A One-Day Walking Tour of San Francisco

by  Elena Sonnino | Sep 29, 2015
The Painted Ladies in San Francisco
The Painted Ladies in San Francisco / Elena Sonnino

Traveling to San Francisco with only a day to explore? Throw on a pair of comfortable walking shoes, grab your camera, and set out to see the city on foot with this walking itinerary that traverses the city's best landmarks and most charming neighborhoods.

1. Snap a photo of the Painted Ladies.
Start the day with one of the most photographed scenes in San Francisco, known to some as “Postcard Row.” Here, the Painted Ladies -- a group of Victorian houses painted with three (or more) colors -- are best seen from Alamo Square. The contrast between these charming homes with a backdrop of skyscrapers is worth multiple photographs (and maybe even a selfie).

2. Window shop for a new house in Pacific Heights.
Situated on a ridge, the quiet streets of Pacific Heights is like an architecture candy store. Savor a few moments in a cafe on Fillmore Street and enjoy a quick coffee and pastry before heading to Alta Plaza. A steep staircase takes you to the top, where you'll be rewarded with another panoramic view of the city and bay.

3. Stop for lunch in Cow Hollow.
Restaurants, boutiques, and galleries make Cow Hollow the ideal spot to take a break during your San Francisco walking tour. Grab an outdoor table for lunch at Rose’s Cafe and enjoy a salad with roasted beets, arugula, oranges, and ricotta salata, or a pizza with artichokes, wild nettles, and goat cheese.

4. Get up close and personal with the Golden Gate Bridge.
After lunch, make your way toward the bay and the Marina neighborhood for views of the Golden Gate Bridge. If you are feeling particularly energetic, cross it on foot to really grasp the magnitude of this world wonder.

5. Make your way to Ghirardelli Square.
Next, walk through Great Meadow Park at Fort Mason on your way to Ghirardelli Square. Sure it's touristy, but Ghirardelli Chocolate Company is historic, and the perfect place for an afternoon pick-me-up.

6. Marvel at Lombard Street.
Even the most physically fit are tempted to take the Powell-Hyde cable car to see a one-block section of Lombard Street, with its eight hairpin turns (cable car tickets cost $5 each way or $13 for a one-day passport). This steep, crooked street is surrounded by Victorian mansions and beautifully landscaped greenery, making it worth the crowded walk to the bottom for the most Instagram-worthy photos.

7. Travel without a passport to Chinatown.
Twenty-four blocks of bustling sights make Chinatown one of San Francisco's unmissable neighborhoods. In the largest Chinatown outside of Asia and the largest in the United States, you’ll find herbal shops, food markets, and historic landmarks like the Bank of Canton -- once the Chinese Telephone Exchange where the the first public telephone pay station -- a predecessor to the pay phone -- was installed in Chinatown in 1891. While Grant Avenue is the main tourist thoroughfare, venture over to Stockton Street for shops and restaurants frequented by locals.

8. For dinner, hit the bar at Liholiho Yacht Club.
One of the hottest restaurants in San Francisco is Liholiho Yacht Club. Reservations are hard to come by, but you can hustle for a seat at the bar, which serves the same menu with even more energy, thanks to chatty bartenders and diners. Sip an upgraded umbrella cocktail and watch plates coming out of the kitchen before deciding on tuna poke, halibut sashimi, spam fried rice, manila clams, or twice-cooked pork belly.

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