3 days in San Francisco may not seem like much time to enjoy this coastal city, but with the right itinerary, you’ll be able to enjoy all the best sights!
Our friend Nina from Nina Out and About visited San Francisco numerous times for business, pleasure, and long weekends, which forced her to find the ultimate attractions that maximize her time. Here is her best itinerary shared with you.
Let’s dive into the best 3 days in San Francisco you could imagine!
3 Days In San Francisco Itinerary
Visiting San Francisco for 3 days can seem daunting, especially with so many attractions to choose from.
But you don’t need to worry with this itinerary – that actually factors in the distances between things and time for rest!
Walk Across the Golden Gate Bridge, Visit Fisherman’s Wharf, & Ride a Cable Car
Start your first day in San Francisco by walking across the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. It’s an impressive sight, and you won’t regret it.
Most people only ever see the bridge or even drive across it. But then you don’t really get the chance to enjoy the views over the harbor and out to Alcatraz.
The walk takes about 30 minutes one way (but you’ll need to walk back!).
Note that only pedestrians are allowed on the walkway, so it’s not a bicycle or dog-friendly thing to do in San Francisco.
I recommend doing this walk with your morning coffee and perhaps a pastry. You’ll need a bit of warmth as it’s windier on the bridge than at street level.
Once you’ve walked this architectural wonder, grab a cab or catch a bus to Fisherman’s Wharf (it’s walkable, but it’s another 30 minutes).
Fisherman’s Wharf is the place to be on San Francisco’s waterfront. There are lots of seafood restaurants as well as pubs and souvenir stores.
The main attraction at Fisherman’s Wharf is the sea lions. They’re regularly sunbathing on the beaches, piled high on top of one another. You can hear them baying from the shoreline (note: this will confuse your dog. My golden retriever thought they were dogs calling him to play, so he got taken to the hotel for a nap while I explored).
The Musee Mecanique was highlighted to me by a local at a cafe, and it didn’t disappoint. This little museum is essentially a time capsule for old arcade games. It feels like one of those beachfront arcades you read about or see on TV but never seem to find in real life.
Some of the games are downright creepy in the way that old games can be, but it’s a super fun way to burn through your quarters!
Before you leave, you’ll need to stop for lunch!
Fisherman’s Wharf has some of the best seafood. Fog Harbor Fish House was my favorite for a crab boil, but Codmother has amazing fish and chips. If you’re looking for a sit-down meal, head to Fog Harbor. But if you want something easy to carry, go to Codmother.
After all that walking in the morning, your feet are probably tired!
It’s time to give them a rest and board the cable car to take a whirl around San Francisco.
Dogs are allowed on cable cars during off-peak hours, but they require you to pay an adult fare for the dog. Like on the Paris subways, dogs must be leashed and muzzled. If they’re small enough, they must be on the owner’s lap.
The ride costs $8 per adult and goes from the shore straight up (well, south) along San Francisco.
It’s a great way to see the city without paying for a cab or an expensive tour. Plus, riding those steep hills feels like you’re on a rollercoaster!
Embarcadero, Chinatown, & The Painted Ladies
Start your second day in San Francisco with a visit to the Embarcadero.
The Embarcadero is the boardwalk along San Francisco Bay, one of the city’s most Instagrammable spots.
Starting the morning off with a view of the Bay Bridge, you can walk along the boardwalk as you watch boats putter around the harbor.
Along Pier 14, you’ll find local fishers who get a crazy early start each day. They’re very friendly if you ask them about the local sealife!
Next, it’s time to head to Chinatown.
Chinatown is a must-do on your 3 days in San Francisco. It’s the largest Chinatown outside of Asia and the oldest one in North America.
You can explore the streets filled with colorful stores and restaurants, all of which smell like amazing Chinese food.
Stop at a local cafe to grab a cup of tea or some delicious dumplings before you start exploring the area. Red Blossom Tea Company is my go-to teahouse when I’m in the city.
Travel Tip: Take a photo at the iconic Dragon’s Gate for a classic tourist experience in Chinatown.
From Chinatown, you can drive or take the bus (the 22 and then transfer to the 1) to the Painted Ladies.
The Painted Ladies is a row of historic Victorian homes along the edge of Alamo Square park.
You can snap photos from the park or take one of the lovely walking tours that explore these iconic San Francisco homes and their stories.
Finally, head back to your hotel for a rest before your last day in San Francisco.
If you need a good spot for dinner, head to the Secret Kitchen. They have these garlic noodles that are insanely good – and only 2 people know the recipe!
Muir Beach or Redwoods Hike
Start your last day in San Francisco with a trip to Muir Beach or the Redwoods forests.
Muir Beach is a small beach along Highway 1, about 20 miles from the city center. It’s gorgeous and offers views of the ocean and Marin Headlands.
The small beach is dog friendly and has free parking. Stop here, then hike up the cliff walk. It’s a clear path, but it is very uphill. Wear hiking boots, as it can be a bit muddy if it’s rained recently.
I took my dog to Muir Beach for a hike on my last day and had the best time. Plus, taking him to the ocean afterward cleaned him up for the car ride to Tahoe! This is the less popular hike in San Francisco, which means fewer crowds.
The more popular option is to go see the 1,000-year-old California Redwoods.
These redwoods are some of the tallest living organisms on earth, and it’s quite a sight to see them in person. The Muir Woods National Monument is located just north of San Francisco and offers multiple hiking trails. This would be a great spot for a picnic lunch under the Redwoods or just to take in the scenery.
Travel Tip: Parking at The Muir Woods National Monument is paid, and you have to prebook at least a day in advance.
These hikes easily take half a day but offer a unique perspective outside of the city center. However, you can stretch them to take a full day, depending on how many trails you explore and if you stop to relax along the way.
If you opt to do a half-day hike, I recommend heading back to the city center to Ghirardelli Square.
This old industrial factory has been converted into a shopping center with some of the best views in San Francisco. It’s also home to Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory, where you can sample some free chocolate. After all that hiking, you deserve a few bags of the sweet – and they make great gifts to take home.
I lived in California for a month and San Francisco was the best city for chocolate by far!
Where To Stay In San Francisco For 3 Days?
Most people opt to stay in Union Square when they visit San Francisco for 3 days because they assume it’s closest to everything.
It’s a good spot, but it’s also very noisy and crowded. Instead, I recommend heading to Fisherman’s Wharf, which is much quieter.
📍 The Kimpton Hotel
This is dog-friendly, great for kids, and has a delicious onsite restaurant for breakfast.
📍SoMa at Hotel Griffon
If you want to be closer to Union Square, stay in SoMa at Hotel Griffon, which has great views of the Bay Bridge.
Visiting San Francisco: FAQ
Before you visit San Francisco, it’s important to be prepared. I don’t want to leave any unanswered questions, so let’s address what most people worry about before visiting:
Do I need a car when visiting San Francisco?
No, you don’t need a car to visit San Francisco. There are extensive public transportation networks, and it’s very easy to get a cab or an Uber.
However, as someone who loves to hike, I prefer to rent a car to visit the less popular hiking trails and have an option for a road trip through California if I have more time.
(Psst! Rent your car through DiscoverCars by clicking here and skip all the hassle!)
If you don’t get a car, you can still go hiking on group tours that visit the Redwoods forests every day.
Pro Tip: Most hotels in San Francisco don’t have parking. If they do, it costs a minimum of $30 per night, so factor that into your 3-day budget.
I preferred to walk around the city with my dog. It helped me get to know the area better and tired him out. It’s a great way to find local cafes as well. This is how I found a great Brazilian crepe house in Fisherman’s Wharf!
Is 3 days enough in San Francisco?
Yes, 3 days is plenty of time to see San Francisco.
You can easily fit in a 1-day trip outside San Francisco and have enough time to explore all the iconic sites within the city. Plus, you’ll have time for a couple of great meals!
If you visit for longer, you’ll likely want to head outside of the city center to Half Moon Bay or Carmel-by-the-Sea. These charming beach communities are popular places for people to escape the hustle and bustle of downtown. They also have the best clam chowder!
I recommend spending two weeks if you have a car driving north along the coast of California up to Vancouver, Canada. It’s a gorgeous road trip!
Are there other fun things to do in San Francisco that aren’t on the suggested itinerary?
There are so many fun things to do in San Francisco that not all could fit into this itinerary.
✅ Head to Telegraph Hill to search for parrots. This area is oddly full of four different flocks of bright-colored birds. No one knows how they got here, but they’re a spectacle to behold!
✅ Meditate at Lands End Labyrinth. The stone puzzle on the beach is a path for people to walk and meditate next to the Bay.
✅ Try to visit the Folsom Street Fair. Held on the last Sunday in September, this fair is a lot of fun. But note it’s clothing optional, so if that’s troubling to you, skip it. Many people are clothed and attend to enjoy the shops and festivities.
✅ If you’ve always wanted to feel an earthquake, check out Shake House. As someone from Canada, I’ve never felt one, so this was an easy must-do for me. But I’m not sure it needs to be on everyone’s list.
✅ If you’re a foodie, check out the trendy restaurants in Chinatown or North Beach.
✅ If you love the nightlife, head to Haight Ashbury for some live music and drinks.
✅ Try a stand-up paddle board lesson at Stinson Beach or take a hot air balloon ride over Sonoma County wine country.
San Francisco is a beautiful city with so many unique experiences waiting to be discovered. No matter what you decide to do, I’m sure you’ll have a great time!
San Francisco is a city full of surprises, and there is always something new to explore.
Whether you’re looking for outdoor activities, cultural experiences, or nightlife attractions, San Francisco has it all!
I’ve visited a few times in the past 15 years, and there’s something new to see and do every time. As my tastes evolve, it seems like so does the city has new things to offer me.
No matter your interests, 3 days in San Francisco can be an unforgettable experience – just make sure to plan ahead, so you don’t miss out on the best things the city has to offer!