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.
Important Travel Information for San Francisco
- 1 Important Travel Information for San Francisco
- 2 What to See and Do in San Francisco in 3 Days
- 2.1 #1 Walk Across the Golden Gate Bridge
- 2.2 #2 Chill at San Francisco Bay
- 2.3 #3 Ride the World Famous Cable Car
- 2.4 #4 Enjoy the Best View at Twin Peaks
- 2.5 #5 Visit Alcatraz
- 2.6 #6 Rest at Golden Gate Park
- 2.7 #7 Discover Fisherman’s Wharf
- 2.8 #8 Say Hi to the Sea Lions at Pier 39
- 2.9 #9 Take Selfies at Lombard Street
- 2.10 #10 Visit Alamo Square and see the Full House Houses
- 2.11 #11 Explore “The Castro”
- 2.12 #12 Spend Time at Union Square
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.
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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 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.
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.
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 – read Andi´s tips about good places to eat vegetarian in San Francisco.
What to Pack / How to Dress in San Francisco
I was dressed very casually in San Franciso and never had the feeling to be underdressed. As I walked a lot I wore comfortable clothes, just keep in mind that it can be chilly – even in summer.
Things to pack when visiting San Francisco:Jeans
Jacket (even for summer days) I A light Winter Jacket or a Coat (though it does not get as cold as in many parts of Europe in winter, a warm jacket should be on your list when visiting between November-March)A scarf Sunglasses
Crossbody bag (makes it easier with all the walking + I feel safer)
Booking Tours in San Francisco
Another bit of travel advice: Book tours in advance. Some activities actually sell out quickly and you´ll regret not having listened to me – like I regret not having listened to others giving me the same advice :/.
I missed out on some of the best activities in San Francisco (being spontaneous is not always the best), and if you like to book tickets, I recommend GetYourGuide. Lately, I have become a fan of GetYourGuide and so I started booking my own tours and activities mostly via them.
So if you do not know them yet, try them out – you can book many tours all over the world via them, and they allow you (most of the time) to cancel tours for free (let´s face it, sometimes things just come in between) and they send out a reminder before your tour start. So, if you like to do some tours in San Francisco you can just click on the images to find my favorite picks for you.
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
What to See and Do in San Francisco in 3 Days
Okay, let’s get started with the best things to do in San Francisco – while I visited all these places within three days, it is not a typical 3-day San Francisco itinerary.
#1 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.
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.
#2 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.
#3 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.
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.
#4 Enjoy the Best View at 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). 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, is supposed to be fantastic.
#5 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 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.
#6 Rest at Golden Gate Park
The 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.
#7 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. 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.
#8 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 a lot more attraction which you can visit with the Pier 39 Attraction Pass.
#9 Take Selfies 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.
#10 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 – weather in San Francisco is crazy.
#11 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).
#12 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.
This is also a popular district to stay, so check out prices for accommodation at Union Square. From here it is very easy to get around.
READ MORE: Best cities and towns to visit in the US
Hopefully, this quick guide with some activity tips has inspired you for your trip to San Francisco.