1 Perfect One Day in San Francisco Itinerary

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Greetings, Internet Stranger! So you want a perfect one day in San Francisco itinerary focusing on Downtown San Francisco? An excellent choice, my fine feathered friend. Downtown San Francisco has some of the best food and culture that SF has to offer.

A beautiful day in the neighborhood here has beignets, Hindu sculpture, modern art installations, Korean tacos, luscious burritos, and of course a ride on the iconic streetcar. It will be like going around the world in 24 hours. Hmm. That phrase sounds familiar to me.

One Day in San Francisco Itinerary

How To Get There

Now, I wish I knew where you lived, Internet Stranger, because I could send you a beautiful box of Rice-aroni, the San Francisco treat. But sadly, I do not, and so I can’t tell you exactly how to get from your home to San Francisco.

But I can tell you that I used a lovely airplane to get from my hometown NYC to San Francisco, and I recommend Expedia for the best way to find the cheapest flight to San Francisco at the best time of day. You can even use Expedia to rent a car so you’ll be all set when you arrive at your destination. (I can’t drive, but if you can, this must be helpful.)

Just click here to start looking for the best possible deals on your flight, so you can head out to your one day in San Francisco itinerary ASAP.

One Day in San Francisco Itinerary

Where to Stay?

Literally no one could recommend the hotel where I stayed the first time I had a one day in San Francisco itinerary because I was so broke that I was desperately refreshing my bank account each day to see when the IRS would send me my tax refund so I could afford to finish my trip. (The IRS came through. WOOO IRS!)

The next time I go to San Francisco, I’m staying at the Cartwright Hotel. It’s located right by Union Square so it’s within traveling distance of anywhere we might want to reach like the cable cars or the Asian Art Museum! What more could you want?

If you want to chillax with me at the Cartwright, just click here. If you find me a little strange and want to find deals on hundreds of other hotel rooms in San Francisco, just click here.

One Day in San Francisco Itinerary

What to Pack?

  • You’ll want some cute sandals for strolling through the Asian Art Museum
  • But you’ll also want some practical yet hip rain boots that are waterproof in case it rains during your one day in San Francisco Itinerary
  • A cell charger so your cell won’t run out of juice when you’re taking Insta-worthy pictures of Golden Gate Park
  • A light jacket with a hood because you’ll definitely need one at some point during your one day in San Francisco itinerary
  • My favorite guidebook to the Golden Gate City
  • A safety purse just in case you meet a cutpurse on the cable car
  • For fiction about SF, try Armisted Maupin’s famous Tales of the City. (It’s not at all about Carrie Bradshaw, I promise; instead it’s about LGBTQ life in SF.)
  • If you’d rather nonfiction, try The Mayor of Castor Street, about groundbreaking gay politician Harvey Milk. Yes, there’s a movie about him, but we all know books are better.
  • I always travel with travel insurance from World Nomads. You never know when something might go wrong, especially in this day and age, and you don’t want to get stranded in a foreign country without help. Even if you live in the US, you never know when extreme weather will strike or some other emergency. But with travel insurance, you’re protected even if you’re attacked by a roving gang of evil flower children during your one day in San Francisco itinerary.

One Day in San Francisco Itinerary

Morning: Asian Art Museum

As you can probably tell from the museum’s not-very-obscure title, it is an institution dedicated to all kinds of Asian Art: Japanese, Chinese, Indian, Korean. All Asian Art Always, that’s the museum’s alliterative motto. Or if it isn’t, I offer it to them free of charge.

You could never see all the museum in a one day in San Francisco itinerary, so let’s kick things off with the…

one day in san francisco itinerary

Approximately top 5: The Asian Art Museum

1) Brenda’s French Soul Food

Brenda’s French Soul Food is not in the museum, but it’s just a five-minute walk away, so I feel comfortable recommending it for breakfast. But why should you trust my judgement about French soul food?

Well, I’m a native New Yorker, but I could almost as easily claim to be a New Orleanian. My mother was born and raised in New Orleans, her mother was born and raised in New Orleans, my family has lived in New Orleans since my great-great-great-grandfather Patrick McCloskey came over from Ireland in the 1860s. I’ve gone down to New Orleans once a year since I was one year old.

I know New Orleans food, is what I am saying. So believe me when I say that though Brenda’s French Soul Food is in San Francisco, it serves excellent New Orleans food.

24 Hour Treasure

Start your one day in San Francisco itinerary here for breakfast and get the beignet flight consisting of four beignets: plain, chocolate (filled with San Francisco’s own Ghirardelli, natch), a savory crawfish and cheddar, and my personal favorite: granny smith apple with cinnamon honey butter. Don’t feel disappointed by the idea of getting a plain because even a plain beignet is fried dough dusted with powdered sugar, and there is nothing to hate there.

24 Hour Tip

If you have your one day in San Francisco itinerary on the weekend, you’re going to have to wait an hour on line at least to get a table, so just plan accordingly! Fortunately they now accept reservations on Resy.

one day in san francisco itinerary
2) Docent led tour of the asian art museum

Every day there’s a free docent-led tour of the highlights of the museum collection that leaves at 10:30. You should definitely go on it! If it weren’t for my docent, I never would have met this camel, and that would be a tragedy for all.

one day in san francisco itinerary
3) Simhavaktra Dakini

Our docent also introduced me to many important Hindu and Buddhist deities, and I must admit that I am not up on either. It is so much easier to appreciate a work of art when you are familiar with the historical context. My favorite piece was this mind-boggling statue of a Buddhist deity named Simhavaktra Dakini.

How does she stand up like that? How did the sculptor get her to balance? She’s like the world’s coolest game of Jenga. My only complaint is that I wish the museum would move the exit sign because it would be easier to get a good picture of the sculpture that way. Museums do not think enough of the importance of Instagram.

one day in san francisco itinerary
4) Samurai armor

I love how lifelike this samurai armor looks. It almost feels like there’s an actual soldier sitting in a glass case in front of you, complete with beard. But that fluffy beard doesn’t look very practical for battle.

Couldn’t the enemy distract you by pulling on your beard? I know it was very distracting to the department store Santa Claus when I did that to him.

one day in san francisco itinerary
5) The jade collection

The Asian Art Museum has an amazing collection of Jade pieces, but this teeny Buddha is very favorite because he is so peaceful. I imagine he’d inspire some deep meditation if I kept him in my room…except that it would be hard to relax very much if I was responsible for such a valuable work of art.

One Day in San Francisco Itinerary

Afternoon: Explore San Francisco

You might think that after four beignets for breakfast, I would not be hungry. But you would be wrong, Internet Stranger! I am always hungry, and I am usually eating. In fact, the only reason I am not the size of a whale-moose is that I walk everywhere.

So that is why I suggest you continue the one day in San Francisco itinerary by taking the pleasant 30 minute walk down to the Ferry Building for lunch. By the time you arrive, you will want something to eat.

Approximately top 5: One Day in San Francisco Itinerary

Ferry Building San Francisco
1) Explore the ferry building

The Ferry Building is a food hall that contains just about every kind of delicious gourmet, locally-sourced snack food that there is in this world. The stands inside the EffBee are open every day, but the produce-drenched farmers market that sometimes congregates outside the building is only there Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.

I had to restrain myself from trying all the foods at all the different places, but you shouldn’t resist snacking on a buttery Argentine alfajor cookie from the El Porteno stand. Do yourself a favor and grab one of their empanadas as well.

2) ice cream at humphry slocombe

Whether or not the farmers market is open, you must get ice cream at Humphry Slocombe inside the building. It is some of the most intensely flavored and creamy ice cream I have ever had, and I posed for the cover of Ice Cream Aficionado Magazine.

I recommend that you try the perfectly not-too-sweet Blue Bottle Vietnamese coffee flavor made with local Blue Bottle coffee. If you want Blue Bottle coffee, you can also buy some fresh in the Ferry Building. It’s a perfect San Francisco treat!

one day in san francisco itinerary
3) Cable car Tour

Speaking of San Francisco treats, it’s that time on our one day in San Francisco itinerary for the cable car tour! Do not confuse the San Francisco cable car with the similarly iconic New Orleans streetcar. First off, there is not even one streetcar in SF named Desire.

Second off, as much as I love New Orleans, I have to admit that the cable cars are even more impressive than the noble beast that is the streetcar.That is because SF is the last city in the whole wide world to have functioning cable cars. For that reason, you simply must ride the cable car when you are here.

one day in san francisco itinerary

All that is to explain why a ticket for the cable cars is worth a rather exorbitant price. You can pay for one ride using the Muni Mobile San Francisco transportation app, but you can also buy a one day public transportation pass for 20 dollars if you are going to be using public transpo a lot that day. I personally don’t think it sounds like a great deal, but then I never take transportation if my feet are still working.

There are three cable cars remaining in San Francisco: the Powell-Mason, the Powell-Hyde, and the California. I suggest that if you’re crunched for time, you shouold ride the California line because there was a very short line to get on the cable car. At the Powell-Mason and Powell-Hyde, the lines can be up to an hour.

I’m not sure why the California line was less popular because it was a blast! We went through Chinatown, and we went up and down enough hills that you will feel like a baby playing the “Up in the Air and Down Again” game.

one day in san francisco itinerary

Please remember that the price is only for a one-way ticket. If you want to go back to where you got on the cable car to continue your one day in San Francisco itinerary you need to pay another seven dollars.

24 Hour Treasure

The cable car driver was my 24 Hour Treasure because I tried to pay him another seven dollars for my return ticket after the first ride was over and he just shook my hand and refused to take my money. Bless you kind sir! With the money I saved, I was able to purchase an In-N-Out Burger.

4) Yerba buena gardens

When you’re done with the cable car excitement I recommend taking a fine book and relaxing in the Yerba Buena Gardens on 750 Howard St. It will be that time on your one day in San Francisco itinerary when you’ll want to rest your feet. You can also peruse the public art in the gardens, like this “Green Glass Ship—Deep Gradient/Suspect Terrain” by John Roloff.

one day in san francisco itinerary

I’m not making a joke. That’s actually what this sculpture is called. Just stay here and chillax with the deep gradients and suspect terrains until it is time for dinner.

One Day in San Francisco Itinerary

Evening: Dinner and a Show

“Dinner?” you may be asking. “Haven’t you already eaten four beignets, coffee ice cream, an empanada, and a cookie from the Argentine? Why are you still hungry?” To which I reply, “THE BEAST NEVER SLEEPS!” And by the beast, I mean my hungry tummy.

It is sheer folly to enjoy a one day in San Francisco itinerary and not try some Mexican food, and Tropisueno is a fine choice for a pre-theater meal. Make sure to reserve online in advance because it gets crowded.

one day in san francisco itinerary

The number one thing you must get at Tropisueno is one of their killer (and strong) margaritas. Remember that we are going to the theater next, so maybe don’t get more than one margarita unless you want to fall asleep. Now, you could almost make a meal out of the margarita and spicy salsa with chips alone. But un/fortunately the beast would not be satisfied, and there was more food to come.

Start with a light appetizer of a refreshing tilapia ceviche with lime. The lime was the perfect lip-puckering compliment to the fresh fish. Get a small appetizer because we’ll be indulging in a heartier main course: the chile verde, a rich slow cooked pork in a scrumptiously spicy green chile sauce.

I always like getting an appetizer and main course that are very different from each other because I feel like I notice the flavors in each more that way. Sadly I wasn’t able to get dessert because it was time for the final act of the one day in San Francisco itinerary: the theater!


Let’s finish our one day in San Francisco itinerary with some aht, dahlink. The American Conservatory Theater is an outstanding place at which to take in a contemporary play. They produce everything from established playwrights like Tom Stoppard to world-premieres by playwrights you have never heard of.

(Actually, I can’t be sure that you have never heard of them. I can only be sure that I have never heard of them. But if I haven’t heard of them, probably you haven’t either.)

I saw a new drama called Let There Be Love by British playwright Kwame Kwei-Armah, about the relationships between an elderly West Indian who has lived in London most of his life, his English-born daughter, and his caregiver, who is a young Eastern European woman.

As I see it, the themes of the play were: there are many similarities and differences between West Indian immigration to England and contemporary Eastern European immigration to England, you should accept love in whatever form you find it, and Nat King Cole is awesome. All worthy themes!

The play also reinforced the most important lesson I have learned from my travels which is, “All over the world people have been terrible to each other throughout history, but then it is always such a lovely surprise when they are not terrible.”

Whichever play you see at ACT, I’m sure you will learn a similarly valuable life lesson. And with that, the curtain falls on our one day in San Francisco itinerary.

That’s a Perfect One Day San Francisco Itinerary!

What would you do on your one day in San Francisco itinerary? How do they get the Dakina to stand upright? AND WILL THE BEAST EVER SLEEP? Please leave your thoughts below!

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 a one day in San Francisco itinerary.

If you want to add a one day in San Francisco itinerary with the Golden Gate Park, click here. And if you’re more interested in Alcatraz than cable cars, try this one day in San Francisco itinerary.

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