San Francisco has been one of my favorite cities in the United States since I first visited in 2012 to celebrate my 21st birthday. It is a quirky and open minded city with vibrant yet unique neighborhoods, that make San Fransisco special. No matter your travel style San Francisco has something to offer to all its visitors, from its free spirit style to techy atmosphere.
San Francisco is the city of the Golden Gate Bridge, the famous Cable Car and of course its seven hills; Telegraph Hill, Nob Hill, Russian Hill, Rincon Hill, Twin Peaks, Mount Davidson and Lone Mountain.
How long should I stay in San Francisco?
You need at least 3 days in San Francisco to see the highlights of the city, and in 3 to 7 days you are ably to fully enjoy the vibe of San Francisco. For the purpose of this guide we have created the ultimate travel guide for first-time visitors with the best things to do in San Francisco in 3 days.
When is the best time to visit San Francisco?
You can visit San Francisco year round, but we recommend to visit San Francisco from April to October for the best weather. From November to March is rainy season in San Francisco so be prepared and bring an umbrella.
Where to stay in San Francisco?
The Cornell Hotel De France offers a unique and boutique hotel experience in the heart of San Francisco. Enjoy the comfortable rooms decorate with genuine French accents and collectibles. Do not miss out on the delicious dinner or breakfast at the Jeanne d’Arc restaurant.
Travel map with the best things to see in San Francisco:
3 Days in San Francisco Itinerary: The best things to do in San Francisco
Day 1: Explore North Beach, Russian Hill and Nob Hill
Take a stroll along Fisherman’s Wharf
Fisherman’s Wharf is the top tourist destination in San Francisco, and one of my favorite spots in the city. This famous landmark of San Francisco is famous for being surrounded by local shops, restaurants and some of the coolest museums in the city. This is also where you can see the seals on Pier 39, catch a tour to Alcatraz and visit the Ghirardelli chocolate factory.
Take a tour of Alcatraz Island
One of the best things to do in San Francisco is visit the famous prison island of Alcatraz in The Bay. It is a short boat trip away from Fisherman’s Wharf.
Tip: We recommend buying your tickets online ahead of time as it is a busy tourist attraction so you do not have to wait for the next available tour. You can book an ultimate Alcatraz tour here.
Alcatraz island is full of history of some of United States most famous gangsters. On the island you learn about the life of its prisoners, the history of first lighthouse and US fort on the West Coast. You can easily spend several hours exploring the prison and the surrounding grounds.
Take an iconic San Francisco photo at Lombard Street
Lombard Street has eight hairpin turns of “the crookedest street in the world” between Hyde St. and Leavenworth St. The street is famous for being the most winding and steepest street in San Francisco. The zigzag shape of the road reduces the slope and allows cars to drive down.
Climb up to Coit Tower
One of the best viewpoints of San Francisco can be enjoyed from the top of the famous landmark, the Coit Tower. The tower is at the top of big hill, like most attractions in San Francisco are, so make sure to plan accordingly.
The art deco tower was built in 1933 in an effort to beautify San Francisco and is on the National Register of Historic Places. While in the tower make sure to witness the colorful fresco murals, painted by 27 different artists, depicting life in California during the Depression and the importance of racial equality, which was a radical idea at the time.
Ina Coolbrith Park
This small but seep park that provides breathtaking views over the city while being surrounded with beautiful homes and garden.
This Episcopal cathedral was built in 1927 is famous for its mosaics by Jan Henryk De Rosen.
San Francisco’s Chinatown is the largest Chinese community outside of Asia and the oldest Chinatown in the United States. The area is full of good food, therefore make sure to sign up for a food tour of Chinatown. We took a walking Chinatown food tour with Local Tastes of the City Tours. It was definitely a highlight on our trip to experience local Chinese markets and taste some authentic delicacies!
While you are walking around Chinatown make sure to visit the Fortune Cookie Factory and the Chinatown Gate. If you are in San Francisco during the Fall attend the Autumn Moon Festival. It is a celebration of the harvest with bazaars, dancing and mooncakes.
Walk around Union Square
Union Square is the heart of the city and it is always full of people. In fact it is one of the most touristy spots in San Francisco. From Union Square you can catch a ride on the famous San Francisco Cable Car, which has been around since 1873. It is worth doing it! The cable car leaves from Powell Street every day and you can purchase your tickets onboard for $7 one-way.
Day 2: Exploring Haight-Ashbury
San Francisco City Hall
The San Francisco City Hall is a beautiful example of a Beaux-Arts architectural monument. There are free guided tours offered Monday through Friday at 10am, noon and 2pm.
Spend the morning in Haight-Ashbury
The free spirit district of Haight-Ashbury is known for its individual and colorful characters, vintage shops, the first Ben and Jerry’s store, and of course the classic and largest independent music store in the world, Amoeba Music.
Haight-Ashbury is where the ‘Summer of Love’ took place in 1967 and where you will find the majority of colorful Victorian homes, including the Grateful Dead House, the Four Seasons Houses, the Haight Ashbury Painted Ladies and the iconic Painted Ladies of Alamo Square from Full House.
My favorite thing in Haight-Ashbury is “The Famous Legs” at Piedmont Boutique, an iconic landmark in the district. It is worth just going to the neighborhood to see this amazing landmark!
- The Painted Ladies in Alamo Square: They became famous for being in Full House cover video. These Victorian houses used to be painted gray during World War I and II, but in 1960 they were painted in different colors.
Take your camera to Twin Peak
From Twin Peaks you will get a 360-degree view of the Bay Area making it well worth going up! It is a cheap Uber ride from Haight Ashbury! From the Twin Peaks you can see downtown, the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz and even Angel Island.
16th Ave Tiled Steps
Day 3: Spend the full day at the Golden Gate Bridge
Golden Gate Park
This 1,000+ acre park is the 3rd most visited park in the United States with many natural features along with a carousel, two historic windmills, and the National AIDS Memorial Grove. Some other spots and attractions not to miss are:
- California Academy of Sciences
- deYoung Museum
- Strawberry Hill
- Bison Paddock
After spending some time in this massive city park, make your way over to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, home of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Enjoy the sweeping ocean views from the Cliff House, with the ruins of the famous Sutro Baths of the 1890s.
Mile Rock Beach
One of the most popular walks in San Francisco, Land’s End is one of those places to enjoy nature without having to leave the city.
Walk to Land’s End
From the Legion of Honor gives impressive views looking out over the gulf and the Golden Gate Bridge, and the area around the Sutro Baths is another ideal place to watch the sunset in the city.
A mile-long beach located in at the edge of the Presidio, Baker Beach isn’t the best beach for swimming due to strong currents and riptides, but it does give you one of the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge.
This is the place to do your quintessential San Francisco photo shoot, and to watch the sunset with stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance.
Around Marshall’s Beach there are several trails that start from the top of the mountain, in Presidio, and some descend even to the sand.
Where to park near the Golden Gate? The area very well prepared with five paid parking lots around Marshall’s Beach from north to south. We parked at the CNG Parking Lot and there are four others a few meters away: Langdon Court, Stone St, 6302 Merchant Rd and Battery Cranston Rd Parking.
Golden Gate Overlook in Presidio
Make your way to the Golden Gate Overlook to get a fresh and unique perspective of the Golden Gate Bridge. The best viewpoint is from the parking lot, where you will be able to frame the bridge with two Cypresses branches.
First of all, what is a battery? You will see this word on maps or in person on numerous occasions around the Golden Gate. They are coastal fortifications that were built at the time of World War II and the Cold War to install weapons to protect the city from air and sea attacks that, fortunately, never occurred. The passage of time has been covering them with vegetation and in some cases turned into viewpoints.
Battery Spencer is, out of them all, one of the most famous viewpoints for all those who cross the Golden Gate. The coolest part of seeing the bridge from this perspective is that you can also see much of San Francisco in the background.
To get to Battery Spencer, you have to cross the Golden Gate by car and take the ‘Alexander Ave’ exit. At the first intersection, turn left (towards 101 South) and from here follow the signs to ‘Marin Headlands’ which is the natural area where this viewpoint is located. It seems complicated but it is hard to get lost with plenty of signage.
Kirby Cove Beach
Just a few meters from the previous viewpoint, you will not even have to move the car, is the start of a short 1.1 mile mile trail to Kirby Cove Beach. it will not take you more than 20 minutes at a leisurely pace.
Climbing back up the Kirby Cove Beach trail, we found another battery that could be seen from the main road and which can be reached by a quick path off the main trail.