture. The fast route through scenic mountains from LA only takes about 5 hours. If you choose to take the more scenic coastal drive, then it will take you about 7 hours plus the time you'll want to stop to see the views.
If you are a fast paced traveler, 2 full days in San Francisco is just enough to see the highlights. An extra day will give you the opportunity to be a little more laid back and enjoy a few more activities like Alcatraz Island, a sunset sail, and others.
Like LA, homelessness and drug abuse have continued to skyrocket in San Francisco, so if you are with young kids - be mindful. But don't get discouraged, because this city is still worth visiting!
Things to do in San Francisco
View the Golden Gate Bridge from Battery Spencer
This spectacular view is the perfect way to see the Golden Gate Bridge because you actually get to cross the bridge on your way there. There is limited parking, so you may have to walk a bit if you don’t get a lucky spot - but it is worth it! It also gets pretty windy up there, so if you are visiting during cooler months, be sure to bring a jacket or windbreaker. If you are in San Francisco for a few days, try to choose the day with the least fog to visit Battery Spencer because the fog can hide parts of the bridge.
This famous twisted street is perfectly manicured year round. It’s a fun sight to see but don’t be surprised if there are dozens of tourists at the bottom taking loads of pictures. Driving down the street is actually more fascinating because you get a good feel for how twisty it actually is.
North Beach - Italian Neighborhood - Washington Square
The Little Italy of San Francisco is always bustling. There are tons of restaurants, cafes, and boutiques worth browsing. I recommend grabbing a pizza to go and enjoying it in Washington Square - a small park in the perfect location with so many people passing by. If you can’t tell already, I love places that are ideal for people watching.
Alamo Square - Painted Ladies
Alamo Square sits atop a hill looking down at San Francisco’s famous Painted Ladies. You may recognize these from a few famous TV shows.Painted ladies are Victorian and Edwardian houses and buildings repainted. You’ll see this style across the city, but this row has become the most famous of them all.
You don't want to miss the biggest Chinatown in the United States. We absolutely loved browsing the streets and looking at the unique grocery stores, seafood stands, tea and spice shops, and Chinese knick knacks. My absolute favorite was the fortune cookie factory where you get to see how fortune cookies are made.
This alley is covered in incredible art that tell stories worth telling. The community and nearby property owners commissioned artists to help raise awareness to worthy causes. You can spend at least 20-30 minutes browsing the impressive murals.
Alcatraz Island & Prison
Alcatraz Island is about a mile offshore from San Francisco. You can easily see it from the Fisherman’s wharf, Ghirardelli Square, or Battery Spencer. The small island was developed with facilities for a lighthouse, a military fortification, a military prison, and a federal prison from 1934 until 21 March 1963. Today, the Island has a highly rated museum and Island tours. You may need reservations, so make sure to check the website ahead of time.
The Ferry Building has a great food hall. Outside is a long pier where locals love to stroll. The sunset is beautiful from here as is the view of the Bay Bridge which lights up at night.
Ride a Cable Car
The San Francisco cable car system is the world's last manually operated cable car system. The cable car is one of this city’s icons, so try to catch a ride. It is also a great way to tour the city.
Fisherman's Wharf & Ghirardelli Square
Fisherman’s Wharf is a bustling harbor with tons of restaurants and shops. It is a bit touristy, so be careful not to get lured in one of those tourist trap restaurants. It is however a fun area to explore. I recommend walking towards Ghirardelli Square where you can visit more shops and possibly get a delicious Ghirardelli ice cream dessert.
Palace of Fine Arts
This was one of the most unexpected positives during our visit. Even if you are not interested in visiting the museum, the outside gardens of the Palace of Fine Arts are absolutely stunning. It almost feels like you are in a modern Greece, but with perfectly manicured gardens.
Sunset at Funston Beach
On our last day, we drove to Funston Beach which had the most absolutely amazing sunset. You can either climb up the hill and view the beach from over the cliff, or make your way down to the beach. This is an incredibly long beach - perfect for long walks.
Sunset Sailboat Cruise
There are several sailboat and cruise companies that offer 2 hour or sunset tours - some offer packages with a meal or drink. This is a great way to get a unique view of the city. Make sure you book your tickets ahead of time.
What to eat in San Francisco
These Sicilian style pizzas have the most amazing crust! We loved the classic cheese and their signature clam and garlic pizzas. Grab a box and walk two blocks down to Washington Square. There are plenty of benches and a nice grassy area where you can enjoy the atmosphere and people watching.
This is not the same as the famous Tartine Manufactory. This spot is pretty small but has some incredible sweet and savory treats. We absolutely loved the fresh bread pudding with caramelized fruits, the morning bun, the warm mushroom with bechamel tartine, and most of all the hot pastrami sandwich (my favorite)! We also tried the goat cheese sandwich which would have been a 10/10 if it didn’t have blue cheese as well.
I’ve had a lot of croissants in my lifetime - even the good ones across Europe. I must say that Arsicault’s croissants are one of the best I’ve ever had. Try to get there early so that they are still warm. 3 of us literally inhaled our croissants and wanted to come back the next day. There will probably be a line, but it is so worth it!