Planning a trip to San Francisco, California and looking for the ultimate itinerary to see the highlights of this beautiful city? See our recommendations on what to see, where to eat, and the best places to stay in San Francisco. You may also like our post on the Ultimate California Road Trip Itinerary.

As an 80s kid, I grew up watching Full House and hence, always associate San Francisco with the boisterous Tanner family! In fact, I first saw San Francisco’s most iconic sights including the Golden Gate Bridge and Fisherman’s Wharf in the series-opening credits.

Sufficient to say, Full House was my initial inspiration for visiting San Francisco! 

Among other things, I wanted to see the house featured in the series and seeing the Painted Ladies on Postcard Row was a highlight of my San Francisco visit. (Though later on, I realized that the Full House home is not among the Painted Ladies, but more about that later!) 

San Francisco has a hip, chic vibe: a toned-down version of Portland if you will! The city seems to thrive on the excitement and energy of activists. The city is known for its beautiful architecture and attractions; the surrounding natural landscapes and wildlife are also worth a visit. 

Victorian homes of San Francisco

There are many varied things to do in San Francisco from museums and famous restaurants to parks and outdoor activities. San Francisco is perfect for couples and cultural travelers; it is also a great destination for families and kids. With three airports nearby, San Francisco is also our favorite place to begin a road trip in California. 

Here is a detailed San Francisco Travel Guide to explore this amazing city by the bay in anywhere from 3 to 5 days. We also have a detailed post on the city’s best attractions, 17 Best Things to do in San Francisco. Read it now to plan your trip.

San Francisco Itinerary

Needless to say, San Francisco is on the bucket list of many travelers and receives thousands of visitors every year. Some of them come just for a day or two, others even for an entire week. We would recommend keeping aside anywhere from 3 to 5 days for this wonderful city. If you are visiting for the first time, then keep to the most popular attractions. If you are visiting for the second, third, fourth, or – like us – fifth time, then feel free to explore beyond the beaten path. 

The beautiful city by the bay

Here’s a fun fact: I also lived in the Bay area for work for about 6 months and made countless trips to the City! 

So here’s our itinerary to see the most of this lovely city and explore it to your heart’s content! 

Day 1 in San Francisco

For Day 1, we give you the local’s itinerary to the city. This is how most locals prefer to spend the day around popular tourist attractions. This itinerary was suggested to us by my husband’s uncle, who has lived in the city for about 20 years and we loved it so much that we always follow it! 

Fisherman’s Wharf

Begin your San Francisco 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 bread! The bowl may seem daunting at first, but you’ll need it – for the activities, we have planned for today! 

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. 

Then head down to Pier 39 and see the famous sea lions sleeping on the docks. They just lie on the rocks, sunning themselves. 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

Pick up your rental bikes

All right, time for the highlight of your visit. Walk up to any bike rental location on Fisherman’s Wharf and rent a bike for your adventure of the day – biking the Golden Gate Bridge! There are many ways to experience the iconic Golden Gate Bridge but nothing compares to the exhilaration of biking across it! You will see hundreds of other visitors doing the same – in fact, it’s a San Francisco thing. You just have to do it. 

The bike rental shops 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. Even if you have children in your party, don’t worry. The last time we biked the bridge, we did it with our 6-month-old daughter in a bike trailer and our 3 years old son sitting behind me in a child seat. My cousin rode tandem with her 7-year-old! 

Our bikes resting on the sand

Whatever the size and age of your party, the shops can outfit you properly. We used Blazing Saddles and were quite happy with our bikes and accessories. Along with bikes, you will also receive helmets, route information, and maps to keep with you. That’s it – you’re ready to go! The distance from Fisherman’s Wharf to Sausalito is approximately 9 miles and takes about 2 to 3 hours, depending on your pace. You don’t have to worry about the return journey – you’ll be making it via ferry!

While we have tried to cover the basics of the bike ride in this post, to get the detailed information including what to pack for your ride, read our post on Things you need to know before biking the Golden Gate Bridge.

If you rent the bikes in Fisherman’s Wharf area, then you will be riding along the Palace of Fine Arts and Crissy Fields. 

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. 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. 

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

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. 

Crissy Fields

The ride along Crissy Fields is one of the best parts of the bike ride. Last we rode, it was in spring and the grass was blooming with beautiful wildflowers. People were kitesurfing on the bay and we simply took some time to sit down on the sand, relax, people watch, and take in the beautiful views of the Golden Gate Bridge. You will also see many locals going for their daily run. 

Crissy Fields was formerly US Army Air Field but is now part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Crissy Fields has everything from biking and walking trails, beach area, sand dunes, wetlands, and 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

While the path through Crissy Fields was mostly level, now you will be climbing a steep slope to get up to the bridge level. We recommend taking a break at the Warming Hut cafe in advance of the steep climb. The steep climb is where you are thankful for the heavy breakfast you just had!

The Warming Hut Cafe is a popular recharging place for bikers, hikers, kite surfers, and paddleboarders. At the cafe, you can drink hot coffee or hot chocolate to keep the wind at bay in winter and delicious ice cream and ice-cold water 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. 

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. The Fort was established to protect the harbor from attack during the Gold Rush days. Visitors are often struck 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 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 souvenirs. 

Information about the bridge

Golden Gate Bridge

And now, you finally get to bike the Golden Gate Bridge! Biking across the bridge is an experience you won’t ever forget. There is a designated bike path over the bridge’s western sidewalk. Riding under the bridge’s main cables is exciting. You can feel the wind and the swaying movement when large cars or trucks drive down the bridge next to you. The views of the Pacific Ocean from the middle of the bridge are beautiful. And when you complete the ride, you can’t help but look back at the bridge with pride – you did it!

Biking on the bridge

Vista Point

The views from Vista Point are magnificent. You can look back at the San Francisco Bay and the bridge and the feeling of accomplishment is great. 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 also take a break, have snacks (if you brought them – there’s no eatery), and use restrooms before you begin biking to Sausalito. 

Golden Gate Bridge from Marin headlands

Sausalito

After exiting Vista Point, you will encounter one of the best downhill slopes you have ever ridden. We frequently needed to apply the brakes and my son kept shouting ‘woohoo’ over the wind as we made our way down in a swoosh. Within a matter of minutes, you go from bridge level to sea level – it’s one of my favorite parts of the ride. 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 admiring it. You will be walking along a seaside promenade, along the water, with an occasional large wave spraying water on you. You will see yachts and boats on the water and boutiques, eateries, cafes on the other side of the street. Sausalito is as pretty as it gets!

You can either immediately get on the ferry or take some time to explore Sausalito. We recommend the latter. This quaint Mediterranean-style fishing village is worth exploring. First, have a filling lunch by the waterfront. Then stroll around Saulalito’s wooden boardwalks, photograph the charming Victorian buildings, visit art galleries and bookstores, and see the Old Town before taking a ferry back to the city. You will need 2 to 3 hours to explore Sausalito.

Sausalito is charming

Take the ferry back to Fisherman’s Wharf

We love the ride across on the ferry. You can load the bikes on the ferry and sit upstairs or stand out on the deck. The ferry ride is almost half an hour long and offers panoramic views of the bay, the city skyline, and the bridge. You will also see Alcatraz along the way. If you time it right, you will take the ferry around sunset – which means, you will see beautiful views of the Golden Gate Bridge with the setting sun!

There are two alternate ferries: one goes to the Ferry Building while other 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! You can also pick up and return bikes at the Ferry Building if that’s more convenient for you. 

Sunset behind the Golden Gate Bridge

Fisherman’s Wharf at night

Ideally, you will return to Fisherman’s Wharf – at least that’s what we did. We recommend doing the same because Fisherman’s Wharf at night is way different than Fisherman’s Wharf by day. At night, you will see music, lit up carousels, the lighted Golden Gate and Bay Bridge in the background. You will see people having fun, eating and drinking by the waterfront. We suggest doing the same. Ask the server to pop open a bottle of Napa Valley wine – you have deserved it!

Options if you don’t want to bike to Sausalito

Here are a few options if you don’t want to bike across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito.

One option if you want to bike the bridge but don’t have the time to go till Sausalito is to go across the bridge and turn back from the other side. That will save you quite some time and effort, plus you get to bike the Golden Gate Bridge. 

If you don’t want to bike at all, then you can also walk or drive across the bridge. The bridge sidewalk is open for walking, we recommend walking at least midway to see the best views and feel the wind. 

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

If you are walking across the bridge, but still want to see Sausalito then you can simply take the ferry across the bay to Sausalito and return the same way. 

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. Then you can continue driving up to Sausalito to see everything as mentioned in the above itinerary. 

If you are not biking, then you may skip on the sourdough clam chowder for breakfast and eat it at a later time as you don’t need that heavy breakfast.

If you are not biking, then you will also have a lot of extra time. Feel free to see attractions mentioned on Day 2 or 3 to utilize the time.

Another option if you have only one day in the city is to take a Hop on Hop off bus tour that will take you around the most important tourist attractions in the city. 

City views in foggy weather

Use caution while parking near Fisherman’s Wharf

The parking garages in San Francisco are quite unsafe, especially on holidays. When we went to San Francisco last Easter, we had parked in a closed 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 car for the rest 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 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.

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

Day 2 in San Francisco

On Day 2, you will be visiting the famous Alcatraz Island and tour the prison followed by a cable car ride to Lombard Street and shopping in Ghirardelli Square. Finish your day by checking out the vendors at the Ferry Building Marketplace and dining there.

Historic buildings on Alcatraz Island

Alcatraz Island

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 travel the city’s steep hills easily. Since then they have become a city icon and riding one is an essential part of your San Francisco experience. There are a total of 3 lines but 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. 

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. 

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 of San Francisco in this 2 days 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!

Day 3 in San Francisco

Spend the morning exploring the alleys of Chinatown. See the famous buildings in the area, visit traditional shops, and eat dim sums for lunch. In the afternoon check out the murals of Mission District and visit Mission Dolores, the oldest building in San Francisco. 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.

Chinatown

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. 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 dim sums and rice cakes. 

Exploring Chinatown

Mission District Murals

After Chinatown, visit the Mission District of San Francisco to see its murals. The murals here are beautiful and thought-provoking. They are often in response to historical and contemporary socio-political issues. 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. 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. 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 are equally good. 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 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. 

Day 4 in San Francisco

Today you have a couple of options, depending on your interest. For a tour into San Francisco’s history, visit Haight Ashbury. For gardens and museums, visit the Golden Gate Park. For beautiful views far above the city, visit Coit Tower, Twin Peaks, or the 16th Avenue tiled steps. You can also spend a day on the water by taking a 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 choose.

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 in the district. Even today the neighborhood is the hub for aspiring musicians and comics in the city.

Sloping streets on San Francisco

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

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. 

Twin Peaks

We mentioned this as an optional attraction on Day 3, 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 city looks beautiful during the day, especially if a thin fog hangs over the rooftops. The Twin Peaks definitely have the best views of San Francisco. 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 San Francisco gem. 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 address being 1700 16th Avenue.

Muir Woods

Muir Woods National Monument located on Mount Tamalpais is the nearest surviving redwood forest. 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. 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. 

Day 5 in San Francisco

Our favorite day! Make a day trip to Napa and Sonoma Valley and tour the wineries. Sample some wine and enjoy the beautiful scenery. 

Napa Valley day trip

Napa Valley has hundreds of wineries and tasting rooms and planning a short trip to the area is not easy. 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 tour of 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. 

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. 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. 

Exploring beyond San Francisco

While we devoted our time in San Francisco to explore this beautiful city, it is also possible to see San Francisco’s highlights in 3-4 days and then take a day trip to either Big Sur or further up the coast or both in the remaining time. Here are a couple of ideas to explore San Francisco beyond the popular attractions.

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. For other attractions on the way like Point Lobos, read our Pacific Coast Highway road trip guide. 

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. 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. 

Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley 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.

Point Reyes and Tomales Bay

Point Reyes National Seashore makes one of the most interesting days trips from San Francisco. 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 North California road trip itinerary to plan your trip now. 

Apart from these, there are many other things to do near San Francisco. You can explore the college town of Berkeley or Oakland across the Bay Bridge. If you have enough time in the area, then you can even visit all of these and have a fantastic week in the city. 

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. 

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