We’ve created an itinerary of San Francisco to follow during a 3-day stay in the Californian city.
Unique in the world for its Golden Gate Bridge, its cosmopolitan culture and architecture, and for its cable cars running up and down the steep hills, San Francisco is among the most visited cities in the United States.
Nonetheless it only comes fourth in the ranking of most populated cities in California (after Los Angeles, San Diego and Santa Clara). Because of its limited size, one can visit most of the relevant and famous places within three days.
READ ALSO: Must see places in Oahu, Hawaii
Let’s see our itinerary of San Francisco for a 3-day trip in the Golden Gate City.
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DAY 1 – ITINERARY OF SAN FRANCISCO
We choose Embarcadero as a starting point to explore San Francisco. A coastal town with a long history of fishing and commercial activity, the bay is still a hub for residents and tourists alike.
The most known landmark is the Ferry Building together with its iconic clock tower dating back to 1898. At the southern end is Oracle Park, the baseball stadium hosting San Francisco Giants games. Further down you can find the Chase Center, home of NBA team Golden State Warriors.
Other notable places are the science-oriented museum called Exploratorium and the Coit Tower.
The numerous piers make it easy to enjoy great views over the bay, and allow people to board ferries to reach its islands and Oakland on the other side. On your right you have massive Bay Bridge crossing the sea, not to be confused with the Golden Gate Bridge.
TIP: if you happen to be here on a clear day, consider to go and visit the Golden Gate Bridge straight away. That’s because fog in San Francisco is unpredictable! (See weather paragraph at the end of this post)
ALCATRAZ ISLAND AND PRISON
Alcatraz is undoubtely the most renowned island in San Francisco. During the second half of 20th century it became arguably the most famous federal penitentiary in the world, initially for hosting notorious American criminals like Al Capone, and later on for inspiring cult movies as Escape from Alcatraz, after shutting down in 1963.
Due to the freezing and dangerous currents in the bay, it was even harder to survive a potential escape from the island prison. The penitentiary claimed that no escape attempts have ever been successful, however five fugitives are declared “missing and presumably drowned” in the official lists…
Today the prison is a big tourist attraction. You can reach it by ferry from pier 33, leaving from 9 am every day.
You can also book a mini cruise around Alcatraz in San Francisco bay.
BONUS: Talking about movies set in San Francisco, on our map you can find the position of Mrs. Doubtfire’s house, location of the homonymous film!
FISHERMAN’S WHARF AND PIER 39
Towards the northern end of the seafront is Fisherman’s Wharf, another busy area. Here are lots of restaurants, souvenir shops and stalls, and you can admire the view over Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge. One of the attractions is the enjoyable colony of sea lions, who offer free loud shows to visitors!
If you love seafood, then head to Pier 39 and try some Crab Chowder, a delicious crab soup served in a sourdough bread bowl.
TIP: we had a fantastic chowder at Crab House restaurant at Pier 39!
SAN FRANCISCO’S CABLE CARS AND TRAMS
To leave from (or get to) the north side of Embarcadero, we suggest having your first go on a classic San Francisco cable car.
The end-of-line of one of the three cable car routes is at the bottom of Hyde St. Here the tram drivers manually rotate the cars, a perfect spot for a photograph. Then, the cable cars climb back up the hill to Chinatown, before heading down again ’til Powell St in the city.
In addition to the well known cable cars, you will also see retro style trams running along the seafront between Embarcadero and Fisherman’s Wharf. These are called historic street cars. Curiously these trams were made in Italy at the beginning of the past century, more precisely in Milan, where trams are still very much used today.
TIP: the ticket for a single cable car ride is a steep 8$. We recommend getting a MUNI 3-day visitor pass, which is 31$ via app or 39$ for a paper card.
The MUNI card includes unlimited travels on all buses, trams (both historic street cars and cable cars) and light metro rail trains. Mind the difference from the Clipper Card, more expensive from 24$/day or 39$/3 days, that includes a long distance trains going out of San Francisco too. More info here.
DAY 2 – ITINERARY OF SAN FRANCISCO
In the morning we head to Lombard Street, one of the most iconic streets in San Francisco. You must have seen it before in a movie! We are talking about the short winding road counting 8 airpins scrambling on a 27-degree-slope.
Lombard St is a big attraction, try and go early to beat the crowds. We advise getting here by cable car due to its location on top of Nob Hill. You’ll probably also see many yellow GoCars around, a popular three-wheeled mini car in San Francisco you can book at this link.
Carrying on with your cable car trip, step off at Sacramento St or California St and reach Chinatown. the typical red colour of lanters and flags dominates the neighbourhood, which is known for being the largest Chinese community in the world outside of China. Here you’ll find heaps of restaurants with traditional Asian cuisine, great for dining without breaking the bank.
BONUS: Go to California St corner Powell St for a stunning downhill city view, with the Bay Bridge perfectly aligned among the high rise buildings.
The same cable car leaving from Hyde St ends its run at Powell St corner Market st. This is the beating heart of San Francisco: around you are squares, museums and monuments like Union Square, core of the shopping in town, the Museum of Modern Art, the Contemporary Jewish Museum and St. Patrick’s church.
We don’t want to sound too alarming, but this is where we saw the largest numbers of homeless and junkies around town, truly impossible not to notice when in San Francisco.
THE HOMELESS IN SAN FRANCISCO
It’s said that San Francisco holds the sad record of city with the biggest number of homeless in the U.S.A., where not only a lot of residents live on the streets, but also many move to from the cold cities in the Northeast, in order to escape the freezing winters. Among the multiple problematic factors is the cost of living and renting in town, some of the highest in the world.
You’ll have proof of this by checking the rates of hotels in San Francisco…
Unfortunately we’ve been told that the situation has worsened drastically during the pandemic, more and more people are ending up on the street due to money, drug or health related issues. We saw several car windows smashed and warning signs not to leave valuabes inside cars in parking areas.
Having said that, we didn’t feel personally threatened, although we avoided going out in these areas at night time. It wasn’t pleasant having to avoid sidewalks entirely in the city centre and touristy areas, even in day time.
To get away from the asphalt and from the up-and-downs of San Francisco, head to brand new Salesforce Park. It’s a modern elevated urban park at 22 metres from the ground. Trees, lawns, walks and an outdoor cafè occupy this huge green rectangle squeezing through the skyscrapers. Seeing is believing!
After the Asian community, the Hispanics are the most numerous in San Francisco. The neighbourhood of Mission District or simply The Mission is one the most representative in this sense, with architecture, shops and restaurants of clear mexican and latin influence. Come here to see the beautiful street art in Balmy Alley, eat lunch in an authentica Mexican cantina and to enjoy the colourful and alternative atmosphere.
TIP: go to La Taqueria restaurant to taste the best tacos and burritos in San Francisco!
DAY 3 – ITINERARY OF SAN FRANCISCO
Last day in San Francisco, but the best is yet to come!
Take a bus (or walk up if you still have the energy!) and head to Lower Haight neighbourhood. Opposite the nice park at Alamo Square are the charming Painted Ladies, a.k.a. the famous rainbow terraced houses. Perfect for a postcard shot with San Francisco’s skyline in the background.
Also nearby are other similar Victorian style houses, above all in next door ‘hood of Haight-Ashbury.
There are so many ethnic neighbourhoods in San Francisco, other than Chinatown and The Mission. Not far from the Painted Ladies are Japantown and Little Saigon (Vietnam), whereas the area of North Beach is nicknamed Little Italy due to the large number of Italian immigrants. Lastly a mention to tiny Little Russia, which goes to prove how cosmopolitan San Francisco is.
PRESIDIO OF SAN FRANCISCO
We move northwest towards the Golden Gate Bridge. The bridge is preceded by huge Park of the Presidio of San Francisco, known in the past as El Presidio Real de San Francisco. Here the Spaniards had built fortifications during the dominion of the Spanish Colonial Empire in 18th century.
With several kilometres of walking and cycling paths, a golf course and plenty of panoramic views, the Presidio is a mecca for spending time outdoors, other than being the largest park close to the city, followed by the Golden Gate Park.
Don’t underestimate distances and plan your movements well. The park is over 600 hectares wide, as well as nearby Golden Gate Bridge is 2,7 km-long overall! Better rent an e-bike or a GoCar, otherwise get a taxi or Uber if you are not driving.
Among the best views in Preisidio are the Palace of Fine Arts, Crissy Fields over the San Francisco bay, and Baker Beach, the closest beach to Golden Gate Bridge.
THE GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE
And here’s the gran finale: the Golden Gate Bridge! The majestic bridge, symbol of San Francisco, dominates the view uncontestedly thanks to its 2,700 metres in length and 67 m in height. Ultimated in 1937, it links San Francisco to Sausalito and the other regions north to the city.
There are different panoramic viewpoints to appreciate the bridge from every angle. It’s also possible to walk and cycle along it. After Baker Beach and Crissy Fields on the south side, you can reach the Golden Gate Bridge View-Vista Point and Battery Spencer on the north side. In particular we suggest the latter for a combined view of the bridge and the city in the background.
FOG ALERT: the fog is a proper feature of San Francisco and may affect your experience. Watch the weather forecast before and during your trip to avoid risks. Do not leave for the last day your visit to the Golden Gate Bridge if the weather isn’t looking good!
Our itinerary of San Francisco ends here, hope you have a great time in California!
Have a safe trip!
HOTEL – WHERE TO STAY IN SAN FRANCISCO
You can book all your stays in San Francisco and in the U.S.A. with free cancellation here.
- SF Central Hotel: a no frills hotel with affordable prices in the centre of San Francisco
- Travelodge by Wyndham Presidio San Francisco: queen and king size rooms with breakfast included staying at the American hotel chain Travelodge
- Hotel 32one: great location next to Chinatown in this recently renewed hotel
- The Urban: budget-safe and best location, pick this basic accommodation with shared bathrooms.
HOW TO GET AROUND
The MUNI is the cheapest card for public transport, including metro, bus and trams. Daily fare from 13$, three days from 31$, all fares here. The Clipper Card is pricey but valid for long distance trains, inlcuding the airport train (starting at 24$).
Alternatively you can rent an e-bike or a GoCar in town, or if you wish to drive further around California rent a car.
WEATHER&SEASONS – WHEN TO GO TO SAN FRANCISCO?
San Francisco is known for its mild climate, influenced by the cold Californian sea current. Winters are rainy but not freezing, whereas summers are dry and cool, with temperature rarely over 20-23°C. We were actually surprised from the cool weather in June, the strong wind had us wearing a jacket every day.
Due to the humid ocean winds, summer is also the fog season in San Francisco, usually coming up in the morning, thick and low.
As a guideline you may want to visit in winter to escape the bitter cold, or in summer to avoid extreme heat!
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