San Francisco Three Day Itinerary
San Francisco is one of the world’s great cities, with an incredible amount of things to do. One of the most common things that visitors complain about in San Francisco is not having enough time to do everything! We want all our guests to have the greatest time possible in our wonderful city, so we have put together some suggested itineraries to follow. On this page, we have created a 1, 2, and 3 day itinerary for visiting San Francisco. So whether you have 24 hours or a long weekend here, we’ll make sure you can get as much done as possible.
Now, let’s start exploring!
San Francisco Itinerary: Day One
9:00 AM – Breakfast in North Beach
North Beach is San Francisco’s Little Italy. From the world class Italian food, to the family-run delis, to neighborhood cafes, to the oldest bar in San Francisco, North Beach is a place where your taste buds will come alive. Find a local cafe where you can enjoy the local fare to get started with the day.
If you feel like a splurge, check out Mama’s on Washington Square. Considered by many to be the best breakfast/brunch spot in San Francisco, it’s hard to beat a place like this. But be wary–due to the huge popularity of this restaurant, there is often a 30-60 minute wait to get seated. So if you’re going to eat here, be sure to show up with plenty of free time!
As another option, head down Columbus Avenue a bit to go to Brioche Bakery. You’ll have some great food at reasonable prices.
10:00 AM – City Tour
On your first day in town, you should get a broad overview of the city. The best way to do this is to either take a bus tour or a walking tour.
Free Tours by Foot offers a name-your-own-price “San Francisco in One Day” tour, which takes you through all the best neighborhoods in downtown San Francisco in a compact, 5-hour tour (don’t worry–this includes a lunch break!) You’ll explore North Beach, Chinatown, Nob Hill, modern Downtown SF and historic Jackson Square, and you’ll even get to take a cable car ride. There’s no better way to see as much of San Francisco as possible in a short time!
For those who would rather sit back and enjoy the sites from a double decker bus, you can’t beat a hop-on hop-off bus tour throughout the city! You will cover a huge amount of ground on this tour, and when you’ve seen the whole place, you’ll know where you want to go back on your own.
1:00 PM – Lunch in Chinatown
Whether you’re on the bus or taking a walking tour, a Chinatown lunch is a necessity. San Francisco’s Chinatown is the oldest Chinatown outside of Asia and one of the largest in the world. This vibrant neighborhood also has some of the most authentic (and affordable!) Chinese food that you’ll find in America. Some of our favorite places:
- Good Mong Kok Bakery – This dim sum bakery is full of high quality, low price dim sum dumplings. Be sure to get the steamed pork buns–they’re one of the specialties!
- Delicious Dim Sum – If the line at Good Mong Kok is out the door (this happens frequently), head just down the street to our second favorite Dim Sun place. You’ll still get a great dim sum meal for under $5
- Hunan Home’s – For those looking for a place to sit down and get served by a waiter, Hunan Home’s is your place. You still get authentic Chinese food at a good price.
2:00 PM – Take a walk through Chinatown
Whether you are strolling through this neighborhood on the SF in One Day Tour or on your own, be sure to spend some time in this incredible neighborhood.
Most people just walk on Grant Avenue, which is the main street of the neighborhood. And you should definitely do this! With the red Chinese lanterns, the street lights with golden dragons wrapped around them, and the beautiful architecture that influenced Chinatowns around the world, Grant Avenue is a great place to start. But don’t end there! You’ll also see that the street is mostly dedicated to tourists. There are souvenir shops, restaurants, and street performers galore, but the one thing you won’t find there is Chinatown locals. You have to go off the beaten path to find that.
Take a walk up the hill from Grant Ave. Go up the hill to Stockton Street, and venture through the street market there. This street is as close as you’ll get to Hong Kong in the United States. This street is where the locals spend their time and do their shopping. Whether you show up at 9:00 in the morning or 6:00 at night or any time in between, this street will be full of people haggling for the best price on the local fruits and vegetables. You also may see the meat markets selling everything from dried fish to live chickens to frogs to turtles!
You also should not leave Chinatown without exploring some of the dozens of alleyways in the area. Check out Ross Alley, home of the famous Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory. Or go down Beckett Alley to see a beautiful Chinese temple. Take a walk down Wentworth Alley to see some of the beautiful architecture of the buildings owned by the Chinese Tongs. For the daring and adventurous, go down the dead-end Old Chinatown Alley to see what’s left behind from an old illegal gambling house there. Chinatown is a place to get lost and then find yourself in what feels like a different country.
3:30 PM – Take a historic San Francisco Cable Car
From Chinatown, you can walk straight down to the Powell Street cable car station. From there, you will want to get on the Powell-Hyde cable car line (NOT the Powell-Mason!) If you want plenty more information on the cable car, check out our post on How to Ride the Cable Cars. When you get on this car, be sure to sit or stand in such a place where you can see out the right side of the car. That side will have the best views. The cable car will take you on a trip through Union Square, up the steep Nob Hill where you can see the best hotels in the city, and get some of the greatest views in the city! It will go back downhill, then up again on Russian Hill, where you’ll feel like you’re at the top of the whole city.
4:30 PM – Walk down Lombard Street
The Powell-Hyde cable car will drop you off at the top of Lombard Street, one of the windiest roads in the entire world. From here, you’ll get some world class views and photograph spots. Take a look at all the cars and bikes (and sometimes tricycles!) winding their way down this world famous street. Check out the houses on both sides of the street, many of which cost upwards of $5 million! Take a walk down either side of the street to get to the bottom. When you reach Leavenworth Street, look back up Lombard and see that this is one of the best places to get a selfie with Lombard in the background!
6:30 PM – Dinner in North Beach
If you already enjoyed a breakfast in the neighborhood, you absolutely have to see what North Beach can do for dinner. San Francisco’s restaurants are constantly rated as some of the best in the world, and North Beach is a wonderful place to enjoy these amazing restaurants.
For a San Francisco tradition, go to Sotto Mare and enjoy the cioppino. This dish, created here in San Francisco, has as much seafood as you can possibly need in one bowl. You’ll find crab legs, mussels, clams, scallops, calamari, and more. But be sure to go with a friend, because the Sotto Mare cioppino is made for 2!
If you aren’t interested in seafood, head down Columbus Avenue to Caffe Macaroni. This small restaurant will immediately make you feel at home. Get some home made pasta, their delicious rissoto, or enjoy a freshly made salad with the best local ingredients available.
For families with kids, everybody will enjoy visiting Tony’s Pizza Napoletana. Not only did Tony Gemignini win the World Pizza Championship in Naples, Italy, but he also created this school where chefs learn to make the best pizza. You’ll enjoy his expertise while eating the best pizza you’ve ever had.
8:00 PM – After Dinner Drinks
After a long day, you can stay here in North Beach to have a nice cocktail at Comstock Saloon (we like the “bartender’s whimsy,” where the mixologists working there will create a drink just for you given your drink preferences). Or if you’re more into dive bars, head over to The Saloon on Grant Ave. At this bar, the oldest bar in San Francisco, you won’t find any tourists. In this cash-only bar, you can listen to the locals talking about their day at work, or just sit back and listen to the live blues music playing every night here.
Congratulations! Now take a rest
If you made it through these steps, you will have gotten a great overview of San Francisco in one day. And if you’re here for longer, keep reading for our second and third day adventures!
San Francisco Itinerary Day Two
8:45 AM – Alcatraz Tour
For your second day, you’ll want to get an early start. As we wrote in our post on Visiting Alcatraz, this is one of the most famous (and famously busy!) attractions in the world. In fact, Tripadvisor rated Alcatraz as the #1 attraction in the entire United States. So in order to check out the island without the huge crowds, you’ll want to get there early. When you take the first boat to the island, you’ll get to enjoy many of the best sites by yourself. This is hard to beat.
12:00 PM – Lunch at Fisherman’s Wharf
This area is full of incredible seafood restaurants. Our favorite, Scoma’s, actually has their own fishing boat! They go out fishing in the morning, and by the afternoon they are hauling fish right out of their boat into the kitchen. If you want the best seafood on Fisherman’s Wharf, look no further than this.
For a somewhat less costly option, take a look at Alioto’s, a long-time seafood restaurant right on Fisherman’s Wharf. The Alioto family has been a San Francisco institution for over 100 years, and we look forward to eating here for another 100! While you’re at this restaurant, get the traditional Fisherman’s Wharf dish, clam chowder in a San Francisco sourdough bread bowl.
If you’d like to explore Fisherman’s Wharf more, check out a free Fisherman’s Wharf walking tour.
1:00 PM – Take a walk to Pier 39
Only about a 10 minute walk from Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 39 is one of the most visited locations in all of San Francisco. There is enough to do on Pier 39 that you could easily spend an entire day here. But with a short time in San Francisco, just visit the best of the Pier. If you’d like to spend some time here, check out our post on the best things to do on Pier 39
First, walk all the way to the end of the pier to see the San Francisco Sea Lions. These exciting creatures have made Pier 39 their home for the past 30 years, and they’re a great thing to see while you’re here.
If you’re in the mood for more sea creatures, take a walk through the Aquarium of the Bay. This excellent aquarium shows off some of our incredible ocean life in the area. And if you’re going to the Aquarium, make sure to pick up a City Discount Card to get reduced (or free!) admission to the Aquarium of the Bay.
Whether you go into the Aquarium or not, take some time to stroll Pier 39 and experience the local shops. From quirky sellers to handmade jewelry and custom made spices, Pier 39 has a little bit of everything. There are over 50 different stores to visit, and whether you walk into each or just pass through, take a look at what this city has to offer.
Pier 39 also has some amazing local performers. You’ll see talented musicians, dancers, magicians, mimes, clowns, and plenty of others working for any money that people are willing to leave them.
3:30 PM – Take a ride on San Francisco’s Historic Streetcar
If you want to take a trip back in time, hop on the historic streetcar of San Francisco. This city owns cars from all over the world, dating back to cars from Milan, Italy from 1915! Riding on the F Line streetcars is a great way to experience the San Francisco waterfront. Whether you’re riding on a Los Angeles car from the 1950s, a Melbourne, Australia car from the 1940s, or a London car from the 1920s, this is a fun way to see what world travel was like in the early 20th Century!
4:00 PM – Get the Best View of San Francisco from Coit Tower
You can learn all about this location in our post dedicated to Visiting Coit Tower, but if you don’t want to read the whole thing, we’ll give you the basics here. From Lombard, you can walk down to the bottom of the hill, and get to Columbus Ave. From Columbus, turn right and walk a few blocks to Filbert Street. Turning left there, you can walk straight up the hill to get to the tower. You should be aware that you will certainly get your exercise on this walk! Telegraph Hill, where Coit Tower resides, is a very steep hike. If you don’t want to walk up there, you can take a Lyft or Uber to the top, which will probably only cost about $5-6.
Coit Tower is the best viewing spot for downtown San Francisco. You’ll see everything from the Golden Gate Bridge to Alcatraz, to Oakland across the Bay, to the skyscrapers of the Financial District. The $8 cost of the elevator ride is about the best value for an observation tower in America.
5:30 PM – Dinner on the Waterfront
Descending Coit Tower down the Filbert Street Steps, you will be placed right on the Embarcadero, San Francisco’s waterfront road. When you cross the Embarcadero, you’ll be on the side of all the old piers of the city (of which Pier 39 is one). From here, take a stroll along the waterfront and enjoy the views of the San Francisco Bay and the city skyline. If you’re walking during the evening in winter time and the sun has gone down, you’ll see the city and the Bay Bridge light up with an amazing light show every night!
You’ll soon reach the San Francisco Ferry Building, one of the most enjoyable places to visit in the city. And you can find some amazing dinner options here. Our personal favorite is Hog Island Oyster Company where you can get some great local seafood (and of course, fresh local oysters harvested from a nearby bay). If you’ve had enough seafood already after Fisherman’s Wharf, you can check out The Slanted Door an upscale Vietnamese eatery where anybody can find something delicious. Or, if you want something simpler, you can get some quick Mexican food at Mijita Cocina.
6:30 PM – Take a Break at a Wine Bar
After dinner, if you’re feeling a bit lazy, go through the ferry building and take a seat at the Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant. You can search through the shelves and cases at all the creations from local vines in Sonoma and Napa, and take a seat at the bar or at a table to spend a little while sipping from it. One of the best ways to slow down in San Francisco is to stay right along the waterfront and take it easy for a bit, and we love stopping at this small location.
7:30 PM – Take in a Show
San Francisco has one of the best art and culture scenes in the country. At any point during the year, you can find multiple Tony Award-winning plays or musicals running at the same time, incredible bands, art galleries, stand up comedy, and just about anything else you can imagine.
From the Ferry Building, you can take the historic streetcar down to the Powell Street station and walk into the Theater District for one of the many shows that will be playing during your stay.
San Francisco Itinerary Day Three
For those of you staying here for a third day, a great idea would be to get out of the downtown area and head out to the western part of the city. Out west the city gets far less crowded with more open space, giving you the ability to enjoy the little-seen areas.
9:00 AM – Visit the Golden Gate Bridge
If you visit San Francisco, you must see the Golden Gate Bridge. We care so much about this place that we actually wrote up an entire post on How to Visit the Golden Gate Bridge. In that post, we show you where to park, how to get to the bridge, the best photography spots, and some of the incredible history of this creation. You’ll also learn why the Golden Gate Bridge isn’t colored gold like many people think it should be!
Spend some time walking around this area, taking a walk across the bridge, and getting an amazing view of the Pacific Ocean on one side and San Francisco, Oakland, and Alcatraz Island on the other side. We promise you won’t be sorry.
10:30 AM – Take a Nature Hike at Land’s End
Land’s End is a fitting name for this area. It is literally the end of the land before you reach 5,000 miles of Pacific Ocean. It is also the location of some of the best hiking in the San Francisco area. Just to give you an idea of what this place looks like, take a look at a photo we posted on our Instagram page! You would never think that this was taken in one of the biggest cities in the country, but that’s the great part about walking around this area.
12:00 PM – Enjoy a Meal in the Richmond District
The Richmond area of San Francisco has some of the best international cuisine in the city. In this area, we have the city’s “second Chinatown,” a more upscale and affluent area than the Chinatown that we all know about in downtown SF. We also have a large immigrant population from many other parts of the world, so we are treated to some amazing food here.
Here, we’ll just list our favorite restaurant from many different types of food:
- Korean – Han Il Kwan
- Japanese – Super Pan
- Seafood – PPQ Crab
- Chinese – San Tung
- Thai – Marnee Thai
- Vietnamese – Kevin’s Noodle House
- Mexican – Nopalito
And that’s just a small batch of what’s available out there! So be sure to head out in that direction for some great food.
1:00 PM – Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park
If you are looking for another wonderful oasis in a big city, look no further than Golden Gate Park. This park, bigger than New York City’s Central Park, has a wide variety of activities and sights hidden inside. One of our favorites is the Japanese Tea Garden. Walking through the Tea Garden is like visiting a private garden in Japan. The trees, flowers, bushes, and grass are all sculpted to express an artistic sense about the area. They even sculpted an entire dragon out of a few bushes here!
You can also go into the tea house to participate in a Japanese tea ceremony, sampling various Japanese teas. And a little known fact if you decide to go here–you know that fortune cookie you get at the end of every Chinese meal you’ve ever eaten in America and around the world? That fortune cookie was invented right here in the Japanese Tea Garden!
2:00 PM – Visit a Museum
Located right next to the Tea Garden are two world class museums, the California Academy of Sciences and the de Young Museum If you enjoy art, head over to the de Young and take in some impressive art collections from the United States and around the world. If you prefer to check out a science museum, visit the Academy of Sciences to experience the best science museum you’ll ever see!
Both of these museums are highly rated and we would recommend visiting both. However, with limited time on your vacation to the city, it’s probably better to simply choose one. But whichever museum you visit, make sure to take a (free!) trip up the de Young observation tower to get a great view of the western side of San Francisco!
5:00 PM – Explore Golden Gate Park on Foot, on Bike, or in a Car
There are enough areas of Golden Gate Park that you’ll be able to experience as much or as little as you’d like with any mode of transportation you want. If you’re walking, you can enjoy one of the nature hikes in the area or visit Stow Lake and enjoy the boats on there. If you’re biking, you can take a loop around the inside of the park to see the sights. If you’re driving, you can wind your way through all the roads of the park from the east to the west side. You can see the dutch windmills on the western part of the park, the roaming buffalo in the center, the flower park on the east, and everything in between.
Finish back Downtown
If you have made it this far, you will have had quite a full three days! It’s probably about time for you to take a break. You can take a car (or a Lyft or Uber) to get back to the main part of the city. And you have plenty of dinner options back here.
Now, take some rest and enjoy your time in San Francisco!