San Francisco is one of my favorite cities. It’s a charismatic metropolis with a rich history, temperate weather year-round, and myriad opportunities to fulfill nearly every interest. Whether you enjoy being in nature, eating great food, visiting museums, or shopping the latest fashions, San Francisco has something for you. When I found a deeply discounted flight from Seattle that would allow me to spend just one day in San Francisco, it didn’t take me long to buy in.
Sure, I’d visited San Francisco before, but it had been a long time since my last visit and I’d been wondering what it would be like to take a day trip by plane. This was the ideal opportunity to satisfy both of my cravings. In late August, I boarded a pre-dawn flight, arriving in downtown San Francisco in the early morning. Here’s how I spent one day in the City by the Bay:
Wheels down at SFO
After roughly two hours en route from Seattle, we’ve finally landed at San Francisco International Airport. It takes us much longer to disembark from the flight and the distance from our gate to the airport BART station is longer than I anticipate. I miss the scheduled light rail to downtown and take the next one 20 minutes later. It’s 9:30 am when I emerge from the Embarcadero station into the surprisingly warm air. Hey there, San Francisco. Let’s do this.
I officially start the festivities at the historic Ferry Building’s Marketplace. After making a quick pass near the ferry docks with views eastward to the Bay Bridge, I browse the shops and stalls set up for the Saturday morning farmer’s market beneath the grand clock tower. There are vendors selling beautiful pottery, fresh bread, large sunflowers, mushrooms by the pound. I pick up a sweet bun from the Marla Bakery stall that I stash in my backpack for later.
Taking the F-line streetcar up through North Beach to Fisherman’s Wharf, I skip the colorful but cluttered souvenir shops in favor of a leisurely walk along the promenade at Aquatic Cove in the shadow of Ghirardelli Square. I stroll past the beautiful white art deco Maritime Museum, wishing I had time to explore inside. It’s a practically perfect day, with blue skies melting into the surprising turquoise of San Francisco Bay. I soak up some sun with clear views of Alcatraz Island and a fogged-in Golden Gate Bridge while cooing to a lone sea lion swimming nearby.
Days like this are my favorite, when I throw fixed plans to the wind and follow my bliss instead. I hadn’t anticipated visiting Fort Mason, but the path from Aquatic Cove leads me there, granting me a new perspective overlooking the bay. Bicyclists ride past along a blacktop path and the air possesses the slightest scent of eucalyptus. From this vantage point, I can see all the way down Marina Drive, with its stately, red-roofed Spanish-style homes on one side and docked sailboats on the other.
It’s a long walk from Fort Mason to the eastern edge of the Presidio, but I finally arrive at the one site I’d been hoping to see: the elegant, opulent Palace of Fine Arts. I’m completely enthralled by the century-old monument surrounded by a serene lagoon ringed with flowering shrubs and dotted with graceful swans. It’s here where I stop for a restful hour, sitting on a bench warmed by the sun, eating the pastry I’d bought earlier, and watching a wedding take place beneath the Palace’s great rotunda.
Thanks to rerouted buses to accommodate a planned rally, I get lost and end up downtown in Union Square, but I quickly reorient myself. I catch a westbound bus on Geary Street to Point Lobos on the Pacific Ocean, where a thick fog obscures the horizon and it’s much cooler and windier than inland. Even though the day has been sunny and warm, I’m grateful that I brought a jacket along. I pull it tight around me as I explore the ruins of the Sutro Baths, a turn-of-the-twentieth-century complex of public saltwater pools. I spend roughly three-quarters of an hour exploring the ruins and a nearby sea cave, where I marvel at the ocean’s tremendous power.
Later, I start off on the Coastal Trail. While I’m not really outfitted for a hike, how can I resist the allure of a dusty path flanked by cypress trees hugging rugged cliffs overlooking the Pacific? It seems a popular destination for tourists and locals alike; families with kids in tow trudge along while trail runners whiz past them. A side path leads me upward to the Legion of Honor, one of San Francisco’s fine arts museums. Unfortunately, I’ve arrived too late to make a full visit. The museum is about to close within the hour, so I content myself with a turn around the bright, open courtyard of the French neoclassical delight.
Ending my day in the Financial District, I opt for dinner at Delarosa, a Roman-style pizzeria tucked into a lane leading off Market Street. The entree is delicious, but the stars of the meal are the cocktail I have to start and the tiramisu and Americano that serve as the finish. The best part for this solo traveler? The bar and communal tables that make it easy to dine alone. An hour later, I’m back on the BART heading toward the airport, exhausted but happy. It’s been on a truly amazing day.
Would I do it again? Oh hell, yes.