Many friends have visited over the years, and the Bay Area being my childhood home, I often take my visitors who are on limited time on a very fast lightning one-day tour of San Francisco, hitting most of the critical/worthwhile sites. This is best for those with limited time or those who want to get an overview of almost everything SF has to offer and then go back to it at their own leisurely pace. This article is formatted for easy printing with all the key points and paths mapped out so you can keep it in your car for ease.
You might notice I skipped over Fisherman's Wharf, it is indeed a tourist destination but also ok to skip. Squeeze it in if you have time, if you don't have time, it's ok to pass on this destination.
1. SAN FRANCISCO CITY HALL/CIVIC CENTER
Park in the Plaza, underground or street level. Look at City Hall. With your back to City Hall, walk towards a Statue down United Nations Way. When you see pillars on left & side, try to find China. Go back to car when done.
2. UNION SQUARE
Park in the underground lot. Emerge and look at the Square. Go inside Niemen Marcus (upscale/expensive American department store) and look up at the 1800s glass ceiling shipped from Paris. You can take escalators up for closer look if interested. The Neiman Marcus café is a nice place for English tea time or brunch, if interested. Then walk SOUTH down POWELL ST. and you will see…
3. SF CABLE CAR
Take a ride if you want or take some photos and walk NE along MARKET ST. (There are many shops and a huge Westfield/Nordstrom shopping mall. The Nordstrom Café in the shopping mall on the upper levels is a nice place for a quiet brunch/lunch experience. Or go down to the basement for a Food Court and all sorts of snacks/foods/small grocery store.
Keep walking NE on MARKET ST. until you reach the…
4. PALACE HOTEL’S GARDEN COURT
Beautiful classic hotel, famous for the Garden Court dining hall. Go inside the Palace Hotel and walk towards the Front Lobby and you will see the Garden Court dining hall opposite of it. Take photos. Then walk back to the car.
5. THE FERRY BUILDING (Optional, mostly to see local life, food, crafts, good for unique handmade Californian souvenirs, special foods)
Find parking wherever you can, such as ACE Parking Lots. Pay for 1-2 hours of parking. Go inside Ferry Building and try some of the handmade ice cream using the best local milk, cheeses, snacks. Good place to grab a quick lunch and good coffee. Good place to buy local crafts and home goods.
6. NOB HILL
GPS to Grace Cathedral (heart of Nob Hill). Find street parking. Walk around and take some photos. Go into the Grace Cathedral if interested. Look inside the Fairmont Hotel where the United Nations was first formed. This area is where Old Money lived/lives. Rich, elegant and classic. Go back to your car…
7. LOMBARD STREET
Navigate your GPS to the INTERSECTION OF LARKIN ST. AND LOMBARD ST. Then drive EAST down LOMBARD ST. and you will go down the windy curves with an ocean view. Once you reach the bottom, you can find street parking somewhere safe, get out and take some photos.
8. GHIRARDELLI SQUARE
Drive to Ghirardelli Square and park. You can enjoy some chocolate experiences here. This is the first chocolate seller in California from the Gold Rush. If you are rushed, you can skip this.
9. SCENIC DRIVE
GPS to INTERSECTION OF VAN NESS AVE. & BAY ST. (Or anywhere on BAY ST.) You want to drive on WEST on BAY ST. along the coast for a beautiful scenic drive. BAY ST -> BECOMES LAGUNA ST. -> BECOMES MARINA BLVD. Keep an eye out for BAKER ST. because you need to TURN LEFT ON BAKER ST.
10. PALACE OF FINE ARTS
After you turned LEFT on BAKER ST. you will arrive at Palace of Fine Arts. Find street parking and take some photos here.
11. CRISSY FIELD OVERLOOK
Go back NORTH on BAKER ST. and take a LEFT on MASON ST. then GPS to Crissy Field Overlook. You want to use this Scenic Route:
12. GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE VIEW
GPS to Golden Gate Bridge View, like below:
GPS to Dunphy Park for a scenic drive through Sausalito. (You might not have time to fully enjoy Sausalito, but you can drive through it and back.) (Crossing the bridge to go back you will need to buy a ticket/pay in advance. No cash or credit card on the bridge, no stopping, no pausing.)
14. CONSERVATORY OF FLOWERS/GOLDEN GATE PARK
GPS to Conservatory of Flowers and drive through Golden Gate Park.