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San Francisco is one of those cities that has a little bit of everything. From stunning landscapes to iconic monuments, along with a thriving arts, culture, and food scene, there are plenty of things to do and see.

But if you only have time for a brief visit, using this itinerary will help you pack the highlights into three days.

How to Spend 3 Days in San Francisco

Day One

After you’ve gotten your transfer from the airport, start your day at the Golden Gate Bridge. In addition to being San Francisco’s most famous landmark, this is also one of America’s finest pieces of engineering.

We recommend that you walk across the bridge, taking care to watch out for cyclists who share the pedestrian walkways, and then make a stop at the visitors center. You’ll find yourself at the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which has a beautiful waterfront promenade.

Pro Tip: The Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center has a small parking lot with a 2 hour limit.  There are 4 additional parking areas that you could park, though some will require uphill walking.

Crissy Field is near the bridge, and it has a beach, great views, and restaurants for lunch. You’ll also be close to the Palace of Fine Arts. In the afternoon, take a tour of Alcatraz Island, but be sure to book your tour ahead of time. Alcatraz was one of the most notorious federal prisons in the U.S., but after its closure in the 1970s, it’s now a national landmark.

After all that history, head to Fisherman’s Wharf to get dinner at Pier Market Seafood Restaurant, which is a popular Pier 39 restaurant with mesquite grilled sustainable seafood, outdoor patio and waterfront dining.

How to spend 3 days in San Francisco

Day Two

As far as popular tourist attractions and neighborhoods of San Francisco go, start day two by catching the cable car on Market Street.

The city’s cable cars offer a fun way to experience the different neighborhoods in San Fran, and they’ll save you from walking up the city’s infamous hills. Make a stop at Lombard Street to watch as bikes and cars navigate the world’s most crooked street. It’s quite the scene!

Here, you can head to the Art Institute of San Francisco and Coit Tower before grabbing lunch at North Beach. Spend your afternoon exploring Chinatown, the biggest of its kind in the United States. There are temples, tea houses, markets, and great Chinese food.

Take an evening harbor cruise to see San Francisco Bay. Dinner is at Fog Harbor Fish House, which undoubtedly has the best seafood San Francisco has to offer and is a waterfront restaurant with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge.

FYI: Many of the city’s tourist buses pass by Lombard Street via Hyde or via Columbus. Some of them stop to let visitors walk around the area but they aren’t able to drive down the street.

Stop at Lombard Street to watch as bikes and cars navigate the world’s most crooked street.

Stop at Lombard Street to watch as bikes and cars navigate the world’s most crooked street.

Day Three

In the morning, catch one of San Francisco’s walking tours to learn more about the local neighborhoods or the food scene. If you’ve missed any museums, today is the day to see them.

Popular museums include the de Young Museum, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Exploratorium. If you’re in the mood for something more challenging, San Fran is home to a unique future tech escape room called Reason. Take the challenge with your friends and family.

After museum hopping, spend your afternoon at Golden Gate Park, where you’ll find a Japanese garden, an arboretum, and many different walking and hiking trails. End the day with dinner at Wipeout Bar & Grill, a family-friendly restaurant and surf-themed sports bar.

San Francisco is one of the most exciting cities in the U.S., and while there’s plenty to see and do, it’s absolutely possible to fit the best of the city into three days. So if you have a long weekend or a long layover, don’t skip the city for fear of too little time. With this itinerary, you can make the most of every day.

Staying for longer? There are plenty of other guides to San Francisco with great info and inspiration for things to do if you’ve planned extra days.

Where to Stay

Holiday Inn Fisherman’s Wharf

Holiday Inn Fisherman’s Wharf offers modern accommodation within walking distance of Jefferson and Taylor Station. It has 585 modern rooms offering all the necessities to ensure a comfortable stay. ➡ Search cheapest rates.

Hilton Parc 55 San Francisco Union Square

Conveniently situated, Hilton Parc 55 offers 4 star accommodation with easy access to San Francisco’s main tourist attractions.

The hotel has recently been refurbished and offers an express check-in and check-out feature, an executive floor and free Wi-Fi. Staff are available 24/7 and can assist with booking tours and tickets. ➡ Search cheapest rates.

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Megan is an Australian Journalist and award-winning travel writer who has been blogging since 2007. Her husband Mike is the American naturalist and wildlife photographer behind Waking Up Wild; a website dedicated to opening your eyes to the wild & natural world.

Committed to bringing you the best in adventure travel from all around the globe, there is no mountain too high, and no fete too extreme! They haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on their list.

If you enjoy getting social, you can follow their journey on FacebookTwitterYouTubePinterest and Instagram.

Photo credits: Golden Gate Bridge by Neilalderney123. Aerial shot of Lombard Street by David Yu. Lombard Street by jimsideas.

    28 Comments

  1. Great stuff as always Meg. I would want to see the bridge of course, the park by the bridge and Alcatraz would need to be on my list too. Only because I have seen the place on TV and in movies so many times, I’d need to see it in person. My dad visited San Fran on business many times in the 80’s. He would bring back keepsakes from Fisherman’s Wharf, which seems like a way cool spot.

    • Thanks Ryan! It’s definitely one of those iconic cities which pops up throughout pop culture and films – my highlight was walking across the bridge – was so crazy looking up and being so close to the famous steel!

  2. Great tips! A fab way to spend 3 days in this amazing city! I visited recently as well and stayed in the holiday inn… You can’t beat its location that’s for sure, although for me personally the interior could do with a bit of a revamp! :)

    I would add that a visit to China Town, Delores Park and Union square could be squeezed in! All are fantastic locations where you can get a real taste of life in the city!

    Happy Travels

    • Glad you had a fabulous time Rachel, definitely can’t beat the location of the Holiday Inn! I’ve found the interior of most hotels in the brand could probably do with a bit of a revamp, though they’re always comfortable and clean so I love them :)

      Thanks for the tips to also visit China Town, Delores Park and Union Square – can’t wait to get back for another trip!

  3. I have different choices at where to eat (and stay), but your sites are perfect. And, one ought to take in a piano bar, too.

    • Thanks for the tip on taking in a Piano Bar Roy – will have to include that on our next trip :)

  4. Thank you for the great post, I feel that It is a place that I would like to visit.
    The photos are very inviting and inspiring!

    • Glad you enjoyed it Gaetane! Hope you have the chance to visit San Francisco soon :)

  5. My friends has recently been here. Love the photos of this iconic city. I would definitely need that walking tour.

    • Awesome Gokul! Hopefully they’ve inspired you to visit also – it’s a great city, and definitely is an icon :)

  6. San Fran has always been in my dream list. Now I know how to spend my perfect vacation there. Thanks!

    • Glad we could help out with an itinerary Chloe :) Hope you have the chance to travel soon!

  7. If the US will ever give up visas for Romanians, the first place where I would visit would be San Francisco! I am fascinated by this beautiful city with the Golden Bridge in the background and the charming streets like Lombard st, waiting to be explored by foot. Visiting Alcatraz would be on my list of musts as well.

    • Sorry to hear that it’s tough to visit the States as a Romanian Joanna – I’ll hope that they offer better visa options for you soon too! San Francisco is a great place to start when they do :)

  8. It’s been over 20 years since I’ve visited San Francisco. I’d love to try one of those food walking tours, it’s a great way to eat and burn the calories. I also miss their famous cable cars.

    • Hopefully a return visit may be in the works for you soon! :)

  9. Hey fabulous 3 days itinerary of San Francisco! The pictures are beautiful too! Surely want to keep this destination top of my wishlist.

    • Glad we could inspire you Arif – hope you have the chance to visit soon!

  10. Beautiful Photos. We love San Francisco, only spent a couple of days there and love the Ghirardelli store and cable cars. Would love to visit again and see the museums and other spots

    • Thanks Priya :) It’s definitely one of those destinations which demands a return trip after the first! We’re looking forward to heading back at some stage too :)

  11. My daughter moved to San Francisco from Seattle so I will have a chance to use this mini-guide for when I will have a week with them. Thanks, Meg. But I may add Fisherman’s Wharf!

    • Sounds fun Carol! Always makes the experience so much more when you know someone and make memories with family :) Have a great trip.

  12. I love San Franciisco so much but I’m ashamed to say I haven’t ate in North Park, next time for sure!

    • Perfect excuse to plan a return trip at some stage :)

  13. San Fran does call me to visit and if I ever have just 3 days to visit, this would be a great start too. Being a massive foodie I’d absolutely need to do the walking tours, it’s always when your on foot you find the best out of the way cafes and food stores too.

    • San Fran is a great foodie destination, you would be in your element! Hope you do have the chance to visit at some stage, even if it’s only for a couple of days :)

  14. I love this! You guys have had some pretty awesome places – the pictures are simply beautiful.

    • Glad you enjoyed the post Charlie! Hope you have the chance to visit San Fran at some stage :)

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