WHAT TO DO IN SAN FRANCISCO IN 3 DAYS
Are you planning your San Francisco itinerary and wondering about the best things to do in San Francisco in 3 days?
After hearing so much about this beautiful city, I was excited to explore the place myself, and here are my tips for your trip – while this is not a typical itinerary, these are things you can do in 3 days. Yes, it will be busy, but it is absolutely doable to visit the places below.
I stayed 3 nights in San Francisco – I think it was good to explore the main sights and attractions.
Important Travel Information for San Francisco
Okay, before you´ll find out about the best things to do, I have summed up important travel information for your visit.
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How to Get Around San Francisco
San Francisco is not geographically big, but due to the many hills, curvy streets, and many hidden alleyways, it is not easy to get around solely by walking. I never used any cabs, just walked or took the tram or bus.
The cable cars in San Francisco are a tourist attraction themselves and great to use to get around in San Francisco.
You can also get a ticket for the hop-on and hop-off buses (I love hop-on and hop-off buses), which also include some tours and entries for main activities. Book Your Hop-On and Hop-Off Ticket for San Francisco
Where to Stay in San Francisco
Now, whenever I travel, I look for a hotel with a good review close to a bus or train station.
Where to Eat in San Francisco
I do not have any great places I can suggest. However, read Andi´s tips about good places to eat vegetarian in San Francisco.
Solo Travel in San Francisco
I visited San Francisco as a solo female traveler- and it was a lot of fun. While I met another female traveler in the hostel I stayed at – and we spent one day exploring SF together – I did most of the sightseeing myself.
I did not take any extra precautions – one day, I was out quite late (as I wanted to watch the sunset from the Golden Gate Bridge) and felt fine getting back in the dark.
However, I always suggest being careful. Hold your belongings close to you and practice common sense. Head to my post where I talk about tips for solo female travelers. But other than that, San Francisco is also a great family destination or a fun getaway with friends or as a couple.
Places to Visit in San Francisco in 3 Days
Okay, let’s get started with the best things to do – while I visited all these places within three days, it is not a typical itinerary.
Walk Across the Golden Gate Bridge
Surely none of the hidden gems in San Francisco is the Golden Gate Bridge. The Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most famous and impressive structures in the world – and probably the most famous sight in San Francisco. With a length of more than 2,7 km, the suspension bridge connects San Francisco to Marin County.
The bridge was finished in 1937 (it took about four years for completion) – before that, people had to take a boat to get from one place to the other.
Actually, the bridge is great to visit day and night time, and it is probably one of the sights you will never tire of looking at, so it is one of the best things to visit in San Francisco.
If you get the chance to walk or cycle across the bridge, it is even better (if you get your 48 hours ticket for a hop-on and hop-off tour in San Francisco, you´ll have e a free bike rental.
- Tip: The best viewpoint is apparently from Battery Spencer – especially for sunrise, the views are breathtaking.
Chill at San Francisco Bay
Why not book a cruise and see SF from a different perspective?
As a boat lover, a cruise in San Francisco is, of course, one of my top tips. Is there anything better than getting around via boat? Enjoy the beach area at the Bay with great views at the Golden Gate Beach.
For about an hour, you will, under the Golden Gate Bridge, pass the famous Alcatraz Island – an audio commentary will tell you more about San Francisco’s history and the attractions you pass.
- Check out this boat tour – the starting point is the famous Fisherman Wharf´s.
Ride the World Famous Cable Car
Taking a ride on the Cable Car is a must-do activity in San Francisco. It is the world’s last manually operated cable car system, operating for almost 150 years.
It is actually also pretty handy because it gets you around, and you get some good views. I got so lucky with one of the cable car drivers.
Obviously, I was a tourist, so I did not even have to ask for a picture. It was just offered to me. Thanks to that friendly, dear cable car driver, I will always have that special memory of cable cars.
There is also a cable car museum if you are interested in finding out more!
Enjoy the Best View at Twin Peaks
As you probably know, I am all about great views. And in this city, with so many beautiful views in San Francisco – my favorite was the one from Twin Peaks.
When hearing Twin Peaks, I still think about the movie Twin Peaks, though these two hills, with an elevation of about 925 feet (282 meters), are not scary at all.
Rather they offer the best view in town (unfortunately, it was very foggy when I visited, so my view was not as awesome as it should have been). You can even see the Golden Gate Bridge, Bay Bridge, and Alcatraz from up there on a clear day.
Tip: Though I did not visit at night, this is a great place to end the day. On a clear day, San Francisco’s views, with all the lights, it is supposed to be fantastic.
- You can get here by car, bus – or hike up!
Alcatraz served as a federal penitentiary from 1934 to 1963, housing criminals such as Al Capone. You can do a 45-minute cell tour to find out about its history and inmates (audio guide).
I am one of those people who really thought it was possible to book an Alcatraz ticket once I was in San Francisco. Well, no, it was not. I had been told to book in advance, but I thought I knew better, and people only exaggerate. But tickets sell out several weeks in advance.
Do not make the mistake of ignoring the tip with booking early if you want to explore the infamous prison.
So book your ticket in advance, or you will bite yourself in the butt (like I do).
- Click here if you like to do a hop-on and hop-off tour, including a trip to Alcatraz.
- Tip: For a trip to Alcatraz Island, you should plan at least 4-5 hours.
Rest at Golden Gate Park
The Golden Gate Park was my favorite place to chill in San Francisco. There is so much going on and plenty of places to see and rest!
Also, I am a fan of flowers, and the flower arrangements and the relaxed atmosphere makes it perfect after all the walking. It has a similar shape to Central Park but is actually way bigger.
If you prefer a bit more activity, you can also rent a Segway to get around.
Discover Fisherman’s Wharf
Fisherman´s Wharf is a popular tourist area on the northern waterfront with many restaurants, hotels, and little shops. You can also do boat and city cruises from here.
Yes, it is touristy. Yes, I still liked it.
- If I could turn back the hands of time, I would have done a segway tour here.
Say Hi to the Sea Lions at Pier 39
Pier 39 is a part of Fisherman´s Wharf and one of the main tourist attractions in California. Especially the area the sea lions call home is popular.
However, I did not get to see any (not even one) sea lion. They decided to stay away from Pier 39 that day (which can happen). But this is normally a great place to say hi to the stinky but cute animals.
There are also many activities, carousels, an aquarium, and many more attractions that you can visit with the Pier 39 Attraction Pass.
Take Pictures at Lombard Street
I talked about curved streets at the beginning of my post. No other street is as curvy or, better yet, crooked as Lombard Street. It is famous for a steep, one-block section with eight hairpin turns. But it is not just crooked though, but also full of beautiful flowers, and you´ll have a wonderful view from the top of the street.
It is hard getting decent pictures with all the people snapping pictures – however, the best view is from the top of the street. So the mini-hike is shorty worth it.
Visit Alamo Square and see the Full House Houses
Like many people of my generation, I grew up with the TV show Full House, and visiting the Painted Ladies was high on my list. Normally, Painted Ladies refer to Victorian and Edwardian houses and buildings repainted – which started in the 1960s – in three or more colors that embellish or enhance their architectural details
There is a little park in front of the houses. Alamo Square is a hilltop park with views of the Painted Ladies. On a warm day, this must be such a great place to chill – when I visited it was quite cold and chilly, so I did not stay there for too long.
Seeing those houses for even a short bit was worth the visit, so definitely put Alamo Square on your list and make sure to wear warm clothes – the weather in San Francisco is crazy.
Explore “The Castro”
I am not necessarily a “hippie,” but I love the free and liberal spirit of San Francisco. The Castro is the area in San Francisco representing liberty like almost no other area in the US.
Though it is known as a gay quarter, it is also fun to visit and discover the area if you are not gay since there are some cute cafes and museums (for those of you who are interested in museums).
Spend Time at Union Square
Union Square is the main shopping district and is also known as San Francisco´s crown jewel of shopping districts. I did not buy anything, but strolling the streets is something I did not want to miss.
READ MORE: Best cities and towns to visit in the US
San Francisco sure is one of the most beautiful places in California – or even in the US.
3 days in San Francisco is a good amount of time to see and explore the city and get a taste. You can always come back to discover more. So, hopefully, this quick guide with some activity tips has inspired you.