Last updated on May 9, 2024 by Stefano Ferro, founder of MEL365, following extensive travelling in San Francisco

San Francisco itinerary 2 days – 4 plans with self-guided walks

A San Francisco itinerary in 2 days is going to be tight, so many things to do.

In saying that, plan it well in advance, with maps and pre-planned walks, and you will be surprised by how much you can actually see and do.

In this post I have listed 4 types of plans dedicated to couples, families, art & culture or a bit of everything.

There is no point in suggesting a playground stop on a San Francisco itinerary for 2 days if you are not travelling with kids, isn’t it?

You can read also

San Francisco itinerary 2 days – In a nutshell

With 2 days in San Francisco, I would focus the attention uniquely to the attractions in the city.

There many other things to do in the Bay area, like, for example, a visit to the Redwood forest of Muir, but you would need more days for that.

Here below you see the 8 most popular areas to visit, however, attractions are spread around the city and this is why planning in advance is essential.

Popular areas of San Francisco
Popular areas of San Francisco – Check the shared Google Map for all the attractions
  • San Francisco itinerary 2 days for couples: Start your city break with Chinatown and Little Italy, discovering also a couple of little gems totally off the beaten path. Head to The Mission for a funky and bohemian day. Experience one or two unusual shops and museums for adult only. Read below a daily plan for 2 days in San Francisco for couples
  • San Francisco itinerary 2 days for families: San Francisco is a popular destination for families. There are so many things to do and places to see. Add to your bucket list the Fisherman’s Wharf area, a must. Then the Golden Gate Park, the most visited park in the USA. Of course, one or two museums dedicated to the children’s creativity. And I could keep going. Read more below for the best family itinerary
  • For art & culture: San Francisco is famous for its culture, art and design. In two days, you will be able to have a great overview, starting with a visit to the Museum of Modern Art, followed by the unique Asian Art Museum. Then it’s time for a couple of unusual museums. Read more below for the 2 days plan
  • For a bit of everything: Still not happy with all the options above. In this itinerary, I have added more options that will please everyone. Read below for more details

I have also created, and shared, a map with all the things to do and places to visit in San Francisco and the Bay Area.

Things to do in San Francisco
Things to do in San Francisco – Check the shared Google Map for all the attractions

San Francisco itinerary 2 days for couples

Day 1 – Chinatown, Little Italy & Boat trip

Start your romantic break exploring Chinatown, one of the most characteristic districts of San Francisco.

You can follow the free self-guided walk I have written with a handy map.

Alternatively, you can join an organised culinary tour for more of an inside into the Chinese Culture.

Either way, make sure to have a cocktail at the picturesque Li Po Cocktail Lounge.

Once you finish your Chinatown exploration, I suggest keeping walking on Columbus Avenue and you will be in no-time in Little Italy, where you can have your lunch.

You have two options for lunch, the Piccolo Forno, where you can seat at a table, or the lovely Liguria Bakery to pick up a focaccia for a picnic

After lunch, head up to the Coit Tower for the amazing 360 degrees view of the city. It’s a bit of a hike, but well worth the effort.

Down on the other side of the hill through the Greenwich Steps where you will experience multiple viewpoints.

Finally, catch a boat trip to the San Francisco Bay for the beautiful view of the city and, of course, the Golden Gate Bridge.

There are typically 2 boat trips, the 60-minutes version, with the standard route I just described and the 90 minutes boat trip, including the circumnavigation of the Alcatraz Island.

90 Minutes Boat Trip     1 hour boat trip

 
San Francisco - Chinatown walking tour
San Francisco – Chinatown walking tour

Day 2 Mission District 

On the second day, have a visit to the eclectic Mission District, famous for its unusual experiences.

Start your exploration from the Misión San Francisco de Asís Church and make your way into the heart of the district without missing these three hidden gems:

  • The Pirate Supply Store, just in case you need a new set of masks and swords,
  • Paxton Gate, full of quirky curiosities,
  • The Peephole Cinema, hidden in a small lane

Follow this free self-guided walking tour to the Mission District with the handy map to enjoy the best of the area, with suggestions also for a lunch break

In the afternoon, you have a few options:

  • head to Union Square in downtown for some shopping
  • make your way to Mission Cliffs for an active time (climbing and more)
  • take the bus #27 to the Antique Vibrator Museum in the Polk Gulch area for some fun time, and to the nearby Haas-Lilienthal House, one of the few Victoria houses survived to the 1906 earthquake, now opened to the public

Close your stay in San Francisco with a sunset cruise in the bay.

Accommodations and experiences for couples:

Mission District Walking Tour - Self Guided
Mission District Walking Tour – Self Guided

San Francisco itinerary 2 days for families

Day 1 – Fisherman’s Wharf/North Beach & Boat trip

Start your family break at Fisherman’s Wharf and North Beach, where you will spend most of the day.

This is one of the most popular areas in San Francisco, especially for kids.

I have written a full self-guide walking tour to the North Beach that you can easily follow with a handy map.

Must see places are:

  • the Sea Lion at Pier 39
  • the Magowan’s Infinite Mirror Maze
  • the Aquarium of the Bay (buy the tickets in advance to skip the queue on weekends and school holiday)
  • the fun Museum of 3D Illusions for a few photos
  • the popular Madame Tussauds

In the afternoon, try to squeeze in also a boat trip in the bay, surely a great fun for kids and adult alike.

There are many available routes.

You could go for a 90-minutes boat trip to get closer to the Golden Gate Bridge, see the city from the water, and finally circumnavigate the Alcatraz Island

Alternatively, take the shorter and cheaper 1-hour boat trip that does not include the circumnavigation.

90 Minutes Boat Trip     1 hour boat trip

Little Italy and North Beach walking tour
Little Italy and North Beach walking tour

Day 2 Golden Gate Park & Downtown

Welcome to the most visited park in the USA, the Golden Gate Park!

A morning stroll in this park will start your day off right. You will experience some music, bikers and artists at this scenic location.

Next, head to the San Francisco Botanical Garden and check 55 acres of beautiful nature. A visit to the Botanical Garden is a must.

It is found in the ancestral homeland of the Ramaytush Ohlone, who are the first people of San Francisco.

This is home to some of the most exotic plants. 

Looking for a history, science and astronomy lesson on your tour?

The California Academy of Sciences is the place to go (pre-book your tickets here to skip the queue).

It has been around since 1874 and hosts about 80,000 visitors a year. 

Some of the activities you can do here include visiting the swamp and checking out the animals found there.

If you are a lover of astronomy, the planetarium has a digital projector system and 180 degree screen.

Other exhibitions include the Naturalist Centre and the Rainforests of the World dome.

Next, take a walk to the Koret Playground for the kids to have a great time.

It has amazing lawns for a picnic, an old-school carousel ride and other rides so that the whole family can have some fun.

If you still have time in the afternoonyou can visit downtown starting from Union Square.

This is a plaza that is home to some of the best restaurants, shops, salons and gift stores.

An afternoon stroll in this area is perfect for your shopping and dining cravings.

The day isn’t complete without a visit to the Children’s Creativity Museum.

If your kids are between the ages of 2 and 12, then this is a great hands-on place to enjoy some arts and creativity.

You can make your own animation, check out frozen sculptures in the winter and even take a historic ride on the LeRoy King Carousel.

Accommodations and experiences for families:

View from the Coit tower in Pioneer Park
View of Downtown from the Coit tower in Pioneer Park

Two days for art & culture

Day 1 San Francisco Museum of Modern Art & Downtown

Start your morning at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, also known as SFMOMA.

Check out over 33,000 exhibitions which include sculptures, paintings, digital art and even architecture.

There are exhibitions that appeal to kids like paintings and other forms of artwork.

For the adults, there are permanent and seasonal exhibitions in different spaces, like the rooftop garden and the Mario Botta building.

There is so much to do at the museum, from shopping, to dining and fun exhibitions that the whole family can appreciate.

The SFMOMA is a popular museum, and it’s highly suggested to buy the tickets in advance if visiting on the weekends or school holidays.

After lunch, keep visiting downtown San Francisco with a stop at the American Bookbinders Museum.

While people think physical books are fading away, institutions like the American Bookbinders Museum are keeping them alive.

This is the only place that is dedicated to the art of bookbinding.

While at the museum, you will experience how book binding was done using machines from the 19th Century.

Not too far off is the Asian Art Museum, where you can see one of the largest collections of Asian artwork under one roof.

Just imagine, you can view over 18,000 exhibitions of ceramic pieces and video installations.

That’s not all. You can enjoy cultural events at the museum, youth tours, music and even film screenings.

Take the time to appreciate the eccentric, age-old Asian culture here at the Asian Art Museum.

The famous murals of Mission District
The famous murals of Mission District

Day 2 Mission District & Downtown

Start your day on an inspirational note with a stroll within the Mission District.

Here, you will be able to visit old churches, restaurants and old cemeteries.

Something you should consider checking out is the murals in the Mission District.

One of the most popular places to check them out is along Balmy Alley.

The first mural was painted in the 1970s and they have not slowed down since.

One of the murals you might appreciate is that of Archbishop of San Salvador, Monsenor Oscar Romero, a hero for the natives of this area.

There are murals that pass powerful messages like one dedicated to Father Richard. He was a HIV/AIDS advocate who lost a brother to the virus.

Visit Balmy street for these and many more colourful murals.

Other spots you can check out murals include Clarion Alley and the Lilac Mural project, among others.

After a morning of art and missionary history, head to the Historic Pressroom and Mercantile.

There are over 15 million pieces of posters, packaging, antique toys and classic advertising.

All the press equipment has been restored and visitors can see firsthand how newspapers, posters and other printworks were done back in the day.

If you work in print, advertising or graphic design, this is the perfect place to get some classic inspiration.

When the night falls, indulge in a fancy Luxury Dinner Dance Cruise.

This is a 2.5 hour cruise on the San Francisco Bay. While on board, you will enjoy a delectable 3 course meal with cocktails and wine.

You also get to dance under the stars to some live music while appreciating views of the Bay.

Accommodations and experiences:

Wandering around the small lanes of the Mission District
Wandering around the small lanes of the Mission District

For a bit of everything

Day 1 Walt Disney Museum & Zoo

Today will be all about history and zoo.

Start your morning with a trip to the Walt Disney Family Museum (pre-book your tickets here).

Who doesn’t know Walt Disney or watched one of the many iconic films and shows from that stable?

Walt’s daughter, Diane, runs the museum located at the Presidio, a former army Base.

They built it as a tribute to the life of this great entertainment legend.

The 40,000 sq feet museum has 10 permanent galleries, a Fantasia-themed theatre, a lobby holding over 200 of Walt’s awards and even a large model of Disneyland.

Next, it’s off to the San Francisco Zoo and Gardens. This is 100 acres of pure magic located near the ocean.

It is home to over 2000 exotic animals like the Big Cats, Giraffes, Apes and Monkeys.

There are activities to cater to both kids and adults, like a game zone, gardens and tours for the children to learn more about the animals.

This is another popular attractions in the weekend, unfortunately (buy the skip-the-queue tickets here)

The Palace Of Fine Arts - Presidio
The Palace Of Fine Arts – Presidio, close to the Walt Disney House

Day 2 Fisherman’s Wharf

Fisherman’s Wharf is the place to visit when you want to experience San Francisco Bay by the water.

I have designed a walk in the Fisherman’s Wharf starting from the Sea Lion platform view that goes through the main attractions of North Beach and even extends to Little Italy.

For some shopping and food, head to Ghirardelli Square, home of the Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory.

There are actually 3 factories to visit and taste some quality chocolates from.

After getting your chocolate high, it is time to do some shopping at stores like Mashka Jewellery or Jackson & Polk or even Yap if your kids love some fluffy toys.

While at the Square, visit Hyde Street Pier to check out lovely views of San Francisco.

This is also where the Musée Mécanique, an antique toy and artefacts museum, is located.

You can also think of doing a boat trip in the bay, the best way to experience San Francisco by the water.

You can decide to go for a 60-minute boat trip that goes also under the Golden Gate Bridge, or make it 90 minutes and the boat will circumnavigate also Alcatraz Island

90 Minutes Boat Trip     60 Minutes Boat Trip

At the end of the day, have some coffee, ice cream or full-on dinner at places like Kuleto’s Seafood & Steaks or McCormick.

That’s not all, there is always a live event for you to wind down your day at the squarer.

Accommodations and experiences:

San Francisco in one day
Fishermans Wharf
The popular Fisherman's Wharf
The popular Fisherman’s Wharf
View of Alcatraz Island from San Francisco piers
View of Alcatraz Island from San Francisco piers
 City view on a beautiful sunny morning
City view on a beautiful sunny morning
Beautiful tams of San Francisco - A real experience
Beautiful tams of San Francisco – A real experience
The iconic tram ride in San Francisco
The iconic tram ride in San Francisco
Walking in the streets of Chinatown in San Francisco
Walking in the streets of Chinatown in San Francisco
Dragon Gate in Chinatown
Dragon Gate in Chinatown
Chnatown - Wandering around the shops
Chinatown – Wandering around the shops
The Coit Tower, the Art Deco tower in Pioneer Park
The Coit Tower, the Art Deco tower in Pioneer Park
View of Little Italy from the Coit Tower
View of Little Italy from the Coit Tower
The famous Sea Lions at Pier 39
The famous Sea Lions at Pier 39
The Palace Of Fine Arts - Presidio
The Palace Of Fine Arts – Presidio
View of San Fran from Treasure Island (Yerba Buena Island).
View of San Fran from Treasure Island (Yerba Buena Island).
Treasure Island Museum
Treasure Island Museum
Womens Building in Mission District
Womens Building in Mission District
Wandering around the small lanes of the Mission District
Wandering around the small lanes of the Mission District
View of Treasure Island and San Francisco in the background
View of Treasure Island and San Francisco in the background
Stefano Ferro - MEL365.com Founder and Editor

About the Author

Stefano is a seasoned travel expert and the visionary founder of MEL365.com, a leading travel website with traffic across 6 continents. With a rich background in the travel industry, Stefano spent four pivotal years at Amadeus Travel Distribution System, gaining invaluable insights into travel technologies and distribution.

Leave a Comment