Ultimate San Francisco Itinerary Ideas for First Time Visitors

San Francisco, California is one of the best cities to visit on the West Coast USA.

It has a hip, chic vibe: a toned-down version of Portland if you will!

Here you will find rich breathing history and extraordinary charm – safe to say, most who visit San Francisco fall in love with it forever!

From the flower power era of the 60s to the tech boom of the 90s, San Francisco has constantly served as an inspiration to a variety of people.

The city thrives on the excitement and energy of creatives, visionaries, and activists – and you can feel this at every corner.

San Francisco’s parks, museums, restaurants, and attractions rival some of the best in America.

While the city is known for its beautiful architecture and iconic San Francisco attractions including the Golden Gate Bridge; the surrounding natural landscapes around SF are equally spectacular.

With its wide variety of destinations, San Francisco is good for all types of travelers from couples and cultural travelers to families and kids.

In fact, it is one of the most kid-friendly cities in America!

Related San Francisco Travel Guides
San Francisco to Yosemite Road Trip Itinerary
Best Things to do in San Francisco, California

Fun Fact: As an 80s kid, I first saw San Francisco’s most iconic sights including the Golden Gate Bridge and Fisherman’s Wharf in the Full House series opening credits.

In fact, the boisterous Tanner family was my inspiration for visiting San Francisco! 

Did you know, Visitors can see the Full House Victorian home as well as the Painted Ladies on Postcard Row in Alamo Square on a visit to San Francisco?!

…Though you will soon realize that the Full House home is not among the Painted Ladies, but more about that later!

How many days to spend in San Francisco

Planning a trip to San Francisco can get quite chaotic because the city has a large number of interesting attractions.

Visitors often find it difficult to estimate how many days in San Francisco to see all major attractions.

Ideally, we recommend a minimum of 3 days in San Francisco and up to 1 week in San Francisco itinerary to explore this wonderful city.

However, if you have less time you can also see the most iconic landmarks within 1 or 2 days.

Travel Tip – San Francisco City Pass and tours

Buy the San Francisco Citypass to save money on multiple attractions.

Popular destinations included in the CityPass include California Academy of Sciences, Exploratorium, as well as a bay cruise.

This is a great way to explore San Francisco on a budget.

Also Read: 10 Days in California Road Trip Itinerary

Victorian homes of San Francisco

San Francisco Itinerary Ideas

Planning a trip to the Golden City and looking for the perfect San Francisco itinerary?

San Francisco is a city of diverse neighborhoods, scenic views, and culture.

It’s also the home to the Golden Gate Bridge, America’s most iconic landmark as well as the famous Alcatraz Island.

From Fisherman’s Wharf to Chinatown, there are plenty of things for both visitors and locals to enjoy in San Francisco.

Needless to say, San Francisco is on the bucket list of many travelers and receives thousands of visitors every year.

How do you even begin planning a trip to this complex city?

That’s where we come in!

We lived in the Bay area before moving to Texas and still make frequent trips to the city.

In this San Francisco trip itinerary, you will find our takes on the best spots to eat, nuggets of information such as best bookstore (check our section on North Beach) and the best music store (off course, in Haight Ashbury!) as well as the best places to stay in San Francisco.

Discover plenty of itinerary ideas, attraction information, useful San Francisco travel tips, and recommendations to personalize your itinerary in this epic guide to San Francisco.

Also Read: 24 Best Places to Visit in California in winter

The beautiful city by the bay

One Day San Francisco itinerary

San Francisco is overwhelmingly beautiful, vast, and incredibly hard to see in one day.

We definitely recommend spending more time here – but if a day or few hours in San Francisco is all you’ve got – you can still make an amazing SF trip happen!

If you are flying in, take the cab or public transport from the San Francisco airport – skip the car if you have less time in the city.

Within downtown, you can explore on foot as SF is a very walkable city – on that note, wear walking shoes to tackle San Francisco’s hills!

Here’s how to make the most of San Francisco Itinerary 1 day.

Be warned, things are about to get hectic…

Golden Gate Bridge

Begin your One day in San Francisco at the iconic Golden Gate Bridge!

Walk across this engineering marvel and make a quick stop at the Visitor Center to get some souvenirs.

If you’re up for it, go all the way across to the southern end of the bridge – or at least walk up to the middle!

Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39

Next visit Fisherman’s Wharf, one of the most popular city attractions!

Spot the sea lions and try the famed sourdough clam chowder.

Walk along Jefferson Street for a few blocks and enjoy the bustling vibe of the area.

Lombard Street

Up for a mad dash to see San Francisco in one day?

Take the cable car to Lombard Street corner at Lombard and Hyde Street.

Take a picture at the Windiest and the Crookedest Street in San Francisco.

Walk down its curves and admire the pretty architecture of the houses!


Continue on the cable car to Chinatown – the largest in America!

This is a beautiful and interesting trip for culture lovers.

Admire the traditional architecture on the buildings, the Dragon Gate, and the murals.

Sip on Boba tea, eat some dimsums, and shop for San Francisco memorabilia and souvenirs on Stockton Street.

Chinatown is the place to get anything for just a few bucks – magnets, hats, tshirts, fans, and more!

Ferry Building

Continue your San Francisco one day itinerary by visiting the Ferry Building.

Located on Market Street, this pretty structure serves plenty of history with a dash of delicious goodies.

It is home to many vendors and food stalls and another great option to have lunch.

Rub shoulder with San Francisco locals as they shop for fresh produce.

In the afternoon, you have a couple of options.

Option 1: San Francisco Museums

While you can’t see all the amazing museums in the city if you are in San Francisco for a day, you can see your favorite in about 2 hours.

Pick from Museum of Modern Art (SF MoMA), California Academy of Sciences, or de Young Museum depending on your interests.

Other interesting museums include Cable Car Museum and the Walt Disney Family Museum.

Or see the Aquarium of the Bay or the San Francisco Zoo with the kids.

Option 2: Explore the neighborhoods

You can also visit Haight Ashbury neighborhood or Mission District in the afternoon on the 1 day in San Francisco itinerary.

Haight Ashbury is known for its hippie counterculture and flower power era vibes while…

..the Mission District is home to amazing street art and best burritos in the city!

Option 3: Ghirardelli Square and Union Square

Not up to exploring museums or neighborhoods?

How about some window shopping, wine tasting, and fine dining?

Visit Ghirardelli Square to eat chocolates and deserts followed by wine tasting.

Shop high end fashion brands and people watch or dine in Union Square.

Twin Peaks at night

End your day trip to San Francisco by seeing the lights twinkle over the city at Twin Peaks.

The city skyline looks beyond beautiful from here!

It can get quite windy, so be sure to bring a jacket.

Take a Guided tour

Don’t want to explore San Francisco on your own?

Guided tours are a great option for those who just have one day in the city.

A great San Francisco day tour is the Hop on Hop off bus tour.

It takes you around the most important tourist attractions in the city and you are free to spend as much time as you want at every attraction. 

You can also find plenty of other San Francisco tours to see the city.

San Francisco Itinerary 2 days

What to do in San Francisco in one day or two? Start by following the local’s itinerary to the city.

This is how most San Franciscans prefer to spend the day around popular tourist attractions in downtown.

This itinerary was suggested to us by our relative who is a San Francisco native and we loved it so much that we always follow it! 

Day 1 in San Francisco Itinerary

See major attractions of Fisherman’s Wharf, Golden Gate Bridge, and Crissy Fields.

Bike the bridge to Sausalito and enjoy the beaches.

Breakfast at Boudin’s on Fisherman’s Wharf

Begin your San Francisco in a day itinerary at the famous Fisherman’s Wharf. This waterfront area is the tourist hub of San Francisco.

We recommend starting your visit in the morning at Boudin’s Cafe. Order clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl – a San Francisco specialty. 

This iconic dish was invented right there at Boudin’s and tastes delicious!

While you are there, don’t forget to see the animal-shaped sourdough breads. Turtles, bears, you name it. Kids especially seeing the various shapes.

The size of the bowl may seem daunting at first, but you’ll need it – for the intense activities that you have ahead of you.

Start at the Fisherman’s Wharf

If you don’t like clam chowder sourdough, then Boudin’s also has other breakfast items. Plus there are many other restaurants on Fisherman’s Wharf where you can have breakfast. 

Sea Lions at Pier 39

Then head down to Pier 39 and see the famous sea lions sleeping on the docks.

They just lie on the rocks, sunning themselves and look absolutely adorable!

You might spot a couple splashing about in the water or going for a swim.

The sea lions have been at Pier 39 for decades and call it their home.

Kids of all ages especially like seeing the sea lion bark and play on the docks.  

Sourdough bread bowl clam chowder soup

Ride the Golden Gate Bridge

Time to reveal the highlight of your San Francisco itinerary!

You will be riding a bike across the Golden Gate bridge, one of the most popular tourist activities in the US.

There are many ways to experience the iconic Golden Gate Bridge but nothing compares to the exhilaration of biking across it!

It is an quintessentially San Franciscan adventure!

You will be riding the bike from the Marina district over the bridge and to Sausalito, located across the bay.

The return journey is via ferry! You can load bikes on the ferries.

The distance from Fisherman’s Wharf to Sausalito is approximately 9 miles and takes about 2 to 3 hours, depending on your pace.

Renting the bike in Downtown San Francisco

There are several bike rental locations near Fisherman’s Wharf where you can rent a bike.

They have a variety of biking gear and can equip you as per your preference.

You can opt for electric bikes for an easier time or a regular bike for a more intense workout.

Families with kids can do the bike ride as well. The bike shops have biking trailers, rear child seats, and tandem bikes available.

On our last family trip to SF, we did the bike ride with our 6 months old infant in the trailer behind my husband and preschooler behind me in the child seat. It was fun!

Our bikes resting on the sand

Along with bikes, you also receive helmets, ferry information, and a map which shows several different routes.

We have used Blazing Saddles rental company several times and have always been happy with our bikes and accessories.

We have tried to cover the essential information about the bike ride in this post but to get all the deets including what to pack for your ride and different biking routes available, read our post on Ultimate Guide to Biking the Golden Gate Bridge.

Rent the bikes in Fisherman’s Wharf area, then follow the biking route along the Palace of Fine Arts and Crissy Field in Marina district. 

Palace of Fine Arts

This beautiful building was originally built for the Panama Pacific Exposition held in San Francisco in 1915.

The current building was rebuilt in 1965 and today, it is one of the most magnificent structures in San Francisco, in fact in all of California.

The Palace features ancient Greek architecture and is a famous photo spot in San Francisco.

Fun fact: The Palace of Fine Arts is so famous that its replica exists inside of Disney California Adventure Park in Anaheim!

The Palace hosts many art exhibitions, concerts, shows, and is also used as a filming locale.

The Palace also looks beautiful at night when it is lit up and the reflection can be seen in the water. 

The beautiful Palace of Fine Arts

We recommend walking around the large building and exploring its features including the Grecian columns and the rotunda.

Sit on a bench and admire the pond. You can see ducks, swans, and geese on the grounds.

Then walk inside – finding the entrance is tricky so refer to maps on the grounds – and see the beautiful interior.

To see the Palace of Fine Arts, you will need to take a small detour from the bike path. Don’t miss this attraction, it is beautiful and totally worth the ride. 

Walt Disney Museum

The Walt Disney museum is dedicated to honoring the life and legacy of one of the most influential filmmakers of all time.

You’ll learn about Walt’s humble beginnings, his revolutionary work in animation, and how he changed the face of American entertainment.

Plus, you’ll get to see some incredible Disney artifacts up close, like original sketches and movie props.

Crissy Fields

The ride along Crissy Fields is one of the best parts of the bike route.

In spring, the grass blooms with beautiful wildflowers. In summer, a rolling fog partly covers the bridge. Fall winds brings out kite surfers.

Even in the winter, you will see locals windsurfing and kitesurfing on the bay or going for their daily run.

Take a break from the ride and take some time to sit on the sandy beach.

Relax, people watch, and take in the beautiful views of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Crissy Fields has an interesting history.

It was formerly US Army Air Field but is now part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and managed by the National Park Service.

Crissy Fields has everything from biking and walking trails, beach area, sand dunes, wetlands, and striking sculptures.

The westernmost part of Crissy Fields is known as West Bluff. Here you will find the Warming Hut cafe which is your next stop.

View along Crissy Fields

Warming Hut Cafe

The biking trail from Fisherman’s Wharf to Crissy Fields is mostly level; however there is a steep slope after Crissy Fields to climb up to the bridge level.

Prep for this intense part of the ride by stopping at the Warming Hut Cafe.

This steep climb is where you get to be thankful for the heavy breakfast!

The Warming Hut Cafe is a popular recharging place for bikers, hikers, kite surfers, and paddleboarders.

At the cafe, you can get steaming coffee or hot chocolate to keep the wind at bay in winter and delicious ice cream and ice-cold water to cool down during the summer.

The cafe also has a variety of healthy foods. You can also buy books and souvenirs at the cafe and use the restrooms. 

Want to extend your West Coast road trip to the Pacific Northwest? Read our Portland to San Francisco Road Trip Itinerary now to plan the trip.

Optional: Fort Point

From Warming Hut cafe you can either climb the steep slope up to the bridge or make the detour to Fort Point.

Fort Point National Historic Site is a must for military, history, and architecture fans visiting San Francisco.

The Fort was established to protect the harbor from attack during the Gold Rush days.

Visitors are often awestruck by the impressive and formidable fort. The views of the Golden Gate Bridge from the fort are also spectacular.

You can see the fort on a self-guided tour. 

Fort Point

Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center

Located at the bridge’s southern end, just after the steep climb, is the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center.

This is the perfect place to learn more about the 1.7 miles long iconic bridge.

At the center, you can see exhibits relating to the architecture and the construction process.

You can also see construction relics from that era including hard hats worn by the workers.

This is also one of the best places to buy bridge magnets, postcards, t-shirts, and other souvenirs. 

Information about the bridge

Golden Gate Bridge

And now, you finally get to bike the Golden Gate Bridge! Biking across the bridge is a thrilling experience.

The bridge’s orange red main cables welcome you and as you ride closer, you can fully admire the ingenuity of the bridge.

You can even feel the wind and the swaying movement when large cars or trucks drive down the bridge next to you.

The views of the blue Pacific Ocean from the bridge are beautiful.

Fun Fact: Did you know that you can even buy a ‘I Biked the Golden Gate Bridge’ T-shirt or magnet as a souvenir?!

Seriously, biking the Golden Gate is that popular!

You can see downtown SF, Alcatraz, and even Angel Island State Park from the bridge.

There is a designated bike path over the bridge’s western sidewalk. Just follow other bikers and you should be good.

Finish your ride across to the other end of the bridge.

When you are almost at the end, you can’t help but look back at the bridge with pride – you did it….

…You successfully biked the Golden Gate Bridge!

Biking on the bridge

Vista Point

On the other side, at Marin Headlands you can bike up to Vista Point.

We definitely recommend this as the views from Vista Point are just magnificent.

You can look back at the San Francisco Bay and the bridge that you just biked and the feeling of accomplishment is great.

I always feel a swell of intense emotions here – the happiness of being in San Francisco, the adrenaline rush of biking, admiration for the iconic landmark, and gratitude for the beautiful views of the Pacific below!

This is one of the best places to take photos of the bridge with the Pacific Ocean and the city in the background.

You can take a break here, eat some snacks (don’t forget to pack them), and use restrooms before you resume biking to Sausalito. 

Golden Gate Bridge from Marin headlands


After exiting Vista Point, you will encounter one of the best downhill slopes you have ever ridden.

You will frequently need to apply the brakes and will go from the hilltop to the coast in a few minutes.

Kids love this part – my son kept shouting ‘woohoo’ over the wind as we made our way down in a swoosh.

Then keep biking till you reach Sausalito.

Riding into Sausalito is a delight.

For one, you know you are at the end of your journey.

For another, the town is so pretty that you can’t help falling in love with it.

You will be riding along a seaside promenade, close to the waterfront, and an occasional wave will spray water on you.

You will see yachts and boats bobbing on the water. Boutiques, eateries, and cafes line the other side of the street.

Sausalito is as pretty as it gets!

You can either get on the next ferry back to SF or take some time to explore Sausalito. We recommend the latter.

This quaint Mediterranean-style fishing village is perfect for walking and biking.

Have lunch by the waterfront. Stroll around Sausalito’s wooden boardwalks and photograph the charming Victorian buildings.

Visit the art galleries and bookstores; see the historic Old Town Sausalito before taking a ferry back to the city.

Keep aside 1 to 3 hours to explore Sausalito.

Sausalito is charming

Return ferry back to Fisherman’s Wharf

The return ride on the ferry is the perfect end to the biking adventure.

You can load the bikes on the ferry and sit upstairs or stand out on the deck. Grab a drink from the bar and enjoy it with your loved ones.

The ferry ride is almost half an hour long and offers panoramic views of the bay, the San Francisco skyline, and the bridge.

You will also see Alcatraz Island on the way.

If you time it right, you can take the ferry around sunset.

You will be treated to beautiful views of the Golden Gate Bridge with the setting sun!

There are two alternate ferries: one goes to the Ferry Building while the other goes to Fisherman’s Wharf.

You can take any ferry but if you take the one to ferry building then you might have to cycle back to Fisherman’s Wharf to return your bike.

No big deal after all the biking you already did!

You can also pick up and return bikes at the Ferry Building if that’s more convenient.

Sunset behind the Golden Gate Bridge

Fisherman’s Wharf at night

Head back to Fisherman’s Wharf after returning your bikes

Fisherman’s Wharf at night is way different than Fisherman’s Wharf by day.

At night, you can enjoy music, carousels, arcade games, and fun rides.

You can enjoy the lit up Golden Gate Bridge and Bay Bridge, plus watch the stars come up over Marin Headlands.

You can see families and couples having fun, eating and drinking by the waterfront. We suggest doing the same.

Ask the server to pop open a bottle of the best Napa Valley wine – you have deserved it!

That’s it. Now you have experienced the best of San Francisco in a day like the locals!

Options to skip bike ride to Sausalito

We understand that the above plan might not be for everyone and have recommended a few alternate options.

Bike across bridge and return

If you don’t want to bike across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito, then one option is to just ride across the bridge, enjoy views from Vista Point, and return.

You will save time and effort both, plus can still claim that you biked the Golden Gate Bridge. 

Walk or drive across the bridge

To follow the plan and skip biking, walk or drive across the bridge.

The bridge sidewalk is open for walking.

Walk up to the midway point for best views and to feel the wind in your hair. 

To drive across the bridge, you will need to take Highway 101 / SR1 across the bridge.

Drive up to one of the viewpoints like the one at Battery Spencer or Vista Point.

You can also walk across the Golden Gate bridge. We did both on separate days!

You can still visit Sausalito too without biking.

If you are walking, return to Fisherman’s Wharf and take the ferry across the bay to Sausalito.

If you have a car, then drive up to Sausalito and follow the original plan.

Non bikers can also skip the sourdough clam chowder for breakfast and eat it later in the day.

Non bikers may also have extra time on their hands. You can use it to see attractions mentioned on Day 2 or 3 of this itinerary.

City views in foggy weather

Exercise caution while parking downtown

First time in San Francisco? Here’s what you should absolutely keep in mind.

The parking garages in San Francisco are notorious for being unsafe, especially on weekends and holidays.

On our last San Francisco trip, we had parked in a covered lot two blocks away from Fisherman’s Wharf.

However, our car was broken into and a couple of bags in the trunk were stolen.

We had to file a police report, call parking security, and drive the car back to the airport to resolve the matter and get a new rental for the remainder of our trip. 

We lost a great deal of time and money, to say nothing of the mental anguish we went through.

We later learned that such car break ins are extremely common in San Francisco.

As such, we would advise everyone to use extreme caution when parking downtown.

Park in the open air if possible or take an Uber to downtown.

Day 2 in San Francisco

On this day of the San Francisco two day itinerary, you will visit the famous Alcatraz Island and tour the prison.

Then enjoy the iconic cable car ride to Lombard Street, try the chocolates in Ghirardelli Square and shop in Union Square.

End your San Francisco weekend itinerary by checking out the vendors at the Ferry Building Marketplace and dining there.

Historic buildings on Alcatraz Island

Alcatraz Island

A must see in San Francisco in 2 days! The famous Alcatraz Island was a federal prison till 1963.

Some of the country’s most dangerous prisoners were kept here because getting out of Alcatraz was not easy.

Alcatraz’s most well-known prisoner was Al Capone, the notorious gangster.

You can tour Alcatraz and its prison cells, historic buildings, and exhibits.

Access to the island is via ferry from Alcatraz Cruises and the tickets include roundtrip ferry rides and an audio tour of the island.

Alcatraz is nearly a half-day experience, so we recommend booking a tour early in the morning to make the most of your day.

The tours leave from Pier 33 Alcatraz Landing. 

Cable Car Ride

Cable cars were invented right here in San Francisco to easily climb over the city’s steep hills.

Since then these California street cars have become a San Francisco icon and even considered a National Historic Landmark.

Riding a cable car is, in fact, an essential part of your San Francisco experience.

There are a total of 3 cable car lines; the one with the best views is the Powell-Hyde line.

We recommend taking this line after your Alcatraz tour from Fisherman’s Wharf and getting down near Lombard Street.

You can purchase the tickets onboard.

The cable cars are often crowded, so you might need to wait in line for some time to board one.

On the way up to Russian Hill, do not forget to take in the spectacular bay views. 

Lombard Street

Get down at Lombard Street and be ready for your walk down the most crooked street in the world.

This beautifully landscaped red brick street has about eight sharp hairpin turns which make it fun and photogenic.

While you need to be in a car to drive down Lombard Street, this is not as much fun since cars have to often wait for up to an hour for their turn.

A much better way is to walk down the sidewalk – you can admire the beautiful houses plus take photos of the curves to your heart’s content.

For photos without cars or people, visit Lombard Street first thing in the morning – even before your Alcatraz tour!

Fun fact: Lombard Street is not actually the most crooked street in San Francisco, let alone the world!

However, it is certainly the prettiest most crooked street and you won’t regret walking down it even a teeny tiny bit. 

If you board the cable car again after seeing Lombard Street, it will take you to Nob Hill.

Nob Hill has fantastic museums, gorgeous architecture, and other attractions such as Grace Cathedral Church and is nice to visit if you have the time.

Lombard Street

Ghirardelli Square

The famous Ghirardelli Square was once home to the Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory.

Today, the actual factory is not located here but you can still eat all kinds of chocolate confections including cakes and icecreams at the Original Ghirardelli shop.

To buy chocolates as gifts or souvenirs, stop by their marketplace.

Apart from eating ice-cream, there are many more things to do in the square.

This is one of the popular shopping areas in San Francisco and hundreds of brands and boutiques are located here.

Ghirardelli Square also has wine tasting rooms and fine dining restaurants – you can definitely have dinner here but we would recommend stopping by the Ferry Building Marketplace for a unique dining experience. 

Union Square

If you’re looking for a quintessential San Francisco experience, you can’t miss Union Square.

This famous plaza is located in the heart of downtown, surrounded by some of the city’s best shopping, dining and entertainment.

At the center of Union Square, you will find the Dewey Monument which is home to statue of Nike, the Greek goddess of victory.

Union Square is a great place to sit, savor the atmosphere of the city, and people watch.

We have visited San Francisco at Christmas – and Union Square holiday decorations and ice rink are our favorites!

Ferry Building Marketplace

The ferry Building Marketplace located on the Embarcadero of San Francisco is a striking building.

It is famous for its architecture and the clock tower.

Once an important point of arrival for visitors to San Francisco, the building today is home to one of the most popular food halls in the country and to the famous San Francisco Farmers Market.

Inside you will find bread, cheese, wines, produce, and seafood.

But the best part is hundreds of readers lined up along the Nave or the main area, selling a variety of dishes from varied cuisines.

You can eat everything from tacos and empanadas to freshly shucked oysters and milkshakes.

To know exactly where to go and what to eat, read this and this.

Ferry Building with the skyline

That’s it. You have covered the highlights in this San Francisco 2 day itinerary.

If you have only 2 days in San Francisco and are looking for an itinerary that will cover most places, then use this.

Only squeeze in a visit to Chinatown on Day 2 (see details on what to see and do in Chinatown below) and you are golden!

3 Days in San Francisco Itinerary

Spend the morning exploring the alleys of San Francisco’s Chinatown.

See the famous buildings in the area, visit traditional shops, and eat dim sums for lunch.

Then explore Financial District and North Beach neighborhoods.

In the afternoon check out the murals and street art in Mission District and visit Mission Dolores, the oldest building in San Fran.

End your day by eating the giant Mission Burritos then check out the Mission district nightlife.

Or you can see the view from Twin Peaks at night to end itinerary for San Francisco 3 days on a high note.


The Chinatown of San Francisco is the largest in the country – yes, even larger than New York’s Chinatown!

It is also the oldest and was established by Chinese immigrants in the 1850s.

The area was reconstructed following the earthquake in the traditional oriental style of architecture and today you can see beautiful pagodas and oriental carvings on the Chinatown buildings.

We definitely recommend visiting Chinatown during the 3 days in San Francisco itinerary to experience the unique culture.

Some of the most popular things to see in Chinatown include the Dragon Gate, shops and Chinese street lights along Grant Avenue, and the beautiful Sing Chong and Sing Fat buildings located opposite each other at Grant and California.

While in Chinatown, shop for souvenirs, see the murals, and eat Chinese food including dim sums and rice cakes. 

Exploring Chinatown

North Beach and Financial District

North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco is located close to the Chinatown.

It is known for its beautiful buildings, Italian restaurants, and vibrant nightlife.

It is amazing to explore on foot – especially along Columbus Avenue.

Dine here and try to find your favorite pasta, pizza, and cannoli!

Two of our favorite places in North Beach are Washington Square Park and the beautiful Saints Peter and Paul Church.

The neighborhood is a haven for literary fans.

Stop into the City Lights bookstore located at 261 Columbus Avenue to grab your next read!

You will also find a Beat Museum dedicated to famous beat movement authors including Jack Kerouac.

Financial District, with its towering skyscrapers and shopping malls, is also popular with tourists.

Mission District Murals

After Chinatown and North Beach, visit the Mission District of San Francisco to see its murals.

Art and culture lovers should definitely not skip this as part of their three days in San Francisco itinerary; the Mission District might be off the beaten path but it offers stunning gems.

The murals that you can see here are beautiful and thought-provoking. They are often in response to historical and contemporary socio-political issues, especially those in Latin America.

The most elaborate murals are located around the Balmy Alley area but you also need to look into side alleys to spot the murals.

Along with murals, you will also see a lot of graffiti in the Mission District.

To plan your own DIY tour to see the murals, check here.

Parking in Mission District especially around the Balmy Alley can be rare, and that’s why we would recommend not taking a car. 

Mission Dolores

San Francisco’s Mission Dolores is the oldest building in the city and a great place to add to your San Francisco itinerary of 3 days.

It was established in 1776 and has survived the famous San Francisco earthquake of 1906.

The Mission has beautiful adobe-style architecture. If you are lucky to visit at the right time, then you may be able to attend mass at the mission and enjoy the Basilica Choir.

The rose garden and cemetery adjoining the mission are also worth a stroll.

While you are there, you must also visit the Mission Dolores Park which is a few minutes away and has beautiful views of San Francisco from the hilltops.

Dining and nightlife in the Mission District

Mission District’s restaurants and nightlife are highly regarded in San Francisco & a must on the San Francisco 3 day itinerary if you are a foodie.

The Mission District is particularly famous as the home of San Francisco’s special Mission-style burrito.

It differs from usual burritos in a few ways: it is large – so large that I saved half for another meal – and it is stuffed with rice, beans, avocado, and a host of other additions!

The first taqueria to serve the burrito is said to be El Faro in the 1960s.

You can still visit El faro for an original Mission burrito. There are also many other taquerias in the area – and all of them serve equally good Mexican food.

Mission District nightlife is also epic.

You will find pubs, bars, and dive bars located close enough for the perfect pub crawl. To know where to go, read this.

Mission Dolores

Optional: Twin Peaks at night

If you are not into nightlife or if you want something to do even after the pubs close, then head to the Twin Peaks.

The Twin Peaks Natural Area has some of the best views of Downtown San Francisco from above.

Drive up to Christmas Tree Viewing Point and enjoy the city lit up at night.

You will also be able to see the recent animated light show on the Salesforce Tower.

Twin Peaks area does get windy at night, so wear layers – especially since San Francisco weather can be quite unpredictable.

We just covered the major highlights – and that’s how to see San Francisco in 3 days itinerary!

San Francisco 4 day itinerary

This trip plan builds on top of the San Francisco 3 days itinerary.

This day is all about customizing our San Francisco suggested itinerary as per your interest.

Pop culture and music lovers, make a beeline for Haight Ashbury! If you love gardens and art /science museums, visit the Golden Gate Park.

Love taking pics for the ‘gram? Plan a DIY photo shoot in the background of beautiful views far above the city.

Coit Tower, Twin Peaks, or the 16th Avenue tiled steps are your best bets for a bird’s eye panorama.

You can also spend a relaxing day on the water by taking a bay cruise around the San Francisco Bay. Or spend the day at Muir Woods National Monument to see the closest redwoods to the bay area.

Here’s a little information about each of these attractions to help you nail down the 4 days in San Francisco itinerary.

Haight Ashbury

If you are into hippie culture and know about the Summer of Love, then you should make the pilgrimage out to Haight Ashbury.

For those not in the know, this San Francisco neighborhood is where the hippie movement developed as a powerful counterculture in 1967.

You can find several landmarks and historic buildings including the house where the famous band of the era, Grateful Dead, lived in Haight Ashbury. 

Janis Joplin also lived in the neighborhood and you can also see here house.

The street signs of Haight and Ashbury are an important Instagram spot in the city.

You can visit eclectic art galleries, independent bookstores, music stores, cafes, and eateries: there are innumerable things to do in Haight Ashbury District!

Even today the neighborhood is the hub for aspiring musicians and comics in the city, making the neighborhood a must on San Francisco itinerary 4 days for music lovers.

Sloping streets on San Francisco

Alamo Square and the Painted Ladies

San Francisco’s “Painted Ladies” are one of the most iconic images of the city.

These brightly-colored Victorian homes in Alamo Square Park were featured in the Full House series and have since then become a major tourist attraction.

However, to see the original Tanner family / Full House home, you will need to go almost a mile away to 1709 Broderick St.

While you are here, check out the beautiful San Francisco City Hall and the Hayes Valley neighborhood famous for its shopping.

Golden Gate Park

Golden Gate Park is San Francisco’s famous urban park.

You would be surprised to know that it is larger than Central Park in New York!

The park has outdoor areas, gardens, trails, and museums. You can easily spend a day at the park and not get bored.

The Music Concourse is the main open area. Here you will find artwork, fountains, and a stage for shows and concerts.

Often food trucks are parked here for the enjoyment of tourists. 

Surrounding the music concourse are two museums – the de Young art museum and the California Academy of Sciences – a natural history museum.

California Academy of Sciences

The California Academy of Sciences also has a planetarium and an aquarium and is great for kids.

Its Museum of Natural History section has redwoods, an earthquake stimulator, and a giant whale skull.

The San Francisco museum also hosts temporary dinosaur exhibits during summer, making it essential stop on 4 day itinerary San Francisco for dinosaur crazy families.

De Young Art Museum & nearby attractions

De Young art museum has a sculpture gallery and important artwork from various eras and is a must for art enthusiasts.

If you love nature, then be sure to visit the beautiful Japanese Tea Garden in the Golden Gate Park or the San Francisco Botanical Gardens.

Both the gardens are very well-maintained and have stunning landscaping.

In the Japanese garden, you will find features like the Zen garden and tea house while in the Botanical garden you can see one of a kind of trees and shrubs. 

You should definitely add the Japanese Garden to the 4 day San Francisco itinerary if you are visiting when the leaves change color or during the spring blossoms.

The Golden Gate Park also has walking and biking trails, picnic areas, a children’s playground, a tulip garden and overlooks the Ocean Beach.

This beach is large, clean, and has lots of parking lots. The park also has a waterfall hike on Strawberry Hill. 

Coit Tower

To see San Francisco from a different vantage point, visit Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill.

The tower is one of the most recognizable buildings in the San Francisco skyline.

Outside the tower is a statue of Columbus, inside the Coit Tower you will find beautiful murals by 25 different artists created in the pre-Depression era.

The murals depict various social realism themes including racial equality, law, and industry.

From the top of the tower, you can see almost all of San Francisco landmarks including the Ferry Building, Lombard Street, Twin Peaks, Alcatraz, and the Golden Gate Bridge.

Coit Tower, its murals, and its view are definitely worth a visit if you have 4 days in San Francisco. 

Twin Peaks

We mentioned this as an optional attraction on three day itinerary San Francisco, but you can always visit Twin Peaks twice during one trip.

The day view and night view from here are completely different.

During the day, you can see the deep blue San Francisco Bay spread out before you and the Golden Gate Bridge shining in the distance.

The entire city looks beautiful during the day, especially if a thin fog hangs over the rooftops.

The Twin Peaks will treat you to by far the best views during your San Francisco 4 days tour.

This area also has hiking trails and wildlife, so it is a favorite with outdoor lovers. 

16th Avenue Tiled Steps

If you love beautiful art projects with interesting stories then the 16th Avenue Tiled steps are for you!

These mosaic steps are a hidden gem and essential if you are sightseeing San Francisco in 4 days and enjoy off the beaten path attractions.

The steps are sponsored by the people living in the neighborhood. The steps draw inspiration from the mosaic steps of Rio de Janeiro. 

There are a total of 163 steps featuring birds, animals, and marine life forming beautiful designs and patterns.

The steps look pretty and colorful and the views from the top are stunning.

At the top, you will find the Grand View Park which is the perfect place to relax.

The steps are located about 15 mins away from the Golden Gate Park, with the exact address being 1700 16th Avenue.

Muir Woods

Muir Woods National Monument located on Mount Tamalpais near Mill Valley is the nearest surviving redwood forest and hence, a great place to visit on your four days in San Francisco itinerary.

It is named after John Muir, the famous American naturalist.

The coastal redwoods in Muir Woods are not as tall as the ones further up the northern coast but they are impressive just the same.

Take a hiking trail through these giants and admire their unique beauty.

The national monument is often foggy and chilly so we recommend dressing in layers before coming here.

There are many hiking trails in Muir Woods and walking under the giant trees is a memorable experience. 

Baker Beach

Tucked just below the Golden Gate Bridge, Baker Beach is a hidden gem of the San Francisco Bay Area.

The beach is open to all and offers sand dunes, ocean access with tide pools, and rocky outcroppings where seals often sunbathe.

Visitors can enjoy fishing as well as bird watching from this beautiful site.

The northern area is clothing optional, so be careful if you have kids.

Sutro Bath

Sutro Baths are an abandoned historic relic in San Francisco. These public baths were built in the 1890s and today lie in ruins.

They are located in the Sutro historical district in Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

The views are stunning from here. The nearby Cliff house restaurant also looks spectacular at sunset.

5 Days in San Francisco Itinerary

A great suggestion to add to your San Francisco itinerary 5 days is the surrounding wine country.

The wine country in Northern California is a treasure trove of beautiful scenery, delicious food and refreshing wines.

All you need to do is take a day trip from San Francisco and enjoy the unparalleled views.

There’s no better way to spend your time than by touring one of the many wineries in Sonoma County or Napa Valley with your family!

Follow the plan we recommended above for 4 days and then on your last day, head to either Napa or Sonoma to end your 5 day San Francisco itinerary.

If you have kids: don’t worry! Napa has many family friendly wineries and tours that cater specifically to kids too.

Get your car rental at the San Francisco International Airport or Oakland International Airport to explore the wine country.

Napa Valley day trip

Napa Valley has hundreds of wineries and tasting rooms and planning a short trip to the area is perfect addition to exploring San Francisco in 5 days.

The Napa Valley extends from Calistoga in the north to Napa in the south and is about 30 miles long.

Drive along the scenic Silverado Trail and stop at your favorite winery along the way.

Get a walking tour of the winery and the winemaking process, then sip on some of the best wines.

Many wineries also allow visitors to have a picnic lunch on the grounds. Some of the most well known Napa wineries include Robert Mondavi and Domaine Carneros. 

The Napa River provides entertainment with kayaking, fishing, and wildlife viewing opportunities: so mix in some nature with wine tasting!

Sonoma Valley Day Trip

While Napa has the more established and famous wineries, Sonoma is all about newer notes and family-run businesses.

In some ways, Sonoma is much more chill and cool.

Sonoma’s well-known wineries include Buena Vista winery and St. Francis winery; definitely add these to itinerary for San Francisco, California.

Other things to do in Sonoma Valley include a visit to the Jack London State Historic Park to know all about the famous author and the Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve where you can see the massive coastal redwoods. 

Have 5 days in San Francisco – what to do for film bluffs? Sip champagne and wines in Sonoma then see ‘The Birds’ filming locales at Bodega Bay!

See the Redwoods near San Francisco in California
See the Redwoods near San Francisco in California

San Francisco one week itinerary

If you are planning a San Francisco itinerary of 7 days, then drive up or down the coast.

The California coastline is an amazing experience.

It stretches for several miles and attracts millions of tourists each year to its beautiful beaches and rugged mountains.

Relax on the beach, feel the waves crash beneath your feet, and smell the salty air.

Go for a walk along Pescadero Beach or kayak near Point Lobos State Reserve.

See our ideas on day trips from San Francisco below to plan your itinerary.

Road Trips from San Francisco

While you can devote your time in San Francisco to exploring this beautiful city and shopping in Hayes Valley….

why not see San Francisco’s highlights in 3-4 days and then,

take an amazing road trip to explore more of California!

The options are endless.

Take a day trip south to Big Sur or drive further up the coast all the way to Portland.

Or see beautiful Yosemite National Park and the redwoods.

Here are a couple of ideas to extend San Francisco 5 day itinerary beyond the popular attractions.

Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley, located in the Bay Area, is the birthplace of technology.

This is where the biggest tech companies had their origins and this is where you will find their headquarters.

The Intel Museum is a great place to learn about the beginning of the computer.

Other popular things to see include the Apple buildings, the Stanford campus, and the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose.

Half Moon Bay

Half Moon Bay is the perfect day trip from San Francisco.

It’s so near that you can easily reach in under an hour, but it seems so far that it might as well be hours away!

This pretty coastal town has stunning beaches, coastal trails, and amazing views.

Our favorite attraction in Half Moon Bay is the Pigeon Point Lighthouse.

This is one of the most photographed lighthouses in California and you can even go on a tour.

For beaches, hit up Half Moon Bay State Beach and enjoy the soft sand.

The restaurants and shops on Main Street are there for your fun while the nearby Fitzgerald Marine Reserve has tide pools worth exploring. 

Monterey & Carmel-By-the Sea

These two coastal communities are further south along the Pacific Coast Highway from San Francisco.

Monterey is big and busy while small Carmel by the Sea is more quaint and romantic.

Both have their unique attractions – Monterey is most famous for its aquarium and the 17 Mile Drive while Carmel is known for its historic Carmel Mission and Victorian fairytale-esque architecture.

Both the communities are just a few miles apart from each other and make the perfect side trip from San Francisco.

Santa Cruz is also nearby and can be seen on the same trip.

Also Read: 12 Stunning Spots on Carmel to Big Sur Road Trip

Big Sur

Stunning Big Sur is more a weekend getaway than a day trip but if you have the time then it is totally worth it.

Big Sur is one of our favorite parts of California.

Big Sur has over 90 miles of California’s undeveloped coastline and is just beautiful.

Also Read: Ultimate San Francisco to Big Sur Road Trip Planner

The Pacific Coast Highway is the only road that goes through Big Sur and this scenic route hugs the coastline for the most part – leading to amazing lookout points and panoramic views.

Some of the most popular attractions in Big Sur include the Bixby Creek Bridge, Pfeiffer Beach, McWay Falls, and San Simeon elephant seal rookery.

To plan a Big Sur day trip, read our guide now. 

View of Bixby Creek Bridge and Pacific Ocean in Big Sur California
View of Bixby Creek Bridge and Pacific Ocean in Big Sur California

Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip

Did you know that San Francisco also serves as the perfect starting point for a California Highway 1 road trip down to Los Angeles and San Diego?

See attractions in Big Sur including Point Lobos, enjoy dining in the vibrant college town of San Luis Obispo, and enjoy the Mediterranean vibe of Santa Barbara.

Tour a Hollywood Film Studio in Los Angeles, see the sunset at Santa Monica, before relaxing on the shores of La Jolla.

End the day at Anaheim doing Disney!

Read our Pacific Coast Highway road trip guide to plan this trip. 

Point Reyes and Tomales Bay

Point Reyes National Seashore makes one of the most interesting days trips from San Franciso.

In Point Reyes, you will find hiking trails, beaches, the Point Reyes lighthouse, and a historic shipwreck!

Point Reyes also has the reputation of being the windiest point in America, so don your jackets and coats.

Don’t forget to drive further north and make the trip to Tomales Bay.

The oysters here are delicious and to have some right by the coast is a delight. Read our Northern California road trip itinerary to plan your trip all the way to Fort Bragg and Mendocino now. 

Also Read: Best Beaches to Camp in the USA

Apart from these, there are many other things to do near San Francisco area.

You can explore the college town of Berkeley or Oakland across the Bay Bridge. You can even plan a road trip to Yosemite National Park.

If you have enough time in the area, then you can even visit all of these and have a fantastic week in the city. 

Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, California
Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, California

Where to stay in San Francisco?

When you visit San Francisco, plan to stay in and around Union Square to stay close to major attractions.

Book your San Francisco hotel far in advance to get the best rates.

San Francisco holds a special place in most visitor’s hearts because of its colorful charm and trendy vibe.

We hope you like our San Francisco itinerary!

Are you planning to bike the Golden Gate bridge? If you do, then do send us your photos!

As always, let us know your thoughts and questions in the comments.