What to do in San Francisco in a day

View of the Golden Gate Bridge from Land's End trail View of the Golden Gate Bridge from Land's End trail
View of the Golden Gate Bridge from Land's End trail
View of the Golden Gate Bridge from Land’s End trail

Living in Seattle, one of the most visited weekend destinations is San Francisco (what with Alaska’s inviting offers to the Bay Area!). We recently flew to SFO for one such weekend with our parents from India visiting us, and needless to say, we have a big fat Silicon Valley fam just like most Indians. With whatever time leftover after long family catchups involving embarrassing childhood stories, we decided to go around the city for a fun touristy day.

Here’s an itinerary for you if you have just one day in this windy city on the West Coast.

Muir Woods National Monument

No matter where you are, plan to start your day at this peaceful spot. Parking reservations are now required, so book a parking spot online and screenshot your confirmation in advance because there’s no cell network or WiFi in the area. Drive on those winding roads with the greens and browns of the trees forming a canopy and fog bursting into tiny water droplets on your windshield.

Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.

– John Muir

There are different trails for people with different capacities, pick your trail, and be prepared to take in the grandeur of these 500-1200 year old Sequoia trees. Look up and squint to see the sun trying hard to shine through the forest treetops standing tall and kissing the clouds at 250 feet. Each tree is about as long as a football field!

Clover leaves carpeting the Muir Woods forest floor

When your neck is sore from looking up, look down at the fresh green clover leaves (maybe even try to find a four-leaf clover), ferns, and mosses. You might even be able to spot a ladybug, a slug or two feasting on the clover leaves.

Golden Gate Bridge


On your way back into the city, stop at the Golden Gate Bridge vista point. Check the parking area closures beforehand to avoid any surprises or extra toll for driving back and forth on the bridge.

Walk along the bridge taking in the architectural wonder of the longest and tallest suspension bridge in the world. With the cold San Francisco winds howling in your ears bringing with it the familiar smell of sea water, the fog-shrouded vermillion structure looms ahead and becomes more visible with every step forward. Excited tourists taking selfies, their local companions pointing out the Alcatraz Island and giving out fun facts about the place, kids and adults alike trying to fit the steel suspension ropes in one fist dot the walkway along this modern wonder.

Lombard Street

View from the top of Lombard Street

The famous Crooked Street with its 8-hairpin bends is a major tourist attraction in the city and not far from the bridge. You can drive on the street or park your car (good luck with that!) and walk down this steep, heavily trafficked spot. Click pictures, selfies, and shoot time-lapse videos for your Insta fam.

Ghirardelli Square

(Picture not available due to busy ice-cream gobbling)

If you already found parking for your Lombard Street visit, stay wise by leaving your car there and walk to Ghirardelli Square. You can also try to find parking near the square (good luck again!). Walk around the Ghirardelli Square, visit the boutique stores there and buy some goodies, or just ditch everything else and head right over to the ice-cream shop! Get yourself a giant sundae from all the different mouthwatering options on the menu and grab a table in the ever-bustling shop to enjoy your pick. Or, do what I enjoy doing, and enjoy it on your walk over to Hyde Street Pier.


Sea lions basking the sun at Pier39

Continue your walk and head to Pier39. Get a little distracted by the gift shops on your way and buy some magnets, mugs, and other SFO souvenirs to take home. Pier39 has waterfront restaurants, some more boutique shops, and the famous bay view with the loud, stinky sea lions basking in the sun. Take a stroll observing the Hawaiian stall taking pearls out of oysters; you can also take one out of an oyster for yourself (they guarantee at least one pearl per oyster). Look at the stinky sea lions and marvel at their smooth glowy skin glistening in the sun.

Land’s End Beach and Sutro Baths

View of the Golden Gate Bridge from Land's End trail
View of the Golden Gate Bridge from Land’s End trail

You can do this to end your day with the Golden Gate Bridge view or even start your city tour here right after visiting Muir Woods. The short Land’s End walking trail offers stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge on a non-foggy day.


On a foggy day, walk down to Sutro Baths instead to see the ruins of an old public saltwater swimming complex. Tread carefully on the ruins to experience the crashing waves spraying sea water on your face.

Is San Francisco on your travel list? Let me know what you’re looking forward to the most!

Also read

5 things to do in New York City in one day

My travel guide to the Grand Canyon

Chapter San Diego: Of sea, sand, and surreal sunsets