What to do when you only have 24 hours
It is a tall order because there is so much to see in San Francisco, but here is a walking tour of the city you can do in 24 hours.
I would start with breakfast at the Ferry building. It is a foodies paradise. If you want a light breakfast, stop by Acme bread for a pastry and then head over to Blue Bottle Coffee for one of the best cups of joe around. If you want a heartier breakfast, Il Canne Rosso or Mijitas will do the trick. They are pricier, but very good.
After breakfast, start walking up Market Street through the financial district for about half a mile. After you cross Kearney, you are in the fashion district. Try not to get distracted by all of the cool shopping because you still have a long way to go. One block after you cross 3rd street on Market, you will make a right hand turn. Once you make that right, you should see the entrance to Chinatown in the distance. Look for the Asian inspired entrance with the dragon surrounding it. It is about 5 blocks from the corner of 3rd and Market. You will be passing by high end shops until you get to the gate of Chinatown.
Once you arrive at the Chinatown gate, take in the sights. You are at a crossroads. On one corner You will see Cafe Le Presse. If you walk in to this cafe, it will feel like you are in a cafe in Paris. Many of the patrons are speaking in French and most of the waiters have a thick French accent. On the other corner is a Starbucks. If you look down, you can see the beginning of the Financial district with its skyscrapers. Time to go in to Chinatown.
You should know that Grant Street and this gate marks the entrance to the Chinatown for the tourists. If you walk up the hill one block to Stockton, you will see Chinatown for the locals. No trinkets on Stockton, but you will find plenty of authentic Chinese greasy spoons with some of the best food in town. It may take some getting used to though. Most folks aren't accustomed to seeing their BBQ duck or chicken with the head and feet attached so tread this street with caution.
Once you walk another three quarters of a mile down either Stockton or Grant, you will cross Broadway. I would recommend you make your way down the hill a bit to the corner of Broadway and Columbus. Here, you find yourself at another crossroads. Behind you is Chinatown and before you is North Beach or Little Italy. You will find some Chinese restaurants on the Italian side, but if you cross Broadway and keep walking, the scenery will change quickly.
If you didn't stop for lunch in Chinatown, you may want to dive in to Burgermeisters on Columbus. It is about a quarter mile walk up Columbus from the corner of Broadway and Columbus. You should be walking away from the financial district and you should see it on your right hand side.
After lunch, continue walking down Columbus until you get to a street called Lombard. The crookedest street in the world. If you have the energy, walk up and take a picture. It is really beautiful up there on a clear day. If you are coming to the end of you tank, keep walking until you come to the end of Columbus and make a left. In a few blocks you will see Ghirardelli Square and the aquatic park. On a clear day, you can see Alcatraz and the Golden Gate bridge. Another great photo op.
Once you are done there, walk down Hyde Street to Jefferson Street near the water and walk away from the golden gate bridge toward the financial district, but make sure you walk down to the wharf. You should be in front of a large brick building named the cannery. You are now in Fisherman's wharf. Stop by some of the tourists shops and pick up some trinkets to take back home. As you walked down, you will eventually see the old wharf. It is on the corner of Jefferson and Taylor. Make a right on Taylor and take in the old Wharf. No trip to San Francisco is complete without having some New England clam chowder in a bread bowl. I highly recommend you go to Fisherman's Grotto #9. It is the last stall on Taylor and has the tastiest clam chowder.
After the chowder, go back up to Jefferson street and continue in the same direction you were going previously. In about 4 blocks, you should be at the "touristy" Pier 39. If this is your first time, take a look. This place is for you. The best part of Pier 39 is the sea lions you can see on the left side of the pier. They stink to high heaven, but they are fun to watch if it isn't too cold.
You are on the final leg. Continue walking in the same direction. Jefferson is now the Embarcadero. It is about a mile walk and you can either take a trolley for $2, walk or take a taxi down the Embarcadero. Either way, your final destination is back at the Ferry building. You can have dinner at The Slanted Door if you can get in or you can go directly across from the Ferry building and find Osha Thai restaurant that has some of my favorite curry dishes. If you want something a little more elegant, you can try Equinox at the Hyatt hotel or Sens which is directly above Osha Thai.
It has been a long day, but you saw a good chunk of the city!! Let me know how you liked it!!