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From its stunning green spaces to an endless supply of vintage shops and a bountiful restaurant scene, San Francisco has it all. Though you’ll likely want to spend even more time there, 24 hours is still enough to get a taste. Whether you’re there for a quick work trip, or are passing through as you make your way to Napa Valley, here are the best things to do in San Francisco if you’re under time constraints. (Note: Just make sure to pack a sweater even in the middle of summer. The San Francisco fog, affectionately nicknamed “Karl” by the locals, is real—and cold—and it happens fast.)
9 a.m. The key to getting in as much as possible for your single day in San Francisco is waking up early and seizing the moment. And there’s no better way to seize it all than by starting with breakfast at Tartine Manufactory. Tartine is something of a baked good lovers’ institution; they’re known nationwide because of their revelatory cookbook, and while they’ve now spread to Los Angeles, San Francisco is their home turf. Inside, hungry visitors can find coffee, pastries, an ice cream shop, and a full restaurant. Grab your food at the counter (there might be a line, but Tartine is well worth the wait), take a seat at the open tables, and chat up a few locals to find out other must-see things in San Francisco.
11 a.m. After breakfast at Tartine (where you, hopefully, had the good sense to snag a croissant to go), head over to the San Francisco Botanical Gardens for a quick walkabout. Inside, guests can peruse more than 9,000 varieties of plants from around the globe all sprawled out on 55 gorgeous acres of land. The garden has events throughout the year, including everything from botanist talks to yoga on the lawn. Make sure to check out the garden’s website in case your 24-hour stay coincides with a special event you want to take part in.
12:30 p.m. Indulging in the San Francisco eats is just a part of life in this essential northern California city, so after perusing the botanical gardens, head to Magnolia Brewing. The walk from the botanical gardens to Magnolia Brewing is a perfect opportunity to get a taste for the famed Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. From the gardens, walk through Golden Gate Park to Haight Street, the beating heart of Haight-Ashbury. At Magnola, kick back in their beer garden—which the brewery opened in 2018 so their fans could sit back, relax, and enjoy a pint with a bite. At the beer garden, try the beer-steamed mussels for a bit of local flavor, along with the house specialty: the Magnolia Burger.
2 p.m. To maximize your time in the city, you’ve got to stay mobile. And the best way to do that is to put the pedal to the (bike) metal with a bike tour. But, not just any old tour—an E-Bike tour. Renting an E-Bike will allow you to see miles and miles of the city without breaking a sweat thanks to the pedal-assist technology. (And hey, this is San Francisco we’re talking about, so you might as well go high-tech.) If you want a guided experience, you can choose from E-Bike’s Golden Gate Bridge Tour (which runs for four hours) or San Francisco City Tour (a three-hour adventure). Alternately, for a shorter, self-guided experience, strap on a helmet and rent an E-bike for one to four hours—each hour costs $60.
5 p.m. Once you’ve biked the city, it’s time to relax at one of its most iconic destinations: Mission Dolores Park. The spectacular outdoor space not only offers plenty of room to stretch out on a blanket for sunset, but it also has breathtaking views of downtown San Francisco. It’s an ultra-popular spot for locals to come and picnic, hang out with friends, or relax to read a book. And, it’s an ideal spot for you to unpack a sunset cocktail or an appetizer to enjoy alone or with your travel confidant to watch the sun as it sets below the hills.
7:30 p.m. Keep your locals-only day going by eating your last meal of the day at NoPa. The eatery, located North of the Panhandle (or the NoPa neighborhood) specializes in creating delicious and organic wood-fired cuisine. Best of all, each of their plates are made using seasonal and locally sourced ingredients. If you’re dining with friends, go nuts and order a few plates to share. If you’re there alone, go nuts and order a few plates for yourself. Don’t miss NoPa’s grilled seasonal vegetables (their squash in the summer is a treat), roasted or house-smoked fish, and their hand-made pastas.
If you’ve come to San Francisco specifically to indulge in their three-Michelin-star dining, reserve a table (months in advance) at Atelier Crenn, a three-Michelin-star restaurant helmed by Global Dining Collection chef Dominique Crenn. The Bay Area is home to all of California’s three-Michelin-star restaurants (they have seven total), which is just one more reason to indulge in chef Crenn’s prix-fixe 14-course meal at her renowned Atelier.
10 p.m. Before you go to bed, head to Bourbon and Branch to savor one last sip of San Francisco life. The 1920s-style speakeasy is the ideal spot to sit in the corner and watch the world happen around you. But remember, this place is a secret, so no cell phones, no standing at the bar, and absolutely no cosmopolitans will be ordered or made. And be patient, as each drink is crafted with the utmost care and concentration.
Where to Stay
Now that you’ve seen it all, it’s time to rest your head for a bit in the city by the bay. Stay at the Four Seasons Hotel San Francisco at Embarcadero, an American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts property that just opened in fall 2020. A short walk to all the downtown attractions, including the Ferry Building, Fisherman’s Wharf, and the Embarcadero, the new Four Seasons takes up the top 11 floors of a 48-floor tower that’s integral to the SF skyline. Reserve a Golden Gate view corner suite for stunning views of the San Francisco waterfront and the iconic bridge beyond.
If you’re coming to San Francisco on business but staying in Silicon Valley, opt for the newly opened Nobu Palo Alto. In the heart of downtown Palo Alto, the top floors of Nobu Palo Alto are home to the coveted Ryokan suites. The Ryokan floors operate as a hotel within a hotel—the suites have expansive terraces, impressive teak wood furnishings (including a Japanese-inspired bathing area), and 24-hour butler service. And, of course, the Nobu restaurant on the ground floor is a luxurious perk of this hotel.