5 Hours in San Francisco


What you can do with 5 hours in San Francisco

By TurtlesTravel

  • Ferry to San Francisco

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  • Downtown Skyline

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  • Ferry Terminal

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  • Alcatraz aka The Rock

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  • Pier 39 Seals

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  • Chowder in a sourdough bread bowl

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  • Boudin Bread Maker. Making TURTLES!

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  • Fisherman's Wharf

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  • Fresh Steamed Crabs

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  • Lobster

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  • Hyde St. Pier

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  • Think you know the rest! Mmmm Chocolate.

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  • Hyde Street Trolley

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  • The Famous Lombard Street

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  • Great Food

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  • Cassone Lunch

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  • Yummy Store in Little Italy

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  • Retail Storefront Chinatown

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  • Chinatown Scene

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  • Grant Street Chinatown

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  • Dragon's Gate

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  • San Francisco Ferry Terminal

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  • Cupid's Span

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  • Goodbye San Francisco

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Visiting San Fancisco, but short on time?

That’s the situation we found ourselves in recently. It had been a few years since we’d been to San Francisco, and even longer since we’d done any of the classic, must-do’s downtown. We stayed in South San Francisco’s Oyster Point, not far from the San Francisco airport. Though we’d stayed in this convenient location before, it was only this time we discovered that there is a ferry that runs twice a week from Oyster Point Marina to San Francisco. The San Francisco Bay Ferry departs on Wednesdays and Fridays at 9 am. It takes a half hour to 45 minutes to arrive at either the Ferry Building or Pier 41 respectively. The one-way fare is $7. There are afternoon returns available for the same price from either location. Check the schedule for details. (Side note: The marina is along the San Francisco Bay Trail, so if you are staying in the area, it’s worth taking a walk and exploring at least a part of the 500 mile shoreline path around the bay!)

SF Skyline

The ferry ride offered great views of approaching downtown San Francisco, passing by Candlestick Park, AT&T Park, and under the Bay Bridge. We docked for a few minutes at the Ferry Building before continuing on to Pier 41, with views of Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge on that leg. What a bargain!

Fisherman’s Wharf

After visiting with the famously noisy, stinky seals on Pier 39, and briefly checking out Fisherman’s Wharf, we grabbed the requisite clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl and head west towards Hyde Street and the Hyde Street Pier. Before the opening of the Golden Gate and Bay bridges, this historic pier was the automobile ferry connection to Marin County to the north and East Bay.  Today, the pier is part of the San Francisco Maritime Historic National Park. We enjoyed looking at and learning about the historical ships now docked here, and even got in some practice in tying nautical knots. It’s only a few blocks over to Ghirardelli Square. Chocolate, of course, was in order. Our preference? Chocolate covered espresso beans!

Lombard Street

A walk up Hyde Street gave is great looks at people loading onto the famous San Francisco cable cars found all over the city. This area is one of the big hubs. It was a steep hike to reach the top of Lombard Street. This is the one seen in many movies and TV shows. The steepest section of one of the country’s crookedest streets features 8 hairpin turns. Tourists were everywhere taking photos. We wondered how the people who live in the Victorian mansions on this section of Lombard like people walking across their driveways 24/7. There are good views of Coit Tower from the hills in this area as well.

Lombard Street, San Francisco

Lombard Street, San Francisco

North Beach and Chinatown

With all that walking, our tummies were starting to grumble. We chose a new spot in North Beach, the neighborhood known for great Italian food. The Italian Homemade Company is touted by SF Weekly as “The Most Old-School Place in North Beach. There is just one small table in the same room with the small grocery featuring homemade pasta, boxed pasta and sauces and other specialty items. We went with one cassone of potato, cheese and bacon. That came with a stuffed pepper on the side.  I had a traditional piadina (flatbread) with arugula, mozzarella and prosciutto de parma. Both were delicious. Just a few blocks away up Columbus, it’s clear you’ve arrived in San Francisco’s famous Chinatown. Browsing through the shops filled to the roofs with herbs, teas, traditional medicines, clothing, fresh fruits and veggies, souvenirs from bobble-heads of popular characters to large bronze sculptures is a must. After refreshing ourselves with a aloe-honey boba tea, we emerged at the Dragon Gate, Chinatown’s landmark entrance.

Embarcadero

A walk across Market Street took us to the Ferry Building at the south end of the Embarcadero, filled with more shopping and eating opportunities. We walked down to the Cupid’s Span bow and arrow sculpture near Rincon Park for a few photos before returning to the Ferry Building for our cruise back to San Francisco. The map below shows our route, for those who’d like to follow it, or base a similar exploration on it!

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What are some of your favorite must-see spots for new visitors to San Fancisco? Tell us about them in the Comments Section!

About the author

Tamara and Donny have wandered together since 2004, with no cure for their insatiable wanderlust. They write about discovering new destinations including beautiful photography, plus budget travel tips and how to give back through travel.