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Greetings Internet Stranger! So you’re looking for things to do for 24 hours in San Francisco? Well, the most important thing to know is that you need to spend all day in Golden Gate Park. Between the museums, the bison, and the hippies, there’s simply not enough time to pack everything in in less than one day.

The second most important thing to know is that even though the term Golden Gate is in the Park, you will not be exploring the Golden Gate Bridge during this itinerary. That is because, weirdly enough, Golden Gate Bridge is not in Golden Gate Park. Get used to disappointment, Internet Stranger!

24 Hours in San Francisco

Where to Stay?

I was embarrassingly broke when I spent my 24 hours in San Francisco, so I needed to stay in the cheapest motel I could afford. But I can’t recommend a place like that to my beloved Internet Strangers! The next time I go to San Francisco, I’ll pick something much more centrally located. After all, who wants to walk up and down all those crazy San Francisco hills a million times just to reach one’s hotel room?

If you want to find deals on hundreds of hotel rooms in San Francisco, just click here.

24 Hours in San Francisco

What to Pack?

You’ll also need comfy shoes for all the walking we’re going to do around the park. If it’s summertime, I love my special pink Birkenstocks. These aren’t your grandpappy’s Birkenstocks anymore. They come in every shade, and I always get compliments on my electric magenta shoes.

If the weather is rainy which happens quite often in San Francisco, I recommend the Asgard Rain Boots. They are comfy/cozy and keep my feet dry all day. Plus they’re cute enough that I can wear them out without feeling like some gauche tourist with gross feet.

Finally, since we’re going to be out all day, you’ll want a battery for your cell phone. I always use the Anker charger. It’s light enough to fit in even a small purse. You don’t want to sling a heavy bag all around Golden Gate Park. Plus the Anker lasts for several full charges of a phone, so I’ll never run out of juice!

A Perfect 24 Hours in San Francisco 5

24 Hours in San Francisco

Morning: The De Young Museum

There are so many fabulous museums in San Francisco and Golden Gate Park, but the De Young is possibly my favorite. The museum offers regular free guided tours throughout the day, and free guided museum tours are possibly my favorite things on this earth after food and mystery novels.

24 Hour tip

The De Young has excellent temporary exhibitions, but I suggest skipping them if this is your first time at the museum. The regular collection is large enough that you should concentrate on those works. Also, this will save you money because you won’t have to pay the extra charge for the temporary exhibition.


De Young Museum landscape

My favorite tour was the docent tour of the American Art collection, which is offered most days at noon. I loved this tour because we got to learn about the history of the depiction of California in painting. Our docent started by explaining that in the early 19th century, most painters did landscapes of the East Coast, as in this example shown above, “The Village of Catskill”, by Thomas Cole.

De Young Museum landscape

Our guide explained to us that painting nature on the East Coast was so early-1800s. By the second half of the 20th century, artists were much more interested in depicting the Western United States as the “New Eden”. But some painters weren’t able to portray such an idyllic view of the West, either because of the Native Americans who were being chased off their land or because of the environmental damage being done by increased movement out West. The fog in the painting of the Bay Area above is meant to symbolize some of that environmental damage.

I wonder if artists really used to mix it up with each other about whether or not it was better to paint the East Coast or the West Coast. Maybe it was like the 19th century equivalent of Biggie vs. Tupac.

De Young Museum three machines

We finished our tour with this work “Three Machines” by contemporary California artist Wayne Thiebaud, who is famous for his somber colors and serious subject matter. Just kidding! Thiebaud is known for his brightly colored paintings of sweets. There is something stereotypically Californian about the almost superficially cheerful nature of his work, but I like this painting anyway. What’s wrong with a work of art that puts a smile on your face?

Golden Gate Park de young cafe

I recommend spending three hours in the De Young, which gives you enough time to take two guided tours and explore a little of the museum on your own. At this point you will be hungry for some lunch. The De Young Museum has a good and not too expensive cafe on the ground floor. The walls are glass so you can look out on the Golden Gate Park while you eat. I had some fresh soba noodles and tea, and then I was ready to head out into nature!

24 Hours in San Francisco

Afternoon: Explore Golden Gate Park

I’m confident you won’t want to spend 24 hours in San Francisco without seeing the Golden Gate Park. This park has everything: palm trees, a Japanese tea garden, lakes, a Bison Paddock that is actually a paddock that contains real bison, something called a Hippie Hill, which of course it does because this is San Francisco, and an Archery Range.

No matter what you are in the mood to do, just check out one of the many clear maps you will find posted around the park and head off! The Park is your oyster, even though oysters may be the only thing you cannot find in this park.


things to do in golden gate park flowers

There is literally always an event in this park. I wasn’t even looking for something, and I came across an unidentifiable (at least by me) concert with a whole bunch of people in attendance dressed as fairies. I’m not trying to be offensive; they were literally wearing glitter and little gauze wings on their backs. If you want to be better prepared than I was, just check this calendar for details.

24 Hours in San Francisco

I always enjoy a random collection of creepy trees. Fortunately Golden Gate Park has an abundance of them.

24 Hours in San Francisco

I hope those are beavers in the bottom of the picture, but probably they are just rocks.

Golden Gate Park flowers

I was lucky enough to spend 24 hours in San Francisco in the springtime, so the blossoms were especially lovely.

Golden Gate Park daffodils

Daffodils make everything better.

Golden Gate Park jean scherr

Find this very San Francisco park bench and seranade Jean Scherr with “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”.  Or you can just wander around and look for Tony Bennett and see if he has located the heart he left in San Francisco. 

OK, I didn’t actually run into Mr. Bennett himself, but a girl can dream, can’t she?

24 Hours in San Francisco

Dinner: In-N-Out

Internet Stranger, you may be wondering why on earth I am recommending a fast food restaurant for dinner. But to many Californians, In-N-Out is not just a fast food restaurant, it is THE fast food restaurant.

After years of hearing my California friends rave about the wonders of an In-N-Out burger, I was equal parts full of East Coast contempt for the burger and curious about trying it out. Lucky for me, I was able to taste this spectacful beef patty because there is an In-N-Out at Fisherman’s Wharf. I half wanted it to be terrible just because I am sick to death of hearing about how magical it is.

Sadly/happily it was not terrible at all. It was meaty and salty and bunny just like you want a hamburger to be. And it only cost 2.05! Well played, California, well played.

in-n-out burger

This was one of the first pictures of food that I ever took, and now I think I would know enough to take the wrapper off the hamburger before taking the picture.

Related Reading: 24 Hours in San Francisco

Are you ready to start booking your hotel room in San Francisco? Let me help you with some further reading. I like Lonely Planet’s guide to San Francisco. It’s divided into neighborhoods, which makes for convenient reading.

If you want to get in touch with vintage San Francisco glamour, you can’t do better than vintage noir classic The Maltese Falcon. Read this book while walking all about ‘Frisco and pretending that you are Humphrey Bogart trying to track down his partner’s killer.

If you want something more popular with female characters who aren’t completely terrible people, read Amy Tan’s bestseller, The Joy Luck Club. This book won tons of accolades for its tale of several generations of a Chinese-American family in San Francisco.

Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY spend 24 hours in San Francisco. If you’re interested in the Bay Area and Alcatraz, try this itinerary. And if you want to ride the cable cars, give this a shot.

Stella Jane
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