WHAT TO DO IN FRANCISCO IN 3 DAYS
- 1 WHAT TO DO IN FRANCISCO IN 3 DAYS
- 2 Important Travel Information for San Francisco
- 2.1 How to Get to San Francisco
- 2.2 How to Get Around
- 2.3 Where to Stay in San Francisco
- 2.4 Where to Eat in San Francisco
- 2.5 Walk Across the Golden Gate Bridge
- 2.6 Chill at San Francisco Bay
- 2.7 Ride the World Famous Cable Car
- 2.8 Enjoy the Best View at Twin Peaks
- 2.9 Visit Alcatraz
- 2.10 Rest at Golden Gate Park
- 2.11 Discover Fisherman’s Wharf
- 2.12 Say Hi to the Sea Lions at Pier 39
- 2.13 Take Pictures at Lombard Street
- 2.14 Visit Alamo Square and see the Full House Houses
- 2.15 Explore “The Castro”
- 2.16 Spend Time at Union Square
Planning your San Francisco itinerary and wondering about the best things to do in San Francisco? Here are my personal travel tips for your trip.
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 to do (yes, it will be busy, but it is absolutely doable to visit the places below).
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.
I stayed 3 days in San Francisco – I think it was good to explore the main sights and attractions.
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How to Get to San Francisco
I flew from New York to San Francisco International Airport and then took the tram to get to Union Square, where I stayed at a hostel (btw: it was the best hostel I have stayed at, and I totally do not like hostels, but this one was great – more on that later).
There is another airport, Oakland International Airport, where you can easily take a tram to the city center.
From SF, I took a Megabus to Los Angeles, which was cheap and okay, but you can also take the train.
How to Get Around
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 SF 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), including some tours and entries.
Where to Stay in San Francisco
As I mentioned above, I stayed in a hostel near Union Square, which I actually really liked and which has been the best hostel I have stayed at (find out more about this gorgeous hostel). It was one of the few times that I chose a hostel over a hotel or an Airbnb accommodation, and it was a great decision back then.
However, now that I am older, I would choose one of the various hotels or Airbnb accommodation instead of the hostel.
Now, whenever I travel, and I do not want to spend too much on cabs, I look for a hotel with a good review close to a bus or train station (btw: if you book an Airbnb accommodation by booking via this link, you get a discount on your stay).
Where to Eat in San Francisco
When I visited SF, I was not a vegetarian and ate a lot of fast food -now, those times are over, and I am eating only vegetarian and vegan food, so 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 solo – 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.
What to Do and See in San Francisco
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 globally- 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), and 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
As a boat lover, a cruise in SF 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.
Why not book a cruise and see SF from a different perspective. 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.
This tour has been taking place for more than 75 years – 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 the cable cars.
There is also a cable car museum if you are interested in finding out more or a hop-on and hop-off tour in an old cable car.
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 m), are not scary at all. Instead, 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.
You can get here by car, bus – or hike up!
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.
I am one of those tourists/travelers 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 it was actually sold out for 4-5 weeks in advance.
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).
Do not make the mistake of ignoring the tip with booking early. Normally, booking two weeks in advance would be fine to get some tickets and 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 for this activity.
Rest at Golden Gate Park
Golden Gate Park was my favorite place to chill. There was so much going on (older ladies doing a rollerskating dance) and plenty of places to see and rest that it should be on your itinerary. 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, and it is one of the must-see areas in SF.
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. One of the most visited spots is the area that the sea lions call home.
I did not get to see any (not even one) sea lion. They decided to stay away from Pier 39 that day, 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 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
Full House – like many people of my generation, I grew up with that TV show, and visiting the painted ladies was high on my list. There is a little meadow in front of the houses, but it was very 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 a free and liberal spirit. The Castro is an 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 pay 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. Is it the most beautiful city? I am not sure about that, honestly.
However, 3 days in San Francisco is good 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.