How to spend 48 hours in San Francisco

Why Is It Super Bowl 50 and Not Super Bowl L?
Why Is It Super Bowl 50 and Not Super Bowl L?

By Elizabeth Xu

It might be best known for housing the Golden Gate Bridge and cable cars, but San Francisco is also action-packed, sunny and beautiful—it's a city you could easily spend weeks exploring. Only have a few days instead? Don't worry. We have you covered. It might be a stretch to fit everything in, but that just means you have to visit again, right? For now, here are the things you absolutely can't miss in San Francisco:

Head to the Golden Gate Bridge—and beyond
As one of San Francisco's most iconic attractions, the Golden Gate Bridge is definitely worth a look. It's easy to spend a few hours here, especially if you want to walk or bike across. When you're done with the close-up view head to the other side of the bridge and visit the Marin Headlands for fantastic views of the bridge and the city skyline.

Get your fill of burritos
You can't leave San Francisco without eating at least one burrito. OK, well, you can because there's not a law or anything ... but why would you? So head to the Mission District, but be prepared for an array of choices. Also note that you probably shouldn't plan your walk across the Golden Gate Bridge directly after this—Mission burritos are larger than the tiny burritos you're used to at home. You're welcome.

Explore the city's many parks
Let's get real: San Francisco has more parks than there are hours in a day, and besides, you don't want to spend your whole trip looking at grass and trees. So be picky, but definitely find time to visit a park while you're in town. There's The Presidio, a National Park that has Baker Beach and Crissy Field in its confines; Alamo Square, which you definitely know for its Painted Ladies and its cameo in the Full House intro; and there's Golden Gate Park, which houses museums, lakes and even a carousel inside.

Take a bite out of Chinatown
San Francisco's Chinatown is the oldest in the United States, and it's full of delicious restaurants and fun shops. Book a walking tour for an immersive experience, or wander around yourself, sampling dumplings, seafood and tea as you go. Don't miss the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory, where you can taste fresh fortune cookies and watch them being made.

Brave the tourists at Fisherman's Wharf
Sure, you're a tourist too, but that doesn't mean you want to hang out with thousands of them. Luckily Fisherman's Wharf is worth it. Whether you want to check out the famous sea lions at Pier 39, grab some clam chowder or shop for some souvenirs, this is the place to do it. Bonus: You can hitch a ride on a cable car to or from here on the Powell-Mason line or the Powell-Hyde line.

Don't forget the kids
If little ones will also be on your trip, you should know that there's a lot for them to do in the city, too. Animal lovers will have fun at the Aquarium of the Bay at Fisherman's Wharf, kids interested in science will enjoy exploring the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park and those a little older will enjoy the Walt Disney Family Museum (though you should be aware that it is a museum and definitely not a replacement for Disneyland). To top off a day of fun, satisfy sweet cravings (yours and theirs) with a sundae or an ice cream cone at Ghirardelli Square.

Check out Alcatraz Island
Visiting Alcatraz Island will take up a large chunk of one of your days, but it's worth it even if you aren't a history buff. Boats leave from Pier 33 at Fisherman's Wharf and you should expect to spend at least two and a half hours exploring the island, though you can easily spend more time. An audio tour is included in the price and you can explore cells and other areas at your own pace. A word of caution: You can buy tickets 90 days in advance, and they often book up quickly, so snag your tickets as close to that 90-day window as possible.

Elizabeth Xu is an Ohio-based freelance travel writer. She recently called the San Francisco Bay Area home and loved exploring the city to discover its secrets. Follow her travels @ElizabethMXu.

More from this Author: