With its towering skyscrapers, buzzing tech hub, and architectural landmarks, San Francisco has cemented itself as one of America’s most iconic cities. The city brings in almost three million tourists annually, but not all are there for vacation; many are visiting on business or transiting, which could limit your time in San Francisco.

As the ‘City by the Bay’ is a hub of industries as varied as aerospace design and fish canning, many visit the city for work and business activities. Many more have just a few days (or less!) to spend in the city when they’re transiting or passing through on a longer road trip along the West Coast. However, despite having a limited time to explore, you can still explore the best of what San Francisco offers, especially with the help of a car rental SFO airport service.

From the arches of the Golden Gate Bridge to the Museum of Modern Art, here’s how to make the most of San Francisco when you’re on limited time.

Must-See places in San Francisco on limited time

San Francisco has countless attractions to visit, from the world-famous Golden Gate Bridge to its age-old Chinatown. San Francisco has something for everybody, but if you’re on limited time, you’ll need to head straight for the highlight. Here are the must-see places in San Francisco that you should take advantage of during your trip.

1. Golden Gate Bridge

The Golden Gate Bridge is one of San Francisco’s most famous landmarks. An iconic feat of engineering, this monstrous bridge spans the strait connecting San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean. Since its completion in 1937, this soaring suspension bridge has stood as a symbol of architectural prowess and aesthetic beauty alike.

Its striking International Orange colour, chosen for enhanced visibility in San Francisco’s notorious fog, ensures it stands out against the natural backdrop. The bridge’s two towering pillars rise 227 metres above the water, offering breathtaking views to pedestrians and cyclists who traverse its pathways.

Beyond its utility as a critical transport link, the Golden Gate Bridge embodies the spirit of innovation and resilience, attracting millions of visitors yearly to marvel at its grandeur. It’s almost a crime not to visit if you’re in San Francisco, so add this to the top of your bucket list.

The Golden Gate Bridge, a highlight of any visit to San Francisco. Photo by Joonyeop Baek on Unsplash.

2. North America’s Oldest Chinatown

Beneath the hustle and bustle of the city lies North America’s oldest Chinatown, which began to evolve in the mid-19th century. Filled with historic temples, family-owned bakeries, and a famous fortune cookie factory, the city’s Chinatown is a must-see for any tourist—whether you’re here for business or not. 

As a city within a city, Chinatown is filled with shopping bazaars, Chinese temples, colourful murals, and of course, incredible cuisine. It’s a clash of cultures, and it’s a fun place to escape to whenever you feel like work is getting too much. 

My top tip is to visit the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory, where you can see how the staff make 10,000 fortune cookies by hand every day.

3. Union Square

Union Square is located in the heart of San Francisco, and it serves as an enduring hub of culture and commerce. The square is surrounded by high-end retail stores, exquisite dining establishments, and prestigious art galleries, making it a premier destination for both tourists and locals alike.

Its central location provides an ideal starting point for exploring the city’s attractions. The square itself, with its historic Dewey Monument, is a dynamic space hosting a variety of events throughout the year, including art shows, concerts, and holiday celebrations.

Union Square, San Francisco. Photo by Cedric Letsch on Unsplash.

4. Twin Peaks

Twin Peaks, standing as two of San Francisco’s most prominent hills, offers one of the city’s most spectacular vantage points. At an elevation of about 281 metres, these grassy peaks provide panoramic views of the Bay Area, making it a must-visit for photographers and sightseers alike.

The north peak, known as Eureka, and its southern counterpart, Noe, are accessible via a winding road that leads to a spacious viewing area. This spot is particularly popular at sunrise and sunset when the city lights and natural landscapes blend in a fiery display.

The view from Twin Peaks at night. Photo by Haotian Zheng on Unsplash.

5. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) stands as a beacon of contemporary and modern art on the West Coast, offering an expansive view into the world of 20th and 21st-century art movements. Since its inception in 1935, SFMOMA has grown into a dynamic cultural institution, housing an impressive collection that includes over 33,000 works of painting, sculpture, photography, architecture, design, and media arts.

The museum’s strikingly modern architecture, designed by Mario Botta and later expanded by Snøhetta, provides an inviting space for visitors to immerse themselves in the works of artists like Frida Kahlo, Jackson Pollock, and Andy Warhol. If you’ve only got time for one museum or gallery during your stay in San Francisco, make it the SFMOMA!

Read more: How Many Countries Are in North America? Everything You Need to Know.

Tips to Explore San Francisco when you’re in a hurry

If you’re on a fleeting business visit to San Francisco, or if you’re just short on time, then don’t worry, because you can still immerse yourself in the city’s must-see attractions. To help you make the most of you’re trip, here are a few tips on exploring the city if you have limited time. 

1. Plan out your day

With limited time, you should always have your day planned out in advance. Make a schedule and try to keep to it, unless something really fun pops up!

It’s vital that before you arrive in San Francisco, you already know which places you’re visiting or activities you’re doing. Know your priorities, and you’ll have plenty of time to explore San Francisco. 

2. Rent a car

Taking the bus and cable cars might sound fun, but if you don’t have time, it’s always best to get a rental from a service provider such as SIXT Car Rental

A car rental service is more comfortable, convenient, and time-saving than public transportation. Moreover, you can go to your desired places at any given time you like, without worrying about train schedules or when the nearest bust station is – perfect when you’re in a hurry!

Photo by Joshua Sortino on Unsplash.

3. Book everything in advance

If you plan to go on a tour, go to a restaurant or see any of the top, ticketed sights in San Francisco, then always book in advance. This not only limits your waiting time (there’s no hanging out in queues!) but it also means you won’t be disappointed when your bucket list tour is sold out on the only day you can go.

From the Golden Gate Bridge to buzzing Chinatown restaurants, the City by the Bay is an excellent destination for a short city break. Even if you’re limited on time, you’re sure to have a fantastic time exploring the top sights in the city.

Photo by Titus Aparici on Unsplash.

There you go! Top tips to explore San Francisco with limited time. Where will you be going first?