Greetings, Internet Stranger! So you want a perfect one day in San Francisco itinerary? An excellent choice, my fine feathered friend. There is so much to do in San Francisco that we can easily find enough things to fill at least twenty one day in San Francisco itineraries.
We’ll visit the legendary Castro neighborhood, check out the Asian Art Museum, and dine on some of San Francisco’s best food. A beautiful day in the neighborhood here has beignets, Hindu sculpture, modern art installations, and more. It will be like going around the world in 24 hours. Hmm. That phrase sounds familiar to me.
One day in San Francisco itinerary
Where to Stay?
Location is so important in San Francisco. That’s why I recommend spending your one day in San Francisco itinerary at the Cartwright Hotel. It’s located right by Union Square so it’s in a convenient location right near Chinatown, it has free wifi, coffee makers, and an airport shuttle, and it might be haunted! What more could you want?
While the hotel doesn’t provide breakfast, it has a great place for breakfast just a short walk away. I’m talking about the Sutter Street Cafe. This tiny spot makes an amazing, gooey bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich, which is high praise coming from me because I am from New York City, and we have the best bacon, egg, and cheese sandwiches in the world.
If you’d like to join me at the Cartwright, just click here. If you want to find deals on hundreds of hotel rooms in San Francisco, just click here. This search engine will help you find the best hotel for your taste and budget.
One day in San Francisco itinerary
- An excellent small cell charger so you can keep taking pictures of your one day in San Francisco itinerary
- My favorite guidebook to San Francisco, including Golden Gate Park
- My book Get Lost, that I wrote myself with all my best travel tips. This book will show you exactly how solo travel can take your life from BLAH to amazing!
- Want to learn how I saved enough money to travel 16 weeks a year? Check out my top secret How to Afford Travel digital system.
- I always travel with travel insurance from World Nomads. You never know when something might go wrong, especially in this day and age. But with travel insurance, you’re protected even if you’re attacked by a wayward rocket ship during your one day in San Francisco itinerary.
One Day in San Francisco Itinerary
Morning: Tour of The Castro
The Castro is one of the most famous neighborhoods in San Francisco, and for good reason! The Castro is probably the most famous LGBT+ community in the United States, and possibly even the world. This neighborhood was started by people who couldn’t find a community elsewhere, and so they came here to create their own place where they would be loved and accepted.
I strongly recommend taking a walking tour of the Castro during your one day in San Francisco itinerary. You’re just not going to get that much out of the neighborhood walking around by yourself because you won’t know the stories behind any of the local landmarks. I recommend taking this tour by a longtime resident of the neighborhood.
You can book this wonderful tour for yourself easily by clicking here. Then get ready for…
Three Local Facts: The Castro
1) How Was the Castro Started?
LGBT people have been persecuted in many different times and places. During the 20th century, the Nazi regime executed and imprisoned gay people. They also made gay people wear a pink triangle, similar to the yellow star that Jewish people were required to wear. On the tour, you can visit this park that has a collection of pink stones, in honor of those who were killed during the Holocaust.
In the United States, gay men were often dishonorably discharged from the military, including World War II veterans. These veterans had nowhere to go, and many of them ended up being dropped here in San Francisco. Eventually they created their own community, and gay people started coming here from all over the country.
2) Who is the most famous resident of the Castro?
In history? That would almost definitely be Harvey Milk, who was often called the Mayor of Castro. He was never actually elected mayor of anything, but he was the first openly gay man elected to office in California. He was on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors until he was tragically assassinated, along with the Mayor of San Francisco, by a former colleague. (If you’ve ever heard of the Twinkie defense, that comes from this case.)
But Milk deserves to be remembered for more than just his assassination. He was a leader for the entire community, and young people came to his camera store in the Castro from all over, looking for encouragement and acceptance. He was famous for saying, “You gotta give ’em hope!”
In fact, the Harvey Milk branch of the San Francisco public library is located in the Castro–you get to visit it on the tour.
3) What are some other famous landmarks?
I definitely don’t want to spoil all of the sights in the Castro on this blog, especially since a couple of them are not exactly meant for kids, and maybe some youngsters read this blog! But one of the most interesting places we visited on the tour was the Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy. This elementary school is dedicated to teaching about social justice, which is appropriate, considering who it is named after.
We also stopped at Twin Peaks, which is one of the oldest gay bars in town. (We didn’t actually go inside, but people are welcome to go later.) Again, this was one of the first places in the United States where people could go and be openly gay without worrying about being arrested or beaten up by the cops. Nowadays, anyone is welcome, including girl tourists from New York City just trying to learn a little history.
That’s all the Castro facts and tips I have to share! You’ll have to book the tour yourself here if you want to get the rest of them!
One Day in San Francisco Itinerary
Afternoon: Asian Art Museum
As you can probably tell from the museum’s not-very-obscure title, the next stop on our one day in San Francisco itinerary 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, but we’re going to fit in as much as we can. But first, lunch!
24 Hour Treat: 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. The gumbo is especially good because it’s properly thickened and flavorful, but not too spicy.
However, if you’re feeling indulgent, 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.
And now that we’re fed, we’ll be ready for…
Approximately Top 5: Asian Art Museum
1) Free Audio Guide of the Asian art museum
The Asian Art Museum puts out a free audio guide to their collection that you can easily download to your phone. You should definitely use it! If it weren’t for my audio guide, I never would have met this camel, and that would be a tragedy for all.
I also would never have learned that camels were once popular figures in Chinese art. If you look at this one’s face up close, it seems to be having a bad day, but maybe things will improve by dinnertime.
2) Simhavaktra Dakini
Our audio guide 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 lights behind her 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.
3) 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.
4) 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.
5) Total Cuteness
I know that it’s good to visit museums to expand your mind and gain knowledge and whatnot. But it’s also good to go and immerse yourself in adorable cuteness. Take these 18th century Chinese water vessels made of porcelain. My pre-teen self would have absolutely loved to have something like this when I invited friends over.
Or what about this adorable Korean vessel, shaped like a duck. Apparently in ancient Korea, people believed that ducks were messengers between the human and spirit worlds. I should try talking to my duck the next time I order some in a restaurant and see if it answers me.
By the way, this duck vessel is from the year 300 and the Chinese vessels are from the 18th century, so that just goes to show that humans have always loved cuteness and probably always will!
One Day in San Francisco Itinerary
Evening: Dinner at the Heirloom Cafe
We’ve had a busy day full of history, food, and cuteness, so let’s keep it lowkey and head over to The Heirloom Cafe, which feels very much like a hidden gem only locals know about. I mean, I know about it, and now you know about it, but we won’t tell anyone else, OK?
The menu at the Heirloom Cafe is totally seasonal, so what I ordered probably won’t be on the menu when you go. But since I visited during the summer, that meant Corn Galore in the form of a silky corn veloute. I felt exactly like I’d been wished to the cornfield after diving into this bowl.
After a light appetizer, I usually go for something more substantial for the main, which is why I recommend something like the medium-rare steak on top of a beautiful light heirloom beans salad. This felt like a dish you could have at somebody’s house if one of your friends were an amazing cook ready to go on MasterChef.
I also liked that the salad included both butter beans and fava beans because it gave the salad an interesting variety in terms of flavor and texture. At times the beans seemed almost as meaty as the meat. And the salsa Verde added a pleasant amount of zazzle, but not so much that you couldn’t taste the steak.
I couldn’t swear to this on my life, but it seemed like there were usually two desserts on the menu: one fruit and one chocolate. After the steak, I was still feeling a bit decadent, so I opted for the chocolate pot de creme. After a nice piece of meat, I usually find that a small bit of chocolate is just what I want.
And this dish is pretty much just brimming with pure chocolate, except for that fluffy blob of whipped cream on top. The perfect end to a one day in San Francisco itinerary!
One day in San Francisco itinerary
How to Get There?
By Car: This is an easy way to get to your one day in San Francisco itinerary, if you are coming from somewhere else in California, especially in Northern California. California definitely has one of the best atmospheres for driving in the entire country. And of course, if you have a car and a designed driver, you can head on out to wine country in Napa as a day trip from San Francisco.
However, I don’t know how to drive, so this wasn’t an option for me. Fortunately Uber is widely available in San Francisco. If you need to rent a car, you can use the search engine Expedia to find the best price from the available car rental companies.
By Plane: Fortunately, there is an airport in San Francisco! It’s possible to get from the airport to the rest of SF by public transportation, but I found using Uber easier because the airport is fairly far from the main part of town.
Since I live in New York City and don’t know how to drive, I found that flying was one of the easiest ways to get to San Francisco. (Again, I recommend using a search engine like Expedia to search for the best prices on flights.)
By Bus or Train: You can use Flixbus to get to San Francisco from nearby cities like Las Vegas. It’s a pretty cheap ride–if you are car-free and coming from a fairly nearby destination, this might be the way for you. I have never gotten to San Francisco any way other than by car.
Amtrak also has a train that goes to San Francisco from Chicago, which sounds like it might be fun! Check it out if you’re up for a train adventure.
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 in what year BC was cuteness actually invented? 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.