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Greetings, Internet Stranger! So you want a perfect 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.

24 Hours: San Francisco Itinerary

Where to Stay?

I was embarrassingly broke when I experienced this San Francisco itinerary, 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? Plus you can maximize your 24 hours in San Francisco and have more time to spend riding the cable cars!

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

24 Hours: San Francisco Itinerary

What to Pack?

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.

The other thing you need when it rains is an umbrella. I hope you don’t need me to tell you that, Internet Stranger! My favorite travel umbrella is the Repel Teflon Waterproof Umbrella. It is strong enough to stand up to the sometimes-quite-strong winds of San Francisco. I hear they’re strong enough to lift Tony Bennet’s heart right outside his body.

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 Downtown SF. Plus the Anker lasts for several full charges of a phone, so I’ll never run out of juice!

24 Hours: 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 All The Time, that’s the museum’s motto. Or if it isn’t, I offer it to them free of charge. You could never see all the museum in one day so let’s kick things off with the…

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. 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.

Asian Art Museum
24 Hour Treasure

Start your San Francisco itinerary here for breakfast and get the beignet flight of four beignets: plain, chocolate (filled with 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 come here on the weekend, you’re going to have to wait an hour on line at least to get a table, so just plan accordingly!

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.

Dakini Asian Art Museum
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.

Asian Art Museum San Francisco Samurai
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.

Asian Art Museum San Francisco jade
5) the jade collection

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

24 Hours: 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. 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 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: exploring san francisco

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 I couldn’t resist snacking on a buttery Argentine alfajor cookie from the El Porteno stand. If you are not here when the farmers market is open, grab one of their empanadas as well.

2) Korean tacos

I was lucky to be here on a Thursday, so I was free to feast on the bounty of the farmers’ market. I lunched on some fusion Korean tacos from the Namu Street Food stand. These were fresh tacos made with seaweed, rice, and bulgogi. I love how many cultures come together in San Francisco, and I love even more how delicious those cultures taste when you mix them all together.

3) 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 went with 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.

san francisco cable cars

4) 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.

san francisco cable car tour

All that is to explain why a ticket for the cable cars is worth the exorbitant price of seven dollars. You can pay in cash on the cable cars themselves. You can also buy a one day public transportation pass for 20 dollars if you are going to be using public transportation a lot that day.

I personally don’t think it sounds like a great deal. A third option is to get a CityPass which offers unlimited cable car rides for a week. That’s a better deal if you also want to see all the other attractions included with the CityPass.

There are three cable cars remaining in San Francisco: the Powell-Mason, the Powell-Hyde, and the California. chose to 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 liked the California line because we went through Chinatown, and we went up and down enough hills that I felt like a baby playing the “Up in the Air and Down Again” game.

Hills San Francisco cable cars tracks

Please remember that the seven dollars is only for a one-way ticket.If you want to go back to where you got on the cable car, 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.

5) 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. You can also peruse the public art in the gardens, like this “Green Glass Ship—Deep Gradient/Suspect Terrain” by John Roloff.

Green Glass Ship—Deep Gradient/Suspect Terrain

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.

24 Hours: San Francisco Itinerary

Evening: Dinner and a Show

“Dinner?” you may be asking. “Haven’t you already eaten four beignets, coffee ice cream, Korean tacos, 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 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.

San Francisco Mural

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. I could almost have made a meal out of the margarita and spicy salsa with chips alone. But fortunately the beast would not be satisfied, and there was more food to come.

I started with a light appetizer of a refreshing tilapia ceviche with lime. The lime was the perfect lip-puckering compliment to the fresh fish. I wanted a small appetizer because I knew I’d be indulging in a heartier main course: the chile verde, which was 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 day: the theater!


Let’s finish our 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 play 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.

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.

Related Reading: San Francisco Itinerary

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

Tales of the City is the first book in Armistead Maupin’s series about San Francisco. This book is about a fictitious apartment building, LGBTQ life in San Francisco, and plus it’s very funny. There’s even a Netflix series based on the book which I definitely haven’t seen.

And if you’re more in the mood for nonfiction, try The Mayor of Castor Street about groundbreaking gay politician Harvey Milk. (Yes, there’s a movie about him too. But give the book a try!)

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

Stella Jane
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