Three days in San Francisco may not seem like much time, but I promise you — follow this San Francisco itinerary and you’ll see more of the city than you may have thought possible.
I’m a San Francisco local who has lived in the Bay Area my whole life, and I’ve had plenty of practice curating plans for friends and family who visit San Francisco.
I’ve created the perfect San Francisco itinerary that hits all the must-see attractions. Plus, I’ve even included some local hidden gems that other San Francisco travel guides won’t tell you about.
While the itinerary is built around 3 days in SF, I’ll also talk about how you can extend it to a 4 or 5 day itinerary for San Francisco. Let’s get planning!
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3 Day San Francisco Itinerary
Day 1 – Exploring San Francisco’s Waterfront
Lace up your best pair of walking shoes for the first day of your San Francisco itinerary. Start by heading to the famous Ferry Building, only a short walk from downtown San Francisco.
Grab breakfast and a latte from Blue Bottle Coffee, a local chain with two locations inside the Ferry Building. Eat outside to take in sweeping views of the San Francisco Bay, the Bay Bridge, and Alcatraz Island. Spend some time exploring the markets inside the Ferry Building.
Next, take a 15 minute walk down the long, flat promenade of the Embarcadero, admiring the many piers and waterfront restaurants on your right while cable cars meander past on your left. To skip the walk, hop on the F-line cable car, which runs from the Ferry Building to the end of the Embarcadero.
Turn left at Pier 23 to start hiking up either the Filbert Steps or Greenwich Steps. At the top is the historic Coit Tower, perched high atop Telegraph Hill. Here, you’ll find panoramic views of San Francisco in all directions, including the Golden Gate Bridge. There’s even a cafe with snacks and coffee.
Your visit to Coit Tower should take about an hour, including the hike up and back.
Complete your walk along the Embarcadero and you’ll wind up at Fisherman’s Wharf, one of the most famous areas of San Francisco.
With tons of family-friendly activities along Pier 39, Fisherman’s Wharf is a perfect place to grab some of SF’s delicious seafood. Make sure you visit the resident colony of sea lions who call this pier home!
After lunch, head back towards Pier 33 to catch the ferry to Alcatraz Island for a tour of the infamous former prison. Be sure to make a reservation in advance, as tickets tend to sell out.
Prepare to spend about 2.5 hours doing a day tour of Alcatraz, including the 15-minute boat ride there and back. The ferry ride has particularly wonderful views of the Golden Gate Bridge.
👉 Pro Tip: Most ferries around the Bay depart from the Ferry Building. However, the main exception is the ferry to Alcatraz Island. This boat only departs from Pier 33.
If you’re not able to get tickets to Alcatraz, don’t fret! Head instead towards the boutique neighborhood of the Marina District.
An easy bus ride will take you from Fisherman’s Wharf to the Palace of Fine Arts, a beautiful 1915 Greco-Roman temple that looks straight out of a movie.
Afterward, walk back along Marina Green for close-up views of the Golden Gate Bridge.
From either Pier 33 or the Marina, you can easily find your way to Ghirardelli Square for some late afternoon dessert at the famous chocolate shop.
After a little treat, take the cable cars up to Lombard Street, the “crooked-est street in the world.” The twists and turns of Lombard Street are super fun to walk or drive down, and it’s a great photo op with beautiful views.
Head back to your home base to freshen up after a long afternoon, and most importantly, grab additional layers for the chilly SF evenings!
Most hotels are located in either Nob Hill or Union Square. I’d choose to book a hotel in Nob Hill over Union Square because Nob Hill is a safer area, is closer to more tourist attractions, and has beautiful views over the city.
From here, head to the bustling North Beach neighborhood for the best taste of SF’s nightlife. Start your evening with a cocktail at the lively, two-storied Vesuvio Cafe, an old Jack Kerouac hangout across the street from the infamous City Lights bookstore.
For dinner, wander down Columbus Avenue in search of North Beach’s signature Italian food. Indulge in fine dining at Cotogna, or opt for a budget-friendly option at Tony’s Pizza Napoletana — the best pizza in San Francisco.
If Italian isn’t calling your name, head across the street into San Francisco’s Chinatown. Go to House of Nanking for delicious dumplings, noodles, and more.
Day 2 – Exploring SF’s Parks, Architecture, & Natural Beauty
Day two of our San Francisco itinerary begins in the quaint, youthful neighborhood of NoPa, short for North of the Panhandle.
Walk along trendy Divisadero Street and grab coffee and fresh-baked bread at The Mill. After breakfast, pop into some of the artsy plant stores and gift shops while admiring SF’s iconic Victorian architecture.
Next, head up to Alamo Square, just two blocks away from Divisadero Street. This park has a tennis court, an off-leash dog area, and the famous Painted Ladies, a picture-perfect row of Victorian houses. You’ll definitely want to bring your camera! Take some pictures in front of the Painted Ladies, get another coffee from the Lady Falcon Coffee truck, and be on your way.
Head from Alamo Square over to the famous Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. Haight Street is the hub of San Francisco’s counterculture movement and remains a tribute to the flower children of the 60s. Haight Street is also the best place in San Francisco to go thrift shopping, with tons of unique vintage stores lining the street.
Spend some time exploring the quirky shops on Haight while street performers serenade you with endless Grateful Dead tunes.
Then, grab lunch at one of the many restaurants dotting Haight Street. Go to Magnolia Brewing for microbrews and California cuisine, Hippie Thai for inexpensive Thai street food, or Cha Cha Cha for great Caribbean food and fun vibes.
After lunch, finish walking down Haight and pop across the street to visit Golden Gate Park, San Francisco’s equivalent to New York’s Central Park.
There’s so much to do in Golden Gate Park — it’s my favorite part of any San Francisco itinerary. The main attractions can be found between the Haight Street end and 19th Avenue. Allocate about 2-3 hours to explore!
Visit the Conservatory of Flowers to see thousands of flower species inside a beautiful greenhouse, or the California Academy of Sciences for jaw-dropping exhibits on natural history.
Check out the De Young Museum for a wide variety of modern and antique art. Rent a rowboat to take out on Stow Lake, or rent a bike to explore all the forested paths in the park.
In the late afternoon, make your way from Golden Gate Park to the Lands End Lookout.
Lands End is a scenic viewpoint you don’t want to miss. A trip to Lands End takes you through years of San Francisco history, architectural ruins, and native flora and fauna, complete with stunning views of Ocean Beach and the California coastline.
The Sutro Baths are what makes Lands End a truly unique viewpoint. The Sutro Baths are the ruins of an old public bathhouse overlooking the ocean. Start with a trip into the free Lands End museum near the parking lot, which will give context and history to the ruins lying in front of you.
After exploring the Sutro Baths, walk 10 minutes on the Lands End Trail, shaded by lush eucalyptus trees. Link up with the Coastal Trail, where you’re greeted by panoramic views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Marin County, Baker Beach, and the vast Pacific Ocean. You’ll also pass by the Legion of Honor, one of the most prestigious art museums in San Francisco.
The best time to be at Lands End is golden hour, about one hour before sunset. Be sure you go back to the Sutro Baths in time to watch an incredible sunset over Ocean Beach.
Afterward, tuck in for some dinner at one of the many restaurants in the Richmond District. Go to Lily for upscale Vietnamese food, or choose Mandalay for the best Burmese dishes you’ll ever have.
Day 3 – San Francisco Like a Local
The last day of your San Francisco itinerary is a laid-back one. You’ve seen most of the major tourist sites at this point, so relax and spend a day in the life of a real San Francisco local.
First, treat yourself to a bougie (or boozy) breakfast at Kitchen Story. This restaurant is famous for its bottomless mimosas and thick-cut bacon.
Kitchen Story is located between the Castro and Mission neighborhoods, two beautiful areas brimming with San Francisco culture.
Take some time after breakfast to walk a couple of blocks down Castro Street. This is the historically LGBTQ+ neighborhood of San Francisco, and you’ll see vibrant rainbow crosswalks, museums for SF’s gay history, and plenty of pride flags.
Mosey back down 16th until you get to Mission San Francisco de Asis. This is one of the original churches of the Spanish mission system, founded in 1776. Mission San Francisco de Asis is also the oldest intact building in the entire city of San Francisco.
The Mission District is young, trendy, and full of the best Mexican and Central American food you’ll find anywhere in San Francisco.
Spend an hour walking down Valencia Street, from 16th to 24th. Explore eclectic boutiques and bookshops sprinkled between newer, chain retail stores. Pop into Clarion Alley, between 17th and 18th, to see colorful street art by community artists.
If you get hungry for lunch, pop down to one of the many inexpensive food joints in the neighborhood. Visit Taqueria Cancun for huge burritos at a cheap price, or eat at Panchita’s Pupusería for Salvadoran food that will blow your mind.
After meandering down Valencia, spend an hour or two relaxing in sunny Mission Dolores Park. This area is one of the most famous in San Francisco. Dolores Park is a sweeping expanse of green grass, palm trees, and sun-drenched tennis courts, all with stunning views of the San Francisco skyline.
At the end of the day, take the F line cable car up Market Street to head back towards downtown.
Head in for cocktails and an early dinner at Waterbar, one of the restaurants along the Embarcadero serving fresh-caught seafood. Try their oysters while enjoying up-close and personal views of the Bay Bridge and water.
Make a pit stop at your hotel to grab jackets and any orange or black clothes you packed for SF. It’s time to end your San Francisco itinerary with a beloved San Francisco pastime: a Giants baseball game!
Head over to the San Francisco Giants stadium, known as Oracle Park. The stadium is easily accessed via public transportation — just take the N train on the Muni light rail.
Enjoy a lively baseball game with views over the Bay, and try to spot the kayakers in McCovey Cove. These fans camp out on the water, hoping to catch any home run balls that make it out of the park.
If you’re visiting SF outside of baseball season or sports just aren’t your thing, drive up to Twin Peaks this evening instead. This viewpoint is in the center of the city, located near the Castro District.
Head to the top for stunning sunset views over the San Francisco skyline. It’s best to have a car or Uber take you to the top because it’s not an easy hike.
If you have more time…
Take a day trip from SF across the Golden Gate Bridge to the northern counties of Marin or Napa Valley!
Marin County is known for beautiful, green rolling hills and lush redwood forests.
Napa Valley is a world-famous wine country, with numerous Napa vineyards situated just an hour north of San Francisco.
San Francisco Itinerary Map
Here is a Google Map with all the stops, attractions, and hotels mentioned in this post.
Where to Stay in San Francisco
Best Hotels in SF
San Francisco has a plethora of places to stay, ranging from modest accommodations to luxury skyscrapers. Most SF hotels are located in Union Square or Nob Hill, but it is possible to find hostels in younger areas like North Beach.
Here are my suggested hotels, depending on your budget:
- 🛏️ Budget – Green Tortoise Hostel
- 🏨 Mid-Range – Cornell Hotel de France
- 💎 Luxury – Fairmont San Francisco
Best Neighborhoods & Areas
San Francisco’s neighborhoods are truly what makes this city unique. Each area is culturally distinct and brimming with diverse cuisine, attractive architecture, and loads of history.
North Beach, the Mission District, and NoPa each have their fair share of must-see attractions while still retaining an authentic San Francisco feel.
If I had to pick three neighborhoods for a first-time visitor, they would be:
- North Beach (Search Apartment Rentals in North Beach) – North Beach is classic San Francisco: lively, sultry, and a little bit scruffy. It’s close to a lot of the main tourist attractions, like Coit Tower, Fisherman’s Wharf, and Lombard Street, but still has a laid-back feel. North Beach has plenty of bars, restaurants, and live music for a night out.
- The Mission (Search Apartment Rentals in the Mission District) – The Mission is a colorful, sprawling, sunny neighborhood known for affordable apartments, delicious food, and cultural diversity. It has a young, hipster population and many popular nightlife spots. Dolores Park is a favorite hangout spot for residents from every neighborhood in San Francisco.
- NoPA (Search Apartment Rentals in NoPa) – NoPa, shorthand for North of the Panhandle, is a small, picturesque neighborhood filled with old Victorian homes and cute cafes. NoPa is nestled between Alamo Park and Golden Gate Park. Alamo Square is famous for its views of the Painted Ladies and downtown San Francisco.
Check out our complete guide to San Francisco’s best neighborhoods for more in-depth coverage of the city’s different areas.
How to Get Around in San Francisco
San Francisco has a good amount of public transportation, but knowing when to take a BART train, Muni train, cable car, or bus can get confusing.
BART (“Bay Area Rapid Transit”) has several different train lines that branch out all over the Bay Area, and it is best used for getting from the suburbs into the city.
Muni light rail covers just the area of San Francisco and has a number of trains, both above and below ground, that branch out to several different neighborhoods. The bus goes pretty much anywhere in the city.
San Francisco is, unfortunately, not a very walkable city. The hills we have are no joke; they can be incredibly tiring to walk up and down all day.
The good news is that the famous cable cars mostly operate in the hilly areas — Nob Hill, North Beach, and Russian Hill. Hop on a cable car instead of walking, and you’ll get to your destination much faster.
You can buy single passes each time you travel, but it’s much easier to tap on with a Clipper Card, which works for BART, Muni, the bus, cable cars, and the ferry. You can buy a Clipper card at any BART station and reload it as you go.
Part of San Francisco’s attraction is its proximity to beautiful National Parks, world-famous wine regions, and stunning beaches, but unfortunately, all of these are inaccessible by public transportation.
When driving in San Francisco, be sure not to leave any valuables visible in your car. Car break-ins are unfortunately common in SF.
👉 Pro Tip: If you want to have a more streamlined way of getting around but don’t want to deal with the hassle of renting a car, try a San Francisco Big Bus tour! These buses have a scheduled route that stops at almost all of the main attractions mentioned in this itinerary.
SF Itinerary Planning Tips
Tip #1 – Visit SF in the Late Summer or Early Fall
San Francisco may be in sunny California, but our coastal location means we have a very different climate than other areas of the state. In June and July, San Francisco is usually foggy, windy, and chilly.
September and October are the best months to visit SF for warm days and less fog.
Tip #2 – Time Your Activities to Avoid SF’s Fog
San Francisco has many microclimates just within the city boundaries. Many areas of the city have beautiful weather, but a trip can easily be soured by a foggy view of the Golden Gate Bridge.
If going towards the Pacific Coast, expect the fog to start rolling in about 2 hours before sunset. Plan to do any coastal activities during the morning or afternoon.
Tip #3 – Pack Layers and Expect Chilly Nights
I may sound like a broken record, but San Francisco is not a particularly warm place. The temperature tends to hover between 55 and 65 degrees, and it rarely rises above 70.
Pack a light jacket for San Francisco, and expect the temperature to drop after the sun goes down and the fog rolls in.
Tip #4 – Compare Prices with Other Bay Area Airports
If flying into San Francisco, check different airports besides San Francisco International Airport (SFO).
Sometimes it’s cheaper to fly to Oakland International Airport (OAK) or San Jose International Airport (SJC). You can easily take a BART train from both of these places to get into San Francisco.
FAQs About Planning an Itinerary for San Francisco
How many days is enough for San Francisco?
3 days in San Francisco is enough to get a good overview of the main tourist sites and several different neighborhoods. If you have extra time, consider planning for 4 or 5 days in San Francisco instead. One extra day will let you explore additional neighborhoods at a slower pace. Two extra days give you time for a day trip across the Golden Gate Bridge and up into the redwoods or wine country.
What are the most important things to do in San Francisco for first time visitors?
The most important things to do on your first trip to San Francisco are to visit the Ferry Building, ride a cable car, see the Golden Gate Bridge, climb up to Coit Tower, explore Golden Gate Park, and walk around Fisherman’s Wharf. These are most of the main tourist attractions and will take you to several different iconic San Francisco neighborhoods.
How can I plan a 5 day itinerary for San Francisco?
5 days in San Francisco is a perfect amount of time to explore the city without feeling rushed. Take the ferry to Angel Island for fabulous hiking in a scenic state park just 15 minutes away. Explore the Civic Center and Hayes Valley neighborhoods, known for world-class dining and performing arts. Drive across the Golden Gate Bridge for redwood trees, beaches, and wineries.
Congratulations — you just spent a perfect 3 days in San Francisco. Whether you’ve visited San Francisco before or it’s your very first time, we hope you come back to our city by the bay.
I hope you enjoyed this San Francisco itinerary! If you want to keep planning, check out our list of the best things to do in San Francisco.
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