It’s not very often that while on the way to one bucket list destination, you find yourself stuck in another bucket list destination, but if it does ever happen to you, consider yourself lucky. My daughters and I found ourselves in this exact predicament recently while travelling to Tahiti. A series of flight delays meant we missed our French Bee flight out of SFO and we were stuck in San Francisco. In other words, best travel delay ever.
Finding yourself stuck in San Francisco due to a travel hiccup or even a planned layover is one of the best places in the world to find yourself in. San Francisco is rich in history and culture, making it the perfect place to explore for 24 to 48 hours before moving on to your next destination. There’s so much to see and do, you might even find yourself forgetting you have somewhere else to be.
Where to Stay
Since this stay is likely unexpected, you’ll be scrambling to decide where to sleep; near the airport or closer to the city centre. In the end, we decided that being close the airport made more sense for us, and we chose to stay at the Hyatt Regency San Francisco Airport. Only five minutes from the airport, we arranged a late checkout and were able to freshen up before catching our evening flight to Tahiti.
Getting into the core of the city was easy with UBER, and at roughly $50 for the three of us, it was actually more economical than public transit. As an added bonus, it’s a great way to familiarize yourself with the city. There’s nothing quite like cruising in California, and we found our UBER drivers all took different routes in the city which gave us a great lay of the land.
What to See
I’m a big fan of CityPASS as a way to familiarize myself with any city. Since I knew they offered tours, I reached out to them in San Francisco to ensure we’d see all the best attractions in a short time.
With our CityPASS passes, we were able to choose which iconic attractions we most wanted to see in order to maximize our time in San Francisco. First up was a Bay Cruise Adventure to get up and close and personal with an iconic landmark I’d longed to see. We hopped on a Blue & Gold Cruise Ship for a one hour tour out under the Golden Gate Bridge and then back to circle around the infamous Alcatraz before docking back at Pier 39.
This is a narrated tour that offers up a full and fascinating history of the building of the Golden Gate Bridge, the San Francisco Bay area, and of Alcatraz’s storied past. This tour runs several times a day, and we were able to book our departure time directly on the Pier.
When we arrived back on land, we took a short walk to the Aquarium of the Bay, the second of our chosen attractions, to check out what was in the sea underneath our boat. This public aquarium focuses on education and conversation, making it a must-visit for eco-conscious travellers.
Time your visit here to coincide with daily aquarium programs that are of interest to your group, like shark feeding or interacting with sea otters. Added bonus, it’s located on Pier 39 which is a great place to get lost for a day.
Finally, if you found yourself stuck in San Francisco and didn’t ride a cable car, were you even there?
With a San Francisco CityPASS, you can hop on and off historic cable cars, streetcars, and trolley buses. There is a cable car turnaround at both Market and Powell and Mason and Powell. The line ups here are crazy long, so here’s a hot tip—if you don’t mind walking, get a few blocks away from the turnaround point and hop on at another stop.
Where to Eat
I’ll admit that we really had no plan for dining, since we didn’t have a lot of time to investigate best places to dine. Thankfully we were lucky to trip into some great (okay, and one not so great) establishments. First up was the Pinecrest Diner for breakfast on Geary Street. I’ve learned from a dear friend of mine that it’s always best to seek out the diners in any city, and it was great advice when we were searching for our first meal. The price is right here, and it’s location is also ideal for exploring the downtown area.
Okay, I have to to give a hard pass on the California restaurant In N’ Out. I had heard nothing but rave reviews from friends who had visited but honestly, I found it disgusting. Different palates I suppose, but coincidentally enough, my teenagers loved it. Apparently Animal Fries are a culinary treat for the 14 to 16 demographic. You’ll have to decide on this one on your own, but you’ll find an In N’ Out in the Fisherman’s Wharf area. At the very least, its budget conscious dining in a hurry.
I had no idea that sourdough bread was such a huge thing in San Francisco, until we came across Boudin Sourdough Restaurant and Cafe in Fisherman’s Wharf. As a newly minted keto follower, I let myself fall off the wagon here and enjoy all the carbs. 100% worth it.
Best bets here, aside from the bread, includes the seafood chowder and sourdough tacos. If you really love the sourdough bread here, be sure to grab some at the airport to take home with you!
Travellers with a sweet tooth will definitely not want to miss Ghirardelli Square.
Just steps from the Fisherman’s Wharf you’ll find unique shops, dining, and of course sweets. Locals and tourists alike line up in the evening for one of Ghirardelli’s World Famous Hot Fudge Sundaes. Still haven’t had enough sweets? You’ll find See’s Candies, a famous California confectionary, just down the street at the corner of Beach and Powell.
By the time we were ready to make our way to Tahiti, we had seen just enough of San Francisco to whet our appetite for a return visit. We didn’t get to visit the famous Painted Ladies to practice our best Full House impression, shop in the Haight-Ashbury district, or bike through the 1500 acre Presidio National Park, but we’ve definitely added it to our must-do for our next visit. Until then, peace out San Francisco, you’re beautiful.
Got a red eye out of LAX? Here’s how to spend the day before you hit the airport!
My favorite part of this article is when you talked about being able to explore the rich history and culture of San Francisco in 24 to 48 hours. I have a layover in San Francisco for a couple of hours and I’m glad to know there are plenty of things to do while I wait. Thank you for the tips on how to best explore the culture and history of San Francisco.