Last Updated on November 11, 2021 by Nellie Huang

Planning a weekend in San Francisco? Here’s the perfect San Francisco itinerary for those with 3 days in the Golden City.

San Francisco is America’s sweetheart: it’s artsy, hippie, and techie all at once. Known among the locals as “everyone’s favorite city”, San Fran is naturally gorgeous, surrounded by a sprawling bay and beautiful redwood forests. 

Microclimates add magic realism to San Francisco days: when it’s drizzling in the outer reaches of Golden Gate Park, it might be sunny in the Mission. This town will give you goose bumps one minute, and warm you to the core the next. Pack your bags and prepare for an unpredictable and magical weekend in San Francisco. 

weekend in san francisco

Weekend in San Francisco

For those planning a weekend in San Francisco, this itinerary will help you make the most of your 3 days in San Francisco. I’ve included the best things to do in SF, as well as ideas for day trips from San Francisco. 

Itinerary Day 1: Explore San Francisco Bay

Walk Across the Golden Gate Bridge

Start your weekend at the iconic landmark of the Golden Gate Bridge. With its vaulting, orange arches backdropped by the rocky seascape of the San Francisco Bay, the bridge is clearly a work of engineering marvel. The bridge is accessible all day every day by foot, bike and car. If you drive, parking is available but very limited, on the north and south ends of the bridge.

There are plenty of great spots to capture a snap of the majestic bridge. But if you want a truly postcard-worthy shot, head to the Golden Gate Bridge Vista Point, situated high on a hill overlooking San Francisco. Baker Beach in Presidio is another great spot to catch the sunset with views of the bridge in the distance.

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gold gate bridge view - weekend in san francisco

Visit the Palace of Fine Arts

On the edge of Presidio stands the Palace of Fine Arts, a Roman-style building tracing its roots back to 1915. The outdoor rotunda and its lagoon are one of the city’s most photographed sights in San Francisco. Take a leisurely stroll around the lagoon, relax under the rotunda, or enjoy a picnic on the grass. 

weekend in san francisco - palace of fine arts

Explore the Golden Gate Park

From Presidio, it’s a 6-minute drive or 30-minute walk to the Golden Gate Park. The park is a protected area of 1,017 acres of public grounds. Think of Golden Gate Park as the equivalent to New York’s Central Park. You’ll find miles of walking trails,  beautiful forest groves, and some of the best museums in San Francisco. Here are the best places to visit in the park:

golden gate park - 3 days in san francisco

Take a Boat to Alcatraz

In the afternoon, head to Pier 33 in the Embarcadero area to take a boat to Alcatraz island, world famous for the notorious prisoners who used to live here. The National Parks Service recommends you purchase tickets online beforehand. Tickets include the ferry ride and access to the prison and island grounds.

Immerse in the eerie ambiance and learn about the history of its prisoners, as well as its earlier history as the site of the first lighthouse and US fort on the West Coast. 

I highly recommend combining your Alcatraz visit with a catamaran trip so you can cruise the San Francisco Bay and explore the prison at the same time. A guided Alcatraz night tour is an exciting way of visiting the prison cells when there are fewer crowds and the atmosphere is more mysterious.

boat trip to alcatraz - day trip from san francisco


 

Itinerary Day 2: Visit the Embarcadero Historic District

Start Your Day at Fisherman’s Wharf

On your second day in San Francisco, head back to the Fisherman’s Wharf to visit it properly. A trip to Waterfront at Fisherman’s Wharf is like stepping back into the San Francisco gold rush past. In the 1800s, Italian immigrant fishermen entered the city from the bay to take advantage of the influx of population due to the gold rush and made this area their own.

The neighborhood maintains an old world charm with its wooden arcades and streetcars which runs through the area. Explore the lively fishermen’s market, try some clam chowder served at one of the seafood stands, or step into free-entry Musée Mécanique if you like old fashioned instruments and arcade games.

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san francisco itinerary - san francisco fisherman's wharf

Admire Wild Sea Lions at Pier 39

Continue walking down the Embarcadero until you hit Pier 39. You can’t miss it. You’ll see performing street acts, carnival food carts, OH, and a bunch of huge flags with “Pier 39” printed in huge font.

The highlight of Pier 39 is without a doubt the large sea lion colony and who have called this place home since an earthquake hit San Francisco in October 1989. The sea lions are the unofficial mascots of Pier 39, which draw large crowds that watch them relax in the sun on their permanent home on K-dock.

sea lions at pier 39 - san francisco travel blog

Have Lunch at Fisherman’s Wharf

The area may seem touristy, but there are still some good finds and secret spots to go for fresh seafood. The Codmother is one of San Francisco’s most popular spot. This food truck/trail is run by England-born Suzanne Acevedo, who serves the best fish and chips and fish tacos in town.

Alioto’s kinda retro bar is a great place to sneak into for a cocktail and soak up some of San Francisco’s history. The Aliotos are a historical San Francisco family, credited with inventing cioppino and being the first restaurant in the area.

fish and chips - things to do in san francisco weekend

Head to the Top of Coit Tower

Just a 15-minute walk from Pier 39 is Coit Tower, located in Pioneer Park. Coit Tower stands 210-foot (64 metres) tall and offers wonderful panoramic views of the entire city and the Golden Gate Bridge.

The tower was named after Lillie Hitchcock Coit, an eccentric patron of the city’s firefighters. After Coit’s death in 1929, the funds he left behind for the project went towards building both the tower and the monument to Coit’s much-loved volunteer firefighters which is located in Washington Square.

coit tower - san francisco weekend guide

Visit the World’s Crookedest Street

This unique attraction is one of the coolest things to see in San Francisco. Made up of eight hairpin turns on a steep sloping road, Lombard Street is so popular that around 350 cars drive down this iconic street every hour.

It was actually built in 1922 as a way to reduce the hill’s natural 27 percent grade, which was too steep for most vehicles.The road itself is only 600 foot (182 metres) long and has a recommended speed limit of 5 mph (8 km/h). During peak times, vehicles have to wait up to 20 minutes to enter the crooked segment!

lombard street - san francisco blog

Jump on a Cable Car and Visit the Museum

Here’s a great spot to jump on a cable car and experience what it’s like to whisk up and down the steep streets of San Francisco on their vintage tram. The city has three main cable car routes; catch the California Street line that traverses the city’s Financial District and the Nob Hill neighborhood. Scroll down for more details on how to take the cable cars.

The Cable Car Museum is a free museum in the Nob Hill neighborhood. It’s a cute, charming spot for the train geeks. There are  historical exhibits and explanations on San Francisco’s cable car history and technology.

cable car san francisco - sf weekend guide


 

Itinerary Day 3: Wander around the Neighborhoods

Wander around Haight-Ashbury District

On your last day, venture into the bohemian Haight-Ashbury district. This is where San Francisco’s reputation as a hippie town started. It was the birthplace of the 1960s counterculture movement, and helped spur the Summer of Love in 1967.

Today it’s a popular spot for hippies and potheads to hang out. The blocks of Haight Street between Stanyan Street and Divisadero are a fun place to browse. Expect to find vintage shops selling tie-dye clothes, posters, and knick-knacks. 

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haight ashbury - san francisco travel guide

Explore Filmore District

Continue walking  to the Filmore district, a historic district that traced its roots to the Victorian era. The main attraction of the district is a series of homes called the Painted Ladies, a series of Victorian Homes that are one of the most photographed areas in the bay.

Head for the block of Fulton Street between Scott and Steiner.  Even if you don’t care for the houses, it’s an awesome view of the city and makes for some great photography especially at sunset. 

Weekend in San Francisco: The Perfect 3-Day Itinerary

Admire Street Art in the Mission District

Continue south to the Mission Dolores Park. It’s definitely the locals’ favorite park in San Francisco. Especially on a sunny weekend day, it can even be hard to find a spot to sit. 

Every San Franciscan knowns The Mission has some of the best foods in town. There’s the beloved Tartine Bakery, famous for their morning buns, though my favorite is their bread pudding with seasonal fruit. Dandelion Chocolatee is a great spot to sample dark chocolates from all around the world. The most popular burrito spot is La Taqueria, though be prepared to wait in line as it’s ridiculously popular.

The Mission is also known for street art. Keep an eye out as you walk around, or head straight to famous ones like the Women’s Center (near Tartine) or Balmey Alley (near La Taqueria). Just a heads up on The Mission’s alleyways: they tend to be a refuge for the area’s homeless.

san francisco weekend itinerary - mission park

Pay Homage to the Castro District

Once you’re done with Dolores Park, walk over to the Castro District from the other side of the park. The Castro is the main LGBT district in San Francisco, it was actually one of the first openly gay neighborhoods in the United States. I love the colorful rainbow crosswalks, used bookstores, and vibrant shops here.

It’s also one of the best districts to go out at night, especially if you want to dance and party until the wee hours at some point during your 3 days in San Francisco itinerary.

castro district - san francisco weekend trip

Drive to Twin Peaks for the Best View in Town

To end your San Francisco trip with a bang, drive up to the elevated view point at Twin Peaks. This is still a secret spot for many tourists and Californians. 

Here, you can feast on views of San Francisco’s Financial District, from the Embarcadero all the way down Market Street, the main thoroughfare in downtown. On a clear day, you can even get a clear view of the cities of Berkeley and Oakland across the water, and Mount Diablo in the distance.

The two hills are approximately 925 feet high. Typically most locals drive up to the top (it’s a 20-minute drive from downtown), but you can also hike up if you’ve got enough time.  More information on how to get to Twin peaks here.

twin peaks - san francisco weekend itinerary


How to Extend Your Weekend in San Francisco

If you have extra time, there is actually a lot to explore around San Francisco, especially for nature lovers. There are plenty of things to do in northern California, you just need to pick and choose the experiences that suit you. Pack your camping gear if you’re planning to explore the backcountry of San Francisco.

Go Wine Tasting in Napa and Sonoma

The Northern California counties of Napa and Sonoma have some of the largest and most beautiful vineyards in the nation. There are plenty of places to choose from for wine tasting in California. Cornerstone Winery in Yountville, Napa Valley, has a cute and Instagrammable red chair you can sit and take photos in. Castello di Amorosa is a picturesque wine tasting spot with a Tuscan-inspired castle and breathtaking grounds. 

In Sonoma, Jacuzzi Family Vineyards  has an affordable wine tasting and they offer olive oil tastings for the designated drivers. If you visit in the summer, I recommend going wine-tasting alongside the beautiful lavender field at Matanzas Creek Winery in Santa Rosa. 

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napa valley - day trips from san francisco

Explore Muir Woods

 Muir Woods is the closest place to the Bay Area where you can see giant redwood trees. You don’t get to encounter the huge, huge iconic redwoods (which are sequoias and farther away, at Sequoia National Park), but if you’re looking to see something close to the city, this is as good as it gets. Entrance to the area is $10 for adults, and free for children (15 years of age and younger).

muir woods - day trips from san francisco

Drive the Pacific Coast Highway

The Pacific Coast Highway, or Hwy 1, hugs over 600 miles (900 kilometers) of California’s rugged and beautiful coastlines. It is one of the most astoundingly scenic roads in the world, meant to be traversed slowly while gasping at the mountains, towering trees, expansive beaches and endless sky. You can drive the route from San Francisco to San Diego in a day, or you can make a California road trip out of it and make stops at interesting spots like Point Reyes and Mendocino.

pacific coast highway - things to do in san francisco weekend 

Visit Point Reyes National Seashore

Point Reyes National Seashore is a gorgeous spot just an hour’s drive from San Francisco, but it also happens to be one of the foggiest and windiest parts of Northern California. Be sure to check out the Point Reyes Lighthouse, you can walk all the way down to the lighthouse and learn about its history.

The Cypress Tree Tunnel is also located within the Point Reyes National Seashore and is one of the most insta-famous spots in Northern California. The beautiful cypress trees seemingly form a tunnel along the road.

point reyes national seashore


San Francisco Travel Guide

How to Get to San Francisco: By Air

The gateway into San Francisco is the San Francisco International Airport (SFO). Flying into San Francisco from other parts of the US is quite affordable. To get to downtown San Francisco from there, you can take public transportation (BART train), catch a shuttle, hail a taxi or drive yourself:

You can fly from New York to San Francisco for just $280 return (5-hour flight) or Miami to San Francisco (4-hour flight) for as low as $200 round trip. 

If you’re flying from Europe, London is usually the main hub if you’re flying from Europe. Return flights from London to San Francisco are as cheap as $600 if you book in advance.  You can also get great flight deals from Amsterdam and Paris to San Francisco.

Search for flights to San Francisco!

By Car

If you are already in the United States, then driving is the best way to get to San Francisco. In fact, you can do a pretty epic California road trip driving from Los Angeles to San Francisco. There is plenty to see and do along the way, including spectacular national parks and quaint coastal towns.

  Distance Duration on Train+Bus Duration by Car
Los Angeles 380 miles (617km) 13 hours 5.5 hours
Las Vegas 569 miles (915km) 15 hours 8.5 hours
San Diego 500 miles (807km) 12 hours 8.5 hours
Sacramento 99 miles (169km) 3 hours 1.5 hours

weekend trip to san francisco


When to Travel San Francisco

The best time for a weekend getaway to San Francisco is from September to November. Believe it or not, fall offers some of the city’s warmest temperatures year-round, not to mention fewer crowds than summer. Typically after a cool, foggy summer, the skies clear and the thermometer rises – locals head to the beach, while many tourists have gone home.

As San Francisco weather is fairly mild year-round, winter is a good choice for sightseeing while avoiding crowds. If you don’t mind bundling up a bit, the weather shouldn’t get in the way of your plans. Summer, the height of tourist season, is the worst time to visit San Francisco as it’s crowded and expensive.

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best time to travel san francisco


 

How to Get Around San Francisco

By Car

If you’re doing a California road trip, it’s best to hire a car in San Francisco. Like many cities in the US, San Francisco is best explored by car. The massive city is spread out and public transport services are not the most efficient.

It is usually quite cheap to hire a car in San Francisco. An economy rental car in San Francisco can average around $200 for a whole week, which is less than $30 a day. We always pick up our car hire at the San Francisco Airport upon arrival, have the car for the entire trip, then drop it off at the airport.

By Public Transport

Taking the city’s iconic vintage cable car is one of the essential things to do in San Francisco. The city has three main cable car routes: The Powell-Mason and Powell-Hyde lines both start at the corner of Powell and Market Street; the California Street line traverses the city’s Financial District and the Nob Hill neighborhood.

The best way to use public transit is to buy a Clipper Card from the nearest station to you. Once you load that up, you can use it on any of the transit systems.

By Day Trips

If you don’t drive, booking day trips is an alternative way to explore San Francisco. There is a wide range of day trips with prices and reviews at GetYourGuide. They have free cancellations and mobile vouchers which make it really convenient. Here are some of our recommended San Francisco day tours:

cable car in san francisco

 

 

Where to Stay for the Weekend in San Francisco

There is an enormous range of places to stay in San Francisco, covering all budgets and tastes, from backpacker to high-end luxury. I recommend staying near Fisherman’s Wharf as it’s in the heart of the action and right by the San Francisco Bay. 

Luxury: Argonaut Hotel, a Noble House Hotel

This historic hotel (pictured) is an iconic landmark of the city, poised right by the famous Fisherman’s Wharf. The upscale hotel offers awesome views across the San Francisco Bay from its nautical-themed rooms. It’s a destination on its own: I love the history behind the hotel and the aged wooden-brick walls. Check the latest rates.

Midrange: Hotel Zephyr San Francisco

With an excellent location close to Fisherman’s Wharf, this eclectic and funky hotel has nautical-themed room featuring fishnet-covered light fixtures and porthole-style windows. There’s a comfortable open-air lounge area where food and craft beers are served from a repurposed camper. Check the latest rates.

Budget: HI San Francisco Fisherman’s Wharf Hostel

Overlooking San Francisco Bay, this hostel offers great value for money, with affordable prices and clean simple rooms. There are both dorm rooms and private double rooms, with free breakfast included. It’s also got a good location. Check the latest rates.

argonaut hotel san francisco - where to stay in san francisco for the weekend


 

Where to Eat in San Francisco

San Francisco is home to some of the best seafood in the United States and, arguably, the entire world. Its location on the cold waters of the Pacific Ocean makes it a prime spot for fresh salmon, oysters, crab and halibut — just mention a few.

The Emerald City’s Asian influence can be found in dishes throughout the city as well. This makes dinners of freshly caught fish served up with an Asian twist so spectacular — and unique — that you may just leave Seattle craving another meal.

Here are some of my favorite places to eat:

what to eat in san francisco


Enjoy Your Weekend in San Francisco!

And that’s a wrap! Feel free to print out this San Francisco itinerary and bring it with you on your San Francisco weekend getaway! I have packed this itinerary with all the best things you can do in San Francisco in 3 days, so get ready to have a blast.

Be sure to leave a comment below if you have any questions. Enoy your weekend in San Francisco! Read more of my US articles to get idea for your next weekend trip:

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