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San Francisco Itinerary – How To Spend 1 – 3 Days

With so much to see and do in the home of the Golden Gate Bridge, we’ve written a 3 day San Francisco itinerary to help you work on your bucket list.

How To Get Around San Francisco

Getting around San Francisco couldn’t be easier. There are generally 4 options:

Bicycle

Honestly, the city centre of San Francisco, and the majority of tourists attractions, are all reachable by foot or by bicycle.

The San Francisco Self-Guided Bike Tour is great as it allows you to rent bikes for up to 24 hours at a time.

Plus the if you tell them how many miles you wish to ride, the staff will even plan you out a great route that includes all the best sightseeing and stops the Bay Area has to offer.

There is also the very popular Golden Gate Bridge 3-Hour Sausalito Cycle Tour available to book in advance.

Public Transport

The city centre itself is linked by Muni.

Muni is San Francisco’s bus and metro system that runs throughout the city, operating buses, trains, cable cars and the F-line heritage streetcar.

For riding any forms of these transport, the best option is to purchase a San Francisco Visitor Passport, and hop on and off between tourist spots.

A Visitor Passport can be purchased at ticket kiosks, or via the MuniMobile App, and at certain sales locations.

Visitor Passports are available for 1, 3, or 7 consecutive days, and allow unlimited rides on Muni services.

Prices range from 1 day: $13, 3 days: $31, 7 days: $41.

Hop On Hop Off Bus

Standard buses are available around San Francisco with Muni.

However, there is also of course the famous San Francisco Sightseeing Hop-on-Hop-off Bus.

The bus lets you explore legendary sites such as the Golden Gate Bridge, Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf. With options of a 1 or 2 day pass including a night tour.

The buses come with live guides onboard most tours, or pre-recorded commentary in 10 languages.

This is always popular among tourists, and a is great way to see many famous landmarks around the San Fran area at ease.

Tour

Some of the best days out we’ve had in San Francisco have been on private tours.

For those short on time, or that prefer everything to be organised for them, there are some awesome tours on Get Your Guide available to book in advance.

From food tours, to river cruises and pub crawls, there’s plenty to keep you busy in the San Fran area!

Best Time To Visit San Francisco

Spring and Autumn in San Francisco offer some of the warmest temperatures of the year, without the crowds that visit during the summer.

Perfect for exploring the city and enjoying all the outdoor activities available, as well as getting some great photos.

The most expensive and busiest time is during the peak summer season. The months of June, July and August see the most visitors to San Francisco.

Chinese New Year celebrations in the month of February are very popular in San Francisco and attract lots of visitors.

Remember, this is just a guide, so you may want to mix it up and add/subtract different attractions. 

What To Pack

Photography Camera

Tripod

Day Bag

Power Bank

Reusable Water Bottle

Sunscreen

Lightweight Rain Jacket

Golden Gate Overlook Instagrammable Places In San Francisco itinerary Best Things To Do In San Francisco
San Francisco has so much to offer that you’ll want to explore it all!

San Francisco Itinerary Day 1

Explore The Piers

We decided to start our 3 day San Francisco itinerary by walking around the city.

Aside from the famous Pier 39, there are many other beautiful piers along the San Fransisco coastline.

Pier 7 was another of our favourites because of its stunning city backdrop. If you start at the Ferry Building, opposite Sue Bierman Park and walk along the Embarcadero, you may find markets, buskers and creative groups of people strolling up and down the strip.

If you make sure you end up at Pier 39 you’ll be able to spot the large group of protected sea lions that bask on the dock!

Fancy getting an even closer look at the sea life?

Aquarium of the Bay is located at the end of Pier 39 and is one of the most popular attractions in the area. We recommend booking your can Aquarium of the Bay: Skip-the-Line Tickets in advance.

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Pier 7 San Francisco

Fisherman’s Wharf

From Pier 39 it leads straight into Fisherman’s Wharf – San Francisco’s most famous waterfront community.

With it being one of the city’s busiest tourist areas, there’s everything you expect to see in America in one place. 

There are souvenir shops, fast food chains, stalls selling crabs fresh from the seafront, and clam chowder in sourdough bread bowls appear at every turn.

Our advice to you: be the best tourist you can be at Fisherman’s Wharf!

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Fisherman’s Wharf San Francisco

Enjoy The Food

As mentioned, around Fisherman’s Wharf is where most of the iconic food spots are.

From fast food heaven, to plant based Mexican, we absolutely loved our food journey in San Francisco.

One thing we didn’t realise about San Francisco until we arrived, is how famous it is for its wine!

There a so many wine tasting tours and wine country excursions on offer that you may want to check them out before you go.

For us however, we stuck to the food!

Some of our favourite city spots included:

Boudin Bakery

Famous for its clam chowder sourdough bread bowl. (They also have vegetarian options.)

Gracias Madre

A plant based mexican restaurant with flavours like fireworks in the mouth. The best Mexican we’ve ever had.

In n Out Burger

A Grilled cheese with the almighty animal fries is the way to go!

Super Duper Burgers

Unbelievabley tasty organic, veggie patty with avocado. The best burger we had in America!

If you can wangle all of the above into your 3 day San Francisco itinerary then you’ll have done a good job!

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Trying delicious soup in a bread bowl at Boudin Bakery San Francisco

Alcatraz

If you plan ahead, Alcatraz is THE most popular tourist attraction in San Francisco, however tickets sell out way in advance.

So the best bet is to reserve your tickets as soon as possible, and one of the best value for money ways to do so is by booking the Alcatraz and Big Bus Premium Ticket Combo.

For those thinking what the hell is Alcatraz? Well…Alcatraz Island is located in San Francisco Bay, 1.25 miles (2.01 km) offshore from San Francisco, and was most famous for it’s a federal prison. However the prison closed it’s doors in 1963.

The federal penitentiary was shut down because its operating expenses were much higher than those of other federal facilities at the time.

During nearly three decades of operation, Alcatraz housed a total of 1576 men. Including many infamous prisoners such as Al Capone and Robert Franklin Stroud.

Today, the island is a tourist attraction and many people flock here each year to explore the depths of the abandoned prison.

There are so many ways to incorporate an Alcatraz trip into your 3 day San Francisco itinerary, such as the Half-Day Golden Gate Catamaran Cruise & Alcatraz Visit or an Alcatraz Ticket + Walking Craft Beer Tour.

A great activity to add to the end of your first day in San Francisco!

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Alcatraz Abandoned Prison San Francisco

San Francisco Itinerary Day 2

Golden Gate Bridge

Day 2 of our 3 day San Francisco itinerary began with the big one!

The Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most iconic spots in the world, which is why it is high on most people’s bucket lists and one of the best things to do in San Francisco.

With plenty of places to see it from, some of the typical tours include the Golden Gate Bridge Cycle TourGolden Gate Bay Cruise and San Francisco Helicopter Tour.

For those looking to do it on a budget, our favourite spot was Battery Spencer. It gave all the vibes we’d expected and in fact left us a little speechless.

In real life it isn’t just a place, it’s a feeling. And after seeing it in the movies, the Golden Gate Bridge certainly didn’t disappoint.

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Golden Gate Bridge San Francisco

Bernal Heights

From Battery Spencer fortunately we had a car, so drove over to Bernal Heights to check out the view.

Bernal Heights has a small town feel whilst still being in a central part of San Francisco. Not so long ago, it was the city’s best kept secret, however with it’s impeccable views overlooking the whole city, it was obvious that it would become a newly discovered hotspot.

It’s now one of the top places to visit in San Francisco, and so a swing now hangs from a tree where you can get the famous San Francisco Instagram photo.

However, there are also many other photo opportunities from this viewpoint amidst the flowers and stunning skyline backdrop.

The neighbourhood is primarily residential, with a commercial strip along Cortland Avenue featuring a few restaurants, shops and bakeries.

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Bernal Heights San Francisco

Visit A Rooftop Bar

After driving around the viewpoints, we decided to have a chilled evening on our second day in San Francisco. And with many rooftop bars to choose from, adding one to your 3 day San Francisco itinerary is a must.

We stayed at Cova Hotel, which happened to have a rooftop bar included with awesome views of the city. 

We highly recommend finding a place where you can observe San Francisco’s concrete jungle. To listen and see the city from above was one our most special moments in San Francisco.

Some of the best rooftop bars in San Francisco are: Rooftop 25, Oeste, Everdeen and El Techo de Lolinda.

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Rooftops in San Francisco

San Francisco Itinerary Day 3

Painted Ladies

Day 3, and the final day of our 3 day San Francisco itinerary.

We still had a short list of places that we wanted to see in the city, so decided to attack it. Starting with the Painted Ladies.

If you take the San Francisco Sightseeing Hop-on-Hop-off Bus this will be one of your stops. The bus lets you explore legendary sites such as the Golden Gate Bridge, Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf. With options of a 24, 48 or 72 hour pass.

The Painted Ladies, a set of exquisitely preserved Victorian houses, sit just off Alamo Square and they are like postcards.

You may recognise them from the TV show ‘Full House’ aired in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and there’s even a Beyond the Painted Ladies Walking Tour!

If you take a walk to the top of the hill you can see San Francisco’s skyline in the backdrop. 

They are one of the most famous attractions of the city, having frequently appeared in media, postcards and photographs of the city, including an estimated 70 movies, TV programs, and ads.

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Painted Ladies San Francisco

Union Square

From Painted Ladies we walked over to Union Square, however you can easily jump on public transport.

Union Square is a shoppers paradise in the heart of San Francisco.

The bustling square near the theater district has everything from upscale department stores and boutiques, to discount houses.

This central spot is the hub of the skyscrapers, and if you look up and spin around, you are surrounded by the tallest blocks in the city.

One of the coolest things we saw in Union Square was the Union Square Cable Car City Tour, a one-of-a-kind city tour that lets you travel the streets of San Francisco in style aboard an authentic classic cable car.

Another cool tour we found online was the San Francisco Evening Ghost Tour. Where you can join a ghost walking tour through Nob Hill and Union Square, if you’re brave enough!

In the neat, vibrant square you will find rows of palm trees, art sculptures in each corner and very unique street performers.

They say no moment of silence was ever found at union square, and we can vouch for that!

Lombard Street

Finally, our last tick on the San Francisco bucket list was Lombard Street.

Lombard Street is known for it’s eight sharp turns that are said to make it the most crooked street in the world.

This curvy road is a major tourist attraction, receiving around two million visitors per year and up to 17,000 per day on busy summer weekends. 

It’s not only curvy, but very pretty too. The floral arrangements as well as the bushes and trees are very well kept and the view from the top is incredible. 

If you’re looking to tick off world records, your 3 day San Francisco itinerary has to include Lombard Street.

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Lombard Street San Francisco

Golden Gate Overlook

After completing everything we wanted to on our 3 day San Francisco itinerary, we had an evening spare.

So with such an aura around the Golden Gate Bridge, we just had to go back and check it out from a different location.

We’d not seen many photos online from the Golden Gate Overlook, so took a risk and decided to head there on our final night.

Not only was the perspective of the bridge pretty cool, but we were the only ones there! We chilled and took some photos before taking it all in and reflecting on exactly where we were.

If you are looking for something a little special for your final night in San Fran, you may want to check out the San Francisco Dinner Dance Cruise.

A magical sunset cruise around San Francisco Bay that includes a four course gourmet meal.

What better way to finish your 3 day San Francisco itinerary?!

Golden Gate Overlook Instagrammable Places In San Francisco itinerary Best Things To Do In San Francisco
Golden Gate Overlook San Francisco

Where To Stay In San Francisco

Luxury

St. Regis San Francisco

One of the most sought after hotels in San Francisco. 

Located in the SOMA District of San Francisco, St Regis features a full service spa, an indoor infinity pool and an on-site restaurant. 

This 5-star accommodation is just an 8 minute walk from Union Square, and is super central to everything in the city. 

All guest rooms come with a luxurious bathroom with a soaking tub, and a TV.

Mid-Budget

Cova Hotel

Centrally located in Downtown San Francisco, Cova Hotel offers a free shuttle service to Union Square and Fisherman’s Wharf. 

Guests can enjoy a daily continental breakfast at the hotel. 

Cova Hotel rooms include a 42-inch flat-screen HDTV, a French balcony and free WiFi. Floor-to-ceiling windows offer city views. 

In-house guests can enjoy a complementary unlimited wine reception from Monday through Sunday from 17:00 until 19:00 at the rooftop bar.

The hotel also has a 24-hour business centre, a fitness centre, and room service is also available.

Budget

Boston Hotel

Conveniently located in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco, Boston Hotel is set less than 0.6 miles from San Francisco City Hall. 

A 20 minute walk from Union Square, the accommodation offers a 24-hour front desk and luggage storage for guests. 

At Boston Hotel all rooms have a wardrobe and a flat-screen TV as well as free WiFi.

A shared bathroom with a shower and a hairdryer is available for all to use.

For more places to stay in San Francisco, you can check the latest prices on Booking.com.

Planning Your Trip

Book Your Flight

Use Skyscanner to find a cheap flight. 

They search websites and airlines around the globe to find you the best possible routes and prices.

Book Your Accommodation

Use Booking.com to find the best accommodation deals.

They consistently return the cheapest rates on everything from guesthouses to hotels for all of your budget needs.

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance

Use SafetyWing to find the best travel insurance for you.

They provide travel and medical incident insurance built specifically for digital nomads.

Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations.

Book Your Tours & Activities

Use GetYourGuide to book your activities in advance.

They sell the best tours, excursions and activities to attractions around the world.

Conveniently book, download and access your tickets on the move all from your mobile. 

Book Your Rental Car

Use RentalCars.com to find the best deals on rental cars in the area.

They compare all major car rental companies and allow you to easily book the perfect vehicle for your trip.

Buy Those Last Minute Bits

Use Amazon to buy everything you need for your adventure.

They offer next day delivery and you can use my travel packing checklist to make sure you haven’t forgotten anything.


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The Perfect 3 Day San Francisco Itinerary