What to Do in San Francisco in 3 Days + Travel Tips

Planning a trip to San Francisco and wondering about what to do in San Francisco in 3 days? Here are my personal travel tips for a long weekend in San Francisco – the “most beautiful city of the USA,” or the “city at the bay.”

After hearing so much about this beautiful city I was excited to explore the place myself and here are my tips for your trip to San Francisco – while this is not a typical itinerary, this are things to do in 3 days (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 in SF I have summed up important travel information for your visit to San Francisco.

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links – this means, I might earn a small commission when you buy a product/service (at no extra cost to you). More about it here.

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 as well

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 in San Francisco

San Francisco is not geographically big, but, due to the many hills, curvy streets, and many hidden alleyways, it is not very 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, but also great to use to get around in San Francisco.

You can also get a ticket for the hop-on and hop-off buses (I just love hop-on and hop-off buses) which include some tours and entries as well.

Book Your Hop-On and Hop-Off Ticket for San Francisco

Where to Stay in San Francisco

As I mentioned above, I stayed in a hostel near Union Square, which I actually really, 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 a few years 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 Franciso 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 to be 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

3 Days in San Francisco – What to Do and See

Okay, let’s get started with the best things to do in San Francisco in 3 days- while I visited all these places within three days, it is not a typical 3-day San Francisco itinerary.

Walk Across 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. The suspension bridge, with a length of more than 2,7 km, connects San Francisco to Marin County.

San Francisco - the most beautiful city in the USA @shutterstock
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@shutterstock

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 at day and night time and it is probably one of the sights you will never tire of looking at.

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 get have e a free bike rental.

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 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.

San Francisco Hyde Street Cable Car Tram of the Powell-Hyde in California USA - best things to do in 2 days
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@shutterstock

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.

It was apparently very obvious that 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 to find 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.

View from Twin Peaks @shutterstock
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View from Twin Peaks @shutterstock

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). On a clear day, you can even see the Golden Gate Bridge, Bay Bridge, and Alcatraz from up there.

You can get here by car, bus – or just hike up!

Tip: Though I did not visit at night, this is a great place to end the day. On a clear day, the views of San Francisco, with all the lights, it is supposed to be fantastic.

Visit Alcatraz

I am one of those tourists/travelers who really thought that it was possible to book an Alcatraz ticket once I was in SF. Well, no it was not. I was told to book in advance but I thought, I knew better and people exaggerate. But it was actually sold out for 4-5 weeks in advance.

Alcatraz Island - the infamous prison in SF
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Alcatraz served as a federal penitentiary from 1934 to 1963, housing criminals such as Al Capone. You can do a 45-minute cell tour where you 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.

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 of 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.

Pier 39 - full with sea lions - when I visited none was there shutterstock
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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 a lot more attraction which 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.

Painted Ladies with Arzo Travels
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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 – 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 that represents 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 in San Francisco and 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

Hopefully, this quick guide with some activity tips has inspired you for your 3 days in  San Francisco.

Safe Travels, Arzo
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