San Francisco is a highlight of any West Coast USA trip. With excellent food, fun nightlife, and an overall cool atmosphere, San Francisco is a spot you don’t want to miss. In this 3 day San Francisco Itinerary, we’ll cover the best things to see and do in this epic California travel destination!
I first visited San Francisco on a west coast road trip with my sister. We stopped in San Francisco for three days, but looking back, we happily would have stayed longer. If you only have a short amount of time, here are some highlights for an amazing 3 Days in San Francisco.
(Post originally published in 2016)
About San Francisco
San Francisco is one of the largest cities in California and a popular travel destination for visitors around the world. It’s known for the Golden Gate Bridge, Fishermans Wharf, unique architecture, being LGBT-friendly, and having an all-around cool ambiance.
Because it’s located in the northern part of California, temperatures are usually mild to chilly, making this a great spot to explore if you want to escape the summer heat. Foodies, history buffs, and big-city fans alike will love exploring San Francisco!
Where to stay in San Francisco
San Francisco has no shortage of great places to stay! Since my sister and I were traveling on a budget, we stayed at the Music City Hostel. This was perfect for us because it was centrally located and affordable.
If hosteling isn’t your style, check out the Axiom Hotel – a fun blend of old architecture and modern comforts in the heart of downtown.
Looking for something more spectacular? The Fairmont Heritage Place at Ghiradelli Square combines luxury and convenience with its awesome location and top-notch reviews.
3 Days In San Francisco Itinerary
Let’s take a look at how to spend three amazing days in San Francisco.
Day 1: Visiting The Golden Gate Bridge
When we first arrived in San Francisco, we dropped our bags at the Music City Hostel, which was located right in the heart of the city. Not wanting to waste any time, we set off down Polk Street heading toward the Bay, we hoped.
It wasn’t long until we started to smell something delicious and decided to stop for breakfast. The Crepe House on Polk Street served every delightful variety of crepes with Nutella, berries, and carbs. Once we were fueled, my sister and I headed through the city toward Fisherman’s Wharf.
You can see the Golden Gate Bridge from Fisherman’s Wharf, but to really experience it, you’ll want to see it by boat. We took the Bay Cruise under the Golden Gate Bridge and around Alcatraz. Being out on the water offers a different view of the city and a chance to see the Bridge up close and personal.
In the afternoon, we took an Uber to the Haight Ashbury, an eclectic neighborhood near Golden Gate Park. This neighborhood is perfect if you want to do some shopping and see another side of the city.
The best find? The Booksmith, a book store where the employees read the books and leave their reviews on the shelves in front of the publication. After hours of reading reviews and the back covers of books, we left with a reading list a mile long.
Working together, we could hardly finish the thing. That night, as I lay in my bunk fondly recounting caramel and lush chocolate sauce, I remembered the ease with which the small children polished off their entire desserts, unfazed.
Day 2: Day Trip to Napa Valley
San Francisco is just a short distance from Napa Valley, also known as California wine country! If you’re a fan of wine or just want to see a different side of California, plan a day trip from San Francisco to Napa Valley.
We took the Napa Valley Wine Train tour which was an incredible way to learn about the vineyards and experience them in style. You can also check out minibus tours from San Francisco to Napa and Sonoma.
The tour took most of the day, but we were back in the city just in time for dinner.
That evening, as we were walking around the city to find food, we noticed a sticker for the “Off the Grid” food truck party stapled to a crosswalk beacon.
This was particularly exciting for us since we watched quite a bit of “the great American food truck race,” and were pretty much food truck connoisseurs. Since the food truck party was that night, we took a tasty little detour.
We could see the glowing twinkle lights of a thousand food trucks from blocks away. In the chaos, I found a Portobello sandwich with mac and cheese-filled spring rolls while she ate a brie, apple, and honey grilled cheese with tater-tots.
Grilled cheese products tend to find us. Tired from our flight and stuffed full of happy cheese, we walked home for an early night in.
Day 3: The California Academy of Sciences
Day 3 started at The California Academy of Sciences. The California Academy of Sciences is every science teacher’s dream.
On my sister and my final day in San Francisco, we walked through the earthquake simulator (throwback to that time we slept through an earthquake as kids), watched the stars in the planetarium, explored sustainable farming and design techniques on the green roof, and soaked in the most stunning nature photography.
The California Academy of Sciences is open every day and tickets to all the exhibitions cost around $30. They also have +21 Nightlife Hours every Thursday for a reduced rate.
We walked back through adorable San Francisco streets toward Boudin for lunch. At Boudin, the sourdough shop at Fisherman’s Wharf, we ate our weight in various sourdough products, and frankly, it was wonderful.
In the evening, we had a drink in the Smugglers Cove – a tiki-themed bar with dangerously good drinks. When eye-lids became heavy, we walked back to the hostel, making sure we stopped for late-night piping hot donuts.
6 Tips for Visiting San Francisco
These travel tips will help you make the most of your trip to San Francisco!
Splurge on the ferry that stops at Alcatraz
When you sign up for a ferry ride to see the Golden Gate Bridge, there are several types of tours available. We just did the “Under the Golden Gate Bridge” option but looking back we should have done the extended veresion because Alcatraz looked very cool. We would have loved to see it up close and give ourselves nightmares for the next year.
Good walking shoes are necessary
The hills in San Francisco aren’t playing. While it’s possible to use rideshare apps like Uber and Lyft, you’ll still get quite a workout getting around the city.
Bring water with you
You will basically be hiking all day given the hilly-ness of San Francisco (see tip 2), so avoid dehydration by drinking plenty of water. Carrying a water bottle was a game-changer!
Eat donuts at midnight
Late-night donuts shops are totally a thing here. On your way home from dinner or a night out, make sure to stop by one of the many late-night donut shops and try one or six!
Bob’s Donut and Pastry shop on Polk Street is open 24 hours and won’t disappoint!
Check out the San Francisco Farmers Market
This is a great place for fresh produce and buying crafts for gifts. Just keep in mind that not all vendors are there every day. If you see something you like, grab it.
My sister and I learned this the hard way when we found a souvenir for our parents and decided we would come back the next day to buy it. Tragically, that vendor was nowhere to be found when we returned.
Tackle Ghirardelli Square on a weekday, not on a Saturday night
The crowds on the weekend at Ghirardelli Square were entertaining but also very overwhelming. If you want a less chaotic experience, plan to get your sweet treat on a weeknight instead.
When we went, the crowds meant it was difficult to get a table to enjoy our fabulous desert. Instead, we wandered down to Fisherman Wharf, which looked totally different at night.
We sat on a bench by the silvery water and watched the golden gate bridge flicker as our arms and faces became covered in hot fudge ice cream. Looking back, I’m thankful there were no tables at Ghirardelli Square.