Looking to spend 3 days in San Francisco? We’re sharing a detailed San Francisco itinerary and guide with everything you need to know before you visit including where to stay, the best food and drinks, the best things to do in San Francisco, especially if it’s your first visit! Ready to plan your own San Francisco adventure? Keep on reading!
A few summers ago we visited San Francisco, the coast, and Yosemite in five full days. In typical A+K fashion, it was a whirlwind of a trip, but one of our favorite ones yet. The trip was filled with city strolls, coastal drives, and hiking beautiful and breathtaking mountains (you can read all about it here!).
The first two days of the trip were spent in San Francisco, where we explored many neighborhoods, classic tourist attractions, went to a Giants game and Alcatraz, and so much more!
Since then, I (Kathryn) have gone to San Francisco one other time and using both trip experiences, along with tons of research, we’ve crafted this 3 days in San Francisco itinerary and guide that covers the must-see, classic spots in the city, as well as explores different neighborhoods and gems outside of the tourist bubble.
It’s a busy itinerary, filled with lots of walking (those SF hills are no joke!), but will give you a chance to experience many of the things that make San Francisco unique.
We hope this 3 days in San Francisco itinerary helps make planning your San Francisco adventure a little easier! And as always, feel free to send us a message on Instagram if you have any questions!
Looking for more things to do in California? Check out our California guides:
- The Best Day Hike in Yosemite: The Four Mile Trail + Panorama Trail
- 3 Days in San Diego
- Exploring Redwoods National and State Parks
- 3 Days in Lake Tahoe
Note: this blog contains affiliate links. Full disclosure– if you click on these links and make a purchase, we get a small commission at no extra cost to you. We will only ever recommend products we truly love, actually use during our adventures, and think you can benefit from too!
When to visit San Francisco
One of the best things about San Francisco is that the weather is mild year round. With average temperatures in the 60s most of the year, the temperature is almost always going to be perfect for walking around the city. However, there are a few things to know about the weather depending on the month you visit.
Late Fall and Winter
While the weather tends to be consistent temperature wise, some months are a bit rainier than others. The late fall and winter months tend to bring more rainfall to the city, but these will also be less busy and cheaper times to visit, so it may be worth getting a tiny bit wet.
Summertime is definitely the most popular time to visit the city, as its temperatures are a lot cooler than some parts of the US, but one thing to know about visiting in the summer is that it tends to be a lot foggier than the rest of the year.
Karl the Fog (the city’s cute nickname for the popular fog it gets) tends to roll into the city in the morning during the summer, clears out in the afternoon, and then rolls back in the evening.
So while summer may be a popular time to visit, it can be a little risky weather wise (especially if you want that classic Golden Gate bridge shot!) and it’s also a lot pricier due to the summer vacation crowds.
Spring and Early Fall
To experience lower prices, great weather, and less fog, we suggest checking out the city in the spring or early fall! I (Kathryn) have visited during both the spring and fall for work events and have always experienced amazing weather then!
Getting to San Francisco
If you’re flying to San Francisco, you can either fly into San Francisco International Airport (SFO) or Oakland International Airport (OAK).
SFO is located 14 miles south of the city and OAK is located about 20 miles east of the city. While both airports are international and offer many flights, SFO is much larger and has many more airlines that fly in and out of the airport. OAK has a handful of airlines as well, but there are a few larger airlines, like United and JetBlue that do not fly in and out of Oakland.
Regardless of which airport you choose, getting to the city from the airport is fairly easy. Both airports have a BART station where you can hop onto a train and get to the city within 40 minutes-1 hour and for around $11 (one way).
We’d suggest taking the BART instead of an Uber or Lyft, as it’s quite a bit cheaper and you don’t have to sit in the San Francisco traffic!
Getting around San Francisco
For this 3 days in San Francisco itinerary, we’d recommend a combination of walking, taking the BART, riding the cable cars, and taking Uber or Lyft to get around the city. With a combination of those, you will be able to get everywhere and for a decent price. Warning: San Francisco is super hilly, so walking is a bit of a workout!
We rented a car during our last visit so we could drive to the coast and Yosemite, but if you just plan to visit the city, it’s much easier to not have a car. Parking in the city wasn’t as bad as we thought it would be, but it does cost extra.
Where to stay
For this 3 days in San Francisco itinerary, there are many options of where you could stay. But before we dive into where to stay, we wanted to warn you: San Francisco is expensive! The average hotel room costs $200-$300 a night. While you can definitely find cheaper options, a lot of the popular areas come with a hefty price tag.
Many tourists will stay in the downtown area when visiting San Francisco, as it is close to many of the tourist attractions. However, the prices will be a bit higher here and the area is pretty busy.
One of the things we have loved during our visits to San Francisco is staying in the neighborhoods around downtown. These areas have a much more local feel, are less crazy, and can be cheaper too! For these areas, Airbnb will be your best bet, since they are more residential areas and do not have many hotels.
If you need help picking a place to stay in San Francisco, we’re sharing some great options below, including Airbnbs in cool neighborhoods, to hotels close to the main sights.
Here are some good Airbnb options that are close to many of the items on our San Francisco itinerary:
- Mission District: This adorable 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom cabana is so dang charming and close to everything the Mission District has to offer, the BART, and amazing food!
- North Beach: An eclectic 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom condo near Fisherman’s Wharf, Lombard Street, Alcatraz, and Coit Tower
- Outer Sunset District: A 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom quaint house close to Golden Gate Park and Lands End
- Hayes Valley: This 1 bedroom, 1.5 bathroom rental is located close to the Mission District, The Castro, and the Painted Ladies
- Potrero Hill: A 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom apartment south of downtown, but close to the Mission District.
If you’d rather stay at a hotel, we recommend checking out:
- Hyatt Regency San Francisco (right next to the Ferry Building!)
- The Inn at Union Square
- The Westin Union Square
- Hotel Zoe Fisherman’s Wharf
- Hotel Emblem
- Hotel Spero
The first day in this San Francisco itinerary hits up a ton of the main attractions you think of when you think of San Francisco. We recommend taking the cable car when you can for an authentic San Francisco experience and to save yourself time!
- Get an early start with breakfast at the Ferry Building. Some options:
- Grab coffee at Blue Bottle in the Ferry Building
- Take a scenic boat ride over to Alcatraz Island. This 2.5 hour tour will take you across the water (the views are amazing!) to Alcatraz, where you can explore at your own pace with a self-guided audio tour. Make sure to book far in advance, spots can fill up!
- Visit the Coit Tower ($8). The line to get to the top can be long, but the view is awesome!
- Have lunch in the North Beach area. Some options:
- See the sea lions at Fisherman’s Wharf (they’re smelly, but so amusing!). The area is super touristy, but you have to at least make a quick stop if it’s your first time in the city! While you’re in the area, check out Ghirardelli Square and snag some chocolate samples.
- From Fisherman’s Wharf, take the Powell/Hyde cable car to Lombard Street and admire the zig zag road. Make sure you walk to the top for a great view of the city!
- From Lombard Street, make your way to Chinatown and stop at City Light Books along the way.
- Walk around Chinatown. Make sure to stop at Golden Gate Bakery for an egg tart and go to Golden Gate Fortune Cookies to see them make fortune cookies and even customize your own!
- For dinner, there are endless options in San Francisco, but we suggest checking out:
- Enjoy some delicious ice cream at Humphry Slocombe
- If you’re wanting to grab some drinks, check out Local Edition or Bourbon & Branch
Day two of this San Francisco itinerary will take you to the coastal side of the city, where you’ll explore parks and see many views of the Golden Gate Bridge.
- Make a quick stop at the 16th Ave Tiled Steps on your way to breakfast. It’s a quick and cool photo opportunity!
- Grab breakfast at Devil’s Teeth Baking Company (get the breakfast sandwich!)
- Have coffee at Andytown Coffee Roasters, which is known for their Snowy Plover drink. No matter what drink you get, make sure you try their homemade whipped cream!
- Visit Lands End, which is a gorgeous park with trails, including one that takes you by the Sutro Baths. The park also has amazing Golden Gate Bridge and coastal views!
- Grab sandwiches at Lou’s Cafe for lunch and head to Crissy Field for a picnic with great views of the Golden Gate Bridge.
- From Crissy Field, walk across part (or all) of the Golden Gate Bridge. If you’re feeling extra adventurous, go to the Marin Headlands, which has the best view of the Golden Gate Bridge in our opinion (the second photo of the bridge above)!
- Rent bikes and explore Golden Gate Park. Some spots to check out:
- After working up an appetite biking all around Golden Gate Park, grab some dinner. Here are some options nearby:
- If you drink, check out Bar 821.
The last day of this 3 days in San Francisco itinerary takes you to more tourist spots, as well as explores some of San Francisco’s local culture and neighborhoods.
- Have breakfast at Tartine Bakery for pastries or for a more traditional breakfast, head to Plow, Dottie’s True Blue Cafe, or Mama’s on Washington Square. All three are popular, so get there early!
- Grab coffee at Sightglass Coffee, which is a local roastery with a super cool interior! Note: there is no wifi here, so don’t plan to come to work.
- See the Painted Ladies, known for being featured in the opening credits of Full House.
- Walk around The Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, which was the center of the 1960s hippie movement. It has lots of shops you can explore, such as Amoeba Music.
- Explore The Castro District, one of the first gay neighborhoods in the US. Make sure to walk across the rainbow crosswalks!
- Grab lunch at Super Duper Burgers, one of our favorite burger joints!
- If you need an afternoon pick me up, get some coffee at Philz Coffee. We highly recommend the iced mint mojito!
- Drive up to Twin Peaks for an amazing view of the city.
- Walk around the Mission District and see all of the murals. You can find a guide to the murals here.
- While in the Mission District, stop by Mission Dolores Park for another great view of the city. This is a great sunset spot as well!
- For dinner, here are some options in the Mission area:
- For dessert, check out Bi-Rite Creamery
- Grab a cocktail at Bond or test your mini golf skills at Urban Putt, a mini golf bar!
If you have extra time…
- Taylor Street Coffee–make sure to get the Millionaire’s Bacon!
- Mission Beach Cafe
- Pizzeria Delphina
- Marufuku Ramen
- Kokkari Estiatorio
- Tacos el Patron
- Daeho Kalbijjim & Beef Soup
- Catch a San Francisco Giants baseball game
- Explore the Marin Headlands and Sausalito
- Muir Woods–a 30 min-1 hr drive from downtown San Francisco.
- Palace of the Fine Arts
- Visit wineries in Napa Valley–a 1-2 hour drive from downtown San Francisco.
- Drive down the California coast–This can be up to 8 hours round trip of driving depending on how far you go. Stop in Santa Cruz, Monterey, Pebble Beach, Carmel, Big Sur, and McWay Falls. Read our blog about our day on the California coast here.
- Yosemite National Park–One of our favorite places in the world! It’s between 3.5-4.5 hours from San Francisco. We recommend hiking the Four Mile trail + Panorama trail. It’s around 14 miles total and the most stunning hike we have ever been on! You can read all about our time at Yosemite here.
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