California / San Francisco / United States

One Day in San Francisco: Tourist’s Guide to Sights & Eats

Updated January 8, 2024

San Francisco has a bit of everything packed into its seven-by-seven square miles; it’s a true melting pot of culture and community. I know NYC is known as the city that never sleeps, but San Francisco isn’t far behind. There is always something to experience, from free concerts and cultural activities to beautiful beaches, iconic attractions, shopping, and a world-class food scene — what more could you ask for? But what if you only have just one day in San Francisco?

Should you skip it? Heck no! 

With so much to do and so little time, it can be overwhelming to plan your itinerary. But don’t worry; I’ve put together a complete one-day itinerary to ensure you don’t miss any of the best sights or things to eat.

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How to Spend One Day in San Francisco 

First Stop, Breakfast

If you’re not a morning person, make sure you set your alarm! Since you only have one day in San Francisco, we’ve got to get started bright and early with a delicious plant-based breakfast, and there’s no better place to go than Nourish Café! 

This charming café prioritizes creating dishes with clean, sustainable, and local ingredients so it’s better for you and the planet! No matter what you’re in the mood for, you’ll find something to love here — acai bowls, giant Belgian waffles, fruity smoothies, and much more. 

They have two locations in San Francisco; for ease of getting around the city, visit the one on Hyde Street. 

giant vegan Belgian waffle topped with banana slices and syrup on a white plate at nourish café in San Francisco
Credit: Nourish Café

Iconic Ferry Market

San Francisco’s Ferry Market is a favorite spot for visitors and locals — over 40,000 people visit it weekly! Three times a week (Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays), you’ll be greeted by their popular farmers market, considered one of the best in the US.

Take some time and check out the local products and artisans; you’ll find everything from fresh flowers to baked treats and espresso! On Saturdays, the market also hosts local chefs who share their wealth of knowledge through cooking demos with anyone who stops and listens.

If you’re not visiting on a Tuesday, Thursday, or Saturday, don’t fret — it’s still worth a visit! Inside the iconic Ferry Building, you’ll find a ton of independent shops selling handmade bath products, artisan bread, exotic mushrooms, donuts, and more! 

Before we head to our next stop, make a quick stop at The Donut Farm inside the Ferry Building for one of their outrageously delicious vegan donuts. The flavors rotate regularly, but you might find vanilla cookie, chocolate salt caramel, coconut, and many more. 

The Ferry Market san Francisco vegan one day itinerary

See “Sea-Lebrities”

After wandering and fully experiencing the market’s tastes, smells, and sights, it’s time to head to our next stop, touristy Pier 39. I know, you’re probably wondering, if I only have one day in San Francisco, why in the world stop here? 

I promise it’s not to wander the whole pier — head directly to Dock K to say hi to San Francisco’s Sea-Lebrities! In 1990, a small group of seals started to call the marina home, but over the years, that small group has grown to more than 300! They hang out year-round, and it’s just fun to watch them bask in the sun.

Pier 39 Dock K Sea Lions San Francisco

Take a Selfie with The Iconic Gold Gate Bridge

We’ve got one more stop before lunch, and it’s to see San Francisco’s famous Golden Gate Bridge located in Crissy Field. 

Crissy Field was a former US Army airfield and today is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. While it is a beautiful place to enjoy gorgeous views of San Francisco Bay, there are also great beaches, easy hiking paths, and it’s a popular place for bird watching. Take a pleasant stroll along the water for optimal views of the modern wonder (as long as it’s not covered in fog). 

If you’re interested in the bridge’s history, make a quick stop at the nearby Fort Point National Historic Site.

famous golden gate bridge in San Francisco on a bright and sunny day

Lunch Break

After all of that wandering, you’re probably hangry! Lucky for you, I’ve got an a place in mind that you will love!

Head to chic, Wildseed. This California café has a diverse menu that will entertain even the most difficult diners! You’ll find everything from spicy yellow curry to house-made pizzas covered in jackfruit Italian sausage and smoked cashew mozzarella.  

No matter what you choose, I promise you won’t be disappointed. 

vegan pizza from wildseed in san Francisco
Credit: Wildseed

Afternoon Activity: Tip Toe Through the Beautiful Blooms

San Francisco’s popular Golden Gate Park covers 1,000 acres, some of which is covered in stunning botanical gardens. Plant lovers will be in awe of the botanical varieties (there are over 9,000 different types) from around the globe.

Aside from the gardens, there are many other exciting attractions within the park – The Golden Gate Park Windmills and Tulips, Stowe Lake Boathouse, de Young Museum, and resident buffalo (seriously, buffalo live here — they started calling San Francisco home back in the late 1800s). Unfortunately, one day doesn’t afford you enough time to explore everything!

If you enjoy botanical gardens, make sure you visit one particular spot, The Japanese Tea Garden — it’s the oldest public Japanese garden in the US. The gardens festively welcome visitors with their red hanging lanterns, sweet smells of wisteria, and a unique selection of plant life.

lush green trees surrounding a red pagoda in the Japanese garden in San Francisco

Picture-Perfect Painted Ladies 

There’s one more iconic San Francisco landmark that you’ve got to see before you go — The Painted Ladies! These pastel-colored Victorian homes are celebrities in their own right — they’ve graced the covers of countless postcards, magazines, and most famously, the opening credits to the hit TV show Full House. 

Originally the beautiful homes were a way for residents to show off their wealth. Today, The Painted Ladies celebrate San Francisco’s love of architecture. Private residents live in each of the homes, so be respectful as you walk by. You can get great photos of the houses from Alamo Square, right across the street.

the iconic painted ladies in San Francisco

That’s Amore: Italian Dinner Feast 

After that jam-packed itinerary, you’re probably more than ready for dinner, and there’s no better place in the city to refuel than the trendy BAIA. Dive into bowls of pasta covered in hearty house-made sauces and luxurious nut-based cheeses — everything is so decadent even a die-hard meat and cheese lover would have no idea it’s all plant-based!

On top of house-made pasta, you also won’t be able to resist their wood-fired pizzas and craft cocktails — the Limone Spritz is the perfect way to toast a day in San Francisco!

But wait! There is one more special stop before you head to bed.

vegan italian cream pasta in a black bowl in front of a tomato based pasta at BAIA in San Francisco

End The Day with a Beautiful Sunset from Twin Peaks

After a full day of exploring San Francisco, there’s no better way to end it than with a stunning sunset view from Twin Peaks. This iconic location offers panoramic views of the city, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Bay Bridge. It’s the picture-perfect spot to take in the beauty of San Francisco and reflect on your day of adventure. It’s one of the best free activities in San Francisco!

While you’re there, keep your eyes peeled for the Mission Blue Butterfly. This endangered beauty only lives in two places in the world — Twin Peaks and San Bruno Mountain. Your best chance to catch a glimpse of them is in April or May.

You can drive, bike, or hike to the top. If you choose to hike, it’s less than a mile, but it is pretty steep. The hike starts near Portola Drive and Twin Peaks Boulevard. Free parking is also available at the top, but the parking lot is small (you might have to be patient in order to nab a spot).

Don’t forget a jacket or sweater — it can get chilly up there!

view of  downtown San Francisco from the twin peaks

Additional Ideas to Explore One Day in San Francisco 

One day is definitely not enough time to explore all of the fabulous things that San Francisco offers, so if you happen to have more time. You might want to consider checking out these fantastic sights and activities. 

  • Visit Alcatraz Island and learn about its infamous former residents. 
  • Hike up Lombard Street — the “Crookedest Street in San Francisco.”
  • Check out Chinatown — it’s one of the oldest in North America and one of the largest outside of Asia. 
  • Grab a burrito and enjoy street murals in the Mission District. 
  • Hop on San Francisco’s famous cable cars — they run through Nob Hill, Russian Hill, Fisherman’s Wharf, and the bay.
  • Take a day trip to Muir Woods National Monument. It is the closest stop to the city to see some of the giant, towering redwood trees California is known for. The trees range in age from 400 – 800 years and reach heights up to 250 feet. 
famous san francisco cable cars going up the street during a one day visit

Where to Stay for One Day in San Francisco 

This Union Square hotel will put you in the best location to explore the city, plus it’s eco-friendly! The hotel has enacted multiple sustainability programs, from composting and waste diversion to minimizing single-use plastics. Also, all of its toiletries are vegan and cruelty-free!

Hotel Spero

405 Taylor St, San Francisco, CA 94102

Book Your Stay

Is One Day Enough to Enjoy San Francisco? 

To be honest, no, one day isn’t enough to enjoy San Francisco, but if it’s all you got, don’t skip it! A one-day visit will give you just enough time to explore some of the iconic sites and best places to eat, but ultimately, you will need to return to do and see everything.

It’s ideal to have four days to visit San Francisco. This gives you enough time to explore the city and then take a day trip to Muir Woods or explore some of Big Sur (my top two choices if you’re looking for recommendations). 

Do I Need a Car to Explore San Francisco? 

No, you don’t need a car to explore San Francisco, and I would avoid it at all costs! Parking is expensive, and driving can be an exercise in patience throughout the city. In additon, the city has a decent public transit system. You can easily get around the city on its network of buses, cable cars, and light rail, and if you’re going to the airport or outside the city, hop on the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) metro system.

Before you go, download the MuniApp to purchase tickets to ride the bus, light rail, or cable cars — it’s much easier than trying to find a ticket vending machine or having exact cash. If you’re taking the BART system, you can add a Clipper Card to your Google or Apple Wallet to pay or purchase a plastic Clipper Card. In late 2020, the BART system stopped selling new paper transit tickets (if you already have one, you can still use it).

If you’re in a hurry or don’t want to mess with transit schedules, you can always use Uber or Lyft throughout San Francisco. 

More California Travel Help

If your travels continue through California, don’t miss these other helpful and tasty guides for fabulous cities throughout the state.

The Best Vegan Restaurants in San Francisco
Vegan Guide to Monterey, Pacific Grove, & Carmel-By-The-Sea
The Best Big Sur Hiking Trails
The Best Vegan Breakfast & Brunch Spots in LA
The Ultimate LA Vegan Guide
Mouthwatering LA Vegan Bakeries You Can’t Miss
How to Spend One Day in LA

About Author

Rebecca is the founder of the vegan travel company Veggies Abroad. In 2021, she bid her 15-year career goodbye and ventured into the world of ethical business with the launch of a vegan travel blog (the one you’re reading!). As the blog flourished, Rebecca expanded her vision to encompass personalized travel planning services and launched Veggies Abroad's inaugural vegan tour to Thailand, marking the beginning of many more eco-conscious, plant-powered adventures to come. Follow her adventures on Instagram or Facebook @veggiesabroad