San Francisco is a fascinating place to visit, with lots of things to do and to see, but you need at least a whole weekend to see the major landmarks. (Check our Guide to a Weekend in San Francisco if you plan to spend a whole weekend). If you only have 1 single day, it’s a tough choice. The only circumstances is acceptable to spend only a day in San Francisco is only if you’re passing by, on your way to Northern California, (or if you are a local, living within a couple of hours away). If you’re planning to explore the Northern Coast, then you might wanna stick with only a couple of MUST SEE places located on the West side of the town. Here is what NOT to miss:
Ocean Beach stretches over three miles along the coast in both the Sunset and Richmond districts. This really isn’t a beach where you’re going to throw on a bathing suit and run out into the ocean. The water is usually frigid with hazardous currents. The beach is a popular surf spot.
You can count on the beach being covered in fog nearly every morning. Average temperatures are in the 50s. The beach is popular for morning jogs, lounging in the soft sand, and walking during sunset. Bonfires can be built in the fire rings scattered along the beach. Parking is free but hard to get on days the weather is nice. Nearby attractions include the Cliff House, the zoo, and the Legion of Honor.
THE CLIFF HOUSE
The Cliff House is only a few minutes’ walk from Ocean Beach. The neoclassical style building resides majestically on the cliffs at the north end of the beach. Originally built in 1863, the Cliff House has hosted some of the most important people in the country over the years.
The site has always been known for its first-class restaurants and bars, and the gorgeous views of the Pacific Ocean.
THE LEGION OF HONOR
The Legion of Honor is an art museum located two miles from Ocean Beach. Ancient artifacts from Egypt, Greece, Rome, and the Near East are on display in the hall of antiquities. An extensive collection of European art (mostly French) can be seen throughout the museum. Also, a very distinguished collection of sculptures by Auguste Rodin are on display. Price of admission maxes out at $15 for adults. The Legion of Honor isn’t as crowded as most museums in San Francisco, making it easier to take time to admire the art.
GOLDEN GATE PARK
This gem of the city could take days to fully explore. Golden Gate Park opened in 1870 and welcomes over 20 million visitors annually, making it the third most visited park in the U.S. The park is three miles long, encompassing over a thousand acres of green lawns, trails, playgrounds, gardens, picnic areas, museums, lakes, and over 7,000 plant varieties. It’s probably best to plan ahead how you want to spend your day here.
Top places in the park to visit include the de Young Museum, Aids Memorial Grove, Botanical Garden, Spreckels Lake, Kesar Stadium, Conservatory of Flowers, and, of course, the Japanese Tea Garden. The California Academy of Sciences is one of the park’s most popular attractions and is great for the whole family. A nearby neighborhood to explore is the culturally iconic Haight-Ashbury district.
THE CALIFORNIA ACADEMY OF SCIENCES
The California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park is the Bay Area’s most visited science museum — a must-see attraction on your trip to San Francisco. The Academy is home to four acclaimed museums: the Morrison Planetarium, the Ocher Rainforest Room, the Kimball Natural History Museum, and the Steinhart Aquarium. The Planetarium and Rainforest Exhibit are covered by a living roof with about 1.7 million plants native to California. Nearly every child who grew up in the Bay Area has likely visited the California Academy of Sciences at least once on a school field trip, and, being as I was one of these kids, I can assure you that your children will love it here. Admission is somewhat costly at $37 for adults, $29 for children, but there is so much to explore and excite the senses.
GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE
Golden Gate Bridge is a must see on your trip to San Francisco. You can see it from almost any place in the city, but nothing can match the thrill and awesome feeling of seeing it up close. There are parking areas on both sides of the Bridge. Walking the Bridge can make for an unforgettable experience. Give yourself about an hour each way to make the walk, allowing time to admire the wonderful views of the Bay Area along the way. Whether your plan is to walk, bike, or just take in the view from the sidewalk, make sure you dress warm as it can get really windy at the Bridge.
Check out the Bridge visitor center on the south end while enjoying a cup of coffee from the Roundhouse Café. Then take a short walk down a beautifully flowered path to get to Fort Point beneath the Bridge. You can view the old Civil War fort in all its glory and have lunch at the Warming Hut Restaurant and bookstore. From there, head east along the shoreline stopping at the Crissy Field Recreation Area and catch your breath while enjoying another unique view of the Bridge, before continuing your walk another few minutes to the famed Palace of Fine Arts in the Marina District. Spending a day at the Golden Gate Bridge will take your senses to a level of satisfaction that can’t be imagined until you experience it firsthand.