San Francisco Itinerary: 3 Days in San Francisco

San Francisco is one of the most visited cities in the United States if not the world. People flock to this “City by the Bay” for its Victorian architecture, history, cuisine, world-famous landmarks, and beautiful views. San Francisco is compact in size but diverse in attractions, it has enough to fill weeks of vacation. Unfortunately, most visitors only have a few days in the city. So here’s my San Francisco itinerary for 3 days that will take you to all of the greatest hits in the city has to offer. If you’re considering what to do in San Francisco in 3 days, continue reading.

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San Francisco Itinerary: 3 Days in San Francisco

San Francisco Itinerary: Day 1

What to do in San Francisco in 3 days: Morning

Start your San Francisco itinerary with a filling brunch in either North Beach or Downtown SF (depending on where you’re staying). I recommend Mamas’ near Washington Square near North Beach),  Dotty’s or Honey Honey (both in Downtown SF).

Washington Square in North Beach

Chinatown

Don’t think too much about what to do in San Francisco in 3 days, there are numerous options if you want to explore SF’s neighborhoods. 

You’ll be within walking distance to San Francisco’s most popular neighborhoods: Chinatown, North Beach/Little Italy, and Fisherman’s Wharf. 

After a hearty breakfast, you can either join a walking tour or do your own self-guided tour. If you don’t feel like walking, get a Jump bike instead. Make your way to Chinatown, passing underneath the Dragon Gate.

chinatown

Grant Street is lined with dim sum restaurants and vegetable markets and is always bustling with tourists and locals alike. Tin How Temple and Fortune Cookie Factory are two of the must-visits in the neighborhood. For something a little off the beaten path,  a visit to Chinese Historical Society of America Museum & Learning Center will give you the context of how the Chinese immigrants came to live and build a community in San Francisco.

dumplings

Little Italy

Keep heading north and you’ll notice that soon you start seeing red, white and green flag painted on light poles. This is how you know you’re in Little Italy, the center of the Beatnik movement. City Light Bookstore was the center of the movement and this independent-publisher bookstore specializes in world literature, the arts, and progressive politics as well as SF culture.

Coffee Break

There are a lot of pastry stores and coffee shops, the most famous of which is Cafe Trieste where Francis Coppola allegedly had hung out to write part of The Godfather. Mid-morning coffee picks me up is always a good idea. Head to either Stella Pastries for delicious tiramisu or XOXO for their legendary homemade truffles. You get one free when you order a cup of coffee. 

Cannoli from Stella Pastry in North Beach

What to do in San Francisco in 3 days: Lunch 

Head to Tony’s Pizza for a scrumptious Italian meal, hardly within walking distance from Little Italy. 

Fisherman’s Wharf

You’ll find yourself in Fisherman’s Wharf just in time for lunch. Fisherman’s Wharf is a great spot to get a typical SF meal: clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl. Alioto’s is a local’s favorite since 1925. Get a table upstairs.

Fisherman's Wharf

Alcatraz and The Golden Gate Bridge

After lunch, walk around the wharf to enjoy postcard views of the Bay, Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge. Explore the various landmarks around Fisherman’s Wharf such as Ghirardelli Square, the sea lion colony, and Pier 39. Musee Mecanique has the world’s largest private collection of coin-operated arcade games and it’s always a popular spot for young and young-at-hearts’.

Golden Gate

I hope you’ve booked your ticket to Alcatraz Island. Now it’s time to head to the ferry dock to visit this infamous prison. Alternatively, jump on Cable Car back towards Downtown SF, and get off at Lombard Street, the famous “most crooked street” for a photo op. From here, make your way to Golden Gate Bridge.

Lombard Street

What to do in San Francisco in 3 days: Afternoon

Views of the Golden Gate Bridge

A visit to San Francisco isn’t complete without getting up and close and personal with the Golden Gate Bridge. Viewpoints are located on both ends of the bridge, although my favorite viewpoint is Fort Baker (on the Northside of the bridge). If you have time, make your way to Fort Point located underneath the bridge on the Southside. Entrance is free and you’ll be rewarded with a unique view of this iconic bridge. For pre-dinner drinks head to Pacific Cocktail Haven in Downtown San Francisco. 

What to do in San Francisco in 3 days: Dinner

There are so many dining options in San Francisco near the Golden Gate Park. Try La Taqueria for delicious Mexican cuisine. If you like to hang out at a pub head to The Monks Kettle. If you love Japanese food, head to Robin in the Hayes Valley.

San Francisco Itinerary: Day 2

Take the best out this San Francisco Itinerary by exploring SF on foot near the Haight Ashbury District and the Golden Gate Park. 

What to do in San Francisco in 3 days: Morning

Wear a broken-in pair of walking shoes, we’ll be doing some walking today.

Haight Ashbury District

After breakfast, head over to Haight Ashbury District. It’s time to get to know your inner-hippie. Walk along Haight Ashbury, synonymous with 1960’s Summer of Love of the hippie counter culture, and check out the street arts and independent shops. This neighborhood also has some of the finest Victorian homes in the city.

For lunch, there are plenty of restaurants on Haight St. One of my favorites is Magnolia Brewery, a popular gastropub, and microbrewery.

What to do in San Francisco in 3 days: Lunch

Golden Gate Park

After lunch, make your way to the Golden Gate Park. There are so many things to do in this 1,000-acre park. The California Academy of Sciences is an incredible museum with exhibits on earth science and natural history, as well as the aquarium, living roof, and planetarium. 

Golden Gate Park

The De Young art museum is directly across from the Academy of Sciences. The observatory tower is free to visit and offers an unparalleled view of the City.

Japanese Tea Gardens

In addition to the fantastic museum and garden, you can visit the Japanese Tea Gardens, rent a paddleboat on Spreckels Lake, or rent a bike and explore the park on your own visiting the buffalo paddock, the windmill, and Strawberry Hills.

Japanese Garden

What to do in San Francisco in 3 days: Afternoon

Ocean Beach

Head over to Ocean Beach, a beautiful place for a lazy afternoon stroll. From Ocean Beach, make your way to Legion of Honor, an underrated museum housing ancient and European artworks in a beautiful forest setting. It’s a 30-minute leisurely walk on dirt footpaths through eucalyptus forest. There are some worthy photo stops along the way such as Sutro Bath, Cliff House, and Lands End Lookout. 

If you still have some energy left, continue on for another 15 minutes from Legion of Honor to reach the Labyrinth, for a classic view of the Golden Gate Bridge. 

What to do in San Francisco in 3 days: Pre-Dinner

With a city as rich in history as San Francisco, it’s always a good idea to learn a little bit about how the city came to be and the characters that helped shape it. A fun way to do this is to take a San Francisco ghost tour. There are a few different ones offered in various neighborhoods. There’s even a ghost tour of San Francisco’s City Hall (October only). You get to learn about the neighborhood’s history and its eccentric characters in a spooky yet entertaining way. I highly recommend it.

For pre-dinner drinks, head to one of the many watering holes in Downtown SF, I recommend Bourbon and Branch in Downtown SF for cocktails.

What to do in San Francisco in 3 days: Dinner

Downtown San Francisco is a hub for food aficionados, you can try Sam’s Grill & Seafood Restaurant if you like seafood. Or head to Kin Khao for savoring Thai cuisine.  If you would like to try something unique, visit Liholiho Yacht Club for Hawaiian (Fusion) cuisine. 

San Francisco Itinerary: Day 3

On day 3 of this San Francisco Itinerary, I recommend renting a car and take a day trip and explore the area around the city.

Day trips from San Francisco

Wine Tasting

Go wine tasting in Napa and Sonoma Valley. Great wine in a beautiful setting is California wine tasting all about. You can do a self-guided tour, or join a group wine tasting tour. Some of our favorites: Buena Vista, Gundlach Bundschu Winery, Carneros, and Robert Mondavi among many others.

California beach towns

Drive north on Highway 1 from San Francisco for wild coastline and small, quintessential California beach towns. Combine it with some wine tasting (see above) for a 2-day road trip starting and ending in San Francisco.

Monterey and Santa Cruz

Drive Highway 1 South to Monterey and Santa Cruz. Monterey has a world-class aquarium that’s always a hit with families. Santa Cruz boardwalk has an old-school amusement park and a short drive away you can find Mystery Spot, a tourist attraction where you can see demonstrations of activities that seem to defy gravity.

Tips to get the most out of your visit to San Francisco

To make out the best of this San Francisco Itinerary, I’d recommend these tips for a memorable trip. 

Don’t drive

It’s easy to get around San Francisco with the bus, BART, and ride-share, therefore, a car is not needed. There are plenty of car rental places in the city. This is much preferable to the alternatives: finding street parking, paying for expensive garage ($30-$50 a day), risks of parking tickets, and getting your car broken into (pro tip: do NOT leave anything if you do park on the streets). If you did decide to rent a car when parking on a hill CURB YOUR WHEEL or they will ticket you. 

Don’t be scared of the homeless

The City has a huge homeless problem, many of the homeless you’ll see are dealing with mental health and/or drug issues. If you ignore them, they will likely ignore you. 

Watch out for petty crimes

Petty crimes happen, so when walking around be aware of your surroundings and try not to get too absorbed in looking at your phone (grab and run do happen) especially in BART/Muni buses, Fishermans Wharf, Union Square, and other touristy areas.

Wear layers

Microclimates are a real phenomenon in San Francisco. Always bring a light sweater or a scarf.

HAVE YOU TRAVELED TO SAN FRANCISCO? HOW MANY DAYS DID YOU SPEND AND WHAT ALL PLACES YOU VISITED? DID YOU LIKE THIS SAN FRANCISCO ITINERARY? TELL ME IN THE COMMENTS BELOW!

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Jill is a guest writer for The Wandering Core. Jill writes about roadtrips and outdoor adventures on her blog: Jack and Jill Travel. Born and raised in the tropics, she now shares her San Francisco home with husband and cat. 

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