48 hours in San Francisco
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San Francisco is a massive city. Not in size (in that respect it is more than navigatable), but in its sheer vibrancy and the amount on offer to any traveller, no matter what you are into.
It is a city literally brimming over with culture, history and must-see tourist attractions – a few days in SF is unlikely to be enough. It really does pack a lot into its 49 square miles!
But if you are there for just a couple of days you’ll want to pack in as much as is humanly possible.
Purchasing a CityPass for the city gives you access to some of the top tourist attractions and the means you can get around the city for a fraction of the cost visiting all these places individually would.
(Cable Car - CityPass)
Follow this basic itinerary to cram the most into your two days in the city:
Start your day with a ride uphill on the world famous Cable Car. The bottom of Powell Street is a good place to start especially if you are staying anywhere in the Union Square area.
This historic Cable Car is a great way to get from that part of the city to the location of your next CityPass activities. A passport for all the Cable Car lines and Muni transport services are included with the pass and open up the entire city.
Make sure you factor in queuing time as the Cable Car is a serious tourist trap and lines are always long. Expect to be queuing for anything from 40 minutes upwards. It is worth the ride but take alternative transport if time is running away from you.
Disembark at the Powel/Beach Street stop in the North Beach area and head along for the waterfront past Fisherman’s Wharf to Pier 39 where you can catch a boat trip around the bay with the Blue and Gold Fleet Bay Adventure.
The hour long trip departs the harbour past the famous gathering of sea lions and seals before swinging out into the majesty of the Bay of San Francisco, offering panoramic views of the San Fran skyline before heading under the awe-inspiring Golden Gate Bridge and back round the infamous island of Alcatraz.
(Golden Gate Bridge - Julie Yates)
(Alcatraz - Julie Yates)
With a free audio tour accompanying the trip you get a good, if a little quick, run through the various sites and their history. It’s best to take something to wrap up in as the wind is definitely ‘bracing’. If you are wearing a hat pack it away before you hit the centre of the Bay or you will never see it again!
After your trip around the Bay head into the Aquarium of The Bay to get up close and personal with the marine life found there. The underwater tunnels in particular give you a good view as you come face to face with moon jellies, rays and sharks amongst the tens of thousands of marine creatures in the three main areas.
If you get properly immersed you ticket allows re-entry on the same day, but a quick hour to two hours is enough to get a feel for the place.
(Aquarium of the Bay - CityPass)
Grab lunch at one of the many restaurants on Pier 39 or walk to Fisherman’s Wharf. Being the main tourist hub of the city it is not the cheapest place to eat but there are restaurants to suit every taste.
If that doesn’t take your fancy walk down 15/20 minutes into the heart of North Beach’s Italian community where you will find a great array of Italian restaurants.
After lunch either walk or get the 28 bus route into the Presidio, the unique national park at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge. While there visit Fort Point, the historic fort that guarded the mouth of the Bay. Aside from learning about the fort’s Civil War history, the site offers incredible views of the Bridge and infinite Instagram-friendly shots.
Take the afternoon to explore the Presidio park, walk the Bridge and soak up the sites of the Bay. Then take a leisurely journey back to your hotel to freshen up - you’ll need it!
Head out to E&O Kitchen and Bar on Sutter Street for dinner. While not the cheapest option in the area this modern Asian fusion eatery is classy with a vibrant but chilled atmosphere, and the food is magnificent! For a truly mega taste-sensation try the Fritter Burger, which is one of the best burgers you’ll ever have, with the restaurant’s famous corn fritters as buns. It’s a serious endeavour to complete the meal but worth every mouthful.
This bar, owned by the incredible Danish brewery, has a huge square bar perfect for talking to locals while sampling the ever-changing menu of 42 taps, and a bottle selection of amazing beers from around the world. Now they have a brewery in San Diego you can also try Mikkeller beers that haven’t made it over to Europe as of yet.
Walk the area and discover the myriad bars to end the night.
Much of your second day in San Fran will centre around the majestic Golden Gate Park and its surrounding areas.
On arrival take some time to explore some of the park but don’t worry about experiencing it all, it is far too big to spend too much of your limited time wandering round. By ‘big’ I mean massive - as in 1,017 acres and 10 lakes ‘massive’.
Plot a short course around some of the park and consider taking in some of the many sites including the Japanese Tea Garden, the Beach Chalet (a Spanish Revival-style building from 1925 that sits at the park’s western end), the Chain of Lakes, the Herschell-Spillman Carousel and Bison paddock. These are just some of the things on offer in this vast park so try not to get too engrossed in it, you have Citypass attractions to take advantage of.
Start with the Academy of Sciences and explore nature in their interactive exhibits. In a visit you can come face to face with penguins and climb into the canopy of a rainforest. It’s the only place in the world with such a wide range of nature attractions including an aquarium, planetarium, natural history museum and a four-story rainforest all under the one roof!
You could spend all day in there but move on after a few hours to make the most of your time.
After lunch head over to the De Young Museum for a bit of culture and explore its priceless collection of art from around the world. From its viewing tower you can also get one of the best views of the Bay.
If you visit before the end of August you can also visit the brilliant Summer of Love Experience, an interactive exhibit celebrating 50 years since the counter-cultural explosion that put the Haight-Ashbury area of the city on the map. Over the hundreds of original artefacts, images and installations you can get a mind-blowing feel for the cultural movement that change popular culture and the world. This is not included as part of the Citypass but is well worth the additional cost.
(Summer of Love Experience)
With the map acquired from the Summer of Love exhibit head back through the park to the Haight-Ashbury area which is still a quirky, bohemian neighbourhood packed with independent boutiques and stores.
Grab a drink at Magnolia Pub and Brewery to sample some more locally brewed beer before walking to Alamo Square to chill-out and grab a photo or two of the famous Painted Ladies, the ornate Victorian houses with a stunning backdrop of the city. Often used in TV and film they have appeared in Bicentennial Man and Full House, amongst others.
For the evening head to the bustling Chinatown for some authentic Chinese food.
This is by no means a definitive visit to San Francisco but using a Citypass is a great taster for what the city has to offer.
Discover more of the city at www.sftravel.com
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Virgin Atlantic flies Tue/Thu/Sat/Sun from London Heathrow to San Francisco and is offering return Economy fares from £460 per person including tax. And from Manchester to San Francisco Tue/Thu/Fri/Sun from £387 per person including tax. For further information contact www.virginatlantic.com or call 0844 2092 770.
For accommodation near Union Square try the King George Hotel on Mason Street, a quirky, British-themed hotel minutes' walk from what the area has to offer.