72 Hours in San Francisco

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Of all the major U.S. cities to spend 48 to 72 hours in, San Francisco is arguably one of the best for a short urban getaway.

Covering an area of about 45 square miles, San Francisco is one of the most compact U.S. cities. This makes it far easier for travelers to cover ground than such cities as Manhattan or Los Angeles, for example. Typically, those places that aren’t within walking distance are a short Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) or bus ride, or quick Lyft or Uber.

Below, get a little taste of what you can pack into a long weekend trip to San Francisco in Kind Traveler’s latest 72-hour city guide.

Getting Around

As I alluded to above, travelers to San Francisco really don’t need a car considering how compact the city is, and how limited, and expensive, parking is. Flying into either Oakland International Airport (OAK) or San Francisco International Airport (SFO), travelers can conveniently use BART, which will transport them into the city. From SFO it’s a 30-minute train ride, and from OAK, a 45-minute to hour-long ride (which includes a short AirBART shuttle transfer).

Once in San Francisco, travelers can use BART for getting around to many neighborhoods, including the Mission and Embarcadero, and the bus for getting to those neighborhoods that BART doesn’t serve. Otherwise, travelers can use Lyft or Uber to get around. On my last trip to San Francisco, none of my Lyft rides were any longer than 15 to 20 minutes.

For those travelers who like seeing a city by foot, bring a good pair of walking shoes, as San Francisco has many of the steepest streets in America. Additionally, bring a jacket, as the temperatures can change quickly, especially during summer, as fog rolls in.

Eat

Quite frankly, San Francisco is one of America’s best food cities, and a good starting place is in one of its many international neighborhoods. This includes the Mission for Mexican food at places like Gracias Madre, a plant-based Mexican restaurant, or any number of renowned burrito spots, like El Farolito. The Mission, also, is home to one of the most unique San Francisco dining experiences, at Mozzeria, which is a deaf-owned and deaf-operated pizzeria.

Virgin Hotels San Francisco

Elsewhere, food lovers can experience one of the largest Chinatown neighborhoods outside of Asia, where dim sum is in high demand, and just west of Chinatown, Japantown, where six city blocks are packed with great sushi bars and other Japanese restaurants. Continuing with the international theme, just north of Chinatown is North Beach, an Italian-influenced neighborhood lined with pizzerias, such as Tony's Pizza Napoletana, and Italian cafes like Caffe Greco.

Being California as this is, where fresh produce and plant-based lifestyles are so prominent, travelers will find a number of plant-based San Francisco restaurants.

Virgin Hotels San Francisco

Above, I mentioned Gracias Madre, which has been a longtime plant-based Mexican food staple in the Mission. Another longtime plant-based restaurant in San Francisco is The Plant Café, which although serving meat, features a menu of organic ingredients from local farms that use as low of a carbon footprint as possible. The Plant Cafe has several locations, including Dogpatch, the Marina, the Financial District, and SFO in Terminal 2.

Other notable restaurants for the conscious diner include Al’s Place, Greens Restaurant, VeganBurg, Golden Era Vegan Restaurant for Asian fusion, Udupi Palace for Indian, Cha-Ya for vegetarian and vegan sushi, and Burma Superstar, a beloved Burmese restaurant known for its Tea Leaf Salad. Finally, if there’s one food destination travelers shouldn’t miss, it’s the Ferry Building, where numerous chocolate shops, popular San Francisco restaurants and bars sit on the San Francisco Bay.

Play

One of the many perks of San Francisco is that many of the best things to do in San Francisco are clustered together in a few areas. For example, if you just have a couple days in the city, you could spend one day exploring the Embarcadero, Jackson Square, and Chinatown, and another day exploring Golden Gate Park, where many of San Francisco’s best museums are.

Most travelers to San Francisco are likely staying near Union Square, where many of Kind Traveler’s San Francisco hotels are located. From here, travelers are within walking distance or a short bus, cable car ride or rideshare from Chinatown, Coit Tower, the Embarcadero, and museums like the Cable Car Museum, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), and Museum of Ice Cream. Also, relatively close is Oracle Park, where the San Francisco Giants play, and the Ferry Building, where travelers would catch a ferry to places like Sausalito and Alcatraz.

Across the city, west toward the Pacific Ocean, is Golden Gate Park, which is one of the largest urban parks in America. While it’s great for outdoor things like bicycling, the Japanese Tea Garden, and San Francisco Botanical Garden, Golden Gate Park is also home to the de Young Museum, one of America’s most visited art museums, and the California Academy of Sciences.

Some other notable things to do in San Francisco include the Presidio, which was a military outpost for two centuries, and now features miles of hiking trails and overlooks of the Golden Gate Bridge. The Presidio is good to combine with other nearby things to do like bicycling or walking across the Golden Gate Bridge, and visiting San Francisco landmarks like the Palace of Fine Arts and The Walt Disney Family Museum.

Stay

Kind Traveler has a number of thoughtfully designed, boutique San Francisco hotels, many of which are in the heart of San Francisco, near Union Square. This includes Hotel GHotel SperoKensington Park Hotel, and Galleria Park Hotel. All of these San Francisco hotels are conveniently located near a BART stop, and within walking distance or short ride to some of San Francisco’s best restaurants and things to do. Most of these Kind Traveler San Francisco hotels have their own restaurants, while guests of Hotel Spero receive a discount at local favorite, Jasper's.

New to San Francisco, and Kind Traveler, is Virgin Hotels. Richard Branson’s new Virgin Hotels outpost, located in SoMa, is just down from Yerba Buena Park, and boasts a lobby restaurant and bar, newly-opened rooftop bar, 24-hour fitness center, and eco-friendly touches as the hotel moves toward net zero carbon and net zero waste.

Spencer Spellman is a traveling writer/photographer, strategist, cocktail maker, N.C. expat, boarder, and bucket/life list doer.