The best of San Francisco

See our recommendations for a two-day stopover or a seven-day itinerary. These itineraries capture the spirit of San Francisco.

From Golden Gate Bridge to Alcatraz, San Francisco is full of stories that have become experiences. It's a complex city that's easy to love.

See the highlights of San Francisco in 48 hours.

Two days in San Francisco

Your Air New Zealand flight from Auckland will arrive in San Francisco at around 1:00pm. If you're flying on our United Airlines codeshare non-stop flight, you'll arrive around 7:00am. After settling into your accommodation, we recommend getting some fresh air and sunshine, to help your body switch to local time.

Couple looking at Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, USA.


After checking into your hotel, aim for Presidio - the 1500-acre park to the west of the CBD that's home to the southern end of the Golden Gate Bridge. This park was formerly a military base, but now it's a major outdoor recreation area

  • Enter the park from the Lyon Street Steps. There are 332 in total and at the top you'll get amazing views of the city
  • Head to the visitor centre to stock up on brochures and information about San Francisco. The staff here can answer any question about San Fran, so fire away!
  • Near the visitor centre, the Presidio Tunnel Tops are a series of new parks within the main park. Playful and arty, they lead down to the Crissy Field shoreline
  • If you're feeling up to it, walk across Golden Gate Bridge - it's nearly three kilometres long. A taxi back to your hotel might be a good idea after this hike
  • For your first night, prepare for a great sleep by finding healthy food for dinner. Northern California grows amazing ingredients, so it's easy to find something nutritious and thoroughly delicious. If you're splashing out, look for Osito, Empress by Boon, Sorella, La Société, Gibson or House of Prime Rib. If you're budget-conscious, find El Buen Comer, Radhaus, Californios, Bodega SF, Cassava or China Live
1Pier 39, Harbour and Ferry Plaza1 day
Boats line up in Pier 39 in San Francisco, USA

You'll be rarin' to go this morning, so point yourself towards the ferry terminal. Before or after your harbour cruise, check out the wonderful historic ferry building and the sea lions of Pier 39. Later you can explore Chinatown, an adventure that will naturally flow into dinner.

  • Fuel up with a big San Francisco breakfast at the Ferry Building Marketplace. You're spoiled for choice in this mecca of eateries. After you've eaten, take a look around the marketplace shops
  • Catch a boat trip or ferry to see San Francisco from the water. Pick a route that takes you under the Golden Gate Bridge and around Alcatraz, the world's most famous prison island
  • Stroll along the waterfront to Pier 39 to see the sea lions. They're hugely entertaining and will provide some great material for your Instagram posts
  • Eat a late lunch at Fisherman's Wharf, where seafood restaurants abound. The ultimate San Francisco dish is Dungeness crab; clam chowder's an iconic choice too
  • Explore Chinatown on foot, either guided or self-guided. Established in 1848, it's the oldest Chinatown in North America and comes complete with temples, tiny back alleys, Chinese herbalists and an immense choice of eating places
  • Dine in Chinatown tonight - top places include Henry's Hunan Restaurant, Great Eastern, R & G Lounge, House of Nanking and Hong Kong Clay Pot
  • Finish the night with a cocktail at a rooftop bar. Close to Chinatown is the Top of the Mark , on top of the Mark Hopkins Hotel, or try the View Lounge on the Marriott's 39th floor
    2Mission District and Twin Peaks1 day
    Eating taco, Mission District, San Francisco, USA.

    Venture beyond the CBD today, taking in the historic Mission District - now an ultra-cool suburb - and Twin Peaks, a hilltop park with hiking trails. Head back to the city in time for high tea, then finish your day with dinner in posh Nob Hill or flower-power Haight Ashbury.

    • Get to the Mission District early, so you can breakfast at one of the many excellent cafes. Enjoy huevos rancheros at Café LaTaza, a breakfast burrito at Breakfast Little, pastries at Craftsman and Wolves or challah French toast at Wise Sons Jewish Delicatessen
    • Explore the Mission District, with a view to doing some shopping along the way. Discover the street art on Valencia Street and Balmy Alley, taquerias on Mission Street and a host of hipster businesses on 24th
    • Appreciate art at a couple of the Mission District's art spaces - Southern Exposure, Galeria de la Raza and City Art are all recommended
    • From Mission you can either walk or taxi to Twin Peaks - one of the best free attractions in San Francisco. Hike up the stairs, or cheat by taking a taxi to the summit
    • Back in the CBD, find a hotel high tea for a late lunch. The Palace Hotel, Ritz Carlton and the Fairmont are all known for their generous servings and elegant surroundings
    • Splurge with dinner in Nob Hill, an upmarket suburb that's crammed with historic Victorian homes. Or go in the polar opposite direction and find a modern hippie dinner in Haight Ashbury - you'll have to pay for a taxi ride, but you'll save on menu prices

      Seven days in San Francisco

      Use the two-day itinerary above, then add these extra days.

      3Golden Gate Bridge and Sausalito1 day

      On this trip you'll do much more than look at the engineering miracle that is the Golden Gate Bridge, you'll cycle over it. On the other side, continue on to Sausalito, a pretty seaside town that loves tourists. Later on, visit Yerba Buena Gardens then find a pub for dinner.

      • After a hearty breakfast, bike over Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito. Completed in 1937, this world-famous bridge has featured in around 70 movies. It's 2.7 kilometres long and absolutely riveting (each tower is held together with around 600,000 rivets). This is one of the best things to do in San Francisco with kids
      • Explore picturesque Sausalito, which sits at the mouth of Richardson Bay. The mountains of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area are immediately behind the town, creating a beautiful backdrop. Enjoy lunch at one of the many waterfront restaurants - there's a bit of everything here, from sushi and seafood to burgers, pizza and tacos
      • Ferry back to San Francisco, then visit Yerba Buena Gardens, where two blocks have been set aside as an oasis amongst the skyscrapers. It's a beautifully designed urban park with gardens, water features and sculptures. The onsite Martin Luther King Memorial is truly inspirational
      • Tuck into gastropub fare tonight at one of San Fran's ale houses. Options include Hogwash, Mikkellar Bar, ThirstyBear, the Monk's Kettle, Fat Angel and Myriad
      • Rent a car

        Need to rent a car? We have lots, have a look.

      4Napa Valley1 day
      A hot air balloon flying over Napa Valley in San Francisco

      Flee the city for a day in Napa Valley wine country. You can drive there and follow a self-guided trail or take the easy way out with an all-included wine tour. The drive to Napa is less than two hours, so there will be plenty of time for eating, drinking and appreciating the vine-coated scenery.

      • Visit a few wineries to learn about California wine history and taste a range of reds and whites. There are more than 400 cellar doors in Napa Valley, so read up the reviews to pick some that sound good to you. If you're with a tour, they'll do the choosing for you - easy!
      • Enjoy lunch at one of Napa Valley's winery restaurants, where every dish is carefully matched to a wine. Only a few cellar doors include a restaurant; pinpoint a place and book before you leave San Francisco
      • When you return to the city it'll be close to dinnertime, so stroll or taxi to North Beach. This neighbourhood is known as San Francisco's Little Italy, so it's easy to find a casual meal of pizza or pasta
      • Rent a car

        Need to rent a car? We have lots, have a look.

      5Cable cars, street cars and urban hiking 1 day

      San Francisco is famous for its public transport, particularly the street cars and cable cars. Just as famous are the city's hills. Today you'll have fun riding some of the city routes, then do a little urban hiking up the zig-zap section of Lombard Street.

      • Not to be confused with the cable cars, San Francisco's beautiful historic street cars are what we'd call trams. Most are from the 50s and 60s and their retro styling is just glorious. They travel the F line, which runs from Fisherman's Wharf along the Embarcadero (waterfront road), past the Ferry Building and down Market Street to the Castro District. They're a fun way to get around the central city shops and highlights
      • San Francisco's iconic cable cars have been operating since 1873. They're literally pulled along by cables running beneath the streets. Completely restored, the vintage cable cars are a great way to explore the city - they roll along at a gentle pace with all the romance of yesteryear. To complete your cable car experience, stop off at the free cable car museum on Nob Hill
      • Hike the zig-zag section of Lombard Street on Russian Hill, one of the most crooked streets in the world and an absolute must-see when you're in San Fran. Paved with red bricks and lined with fragrant gardens, the street features beautiful historic homes and long-range views of San Francisco Bay
      • Eat French-American tonight. The city has a long association with French cuisine, so you'll be very pleasantly surprised. Consider L'Ardoise, Chez Maman, Mathilde, Rue Lepic, Cote Ouest or Cocotte for your French fix
      • Rent a car

        Need to rent a car? We have lots, have a look.

      6San Francisco beaches1 day

      Head to the coast for a day trip, choosing either Santa Cruz or Bodega Bay. In both cases, public transport isn't really an option. Your best strategy is to hire a car or find a private tour company to drive you.

      Things to see and do on a Santa Cruz day trip

      • Stroll the 100-year-old Santa Cruz Beach boardwalk, where you'll get a good look at California's best beachside amusement park. If you're in the mood, go a little crazy on the rides
      • Take a boat trip to see whales - grey, blue and humpback whales travel along the coast, depending on the season
      • Check out the shops, art galleries and eateries in downtown Santa Cruz, where vintage and boho meet surf culture
      • Watch the surfers at Pleasure Point Beach and sea lions at Santa Cruz Wharf

      Things to see and do on a Bodega Bay day trip

      • Find locations where Alfred Hitchcock filmed his famous horror movie 'The Birds'
      • Coincidentally, and a little spookily, Bodega is a great place for bird watching - hawks, egrets, herons and pelicans live here
      • Hike around Bodega Head, which juts out into the ocean for huge views. You might even see whales
      • Paddle a kayak around the bay, looking for sea lions and seabirds
      • Go horse riding at a western-style farm with amazing sea views
      • Eat the freshest seafood at a Bodega Harbour restaurant
      • Rent a car

        Need to rent a car? We have lots, have a look.

      7Alcatraz and Angel Island1 day
      Angel Island in San Francisco, USA

      This infamous federal penitentiary was off-limits to the public for a long time, but now it's a national park. Tours to the island depart from Pier 33. We recommend the Alcatraz and Angel Island tour, to make a day of it.

      • The ferry ride to Alcatraz delivers amazing views of the city, Bay Bridge and Golden Gate Bridge
      • During the tour you'll hear about Al Capone, George 'Machine-Gun' Kelly and 'Doc' Barker, who all did time on Alcatraz. Probably the most famous prisoner was Robert Stroud - the Birdman of Alcatraz
      • Apart from its dark history as a prison, Alcatraz is a top spot for viewing seabirds, gardens and tide pools
      • Angel Island was an immigration station from 1910 to 1940; now it's a state park with great walks and a fascinating museum
      • After your cruise, stroll around Fisherman's Wharf to scope out a seafood restaurant for later. While you're wandering, there are street performers to keep you entertained - magicians, mimes, musicians, jugglers, clowns and fire-eaters
      • On Pier 45 you can create magic from loose change at Musee Mecanique, one of the world's largest privately owned collections of coin-operated mechanical musical instruments and antique arcade machines
      • Rent a car

        Need to rent a car? We have lots, have a look.

      Keep exploring San Francisco

      SFMOMA image courtesy of San Francisco Travel Association and Scott Chernis; Image courtesy of Mike Braid