From the Golden Gate Bridge and the fortress of Alcatraz, to the murals of the Mission District and the bright lights of Chinatown – this San Francisco itinerary will give you a great introduction to the city.
Welcome to San Francisco! Surrounded by lush hills and Californian coastline, and filled with famous monuments such as the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco has plenty to offer visitors.
You can satisfy your food cravings in Chinatown, marvel at the vibrant murals of the Mission District, and tour the city in a traditional cable car. And don’t worry about that ethereal fog that sometimes looms over the bay – it’s all part of what makes this city unique.
To help make your travel dream a reality, I’ve put together the ideal itinerary for 3 days in San Francisco, aimed at first time visitors and taking in some of the city’s best sights, sounds and smells.
If you’re looking for things to do in San Francisco, simply use my San Francisco itinerary, travel tips and guide for inspiration!
Oh, and if you fancy making your trip extra special, check out my pick of the best hotels in San Francisco with a view.
Best Time to Visit San Francisco
In terms of weather, San Francisco is known for the fog that descends in the bay area. Added to that, its coastal location means that the city never gets too hot, even in peak summer. Winter and spring, however, can be unpredictable and rainy, so to experience the best weather, I’d recommend visiting in autumn. Temperatures hover around 22 degrees Celsius, the main sights won’t be too crowded, and you’ll get to see the Californian forests in their colourful autumn tones.
San Francisco Itinerary
Cross The Golden Gate Bridge
Nothing can quite prepare you for the sight of the gleaming Golden Gate Bridge, which spans the mile-long strait connecting San Francisco to Marin County. This breath-taking feat of human engineering is the iconic symbol of the city, and crossing it is one of the most popular things to do in San Francisco.
If you just want to relax, the Golden Gate Bridge can be admired at your leisure from Crissy Fields, a park which offers excellent views of both the bridge and Alcatraz.
Alternatively, hire a bike at Fisherman’s Wharf, traverse the 1.7 mile-long bridge, and spend the day exploring the coast on the far side of the bay. If you’ve got the energy, it’s even possible to get all the way to Muir Woods by bike, where you can explore the grove of giant sequoia trees.
Grab Lunch at Fisherman’s Wharf
Classic San Francisco destination, Fisherman’s Wharf has become something of a tourist trap in recent years. As the major jumping-off point for tours to Alcatraz, this bustling waterfront is often criticised for high prices and long queues.
However, despite the crowds, Fisherman’s Wharf is definitely worth a visit, if only to taste fresh crab or a delicious clam chowder from the street vendors. Don’t miss the noisy sea lions at Pier 39 – a unique attraction that should definitely be part of your San Francisco itinerary!
Wander Through Chinatown
San Francisco’s Chinatown is one of the best places in the city to wander, explore, and eat to your heart’s content!
Leave space in your San Francisco itinerary for a meal here during your stay, and take advantage of the colourful shops and streets. If you love taking photos, you’ll be in your element.
Ride the Cable Cars
Did you even visit San Francisco if you didn’t ride one of the city’s iconic streetcars?
They transport passengers across the city, all the way from Union Square up to the top of Nob Hill. Atmospheric, creaking and beautifully decorated, a ride on the cable cars is one of the most unusual things to do in San Francisco.
The Powell-Hyde line will take you from Fisherman’s Wharf past some of the city’s most iconic sights. Don’t miss Lombard Street too, the famous flower-clad hill known for its sharp hairpin bends.
Admire Coit Tower
Perched on the top of Telegraph Hill, Coit Tower is one of the city’s most famous landmarks.
Ascend the tower for a fabulous panorama of the city and the bay, or stay at ground level to admire the murals that adorn the base – painted by local artists during the Great Depression of the early 1930s.
Take a trip to Alcatraz
While spending the morning doing an audio tour of a former prison might not sound like a reason to get out of bed, you can’t visit San Francisco and not take the trip to Alcatraz. It was a real highlight for me.
Be sure to book in advance as a lot of the slots sell out. The tour offers a fascinating insight into the various attempted escapes and the big name criminals who used to be imprisoned there. It’s pretty eerie, but will definitely strike a chord.
Eat a Burrito in the Mission District
After a busy day exploring some of the most popular tourist attractions in San Francisco, head to the Mission District for great views over the city from Dolores Park, and some of the best Mexican food you’ll taste in California.
This trendy, diverse neighbourhood offers buzzing nightlife, as well as some of the city’s best bookshops, and vintage clothing stores. When I visited I went on a great food tour, during which I learned all about the history of the area and tasted some incredible and diverse cuisine. I’d definitely recommend adding that to your San Francisco itinerary if you have time.
Chill out in the Golden Gate Park
The Golden Gate Park is a lovely place to spend an afternoon. It features a traditional Japanese tea garden, a beautiful arboretum and several museums, all surrounded by tranquil walking trails.
Don’t miss the California Academy of Sciences – one of the most eco-friendly museums in the world! This vast park is a wonderful place to come in spring and summer, when it’s decorated with colourful flowers in full bloom.
San Francisco is synonymous with the hippie movement of the 1960s, and Haight-Ashbury is where it all began. Although it’s become somewhat gentrified in recent years, this iconic neighbourhood still belongs on any San Francisco itinerary.
You’ll find vintage bookshops, cool cocktail bars, and colourful painted houses (including the former home of the band members of the Grateful Dead!).
Party in the Castro
Top off your San Francisco itinerary with a night out in the rainbow-clad streets of the Castro.
Home of the LGBTQ+ rights movement, this vibrant part of the city is a wonderful place to explore. You’ll find thrift stores, vintage clothes, bars, and clubs – everyone is welcome and you’ll be in for a fabulous night out.
Stay at a Luxurious Hotel in San Francisco
Located in downtown San Francisco, just off Market Street, the Palace Hotel is one of the city’s most glittering jewels. This stunning hotel is decorated in the Beaux Arts style, and has hosted plenty of Hollywood stars and international celebrities over the years.
You’ll find a restaurant decked out in glittering chandeliers and a beautiful domed ceiling, a state-of-the-art spa, and some of the most luxurious rooms in the city.
Located in a great location in Nob Hill, the Huntington Hotel is one of San Francisco’s classiest offerings.
This luxury hotel offers spacious rooms and an uber-cool piano bar with regular live music. If long days of sightseeing have worn you out, take advantage of the wonderful spa facilities – the ideal way to unwind during your San Francisco travel itinerary.
The Loews Regency San Francisco Hotel offers, without doubt, the best view of any hotel in San Francisco.
With stunning vistas over the bay and the bridge (the hotel even provides binoculars so you can really make the most of it), it’s hard to beat for location.
What’s more, the service is warm, friendly and attentive, and the hotel has everything you might expect from a luxury place to stay. The ideal spot for those seeking a little luxury in a memorable location.
Search for other hotels in San Francisco using this handy map
Tours in San Francisco
Alatraz is one of San Francisco’s most notorious monuments, an impenetrable prison located on an offshore island, once home to some of America’s most dangerous and deadly criminals.
This cruise circles the island, giving you the best view of the city, the bridges and the island itself, and you’ll be entertained along the way with some gruesome stories of escape attempts over the decades.
San Francisco offers easy access to some of California’s most beautiful natural spots, and this tour is a great way to experience the best marriage between nature and culture.
In the morning you’ll explore the Redwood Forests, filled with towering, gargantuan redwoods. In the afternoon, you’ll tour some of the Napa Valley’s best vineyards, sampling some wine and learning more about this diverse industry.
Looking for other cool places to visit in California? Don’t forget to check out my Los Angeles itinerary, which is packed full of amazing food recommendations, fun day trips and great views.
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