12 Hours in San Francisco

We all want more than 12 hours in a city, but sometimes the timing of things just doesn’t work out. It doesn’t mean you need to sit in an airport and wait for your flight, use the time you have to do some exploring.

I found myself in this exact situation last summer. I arrived in San Francisco in the morning and had about 12 hours until my flight left that night. With a little research and planning I was able to see many famous San Francisco sites and fill my day with food, fitness, and fun.

Start with a Food Tour of the Mission District

Start off your day exploring the Mission District with Explore San Francisco. This lively neighborhood is famous for its diverse food and thriving arts scene. The food tour changes with the group and season but consistently highlights the traditional Latin food of the neighborhood. Some possible samples are tacos, sangria, cured meats, and empanadas.

It’s only a 20-minute train ride (on the BART – Bay Area Rapid Transit) from the Mission District to Chinatown. San Francisco’s Chinatown is the largest in North America, with a huge history and lively streets.

Explore Chinatown

Chinatown, San Francisco


Start by admiring the famous Chinatown Gate where Bush and Grant Streets meet. Walk through the gate and down Grant Street toward Vital Tea Leaf. Sit at the tea bar, where you can taste and learn about the history of tea and how to prepare it correctly from the “tea-tenders.”

From the tea room, head to the Fortune Cookie Factory. This teeny, tiny hole-in-the-wall “factory” can easily be missed if you are not looking for it. It is on Ross Alley between Grant and Stockton streets. Two women sit inside this room and make 20,000 fortune cookies a day! Buy one cookie or a whole bag, but really just marvel at the scale of production by so few people.

A Ride on the Cable Car

San Francisco Cable Car

The cable cars are synonymous with San Francisco. A ride on one, though crowded and touristy, is special to this city. Hop on the Hyde Street Cable Car from Chinatown, which drops you off at the top of Lombard Street.

Walk Down One of the Most Crooked Streets in the World

Lombard Street, San Francisco

Lombard Street is a steep and windy stretch of road right in the middle of San Francisco. It has eight switchbacks and lined with famous and expensive homes. It’s a popular site, and climbing up and down it is a great way to get some exercise.

Get ready to walk! From Lombard street, head to the wharf by foot.

Fisherman’s Wharf

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, California

Take in views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz while exploring the bustling wharf area. There are tons of restaurants, shops, museums and, of course, tourists. This is the most popular destination in San Francisco, and necessary to add to your day of exploring San Fran’s top sites.

If you have more than 12 hours in San Francisco — then you’re lucky! Choose a neighborhood that interests you and enjoy your stay in an amazing San Francisco hotel.