3 Days in San Francisco – The Perfect Itinerary For First-Timers

by The Belle Voyage

Planning to spend 3 days in San Francisco?  The good news is that you’re in for an incredible trip.  I’ve pulled together all of my favorite spots into the perfect San Francisco 3 day itinerary, to make it super-duper easy to cover the city’s highlights in just a few days.  Once you’ve read this guide, you’ll be ready for your 3 day trip to San Francisco! If you’ll be in California for a while, check out my California bucket list with my 20 favorite places in the state to visit.

 

3 days in San Francisco itinerary

Before you Spend 3 Days in San Francisco…

Check this out – it’ll be some great inspiration for your 3 day trip to San Francisco.

Where to Stay if you have 3 Days in San Francisco

The best places to stay for this San Francisco 3 day itinerary are Union Square or Fisherman’s Wharf.  They’re both walking distance to plenty of shops and restaurants, and are centrally-located, so they will be good neighborhoods to stay in the city.

I recommend staying in smaller, boutique-style hotels, since there’s so many great ones in the city, and they just ooze San Franciscan charm.  Here are my picks:

Hotel with the best San Francisco Style: the Beacon Grand Hotel – you’ll love the atmosphere.

Hotel with the best decor in Fisherman’s Wharf: The Argonaut – I love the style of this hotel!

Pro Travel Tip: These days, travel can be more uncertain than ever. Check for any COVID-related restrictions at your destination, and never travel without travel insurance! I recommend SafetyWing, because they have flexible + affordable insurance plans, and also cover COVID-related impacts on your trip (not all companies do)!

 

For the First Day of this 3 Day San Francisco Itinerary, Visit Alcatraz, Lombard Street, Chinatown and North Beach

Start off your 3 day San Francisco itinerary by booking a morning tour to Alcatraz.  You can buy your tickets online ahead of time, and tickets include both the ferry ride to the island, as well as an audio tour while you’re there.

Tickets can book up a few weeks in advance, so it’s a good idea to get your tickets to Alcatraz as soon as you can.

alcatraz island

Have Lunch at Fisherman’s Wharf

No 3 day trip to San Francisco would be complete without a visit to Fisherman’s Wharf.  After spending a few hours touring Alcatraz, take the ferry back to the mainland and explore Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 39, and Ghirardelli Square.

Touristy?  Yes – but it wouldn’t be your first trip to San Francisco without exploring this famous part of town.  The Wharf is also a great spot to grab a light lunch – clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl is a very San Franciscan treat.

 

Visit Lombard Street, The World’s Most Crooked Street

Leaving the Fisherman’s Wharf area, drive down Lombard Street (the world’s most crooked street) and over to Coit Tower, which you can climb up for a spectacular view of the city, the bay, and the surrounding bridges.

lombard street

 

Spend the Afternoon Exploring San Francisco’s Chinatown and North Beach Neighborhoods

After Coit Towner, you’ll be perfectly-positioned to explore San Francisco’s famous neighborhoods of Chinatown and North Beach for the rest of the afternoon and into the evening.  Depending on what you’re in the mood for (Chinese or Italian), they’re also great neighborhoods to land in for dinner.

In North Beach, don’t miss the City Lights Bookstore, possibly the best-known independent bookstore on the West Coast, and a must for book-lovers.  When

 

Second Day of Your 3 Day Trip to San Francisco: Hayes Valley, Union Square and The Ferry Building

The second day of this San Francisco 3 day itinerary begins with a trip to Alamo Square, home of charming Victorian architecture including the “Painted Ladies”.

If you watched TV at any point during the 90’s, you’ll recognize it as “that one picnic scene in the opening credits of Full House“.  By either standard, the Painted Ladies are a classic San Francisco sight!

painted ladies victorian architecture in San Francisco

The Best of San Francisco’s Boutique Shopping in Hayes Valley

Head east down Hayes Street, the heart of Hayes Valley, one of my favorite SF neighborhoods, and enjoy the street’s cute boutiques and cafes – personally, I love La Boulangerie for a pastry and a coffee!   Shopping in Hayes Valley is one of my favorite ways to spend time in San Francisco.

From there, it’s a lengthy walk or a quick cab ride over to Union Square where you can enjoy the hustle-bustle of the city along with some amazing shopping and dining.

 

With 3 Days in San Francisco, I Recommend Visiting the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

Just south of Union Square is the SF MOMA, a modern art museum that just completed a massive overhaul last year, tripling the size of the exhibit space.   The SF MOMA was the first museum on the West Coast dedicated entirely to contemporary art, and it’s a must-see!

Get your tickets to the SF MOMO online ahead of time here, and skip waiting in line!

 

Taste of The San Francisco Ferry Building

Once you’ve gotten your art fix, head over to the Ferry Building and the Embarcadero to scope out the scene and grab some dinner.  My favorite spots for dinner in the Ferry Building are The Slanted Door and Coqueta.

If you have time on your 3 day trip, the Ferry Building also hosts a fantastic farmer’s market that is especially abuzz on Saturday mornings, so come back and check it out if your San Francisco travel schedule permits.

the ferry building in San Francisco's Embarcadero

Depending on your interests (and whether or not the Giants are in town), I’d recommend ending your evening with a baseball game at Oracle Park, or with a private champagne tasting at the San Francisco Champagne Society (SFCS).  It’s about as cool as it sounds – just make sure to make a reservation in advance.

 

San Francisco Day 3: Golden Gate Park, Golden Gate Bridge and Sausalito

Begin Day 3 by exploring Golden Gate Park, an urban park that’s over 1,000 acres and home to gardens, museums and recreation areas.  Personally, I love the California Academy of Sciences and the Japanese Tea Gardens.

You can get your tickets to the California Academy of Sciences online ahead of time here.

California Academy of Sciences in golden gate park

If you have time after visiting the Park, you can do a quick detour down Union Street and Chestnut Street for cute cafes and restaurants, as well as some of San Francisco’s best boutique shopping.

 

Bike Across the Golden Gate Bridge

Otherwise, grab a cab directly to Ghirardelli Square where you can pick up some wheels and head out to bike across the Golden Gate Bridge.  On the way to the bridge, you’ll pass by Fort Mason, Crissy Field, and the Presidio – which are all some great spots to stop for a photo!

Once you cross the bridge, it’s an easy 10 minute downhill ride into Sausalito, a quaint and charming little seaside town – and the perfect spot for dinner to end your day.

coastline in Sausalito, california

After dinner, catch the ferry from Sausalito back across the bay, enjoying more views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the city skyline as you go!

 

Take a Cable Car to Union Square

Once you get back to the city, hop a cable car back to Union Square.  You didn’t think I’d let you visit San Francisco without a cable car ride, did you?

 

Check out the Best Views of San Francisco

From Union Square, head to either Dolores Park or Twin Peaks for a phenomenal sunset view over the city to end your time here.  Better yet – bring a blanket and a picnic and really settle in to the views!

 

What to Do if You Have More than 3 Days in San Francisco

Finally, if you have a fourth day in San Francisco, take some time to drive north of the city and into Napa or Sonoma, two of the finest wine countries in the world!  Planning a trip to Napa can be pretty overwhelming, so check out my post on the perfect  long weekend in Napa for some ideas on where to go for great wine tastings, and where to eat, too!

Sonoma vineyard

Is 3 Days Enough in San Francisco?

If you’re wondering how many days are enough in San Francisco, I think a 3 day trip to San Francisco is the perfect amount of time to see the city, especially if it is your first visit.

With 3 days in San Francisco, you will have plenty of time to see the city’s top sights, without rushing from one place to the next.

But don’t be surprised if you can’t wait to come back for another trip!

 

There You Have It – The Perfect 3 Day San Francisco Itinerary!

I hope this guide has helped you plan your 3 day San Francisco itinerary!  Now you know exactly how to spend 3 days in San Francisco.

 

Have More time in California?

If you have more time to spend in California, there are so many amazing places to visit.  Don’t miss my 3 day Yosemite itinerary, which is about a three hour drive from San Francisco.  If you’re headed down south, you’ll love my 2 day Los Angeles Itinerary, along with my 3 day San Diego Itinerary.

For the best off-the-beaten path travel spots, my round up of the best hidden gems in California is a must-read!

 

Need Help Packing for San Francisco?

Check out my best packing tips for women or check out my shop for all of my favorite travel accessories and products for female travelers.

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