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Photograph: David Yu/Flickr

How to spend 48 hours in San Francisco

Only have 48 hours in San Francisco? Spend two days ticking off these essential bars, restaurants and landmarks

By Shoshi Parks

Only have 48 hours in San Francisco? While you'll certainly need more time to truly embrace Bay Area culture (and check out Oakland!), a weekend is long enough to get a taste of some of the best attractions SF has to offer: From Michein-starred restaurants and colorful farmers markets to bumping nightcubs and picturesque parks. The core of the city is extremely walkable but, if your feet need a break, old-timey trolleys and cable cars are a San Francisco (transportation) treat. 

48 hours in San Francisco

Photograph: Chloe LIst

Friday evening

Restaurants Mexican Civic Center

Kick off your San Francisco stay with the city’s favorite cuisine: Mexican. Though you’ll find dozens of delicious taquerias in the city—including the best burrito in the U.S.—treat yourself to something special with a visit to Cala, chef Gabriela Cámara’s stateside take on upscale Mexican seafood. Just like her beloved Mexico City restaurant, Cala serves creative interpretations of Mexico’s bright, traditional flavors including mussel tamal with chile serrano and sushi-grade trout tostadas with chipotle, avocado and fried leeks.

Rickshaw Stop
Photograph: CJ Lucero

Friday late night

Music Civic Center

Just down the block you’ll find the Rickshaw Stop, a favorite among locals for live music and general debauchery. It’s never the same thing twice at this music venue-slash-club where the lineup ranges from Morrissey cover bands to DJs spinning ‘60s French pop to a release party for a local bluegrass artist’s new work. 

Ferry Building Marketplace
Photograph: Courtesy Flickr/Ken Lund

Saturday morning

Shopping Markets and fairs SoMa

San Francisco’s iconic Ferry Building comes alive every Saturday morning with the farmers market to end all farmers markets. Among the more than 100 vendors of organic fruits and vegetables and craft goods are some great options for breakfast including Primavera, an artisan Mexican food stall with to-die-for chilaquiles. If nothing strikes your fancy outside, check out the permanent stalls in the indoor marketplace which include tasty options like Cowgirl Sidekick, Gott’s Roadside and Vietnamese fare from Out the Door.

Dolores Park in the Mission District
Photograph: Courtesy Creative Commons/Flickr/smi23le

Saturday midday

Things to do

From the Ferry Plaza, hop a trolley car down Market Street for a visit to Mission Dolores. The oldest standing building in the city, this centuries-old church is an interesting glimpse into an early San Francisco populated by Ohlone Indians and the descendents of Spanish explorers. Afterwards, grab a sandwich and cold drink from nearby Bi-Rite Market or coffee and a pastry from Tartine Bakery. Some of the city’s best people watching is at Dolores Park, jut a couple blocks away.

Olivia mural Mission
Photograph: Instagram/@threshold360

Saturday afternoon

Things to do

The Mission is filled with vibrant street art, with many of its murals reflecting the neighborhood's Latino roots. Murals are sprinkled in various locations around the district, such as the MaestraPeace Mural on the facade of the Women’s Building on 18th St, but Caledonia Alley and Clarion Alley (near the 16th street BART stop) and Balmy, Osage, Horace, Cypress and Lilac alleys (near the 24th street BART stop) have the most impressive collections. For a more in-depth look at the art and inspiration behind it, check out the free tours offered by Precita Eyes Mural Arts.

Al's Place
Photograph Courtesy Al's Place/Molly DeCoudreaux Photography

Saturday evening

Restaurants Californian Mission

Chef Aaron London’s Michelin-starred restaurant serves creative, vegetable-focused dishes. We recommend the chilled green bean casserole with burrata, tomato, basil and pickled padrons on the airy outdoor patio. But be warned, you’re likely to find a long wait time without advanced reservations.

The Bae Breeze at True Laurel
Photograph: Yelp/Ryan L.

Saturday late night

Bars Cocktail bars Mission

This playful, color-drenched space inspired by artists like Man Ray and Isamu Noguchi crafts creative cocktails like the Late Bloomer, made with fermented pluots, fortified wine and pisco moscatel. True Laurel features two separate spaces: a main bar and a reservation-only bar-within-a-bar serving a tasting menu of original cocktails and small bites of grown-up comfort food.

French toast at Mama's on Washington Square
Photograph: Courtesy Mama's on Washington Square

Sunday morning

Restaurants North Beach

For 50 years, Mama’s has stood sentinel over North Beach’s Washington Square Park, neighbor to the historic Sts. Peter and Paul Church where Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe posed for wedding photos in 1954. There’s almost always a line outside this neighborhood favorite, but it’s worth the wait for a taste of their famous Monte Cristo sandwich, an egg-battered turkey-ham-cheddar-gruyere sandwich with homemade jam.

Photograph: Courtesy Creative Commons/Flickr/Dave Patten

Sunday midday

Museums Special interest Fisherman's Wharf

After brunch, hoof it or grab a bus to the Musée Mécanique. More arcade than museum, you’ll find more than 200 coin-operated games and amusements dating back to the 1880s, many of which were salvaged from San Francisco’s now-defunct seaside amusement park, Playland at the Beach. Gypsy fortune tellers, giant moving dioramas, can-can girl stereoscopes, carnival strength testers and a looming Laughing Sal (the cackling Playland greeter) will delight kids and adults alike.  

Buena Vista Cafe
Photograph: Courtesy Creative Commons/Flickr/Jeremy Marshall

Sunday afternoon

From Musée Mécanique it’s less than a ten minute walk to Fisherman’s Wharf’s classic saloon, The Buena Vista. The first bar in the world to serve the whisky-and-cream-spiked Irish Coffee back in the 1950s, today this San Francisco landmark pours more than 2000 daily. Sip one of your own with a burger or Dungeness crab melt and, when you’re finished, hop on the Hyde Street Cable Car which stops right outside the door.


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