San Francisco is one of the most famous cities in the United States. It boasts iconic landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz, as well as some hidden gems. Whether you have 2, 3, or 4 days in San Francisco, this itinerary includes everything you should prioritize seeing during your visit.
No San Francisco itinerary is complete without hitting the highlights and spending some time wandering through the city’s unique neighborhoods, taking in everything San Francisco has to offer. Here is everything to check out while visiting the Bay Area.
How Many Days in San Francisco?
Whether you’re visiting San Francisco as part of a longer California itinerary or as a stop on a drive from Los Angeles, San Diego or even Portland or Seattle, it’s essential to figure out how long you need to spend in the city in order to do it justice.
For most visitors, 3 days is the sweet spot for how many days to spend in San Francisco. If you only have 2 days in San Francisco, you can get a rough idea of everything the city has to offer, but it won’t feel like a comprehensive visit.
With 3 days in San Francisco, you can see nearly every part of the city, venturing into the eclectic and historic neighborhoods while seeing the main highlights. You can do all this at a relatively relaxed pace.
Should you have 4 days in San Francisco, you’re in luck. This grants you plenty of time to see the city with a spare day for a trip beyond it. There are several nearby options for great day trips.
Alternatively, you can spend an additional day exploring the city at your leisure or lounging in one of the many local parks.
Getting To & Around San Francisco
Most visitors will arrive in San Francisco by plane. You’ll land at San Francisco Airport (SFO) and can take the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit), the city’s main public transportation, into downtown. You can also take the bus, call an Uber or organise a transfer.
BART will be a useful tool to get around the city during your visit as well. It reaches most corners of the city and runs relatively often. You can also opt for the buses or streetcars operated by Muni.
Most of the city’s main attractions are clustered together in different parts of the city, so you should pick a different area of San Francisco to explore each day.
Once in these neighborhoods, getting around by foot is the way to go. Many of SF’s best highlights can be found when you set out walking through its unique neighborhoods, Fisherman’s Wharf, and other parts of the city.
Make sure you pack a good pair of walking shoes for wandering museums, parks, and the city itself.
Renting a car specifically for your trip to San Francisco isn’t entirely necessary as the city itself is both walkable and has great public transportation.
However, if you’re spending 4 days in San Francisco and want to go on a day trip, you may find that having your own car is the best option. You can browse Rentalcars.com to find options as it compares prices across many major companies.
2, 3 to 4 Days in San Francisco Itinerary
The perfect San Francisco itinerary is loaded with quirky neighborhoods, great food, and many opportunities to learn. Here is everything you should consider adding to your plan for visiting San Francisco.
Day 1 – Fisherman’s Wharf, Alcatraz & Chinatown
Embarcadero and Fisherman’s Wharf
San Francisco’s Embarcadero is the main street that runs along the waterfront from the Bay Bridge to Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39. This is probably one of the most popular areas in the city.
Here, you can perch to watch the sunset or admire the view on a sunny day. Each pier offers a little something unique for its visitors, from exploratory museums to funky cafes. You can rent bikes to explore further.
One of the highlights of the Embarcadero is Fisherman’s Wharf. The name comes from the mid-1800s when the wharf was used as a port by Italian immigrant fishermen who sold fish to the city’s booming population due to the gold rush. Here, you’ll find some of the best seafood in the city.
There are museums scattered across the piers, making it a great destination for families. Make sure to stop in to see the sea lion colony that took up residence near Pier 39.
If you only have 2 days in San Francisco, Alcatraz is a must-visit. This infamous prison was once home to some of the country’s most notorious criminals, including Al Capone.
Alternatively referred to as “The Rock”, Alcatraz was the world’s most secure prison: located on an island in San Francisco Bay. You should take the audio tour of the island.
You’ll walk through cell blocks, mess halls, and other parts of the prison while listening to the stories of those who passed through as well as the history of Alcatraz itself. You’ll head to Alcatraz Island from Pier 33 along the Embarcadero.
Once you’re back in San Francisco proper after visiting Alcatraz, pay a quick visit to Lombard Street. This steep zig-zagging street curves down a slope lined with homes and flower beds.
San Francisco is a city filled with steep streets. City planners spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to plot a city on such terrain. In 1922, the people living on Lombard Street deemed it too steep to drive safely. They set out to make it more drivable.
The result was a curvy road with eight hairpin turns and one of the most famous landmarks. The best view is from the bottom. If you’re brave enough to drive the street, you have to start from the top. It was made a one-way street in 1939.
Ride the Cable Cars
Riding the cable cars in San Francisco is an experience too unique to pass by. The routes are clustered around Lombard Street and Fisherman’s Wharf, making it easy to hop a ride in between destinations.
There are three routes, so navigating them is easy. You can prepay for your tickets online or buy tickets at the cable car stops.
San Francisco is home to the largest Chinatown outside Asia. It’s located near Lombard Street and a great place to round out your first day in San Francisco.
Before visiting this neighborhood, it’s important to note that it’s massive. Chinatown spans 24 city blocks and is one of the most densely-populated neighborhoods in the city.
Grant Avenue is the most picturesque street, and where most tourists spend their time. It’s worth your time to venture off this main thoroughfare. You’ll find the best Chinese food in the city—probably some of the best in the country. You can also go on a food & walking tour to learn more and taste some dishes.
Visit the local bakeries, shops, and try a tea sampling at Vital Tea Leaf.
Day 2 – Golden Gate Bridge, Presidio & Golden Gate Park
Golden Gate Bridge
Your first day on your trip to San Francisco was filled with some of the major highlights in the city. Day two is a little slower. There is perhaps no other landmark in San Francisco more characteristic of the city than the Golden Gate Bridge.
This bright red suspension bridge dominates the skyline and has been named one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World. If you have time, you should take a walk across the bridge. It stretches about 1.7 miles, so it should take around 40 minutes to walk each way.
Upon construction in 1937, it was the longest bridge in the world. Between its striking color and huge towers, it’s no surprise this is one of the most beautiful bridges in the world.
If you want to get a great view of the Golden Gate Bridge, you can get this from Marin Headlands after crossing the bridge – it’s easiest to reach this by car, however, you can definitely walk, as well.
Presidio of San Francisco
The Presidio is located where the Golden Gate Bridge starts. It originated as a military outpost for the Spanish who arrived in the Bay Area in 1776. Over the years, it maintained its military post status and became one of the most beautiful outlooks in the city.
The National Park Service took control of the Presidio in 1994. Today, this sprawling green space is filled with trails, forests, fun architecture, and unbeatable views.
Golden Gate Park
Despite its name, Golden Gate Park is not directly next to the bridge, but it’s well within walking distance from the Presidio. Continue your time in San Francisco’s green spaces by visiting the largest public park in the city.
You can spend an afternoon in the park visiting museums and gardens, like California Academy of Sciences, the Conservatory of Flowers, or the de Young Museum. Alternatively, you can have a picnic or wander around the park.
A visit to Golden Gate Park is the best way to slow down and enjoy the city, especially if you have 3 days in San Francisco.
Day 3 – Haight-Ashbury, The Mission District & Twin Peaks
When experiencing San Francisco in 3 days, you should spend one day dedicated to the different neighborhoods. San Francisco is a city full of eclectic neighborhoods, none more iconic than Haight-Ashbury.
It became famous for being one of the centers of the counterculture movement in the 1960s. The Haight was where the Beats met and where the Summer of Love happened. Haight-Ashbury is best experienced by spending a couple hours strolling around the neighborhood. You can also take the San Francisco Love Tour to learn more about the history.
Keep an eye out for the quirky shops, psychedelic murals, and beautiful Victorian architecture. You never know what you’ll come across in Haight Ashbury.
The Painted Ladies
The Painted Ladies are the postcard-perfect row of Victorian homes in the city. They sit on the eastern side of Alamo Square Park and are set against the backdrop of the city’s modern downtown skyscrapers.
They are known for their pastel colors and near identical architecture, making them one of the most photographed landmarks in the city. You’ll notice similar-looking homes throughout the city.
The name “Painted Ladies” doesn’t necessarily refer to these homes in particular, but rather the style in which they’ve been built.
Mission Dolores Park
Mission Dolores Park is at the heart of another one of San Francisco’s best neighborhoods: The Mission District. The park itself sits on nearly 26 acres and is one of the most popular parks in San Francisco.
If you visit during a sunny weekend afternoon, don’t be surprised to see the park entirely packed with people. These comfortable green lawns are surrounded by tall palm trees with a view of the city’s skyline.
The Mission District is known for its food scene. Grab a burrito and take a walk through the city to admire the towering murals. Mission Street is the main road that is filled with restaurants and shops.
Seated at 922 feet above sea level, Twin Peaks offers arguably the best view of the city. It’s a great way to round out your 3 days in San Francisco. Many visitors take a tourist bus to the top, but you can also walk or bike.
Here you can find a snapshot of the local flora and fauna. No matter what time of day you visit, be prepared for high winds. San Francisco is already a city known for being windy, but here that’s elevated.
Bring a jacket, sturdy walking shoes, and be prepared to be a little cold.
Day 4 – Day Trip to Muir Woods or Napa Valley
Day trip to Muir Woods
If you’re lucky enough to see San Francisco in 4 days, you should consider taking a day trip beyond the city. The Muir Woods National Monument is the perfect day trip. The woods are located about 16 miles from the city, which is about a 40-minute drive without traffic.
Muir Woods is filled with walking trails and historic redwood trees. Driving yourself is the best way to visit Muir Woods from San Francisco. You’ll take curvy roads up a mountainside, so drive slowly, especially if you get carsick easily.
Before visiting Muir Woods, make sure to reserve a parking space. If you show up without a reservation, you will be turned away.
Day trip to Napa and Sonoma Valleys
Any lover of great wine will want to add a day trip to Napa and Sonoma Valleys to their San Francisco itinerary. Here you’ll find some of the most famous wines in the world, and for good reasons. The wine regions are about an hour outside of San Francisco.
If you want to spend a day wine tasting in either Napa or Sonoma (or both), you will want to rent a car.
There are also guided tours available such as this full-day tour that goes to both Napa and Sonoma or this full-day tour that combines wine country with a visit to Muir Woods. However, you will have more freedom to see the area at your leisure if you can drive yourself.
Where to Stay in San Francisco
Orchard Hotel – This boutique hotel located in downtown San Francisco is an excellent choice for exploring this Californian city. They are located within walking distance of Union Square and have a restaurant and bar on site. There is also parking and a great breakfast included. Click here to check availability
Axiom Hotel – If you’re looking for a luxury stay in San Francisco, then this chic hotel is a great option. It is located right off Union Square, and has incredible modern facilities and amenities along with a larger number of rooms to choose from. Click here to check availability
Green Tortoise Hostel – Those trying to stick to a tight budget when visiting this notoriously expensive city will love this highly-rated hostel. There are a number of dorm beds and some private rooms to choose from, common areas to meet other travellers and a free breakfast daily to help you save even more! Click here to check availability
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse other hotels in San Francisco!
2-4 days in San Francisco is the perfect amount of time to catch the city’s main highlights, immerse yourself in day-to-day San Francisco life, and take a day trip outside the city. Use these itinerary recommendations to help guide your own trip planning and enjoy your time in San Francisco.
Are you planning to visit San Francisco? Have any questions about this itinerary? Let us know in the comments!