San Francisco 3-day itinerary: Must-see activities and attractions in San Francisco

by Jan

San Francisco is an amazing city in the north of California. This blog will guide you through our 3-day San Francisco itinerary and shares the best things to see and do, places to eat and stay and travel tips.

San Francisco is an interesting, diverse, bustling city with plenty of attractions.  3 days is just enough to sample the highlights of the city.   This 3-day San Francisco itinerary will help you plan your own trip to San Francisco to ensure you get the best out of your visit:-

Arrival and Fisherman's Wharf

Our 3-day itinerary in San Francisco starts in the evening, as we didn’t arrive until late.   We flew in from Las Vegas with Alaska Airlines, where we had started our 3-week road trip.  The flight to San Francisco took 1 hr 40 mins.

We stayed at the Courtyard (Marriott), which is walking distance to the waterfront and Fisherman’s Wharf.  We booked this directly from the UK.

In the evening we went for a wander around Ghirardelli Square and Fisherman’s Wharf to get our bearings.  It was here wee got our first taste of clam chowder at Castagnola’s restaurant on Jefferson Street.

Fisherman's Wharf, San Francisco, California

Day 1: Alcatraz & Fisherman's Wharf

Alcatraz

Day 1 of our itinerary started with breakfast at Boudin’s Cafe.  This is one of the oldest bakeries in San Francisco and creators of the original San Francisco sourdough.

Then we headed to Pier 33 to ferry across to the notorious prison on Alcatraz Island.  This is a fantastic day out, but extremely popular, so book your tickets in advance with Alcatraz Tickets.

View of Alcatraz Prison from boat
Cells at Alcatraz Prison, San Francisco in California

For more information on our visit to Alcatraz, read our post:-

A visit to Alcatraz

Fisherman's Wharf

Fisherman’s Wharf is very touristy, but still a must-see experience in San Francisco.  Historically, it was a main port for fishermen.  However, nowadays it attracts thousands of tourists with its souvenir shops, restaurants and attractions.

There are also plenty of street entertainers for the children.  However, our highlight was the hundreds of sea lions, basking in the sun and jostling for space on the pontoon.  They are very noisy and smelly, but definitely worth a visit.

Day 2: Presidio, Golden Gate Bridge, Sausalito & Tiberon

View of Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, California

We started day 2 of our 3-day San Francisco itinerary at Joanie’s Happy Days Diner, where we had American pancakes for breakfast.  We needed energy for our bike ride over the iconic Golden Gate Bridge.

The Golden Gate Bridge is an impressive steel suspension beach spanning the strait between San Francisco and the Pacific Ocean.  You can see it for miles around (when it’s not foggy) and from every angle it’s awesome.

We hired our bikes from Blazing Saddles, near Fisherman’s Wharf.  They will help fit you with the correct size bike and helmet and give you a map for your ride.

Presidio

Palace of Fine Arts, San Francisco, California

Our cycle route to the Golden Gate Bridge took us along the waterfront and to the edge of Presidio Park.

Here we parked our bikes, so we could have a wander around The Palace of Fine Arts.  This has an unusual collection of Greco-Roman buildings and structures.

It is landscaped with ponds and flowers and attracts a lot of wildlife.

Cycling over the Golden Gate Bridge

You can walk or cycle over the Golden Gate Bridge.  It is 1.7 miles in length and offers great views of San Francisco city and bay.

However, the Golden Gate Bridge does get very congested, as cyclists and pedestrians share the same path.  Therefore, it’s probably best to avoid weekends.

Family with bikes stopping half way across the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco

For the full details of our bike ride across the Golden Gate Bridge, read our post:-

Cycling across the Golden Gate Bridge

Sausalito and Tiburon

10 minutes cycle from the bridge is the picturesque, seaside town of Sausalito.  It has a range of boutiques, art studios and restaurants.

Bike parking was at a premium in Sausalito and there were limited places to buy a take-out lunch.  It might be better to bring something from San Francisco.

Most people return here to San Francisco on the ferry.  However, we decided to continue to the fishing town of Tiburon and take the ferry home from there.

You could take an extra detour to Muir Woods to see the redwood trees, but this is probably too far for young children.

After the bike ride

After the bike ride, the Chimptrip boys had the biggest ice cream ever at Ben & Jerry’s.  I was pleased to make it to happy hour at Pompeii’s Grotto and relax with a drink outside.

Day 3: Golden Gate Park, China Town & Cable Car Ride

Golden Gate Park

Golden Gate Park is a vast park on the western side of San Francisco.  It is over 3 miles long and 0.5 miles wide and spreads over 1,017 acres.  Collect a map at the entrance, so you don’t miss out on something you want to see.

The highlights of Golden Gate Park include the Botanical Gardens and the Japanese Tea Garden.  We also enjoyed seeing  the unexpected herd of American bison and a gopher who popped up to say hello.

At the other end you can see the Golden Gate Park Windmill and stop for refreshments at the Beach & Park Chalet.

China Town

Later, we headed to China Town.   The China Town in San Francisco is the largest one in North America and covers 24 blocks.

The main tourist street is Grant Avenue, but it is worth heading off some of the side streets.  Here you’ll get a more authentic experience away from the crowds.

Look out for the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory where the cookies are all hand-made to send around the world.

For dinner we ate at the Great Eastern Restaurant.  Their claim to fame is that Obama once ate there (back in 2012!)

Ride on a Cable Car

San Francisco Cable Car, California

Now, you can’t really go to San Francisco without riding in a cable car up or down the steep streets.

This really was quite an experience, as it was full, so we hung on for dear life on the outside!

Planning a visit to San Francisco

  • San Francisco can feel cold in summer, so pack a jumper.
  • If you are a planning a trip to Alcatraz, book your visit well in advance.
  • San Francisco is fairly small, so you probably won’t need a car to get around.

You may enjoy these posts from our US travel guide

Thank you for reading.

We hope you enjoyed reading the details of our 3-day San Francisco itinerary?   If you have any questions or tips of your own, please comment below.

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