San Francisco in 3 Days: a guidebook for getting the most out of your visit

San Francisco requires more than three days to see all the interesting things it has to offer. But it will be enough to make you want to come back.

Carla Yaquer

Carla Yaquer

12 min read

San Francisco in 3 Days: a guidebook for getting the most out of your visit

San Francisco | ©Coconino National

In this itinerary on what to see and do in San Francisco in three days I show you a lot of activities, but with the intention that you will be so in love with the city that you will want to come back to know it more.

Day 1: Golden Gate, Chinatown, Fisherman's Wharf and Sausalito

Golden Gate| ©S@ndrine
Golden Gate| ©S@ndrine

Regardless of where you are staying, you may need a transfer between the airport and San Francisco to get ready to start touring the city in three days. Although you can also opt for a cab or public transportation.

To start with the trip I recommend you on this first day to visit some of the most popular places in the city, from the Golden Gate Bridge to the town of Sausalito.

Take a bike ride through Golden Gate Park

The first thing I recommend you to do is to rent a bike and ride around Golden Gate Park for about two hours. Although you can also book a bike tour of the Golden Gate and Sausalito and kill two birds with one stone, as it is one of the best bike tours in San Francisco.

  • It is ideal for the whole family, as the kids will love it.
  • The buffalo and fern garden areas are the best parts of the park.
  • It is a good place to have a picnic if you haven't had breakfast.

Book a bike tour of Golden Gate and Sausalito

Cross the Golden Gate Bridge and enjoy the breathtaking views

Once you've had a bit of fun in Golden Gate Park, it's time to head out and cross the Golden Gate Bridge to take lots of photos to remember your trip to San Francisco.

It is clear that climbing the Golden Gate Bridge will not only leave you with a unique experience, but it will also allow you to see one of the best views of San Francisco, so it is well worth the ride across the bridge.

  • You can choose to leave the bike or continue your route on wheels.
  • Before going up to the bridge I recommend you to enter the Welcome Center to learn about the history of its construction.

Get to Sausalito and see its houseboats

Sausalito| ©Kyle Harmon
Sausalito| ©Kyle Harmon

When you go down the Golden Gate Bridge on the Sausalito side, one of the things that will surely impress you is the way in which the houses are built in that town. Many of them are floating on the water, making them one of the most interesting attractions of the town.

This town is famous for being the cradle of intellectuals, bohemians and people who dedicate their lives to composition and art. But if there is something you can't miss in Sausalito is its food, and surely at this point of the tour you will want to have some lunch before continuing in the afternoon. This brings you to the next point on our itinerary.

Book a Golden Gate and Sausalito Bike Tour

Stop for a bite to eat in Sausalito

Sausalito is a place of varied and very rich gastronomy, that's why I recommend this town to make the obligatory stop for lunch. Although there are very good restaurants, one of my favorites is Scoma's of Sausalito.

This place that I recommend is worthy of being among the best gastronomic tours of San Francisco thanks to the quality of its menu and especially the menu of authentic local food offered there. In addition, their prices are very moderate.

  • Don't miss the steamed manila clams, shrimp with garlic and coconut curry mussels.

Stroll along Fisherman's Wharf and admire the sea lions at Pier 39

Fisherman's Wharf.| ©Andrew Ward
Fisherman's Wharf.| ©Andrew Ward

From the bike you can get off at Sausalito and buy your ferry ticket back to San Francisco to continue seeing the city from every possible point.

The ferry will take you back to the bay, where you will arrive at Fisherman's Wharf. Once at the pier I invite you to see the most curious sight in San Francisco Bay: the sea lions resting on the pier.

This is an attraction to see at any time of the year, but it is especially an activity that I would include in my list of things to do in San Francisco in January because it is at this time that more specimens arrive.

Discover Chinatown and learn how fortune cookies are made

From the Fisherman's Wharf pier you can take a car, cab or public transportation to Chinatown. I assure you that there are many things to see and do in Chinatown in San Francisco, as it is the largest Chinatown in the United States.

One of the attractions you can't miss when visiting Chinatown in San Francisco is the fortune cookie factory, located in the heart of Chinatown.

I also recommend visiting the welcome arch and the different food establishments on your own or by booking a Chinatown food tour.

Book a food tour of Chinatown

Spend the night and enjoy good food in the Italian neighborhood

North Beach, also known as the Italian Quarter, is not too far from Chinatown, so you could either walk there or use public transportation to get as close to Little Italy as possible.

The Little Italy neighborhood is the right choice if you want to spend a night of drinking, dancing and good food.

The Italian neighborhood has multiple dining options, but if you want someone to guide you during your walk through Little Italy, the option for you will be to hire a gastronomic tour of Little Italy. It is one of the best San Francisco tours you can find, I assure you.

Book a food tour of Little Italy

Day 2: Alcatraz Island, Mission District, Twin Peaks, Painted Ladies & Castro

Alcatraz| ©Jitze Couperus
Alcatraz| ©Jitze Couperus

For the second day of your trip I recommend you to visit places as emblematic and interesting as the first day.

On day two you will visit Alcatraz, Twin Peaks and Painted Ladies, among other places that are very close and are included among the most relevant sites of the city of San Francisco.

Get to know the stories about Alcatraz Island

I recommend starting the day with a visit to Alcatraz Island to learn first-hand the terrifying stories that are told about this place that once served as a military prison.

To get to Alcatraz it is necessary to take a ferry; there are many options of half-day excursions that you can hire to get to know the island. The ferry departs from the pier and the crossing to the island takes approximately 20 to 30 minutes.

Booking a tour to Alcatraz costs around 140 euros per person and includes the boat ride in San Francisco from the bay to the island and then the tour of the old prison facilities narrated by a guide expert in its history and stories. The entire tour usually lasts approximately two to three hours.

Book a tour of San Francisco and Alcatraz

Go down Lombard Street if you are an adrenaline junkie

Lombard Street| ©Hannes Flo
Lombard Street| ©Hannes Flo

One activity I recommend you to do after disembarking at the pier after your excursion to Alcatraz Island is to go down Lombard Street, definitely the most famous street in the whole city of San Francisco.

You have two options to go down the street: by private car or hire a Go Car Tour in San Francisco, which option is one of the most fun to do the tour.

The Go Car Tour are activities that take place aboard small cars with which you can tour parts of the city. They also include an audio guide so you can enjoy the activity even more.

Book a Go Car Tour in San Francisco

Admire the beauty of Victorian architecture at Painted Ladies

It will take you approximately fifteen minutes to get to Painted Ladies from Lombard Street, if you are using a car. If you decided not to rent a car, you can use public transportation or take a cab to this place.

Painted Ladies is one of the most iconic attractions of the city. It is a residential complex consisting of different Victorian-style houses with colorful facades.

Have lunch in front of one of the most impressive views

Around the Painted Ladies there are several places where you can have a coffee or some snacks, but if you want to have lunch, I recommend you to visit my favorite place to eat near the Painted Ladies: Alamo Square Seafood Grill.

From there you can get great views of the city, as well as enjoy good seafood.

  • It is open Monday through Saturday until 5:30 pm and on Sundays until 5:00 pm.
  • I recommend you try the calamari crispy bay style, a dish definitely deluxe.
  • Prices may vary according to the type of food, but are in the range of 8 to 20 euros per plate.

Book a gastronomic tour of San Francisco

Climb Twin Peaks for great views

View of San Francisco from Twin Peaks| ©Nicolas Raymond
View of San Francisco from Twin Peaks| ©Nicolas Raymond

After recharging your batteries with a full lunch, I recommend you continue your tour by car or public transportation to the twin hills known as Twin Peaks, from where you can see a perfect panoramic view of the entire city of San Francisco.

  • If you go up by car, when you reach the top you will find a large place where you can park.
  • If you prefer to go by public transportation, there is only one route that will take you near the viewpoint at the top, but then you will have to finish the tour walking.
  • On the other hand, you can also do the whole tour on foot.

Get to know Castro, the most popular gay neighborhood

After a while in Twin Peaks, it's time to head down to use public transportation or drive to the Castro District, the most popular gay neighborhood of all. It's only a few blocks from Twin Peaks to the Castro District and it's only a 10-minute drive.

In the district you can:

Book a tour of the Castro neighborhood of San Francisco

Enjoy speaking Spanish while strolling through the Mission District

A few blocks away from the gay district is the Mission District, the most Latino area of San Francisco. This is where the largest Latino and Spanish-speaking population in the city is concentrated, so you have the freedom to speak Spanish instead of English.

I recommend the Latin Quarter to close the second day because you will find a wide gastronomic offer that you can not despise. In addition, in the Mission District there are many bars and nightclubs where you can spend a pleasant time dancing to Latin rhythms and drinking international cocktails.

This is definitely the best plan to include in the list of things to do in San Francisco at night on this second day of your trip. And, as in the Castro neighborhood, you can also book a tour of the Mission District if you wish.

Book a tour of the Mission District

Day 3: Haight-Ashbury, Palace of Fine Arts, Crissy Field and Baker Beach

Haight-Ashbury| ©Willis Lam
Haight-Ashbury| ©Willis Lam

The third and last day of your visit to San Francisco begins, and among the activities I want to propose you to spend the day are some cultural visits to Haight-Ashbury and the Palace of Fine Arts, but it is also a good day to relax a bit at Baker Beach.

Start the day enjoying the view of Baker Beach

To start the day's activities I recommend a visit to the beach at Baker Beach. It is a place I recommend if you are looking for options of what to see and do in San Francisco in summer, when temperatures are warmer.

To get to Baker Beach you can use public transportation, getting on the line that takes you directly to the beach. After getting off at the corresponding stop you will walk a few meters to get to the shore. If you go by car, the parking lot is open from morning until late afternoon.

Baker Beach is a great place to spend the early morning hours, jog a bit, spend some family time and take lots of photos of the Golden Gate from another angle.

Take a leisurely stroll through Crissy Field

Very close to the coast and further north you will find Crissy Field, a good place to spend the rest of the morning doing outdoor activities. This park is a good option, especially if you go with kids, because there are plenty of options for biking, running and playing.

One of the things I like most about Crissy Field is the great view that you can appreciate from the place.

  • The entrance to the park is free.
  • To get there by car you will only need a few minutes from Baker Beach.
  • In the park there is also parking for your car.

Take a lunch break

After walking through most of Crissy Field, you will probably be hungry soon, so one option is the Presidio Social Club restaurant.

  • It offers a wide variety of food.
  • Prices are moderate.
  • It is the best option for lunch because it is on the route to the next point to visit.

Visit the Palace of Fine Arts

Palace of Fine Arts| ©Bharathram Pattabhiraman
Palace of Fine Arts| ©Bharathram Pattabhiraman

The Palacio de Bellas Artes is one of the most beautiful places near Presidio. From the restaurant where you just had lunch to this place there are only a few blocks, so you can get there walking or using public transportation without any difficulty.

This is one of the most beautiful monuments you can find in San Francisco, ideal for taking the most beautiful pictures of your vacation in the city.

Get some inspiration from the art at the De Young

Until 17:30 you have the opportunity to enter the De Young, so I recommend you get there no later than 15:00. The best option to get from the Palacio de Bellas Artes to the De Young Museum is to get in a cab that will take you for about twenty minutes.

After buying the tickets to the De Young Museum, I invite you to visit the different exhibitions that the place has, both permanent and temporary.

But before visiting the museum I would recommend you to read all about the De Young: tickets, guided tours, prices, etc., this will help you prepare for the visit.

Book your tickets to the De Young Museum

Stroll around Haight-Ashbury and visit some of its bars at dusk.

To close the night of the third day and before going to the hotel where you are staying, my recommendation is to visit Haight-Ashbury, an upper class neighborhood that is a sensation in San Francisco these days.

The place has different restaurants, bars and pubs where to spend the afternoon and evening. Most of its bars are open until late at night, so this is a plan that you can do with your friends without restrictions.

Means of transportation to get around San Francisco

Subway in San Francisco| ©Illithid Dude
Subway in San Francisco| ©Illithid Dude

To get around San Francisco like a local you can use public transportation such as: bus lines, subway, train and especially the streetcar. The latter is the most used transportation in the city and it is the one that takes you to most of the tourist attractions.

If you want to save money on transportation, I recommend you to book the city's tourist bus, but there are many companies that offer it with different routes so it is better to read before about the best tourist buses in San Francisco and choose the one that best suits you.

Book the San Francisco sightseeing bus

Day by day itinerary comparison

  • Day 1
  • Cycle through Golden Gate Park
  • Bike across the Golden Gate Bridge
  • Visit Sausalito and lunch in town
  • Watch the sea lions at Pier 39
  • See Chinatown and the fortune cookie factory
  • Dinner and drinks at Little Italy
  • Day 2
  • Excursion to Alcatraz Island
  • Walk down Lombard Street.
  • Lunch in front of Painted Ladies
  • Climb Twin Peaks
  • Visit Castro: the most popular gay neighborhood
  • Dinner and drinks in the Mission District
  • Day 3
  • Visit Baker Beach
  • Stroll Crissy Field and lunch at Presidio
  • Tour the Palace of Fine Arts
  • Enter the De Young Museum
  • Dinner and drinks at Haight-Ashbury