What to see in San Francisco on a short trip?

Anflug über die Golden Gate Bridge nach San Francisco

I have visited the Californian metropolis of San Francisco several times, but the city is always worth a visit. Before my departure, I had concerns about the severe air pollution caused by the forest fires in the immediate vicinity (November 2018). You can find out in the following travel report whether my worries were justified and which sights in San Francisco I saw on the short trip.

Anflug über die Golden Gate Bridge nach San Francisco
Approach over the Golden Gate Bridge to San Francisco

Together with Robert from robisintheair.de I traveled to San Francisco with SAS Scandinavian Airlines in November 2018. You can find the Trip Report in SAS Economy Class here for reading.

What attractions in San Francisco? - Day 1

Our first day in San Francisco began with a view from the 14th floor window of the Hilton San Francisco Financial District. We were shocked to find that Coit Tower was not visible in the immediate area. However, this was not due to the air pollution caused by the forest fires, but simply to the fog that moved into the city from the Pacific. Nevertheless, after a great breakfast, we left the hotel for a full day sightseeing trip.

We walked down Grant Avenue, through the outskirts of Chinatown, until we hit Columbus Avenue. We followed this, past the National Shrine of St. Francis of Assisi, until we reached the water or Bay Street.

Chinatown in San Francisco
Chinatown in San Francisco
Pekingenten in SF
Pekingenten in SF
National Shrine of St. Francis of Assisi
National Shrine of St. Francis of Assisi
Berühmte San Francisco Cable Car
Berühmte San Francisco Cable Car

The first sight we visited in San Francisco was the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company. I remembered that there used to be something to try when you walked into the store. Apparently that was abolished. A real shame! The clouds slowly moved away and so we decided to take a short break in the blue sky and sunshine.

Ghirardelli Chocolate Company
Ghirardelli Chocolate Company
Brunnen vor der Ghirardelli Chocolate Company
Fountain in front of the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company

After our break we continued west and entered Fort Mason. This former U.S. Army barracks is located in the Marina District along San Francisco Bay. For more than 100 years, Fort Mason was an armed forces position, initially for coastal defense and later as a military port. During World War II, most of the military cargo for the war in the Pacific was handled from here. In the upper part, the so-called Upper Fort Mason, we took some pictures of the large villas. We then looked for a geocache in a neighboring allotment before heading back to the bay. However, our hope of seeing one of San Francisco's most important sights, the Golden Gate Bridge, was dashed by the approaching clouds.

Herrenhaus in Fort Mason
Mansion in Fort Mason
Lichtspiel im Nebel von Fort Mason
Play of light in the fog of Fort Mason

We walked along the promenade and watched the different sized yachts and ships. For professional reasons, I was fascinated by the historic streetcars squeaking down Jefferson Street on the worn tracks. We drifted along the colorful shops with souvenirs and tourist junk through Fischerman's Wharf to Pier 39.

Ausflugsschiffe der Blue & Gold Fleet nach Alcatraz
Ausflugsschiffe der Blue & Gold Fleet nach Alcatraz
Historische Straßenbahn in San Francisco
Historic streetcar in San Francisco
Pier 39 in San Francisco
Pier 39 in San Francisco

We paid little attention to the restaurants, including Bubba Gump, known from the film “Forest Gump”, and the souvenir shops. Our first destination was the end of the pier where we had a great view of the ruined Alcatraz prison complex. Then we paid the famous sea lion colony an obligatory visit.

Blick auf das im Nebel liegende Alcatraz
View of Alcatraz in the fog
Seelöwenkolonie am Pier 39
Sea lion colony at Pier 39

Since sightseeing in San Francisco also makes you hungry, we walked back from Pier 39 to Fischermans Wharf. There is a branch of the restaurant chain In-N-Out Burger. She is mine personal top 5 fast food restaurants in the USA. Because I was very hungry, I ordered a double-double burger with fries.

In-N-Out Burger am Fischermans Wharf
In-N-Out Burger am Fischermans Wharf
Double-Double Burger mit Pommes
Double-Double Burger mit Pommes

At the end of the day we went to the Municipal Pier. This pier was built in 1929 to provide San Francisco residents with a tranquil environment for swimming in Aquatic Cove. Today the pier is an endangered landmark in need of major repairs. Although it was elaborately constructed, decades of resistance to winter storms and wave action have significantly weakened this 1,400-foot (0.43 km) pier. However, it is still worth a walk for the great views of the city and the Golden Gate Bridge.

Aussicht vom Municipal Pier auf San Francisco
View of San Francisco from Municipal Pier
Containerschiff passiert die Golden Gate Bridge
Container ship passes the Golden Gate Bridge

What attractions in San Francisco? - Day 2

We reserved a rental car for our second day in San Francisco, a Monday. Because of the affordable overall package, we decided to rent a silver Audi A4 from the Silvercar car rental company. I already have a look at what exactly Silvercar is Report from Chicago summarized.

Silvercar in San Francisco
Silvercar in San Francisco

We left San Francisco heading south and our first destination was the new Apple Campus. Unfortunately, once we got there we were only able to visit the visitor center including the Apple Store. The actual newly built complex, which resembles a landed UFO, can only be entered by employees or invited guests. But we still had a view of the unique architecture of the “mother ship” from the roof terrace of the visitor center.

Neues Apple Besucherzentrum
New Apple Visitor Center
Apple Store im Besucherzentrum
Apple Store in the visitor center
Blick auf das Apple "Mutterschiff"
Looking at the Apple “Mothership”

Our tour through Silicon Valley took us to neighboring Mountain View. This is the center of the search engine giant Google. We were a little disappointed by the poor condition of the facility, especially the sculptures of the individual Android versions. The visitor center and the company store weren't really convincing either.

Google Android Lawn Statues
Google Android Lawn Statues

After a quick stop at a Tesla dealer and lunch at Carls Jr., we headed to the San Francisco Premium Outlets. We chose a few stores and bought one or two items of clothing at a significant discount.

Tesla-Händler im Silicon Valley
Tesla dealer in Silicon Valley

Since it was already late afternoon and we wanted to use the remaining daylight for planespotting, we drove straight to San Francisco airport. From Bay Park we had a good view of part of the apron and the two parallel runways.

Swiss International Air Lines Boeing 777 - MSN 44583 - HB-JNB
Swiss International Air Lines Boeing 777 – MSN 44583 – HB-JNB
British Airways Boeing 747 - MSN 28853 - G-CIVY
British Airways Boeing 747 – MSN 28853 – G-CIVY
American Airlines Airbus A321 - MSN 5946 - N108NN
American Airlines Airbus A321 – MSN 5946 – N108NN
Emirates Airbus A380 - MSN 168 - A6-EOD
Emirates Airbus A380 – MSN 168 – A6-EOD

As it started to get dark, we packed up our camera gear and drove to a neighboring mall. There we ate a juicy burger at “Five Guys”, again one of our favorite restaurants. Then we wanted to take some night shots of the Golden Gate Bridge. So we drove to Fort Point below the famous bridge before having to return the rental car near Union Square.

Golden Gate Bridge bei Nacht
Golden Gate Bridge at night

The very next day we had to leave San Francisco and flew home with SAS. Nevertheless, we saw many sights in San Francisco over the two days. No matter how long or how often, San Francisco is always worth a trip for me!

Which travel guide can you recommend for a city trip to San Francisco?

Welche Sehenswürdigkeiten in San Francisco auf einem Kurztrip? 1Welche Sehenswürdigkeiten in San Francisco auf einem Kurztrip? 2Compact information, insider tips, adventure tours and digital extras:
Experience the casual metropolis on the Pacific intensively with MARCO POLO, from breakfast to nightcap. With the MARCO POLO travel guide* Arrive in San Francisco immediately and are guaranteed to know where to go first. Find out which highlights you shouldn't miss besides the Golde Gate Bridge and Fisherman's Wharf, where the hipsters buy their hip Timbuk2 shoulder bags and why it's not just Star Wars fans who make a pilgrimage to the Yoda Fountain in front of George Lucas' media empire.

Did you like the post? Then share it on social media. By doing so, you support our work. Have you been to San Francisco and have more tips for the best things to do in the city? Then I'm looking forward to your opinion in the comments.

What to see in San Francisco?
  • Chinatown
  • Ghirardelli Chocolate Company
  • Fort Mason
  • Fischermans Wharf
  • Pier 39
  • Municipal Pier


My name is Christian and I was born in the green heart of Germany and studied computer engineering in Ilmenau, Thuringia. Since 2021, I live with my wife Christin and our son in Merseburg and work in Leipzig as a product manager. What I love about travelling is flying, discovering delicious food and drink, and staying in great hotels. I am a travel enthusiast and always on the lookout for the next adventure. I have been posting about my experiences on the road since 2007.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. City real estate agent

    Hallo Christian,

    Thank you for this great post and the good tips on places to visit in San Francisco. I've always wanted to go there and hope to take a trip there soon. Your tips were very helpful.

    Best regards

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