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Best Neighborhoods to Explore in San Francisco in a Day

Up hills. Down hills. Over hills.

We walked as many of the best neighborhoods in San Francisco as we could in the one day we had!

For two days, we’d been cruising with Ponant on Le Boreal from Vancouver – and stuffing our faces with the most divine French food.

So it felt good to stretch our sea legs in San Francisco and get a little exercise.

photos of San Francisco

Best neighborhoods to visit in San Francisco in a day

We’ve visited the city on several occasions. And we’ve tried many of its restaurants – one of the highlights of San Francisco!

We’re familiar with Union Square, crooked Lombard Street, hoity-toity Nob Hill, Chinatown and Fisherman’s Wharf. 

Lombard Street, San Francisco

This time, we wanted to explore some different areas of San Francisco – and take some different photos of San Francisco neighborhoods.

After a brisk walk down the Embarcadero Promenade to the 1898 Ferry Building for coffee and Internet time, we made our way up the Greenwich Street Steps, past the cutest pastel-colored Victorian houses and gardens, to Coit Tower and historic Telegraph Hill.

The Italian district of North Beach beckoned next.

North Beach, San Francisco

And then it was back up Telegraph Hill and down the Filbert Street Steps to the Embarcadero again – and onto our ship for our onward expedition to the Sea of Cortez and Acapulco.

Below are some of our photos of the San Francisco neighborhoods we explored:

The Embarcadero

San Francisco Embarcadero

A wide seaside promenade, the Embarcadero runs along much of the city’s waterfront.

The cruise ship terminal is found here; tour boats for the famous prison island of Alcatraz also leave from one of the piers. Fisherman’s Wharf is at the north end.

We noticed lots of bicycles. San Francisco is obviously very bike-friendly!

Bike-friendly San Francisco

Near Pier 1, the Ferry Building has a collection of gourmet food stores and coffee shops.

It’s a popular spot for locals and visitors alike to nosh on oysters or burgers by the waterfront.

Ferry Building in San Francisco

Filbert and Greenwich Street Steps

Two stretches of Filbert and Greenwich Streets running to the top of Telegraph Hill are too steep for cars.

San Francisco Filbert Street house

You have to climb up hundreds of steps instead – 377 steps wooden stairs for Filbert Street.

On the way, you pass pastel-colored “gingerbread” houses (some date back as far as 1870) and pretty flower-filled gardens.

Coit Tower

In the 1930s, Lillie Hitchcock Coit wanted to beautify the city, so she had the 210-foot Coit Tower built atop Telegraph Hill.

View of Coit Tower, San Francisco

Inside at the base are several colorful murals.

Some were painted by artists who studied under Mexican painter Diego Rivera, who was married to Frida Kahlo.

(No wonder they reminded us of Diego Rivera’s murals!)

Coit Tower mural

While you can pay to go to the top of the tower, we thought the views from the surrounding park area were stellar enough!

North Beach

Immigrants from Genoa and Sicily who moved to San Francisco settled in the North Beach area, setting up scores of Italian restaurants, cafés and bars.

Homes in North Beach, one of the best San Francisco neighborhoods

George saw a “books” sign and quickly made a beeline for the City Lights Bookstore.

It was founded in 1953 as a left-leaning literary hangout.

Today, this paradise for bibliophiles has a vast selection of books on every conceivable topic from classic European literature and contemporary poetry to sexual politics.

San Francisco bookstore

George could have spent hours browsing inside – only the promise of a cappuccino could persuade him to leave.

If you visit San Francisco

Check out San Francisco Travel, the city’s official tourism website. It has lots of good trip ideas and information.

Have you left your heart in San Francisco?

Do you have a favorite San Francisco neighborhood or attraction? You can let us know in the Comments below.

Photo credits: 3 to 17 © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase | 2 San Francisco Travel

About the authors

Luxury travel journalists and SATW, NATJA and TMAC “Best Travel Blog” award winners, Janice and George Mucalov are the publishers of Sand In My Suitcase. Between them, they’ve traveled to all 7 continents. See About.

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Monday 23rd of November 2015

Beautiful photos of some less explored areas! I've only spent a few days here and there in SF, but it's a really fun city to wander around. Except for those hills! We don't have those in Chicago, so it was quite a workout!


Friday 20th of November 2015

Nice urban photos! Great city!

Janice and George

Friday 20th of November 2015

Thanks! San Fran is a great city - very photogenic :-).


Thursday 19th of November 2015

Climbing up the Filbert and Greenwich Street steps sounds like a whole workout!

Janice and George

Thursday 19th of November 2015

It was! We didn't need to use the ship's gym that day!


Tuesday 17th of November 2015

I love San Francisco. Went there once in 2006 when Spanky had a conference. I spent 3 days riding a bike around the city, it was just fantastic. I loved the Land's End area: the parks, ocean, and looking out at the bridge. Have to go back one day and get to know the city better.

Very nice photos in this post. Frank (bbqboy)

Janice and George

Wednesday 18th of November 2015

Agreed! There's so much to explore in the city. We've biked over the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito - great fun! - but mostly we've walked everywhere. With all those hills, you don't need to go to the gym when you visit San Fran :-).


Tuesday 17th of November 2015

The powers of a great cappuccino eh?! :) I've been to San Fran a couple of times but must admit there are quite a few of these neighbourhoods I haven't explored and did not know about like North Beach, it sounds like a fascinating area. It's definitely one of the loveliest US cities I've visited !