48 hours in San Francisco

By Amy Sherman, San Francisco-based journalist.

Photography by Alamy

Skip to Navigation

January 2018

With a pioneering culture that dates back to the Gold Rush, San Francisco is also famously laidback and brimming with quirky character. Amy Sherman rounds up some of the must-visit sights and local favourites you should pack into 48 hours in the city.

Day one

18.00 – Arrive in style

You’ve landed; now it’s time to check-in and freshen up. In Nob Hill, the Fairmont Hotel is a long-time favourite of the great and the good, including many past presidents. The walls are lined with photos of celebrity guests from every era. Start your evening at the hotel’s Tonga Room for the ultimate tiki bar experience.

Book flights to San Francisco

20.00 – Grab a bite

Head into Chinatown and check out Mister Jiu’s for a contemporary take on Chinese classics, overseen by chef Brandon Jew. The cocktails here are a cut-above, too, if you prefer to perch at the bar with a drink and some Dutch Crunch BBQ Pork Buns. Meanwhile, there’s a bustling ground-floor restaurant at culinary shopping destination, China Live. Enjoy the signature Sheng Jian Bao pan-fried pork dumplings and sumptuous desserts.

  • Grab your morning pick-me-up at Blue Bottle Coffee © Melissa Habegger Ryan.

    Flights of fancy

    Tucked around the corner from the main cafe in the Ferry Building Arcade you’ll find a smaller outpost, and the only Blue Bottle Coffee that offers single origin coffee flights.£306 return

    Book flights to San Francisco
  • Take in the views of the red giant from Golden Gate Park © Getty Images.

    Did you know…?

    There are about 600,000 rivets in each of the bridge’s towers, and the bridge weighs around 804,000 tonnes.£498 pp

    Plan your trip
  • Grab a bun and cocktail at Mister Jiu’s.

    A Cali twist

    While sticking strictly to Chinese cuisine, each dish at Mister Jiu’s is made from as much locally sourced, seasonal produce as possible.£399 pp

    Book a San Francisco fly-drive

Day two

09.00 – Ride the cable car

San Francisco’s cable cars can take you “halfway to the stars” as Tony Bennett, who famously left his heart here, once sang. Enjoy a ride down from Nob Hill to the waterfront on the California line, and it’s a short walk to the Embarcadero waterfront. Grab a coffee at Blue Bottle inside the Ferry Building and pick up a few goodies to eat later or bring home.

10.00 – The science of fun

The Exploratorium is a unique interactive science museum, a kind of public learning laboratory that’s as compelling to adults as it is to kids. Located on Pier 15, along the Embarcadero, it’s filled with hundreds of hands-on exhibits and activities illustrating scientific principles.

With its stellar sonic heritage, San Francisco is home to some legendary live music venues.

13.00 – Seafood feast

Sample San Francisco’s strong seafood scene at Fog City, a landmark restaurant with a suitably nautical vibe and storied past. Start with oysters on the half shell or if you’re feeling fancy, oysters Rockefeller, with spinach, asiago cheese and garlic.

15.30 – Towering success

In Pioneer Park, at the top of Telegraph Hill, is the local landmark of Coit Tower. The simple fluted tower built to honour Lillie Hitchcock Coit, a patron of the city’s firefighters. The walk up to the tower is steep, but you may be rewarded with a sighting of the park’s colourful South American parrots en route. After taking in the stunning views, don’t miss the murals inside.

  • Check out the Algae Chandelier at The Exploratorium © Gayle Laird.

    While little ones are welcome Tuesday to Sunday 10.00-17.00, the museum is strictly adults only on Thursday evenings between 18.00 and 22.00.£399 pp

    Explore California

17.30 – A slice of Italy

The city’s Italian neighbourhood of North Beach is brimming with cafes and restaurants. Meander along Columbus and Stockton Streets and you’ll find gems such as Italian ceramics specialist Biordi Art Imports, and Goorin Bros – a fourth-generation, family-run hat shop.

22.00 – A little night music

With its stellar sonic heritage, San Francisco is home to some legendary live music venues. The retro Bimbo’s 365 Club on Columbus has been open since the 1930s, former vaudeville theatre, The Warfield on Market Street and the Great American Music Hall in the Tenderloin. And don't forget legendary venue The Fillmore.

Day three

10:00 – Park life

Golden Gate Park is San Francisco’s equivalent of New York’s Central Park – but bigger. It’s home to attractions including botanical gardens and the Conservatory of Flowers, a Japanese Tea Garden, the California Academy of Sciences, the DeYoung museum and more.

12.00 – Chill out

In Cole Valley, near Golden Gate Park, Ice Cream Bar is a heavenly blend of lunch counter, old-fashioned soda fountain, and cocktail bar. There’s a short menu of sandwiches but be sure to save room for an ice cream treat such as the Dublin Honey, made with Guinness, caramelised-honey ice cream, Valrhona chocolate syrup and a float of Graham’s 10-year tawny port.

15.00 – On a mission

The Mission District neighbourhood is awash with quirky boutiques, galleries, shops and restaurants. Head to see innovative art at Creativity Explored, and shop for clothes at boutique Azalea. This part of town is famous for its burritos and tacos, but you can also indulge in delicious homemade breads at Tartine Bakery.