San Francisco Travel Guide – Three Day Itinerary
San Francisco is the perfect location for a long weekend. Enjoy all the perks of a city and see awesome wildlife – sea lions, ancient redwoods, beautiful parks. Make the city by the bay your next destination!
I visited San Francisco during my “off season” this April. I currently work seasonally so I get a month-ish off in the spring and fall (can’t complain!) My boyfriend, Craig, and I hadn’t decided on a destination but when I found airfare for under $100, we jumped on it!
Luckily, I have cousins in the area that we stayed with for the duration of our week long trip. Now, since it was half vacation – half family time, we only did the San Francisco “touristy” things for a few days. And I’m so glad we only spent a few days in the city!
San Francisco does have something for everyone – great food scene, history, natural areas, sea life…you name it! But I’m not much of a city girl. So our time downtown was split up with high school baseball games, cook outs, and lots of wine!
As I began reflecting on the highlights of our trip, I realized that all of the amazing sights could be seen in just three days. That’s right! San Francisco suddenly became the perfect place for a jam-packed three-day weekend.
My favorite way to explore a city is to walk, walk, walk – so, don’t exhaust yourself on the first day! Follow this itinerary to see the best of this city by the bay.
Spend your day in redwood forests across the Golden Gate Bridge . Muir Woods is a must-see. Seriously, you can’t skip it. Pack a lunch, clear your camera memory card, and put on your walking shoes!
The Muir Woods National Monument is a bit touristy – at first. Boardwalks line the entrance and bottom section of the park. If you’re looking to escape the crowds, split off onto one of the smaller hiking trails. There are miles of beginner/intermediate trails throughout the park – perfect for photo ops and wildlife viewing.
For more tips, check out my complete Muir Woods travel guide.
Next you’ll want to travel south to Marin Headlands. This old military installation is more “off the beaten path” so you’ll want to pick up a map at the visitor center. On your map, you’ll find Rodeo Beach: the perfect place to dip your toes in the Pacific Ocean. Marin Headlands is bursting with historical value and, again, more hiking! Most trails are fairly short and lead to forts or viewpoints along the coast.
Once your feet call it quits, head out of the headlands and west on Conzelman Road. Pull over along Conzelman for amazing views of the city. You can see the Pacific Ocean, Golden Gate Bridge, and even Alcatraz in the distance.
Head to a bayside restaurant in Tiburon or Sausalito to finish off your day. Slurp down oysters and cold beer – you deserve it after all that walking!
You’ve spent some time away from the hustle and bustle, now, it’s time to explore the best that the city has to offer! Take a trip into The Mission District. Historically, the population in The Mission District is Hispanic, but over the past decade it has become a coveted location for hipsters and techy folk.
Plenty of people are far from happy about this. For this reason, The Mission District is know for it’s street art and graffiti. Political murals line the streets. Clarion Alley is a great starting point. I took local transportation to Clarion Alley and began heading west. This was my first taste of the infamous street art in San Francisco, and WOW! This stuff is emotionally charged, to say the least.
It is beautiful, but I need a breather even after one block! Once across the Clarion Alley, we found ourselves on Valencia Street, one of the main streets running through The Mission District. This was the perfect place for lunch and some window shopping.
Throughout the day we continued our walking tour of The Mission District and spent some time in Dolores Park. The walking tour of The Mission District probably won’t take you an entire day. We started in the morning and were done within three hours (not including lunch.)
So, while I finished my day grilling hot dogs in the suburbs, this would be the perfect day for YOU to explore the foodie scene in San Francisco! The restaurants lining Valencia Street alone had my mouth watering.
Although The Mission District is gritty, I don’t think that travelers should shy away. If you really want to get a feel of San Francisco, and a part of its history, this is an area you must explore. Or, if you’re someone who really appreciates art!
On the last day of your trip, head to the bay. Walk along the piers and explore Fisherman’s Wharf. This destination is on every San Francisco travel guide, and for good reason!
While planning this trip, I wasn’t excited about exploring Fisherman’s Wharf because I knew it was primarily a tourist destination. But, I was totally wrong (alert the media, did I just admit that?!) I was very happily surprised and ended up loving Fisherman’s Wharf! My recommendation is to wander along the entire waterfront, don’t just stick to the wharf.
Since you’ve been working those legs this weekend, no one can blame you for not wanting to walk today! Hop onto a cable car or flag down a bicyclist with a carriage if you need a break.
We began at Pier 1 and walked through the historic Ferry Building. This is an everyday farmer’s market of amazing snacks (and free tastings!) You can try spiced olive oils, oysters, ice cream, and a variety of baked goods.
I haven’t laid out a huge itinerary for your afternoon along the piers. I walked and walked until something caught my eye, like the outdoor gadgets at the Exploratorium (I think it’s meant for kids, but it was so cool.) Then, I watched local fisherman along the bay until I reached Pier 39. This is where you will find souvenir shops, restaurants, and most importantly, the sea lions!!!
The sea lions did disappear for a few years but they are back, in a big way! Dozens of the noisy animals sun bathe along the outside of the pier. So, check out the sea lions for a bit (they put on quite a show) and stay away from the chain stores/restaurants. This is the time to try some local favorites! I had the clam chowder bread bowl from the famous Boudin’s…highly recommend!
There are a heaping handful of bakeries and dessert places to treat yourself after a long weekend of walking! The Buena Vista Cafe is also a great place for a treat. This is the location of the very first Irish coffee – and their food menu looks yummy, too!
If you want to do an Alcatraz tour, today is the day since you’ll be walking right by the ferry entrance. I skipped Alcatraz since I was already on a tourist sight overload. But, if you do want to see the inescapable prison, be sure to buy tickets in advance! They sell out days, even weeks, ahead of time.
I hope you enjoy your time in San Francisco as much as I did! Next time I visit, I want to check out more of the food scene. People rave about the restaurants! If you have any restaurant recommendations, leave me a comment below.
Now I did leave a few things off this list. The Full House Painted Ladies, Lombard Street, and Golden Gate Park.
If you want to check out Golden Gate Park, I would allow an entire day for this and exploring Haight-Ashbury. There are amazing museums in the park, but honestly, every city has museums. That’s why they aren’t on my must-see list (but not every city has freakin’ sea lions!)
As for Lombard Street or the Painted Ladies – you can visit those very quickly. A picture or two and you’re done!
Comment below if you’ve ever visit San Francisco. What are your must-see sights in the city? I’d love to connect on Pinterest or Instagram! Also, I set up an email subscription list so you never have to miss a post. Pretty cool, huh? Thanks for hanging out on my corner of the internet!