3 Days in San Francisco Travel Guide
San Francisco, California, famous for the Golden Gate Bridge, is a popular and widely traveled destination in the United States. As a result, this small peninsula has a lot to pack, from historic sites to its diverse cultural scene. This post here is my 3 Days in San Francisco Travel Guide to help you make the most of a long weekend in the Golden City.
Whether you’re coming for the sites or good weather, San Francisco is a must-visit location for any different type of traveler. Check out this post for when to go, where to stay, how to get around, what to expect, and what to do when planning your trip to 3 days in San Francisco!
Here is my Ultimate 3 Days in San Francisco Travel Guide to start planning your trip!
When to go
San Francisco is a year-round destination. There is no wrong time to visit. California is known for its fantastic weather all year. Planning what you want to do and what you want to avoid is the first step to picking the best time!
Fall is usually the best time to visit San Francisco. The weather is often the warmest, staying in the 70s. The temperature and limited tourist traffic are great places to visit, with sunny skies and little rain.
Spring is also an excellent time to visit. Temperatures are a bit cooler than in the fall, but the tourist traffic is still lower than what it would be in the summer.
Summer is popular for tourists to visit San Francisco and California. However, the weather is typically cooler than in the fall. So be prepared for accommodations to be more expensive and plan when booking.
Winter has winds making the temperature seem cooler than it might be. However, prices are pretty good if you are okay with the cooler temperatures. Keep in mind that this is the rainy season in San Francisco.
Where to stay
There are many different areas you can stay in San Francisco. Each neighborhood can vary in vibes, history, weather, and price. Planning what you want to do is essential, as getting around San Francisco can be a bit hectic.
I recommend staying in a hotel, as finding a short-term Airbnb rental can be tricky. Below are the three neighborhoods I recommend staying in!
We stayed at Union Square when we visited San Francisco. Union Square is a popular spot for tourists as it is centrally located close to transit and filled with hotels. While it doesn’t have much charm compared to other neighborhoods, we found it easiest to stay here. The Westin St. Francis on Union Square is an option if you want to visit Union Square.
Most hotels in this location are upscale.
North Beach is an Italian American neighborhood in San Francisco. If you stay here, you will have great views and enjoy the great food of Little Italy and Chinatown, as Chinatown is nearby.
Haight-Ashbury is one of the coolest places to stay in San Francisco. It’s an iconic neighborhood with lots of history. However, it is a big hipster neighborhood, so I would stay away if that’s not your thing.
How to get around
There are a couple of airports to fly into if you’re staying in San Francisco. SFO, OAK, and SJC are three airports within less than an hour of getting to San Francisco. When booking flights, I check all three to see which one has the better price.
While staying in San Francisco, I would resist renting a car. There are few parking spots, and the ones available are expensive. However, if you’re road-tripping in or out of San Francisco or need to rent a car for a specific reason, you can find rental companies in the city to rent for your arrival or departure from San Francisco.
The Muni bus and metro system, cable cars, PresidiGo Shuttle, and ridesharing are common ways to get around San Francisco. For our short time there, we got around a lot on foot. We also utilized the Hop On Hop Off bus to get to the big tourist sites of the city.
What to expect
San Francisco is a beautiful place! There aren’t many “rules” you need to know before visiting. However, these are a few things to expect.
- No one calls it San Fran or Frisco. You will be branded as an out-of-towner if you do!
- Bring a good pair of walking shoes as you will walk a lot in the city! Walking is the best way to explore.
- Bring layers! Even in the fall, which is usually the warmest time of year, it can get chilly in the morning or evening. In addition, temperatures can vary significantly during the day, and winds might make it feel colder than it is.
- Keep in mind that San Francisco has a lot of homeless residents. When tourists visit, seeing them might surprise some visiting the city for the first time. Many are in dire situations so remember to be compassionate! Remember which areas to stay clear of as well.
Things to Do
While you can spend a whole month discovering the city, you can spend 3 days in San Francisco, and see a lot of what it is famous for. Hitting landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge, the boat tour to Alcatraz, and eating dim sum in Chinatown are musts for your first time in this city.
We got the 2-Day Hop-On, Hop-Off San Francisco Tour for the first time. You can find more information about the tickets here. Using the bus made it easy to hit the major landmarks and get around the town.
I’ve mapped out things to do during the day. You can switch up activities based on what works for you.
Day 1 (Morning) - Palace of Fine Arts
The Palace of Fine Arts is a beautiful historic building built in Roman architecture. You can walk around the palace, admire the work, and sit by the pond with ducks and other animals. The Palace of Fine Arts is another excellent place for taking photos. Next time we come, we want to come back at night as the Palace lights up, making it great for additional images.
If you’re a Star Wars fan, about 10 minutes away is Lucasfilm. If you search around enough, you can find the Yoda Fountain.
The Walt Disney Museum and Fort Point are nearby attractions if those are sites that interest you.
From the Palace of Fine Arts, Crissy Field is a 20-minute walk. The grass fields and sandy beaches have different trails and offer more views of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Day 1 (Afternoon) - Golden Gate Bridge
You can’t go to San Francisco and not see the Golden Gate Bridge! Whether you drive through, walk, or bike, it is a must-do on your visit. We recommend public transit (or the Hop On Hop Off pass if you get it) as parking is limited.
If you’re coming from Crissy Field, the Welcome Center is a 15-minute walk. You can walk 1.7 miles from the Welcome Center, about 35 minutes, and get to Vista Point. Vista Point is a great place to get your photos! Then, you can catch another Hop On Hop Off bus back down at Vista Point.
The best time to visit the Golden Gate Bridge is in the late afternoon (after 3:30 PM), typically when the fog has settled. Plus, the cyclists will be on the other side of the bridge, and there will be better lighting during this time!
Day 1 (Evening) - Fisherman's Wharf
Fisherman’s Wharf is famous to tourists and locals alike, making it a must-do on your visit to San Francisco. Be prepared for crowds and tourists. The atmosphere is lively and exciting!
Pier 39 is fun for adults and kids alike. Be sure to check out the sea lions basking in the sun. We chowed down on clam chowder for dinner here, which did not disappoint.
If you’re feeling for a sweet treat, head to Ghirardelli Square for delicious desserts.
Day 2 (Morning) - North Beach / Chinatown
The great thing about both these locations is that they are super close to each other. So start the morning by walking around Washington Square and grabbing breakfast.
You can then head to Coit Tower, where you take an elevator to the top and enjoy 360-degree views of the city. After taking in the sights, grab an espresso for the 20-minute walk to Chinatown.
Once in Chinatown, you can explore the alleyways and shops. Remember to eat some dim sum!
Day 2 (Afternoon) - Lombard Street
You can kill two birds with one stone by taking the cable car to Lombard Street. The Powell-Hyde line from Chinatown will take you to Lombard Street. Riding the streetcar is an experience you should have while in San Francisco. The cable car will bring you to the top, and you can walk down the steps. Once at the bottom, grab a picture of the winding steps going to the top.
Day 2 (Evening) - Alcatraz Tour
The Alcatraz Tour was the one thing we could not do on our most recent visit. However, I have it at the top because I have only heard so many good things about it. A boat tour to Alcatraz Island, the infamous federal prison, is on the top of my list the next time I go. You can purchase tickets for tours here. Make sure to plan when booking. The night tour is supposed to be a unique experience!
Day 3 (Morning) - Mission District / Haight-Ashbury
Start your morning in the Mission District! The Mission District is an evolving neighborhood with Latin roots and a hipster vibe. Walk around and check out restaurants, lounges, stores, and murals. Be sure to try the famous Mission-style burritos. If you’re into nightclubs, they also have some good ones here.
Not too far away is another lively neighborhood, Haight-Ashbury. This neighborhood is known more for its hipster and counterculture vibes. Spend time strolling the shops, Victorian buildings, murals, and foods!
Day 3 (Afternoon) - Golden Gate Park
Golden Gate Park can easily be a whole day’s worth of activities. The park is vast and filled with different sections. However, you can quickly go and just walk around. We strolled around the central part of the park. A few attractions require payment. Plan if you want to visit one of them. We saw the Japanese Tea Garden and thought it was beautiful and filled with lots of history!
Day 3 (Evening) - Painted Ladies
Located in Alamo Square, the Painted Ladies are some of the most famous houses in the world. You will find tons of people taking photographs here. The best time to grab a photo of the beautiful Victorian architecture is when the sun sets.
If you want to tackle an extra adventure, about a 20-minute walk away is the “Full House” House if you want to grab a picture!