San Francisco is a magical city. Unreal views surprise you around every corner of this quirky city, beloved for its architecture, food scene, and diversity.
I’ve visited San Francisco three times for shorter trips; once with family, once with friends, and once alone. I’ve been enthralled each time and highly recommend paying a visit – even if it’s only for a weekend! Here are a few ways to spend a few days in this Golden Gate City.
With more public parks, beaches, trails, and natural viewing points than you could visit in a week, there’s plenty of outdoor adventure to be had. The public transportation makes it easy to get around in an eco-friendly way too.
With more restaurants than you could visit in a year, it’s super easy to support locally owned diners. (Actually, an old 2012 article reported that there was 1 restaurant for every 255 people in San Francisco – the highest restaurant per capita in the country.) That goes for shops and services too. While there’s no shame in hitting some of the top tourist attractions, your money spent on small, local biz will go a long way.
Here’s how to spend 3 days in San Francisco, a perfect itinerary that leaves plenty of room for customization!
Day One – A Taste of the Nautical Life
A large part of San Francisco’s charm is due to its location on the Pacific Coast, right along the harbor. In fact, San Francisco has a long maritime history that’s evident everywhere you look.
A trip to San Francisco is incomplete without a visit to the Fisherman’s Wharf.
Breakfast at The Buena Vista
Kick off vacation with an Irish coffee at the place where they were created at The Buena Vista, a corner spot serving up boozy drinks and bites since 1916.
Walk the Wharf
See how many of these you can spot:
- The Wave Organ sculpture
- Hyde Street Pier
- Golden Gate Bridge
- Street musicians
- Madam Tussauds Wax Museum
- U.S. Pampanito
- Eureka Steamboat – 19th century paddle steamboat
- Lombard Street – an iconic street of hairpin turns and highly manicured flower beds, on a 27-degree angle
- Umbrella Alley
- The Original Ghirardelli Ice Cream and Chocolate Shop
Brush up on your history at a museum
The Maritime Museum is focused on the local maritime history of San Francisco, as you might have guessed by the name!
The San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park Visitor Center is another great museum I enjoyed to learn more about the rich history of the city, including the gold rush, earthquakes, and beyond. Located right next to the Argonaut, a nautical boutique hotel that makes a great place to stay in the heart of the Fisherman’s Wharf area.
Lunch at Sabella & La Torre
Smack dab in the middle of some delicious seafood stands is this classic eatery, which is my favorite spot for clam chowder and white wine. If you’re looking for something quick, try their historic crab-stand, in operation since 1927.
After lunch, hit up the Musee Mecanique for an afternoon of antique coin-operated instruments, displays, and vintage arcade games.
Mission Dolores Park
Pop into a grocery store for a bottle some picnic refreshments and head to Mission Dolores Park. Watch the sunset over the unreal views of the city and enjoy premiere people (and dog) watching. The rest of the evening is for dinner and drinks.
Day Two – San Francisco from Across the Harbor
Breakfast at Boudin
Home of delicious sourdough bread since 1884, this is your spot for a nice breakfast right in the center of all the action. Try their famed sourdough on an english muffin breakfast sandwich or in a sourdough tortilla.
Don’t miss the 30-foot observatory where the Bodudin bakers crafting batches of bread by hand.
A Day-Trip to Tiburon
Cross the bay via the the ferry to Tiburon for an excursion that will bring you past Alcatraz, Angel Island State Park, and the Golden Gate Bridge. The town of Tiburon is home to just over 9,000 residents, who have some of the prettiest views in their back yards around.
The first ferry leaves at 10:15am from Pier 41, back on the Fisherman’s Wharf where you explored on Day One. If you’re feeling like day-drinking, you can get cocktails, seltzers, and beers on the ferry.
Depending on how hungry you are – our group was always hungry – you can either stop for brunch first or explore on foot. We did the former and indulged at Sam’s Anchor Cafe. The views of the Yacht Club and harbor are a sight to behold, and the seafood was delicious.
We let ourselves get talked into a Aperol Spritzer giant drink bowl (with 6-7 cocktails per fish bowl) which was fun, although my mezcal margarita on the side was much more to my taste.
After brunch, stop in to the boutique gift shops along Main Street and then set off on your walk down The Tiburon Peninsula Historical Trail. At the end of the trail, you can learn a bit more about the town at the Tiburon Railroad & Ferry Depot Museum.
Stay as long as you like and hit up the wine bars throughout Tiburon – you can take an Uber back if you wish to stay beyond the 4:25pm ferry home.
Dinner & Drinks
I could make recommendations for dinner but there are THOUSANDS of restaurants in San Francisco. Figure out which neighborhood you’re staying in and do a quick google search for the best places near you. You’ll save money on ubering around to a diner across town and you’ll find places as delicious as the few restaurants I can personally recommend.
Day 3 – Chinatown and Beautiful Beaches
The San Francisco Chinatown is one of the largest and oldest outside of Asia itself. Basically, I suggest starting your day here with breakfast, exploring around Chinatown, and then having lunch. After lunch, time for a bit more exploring around Chinatown. Then, it’s time for to enjoy the great outdoors!
There are lots of walking tour options, if you’d like an expert to take you through all there is to see. If you’re more of a DIY explorer, grab a map and keep an eye out for these famous sites:
- Fortune Cookie Factory
- Chinese Language School
- Portsmouth Square
- the Chinatown Gateway
Naturally, some of the best of Chinatown are the hidden gems best enjoyed by stumbling across them through aimless wanderings.
Golden Gate Park & Ocean Beach
After Chinatown, grab an e-bike and head west for Golden Gate Park. Spanning over 1000 acres, it’s hard to miss! In fact, it’s actually 20% larger than Central Park in New York.
Notable sites include the Conservatory of Flowers, the California Academy of Sciences, the Japanese Tea Garden, and the Bison Paddock. Yes – there are actual bison in Golden Gate Park!
Before sunset, bike to Ocean Beach, just a block away from Golden Gate Park. Not to be beaten by the park, Ocean Beach stretches 3.5 miles leaving you plenty of room to watch the sun set without bumping in to your neighbors. Toward the north of the beach is Lands End Lookout a few trails, and a labyrinth which provide another viewing point for the Golden Gate Bridge.
Getting Around San Francisco
Electric Bikes & Scooters
There are lots of ways to get around San Francisco! You’ll see e-bikes, electric scooters, and regular bikes throughout the city. These are a super fun way to explore, and more eco-friendly than Ubers. And I can speak from personal experience that your scooter or bike will get you up the steepest of hills in San Francisco!
Ubers were widely available and we didn’t have any issues getting an Uber during our weekend trip. I found the prices more reasonable than when I had visited Denver two months prior, which was surprising as I expected them to be more outrageous in SF.
San Francisco Cable Cars
There are three cable cars that run through San Francisco, taking you through most of the main tourist attractions. Check routes and ticketing info here with this “SF Rider’s Guide“.
Public Buses, Trains, and other Ferries
Basically, all the options are available here. This site is dedicated to San Francisco tourism – check them out for details on each riding system.