Bring Your Appetite
Start the day at the Ferry Building, which is stuffed with tempting produce, cafés, and artisanal treats. Nab a little something for breakfast, then take the California line cable car uphill to Chinatown. Walk along Grant Avenue and Stockton Street, peeking into mysterious herb apothecaries, live-seafood stores, and sweet-smelling tea shops before having a dim sum lunch or a steamed-bun snack.
Then head to North Beach for a post-meal espresso or pastry at one of the classic outdoor cafés. The Italian delis, bakeries, and pasta houses are worth visiting even if you can't eat another bite. Get your appetite back by making your way uphill to Coit Tower for sweeping views of the bay. (Climbing the steep stairways is a tough but scenically stunning way to do this.)
At the end of the day, either head back to North Beach's Columbus Avenue and let one of the restaurant hawkers talk you into coming in for pasta, or make the trip to the Mission District for fantastic, inexpensive ethnic food.
Work the Wharf
Fisherman's Wharf and the surrounding attractions may be touristy with a capital T, but there are some fun experiences to be had. With your pre-reserved ticket in hand (do this in advance, since tours frequently sell out), set out for Alcatraz. When the ferry docks back at Pier 33, head north along the waterfront to Pier 39. If you're on a kitschy-souvenir hunt, browse through the pier's overpriced stores. Otherwise, see if you can spot sea lions basking on floating platforms on the pier's north side. Take a step back in time to early-20th-century San Francisco at delightful Musée Mécanique, then grab an Irish coffee at the Buena Vista.
As tempting as it might be to dine on the water, most Fisherman's Wharf restaurants have less-than-spectacular food (Gary Danko is an exception). A better and cheaper option is to pick up some to-go Dungeness crab from one of the outdoor vendors and eat as you stroll along the waterfront. Or hop on the Powell-Hyde or Powell-Mason cable-car line for better dining on Russian Hill or in North Beach.
Art and Retail Therapy
Beat the crowds in the morning at SFMOMA (remember that it's closed Wednesday). The modern art collection is one of SoMa's main magnets, but there are several other museums to consider, too, such as the Contemporary Jewish Museum, the Museum of the African Diaspora, and the San Francisco Craft and Folk Art Museum.
Take a break from exhibits across the street from SFMOMA in the expansive Yerba Buena Gardens. Then head up 4th Street and join the masses at the Bloomingdale's-anchored Westfield San Francisco Shopping Centre (and its spectacular dining court) and the shops around Union Square. This area isn't known for great restaurants, so when you're ready for dinner, head to Belden Place. This bistro-lined alley (some places here are closed Sunday) is one of the few places around Union Square where locals dine.
To top off the evening, gaze down on the city lights from one of the square's sky-view lounges like Harry Denton's Starlight Room.
Golden Gate Park
Golden Gate Park is better than usual on Sunday, when its main arteries are closed to cars. Start your day at the glorious Conservatory of Flowers (closed Monday). Be sure to take in the scenes ingeniously rendered in flowers out front. Pace the wooden bridges and stone pathways of the Japanese Tea Garden before hitting the San Francisco Botanical Garden at Strybing Arboretum. Next up: the striking de Young Museum (closed Monday) and the glorious California Academy of Sciences. Make your way west, stopping at Stow Lake, where you can rent a boat and paddle near Strawberry Hill. Back on land, continue west toward Ocean Beach and the endless Pacific. Cap off your tour by kicking back with a pint to enjoy the sunset ocean view at the Beach Chalet.
Find the Funky Neighborhoods
Ride the antique trolleys to the western end of the F-line in the Castro. Stroll down Castro Street, past the art-deco Castro Theatre, window-shopping and stopping at any café that tempts you. Head east on 16th Street to Dolores Street and Mission Dolores, and wander rows of centuries-old gravestones in its tiny cemetery.
Then hit the "Valencia Corridor" (Valencia Street between 16th and 20th streets), dipping into independent bookstores, hipster cafés, and quirky shops. Seek out the area's vibrant, often politically charged murals, either on your own or on a tour with the Precita Eyes organization. Stay in the Mission for dinner and drinks; this is one of the city's best neighborhoods for restaurants and watering holes.
Take It to the Bridge
Start with a stroll and a search for picnic supplies in the Marina before heading to the gorgeous Palace of Fine Arts. Spread your blanket next to its lovely lagoon, or head toward the sailboats docked next to the swath of grass known as Marina Green. Continue west into the Presidio and make for Crissy Field, the marshland and sandy beach along the northern shore, for your picnic. With the Golden Gate Bridge view to inspire you, head onto or over the bridge itself. Be sure to wear comfortable shoes; the bridge is 1.7 miles across. Save this for a sunny day—and don't forget your jacket!
Bay Views and Real Estate Envy
Start at terraced Ina Coolbrith Park on Russian Hill for broad vistas of the bay. Ascend the Vallejo Steps and you're within easy reach of Russian Hill's best hidden lanes. Explore famous Macondray Lane; then head around the corner to Leavenworth Street just north of Union Street and look left for the steps to equally lovely but virtually unknown Havens Place. Continue north to zigzag down crooked Lombard Street. If you still have some stamina, head west to Pacific Heights, where you can check out the Haas-Lilienthal House, a Queen Anne treasure, and scads of other Victorians. Want to snap a picture of that iconic row of "painted ladies" with the city's skyline in the background? You'll need to head to Alamo Square in the Western Addition (Hayes and Steiner streets). Finally, head back to Hyde Street for dinner at one of Russian Hill's trendy eateries.