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3 Days in San Francisco

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Only have three days to explore this beautiful city by the bay? Never fear, this guide will ensure you hit all the hottest spots!

Good for
  • History Buff
  • Thrill Seeker
  • Nightlife Seeker
  • Foodie
  • Peace and Quiet Seeker
  • Trendsetter

12 Places

8 City Tips

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12 Places

Day 1

Alcatraz

Historic Sites, Islands, National Parks, Nature & Wildlife Areas

Ferry Building Marketplace

Speciality & Gift Shops

Union Square

Speciality & Gift Shops

Chinatown

Neighbourhoods

Day 2

Lombard Street

Points of Interest & Landmarks

Pier 39

Piers & Boardwalks

Golden Gate Bridge

Bridges

Sausalito

Destinations

Day 3

Coit Tower

Architectural Buildings, Monuments & Statues, Observation Decks & Towers, Points of Interest & Landmarks

Haight-Ashbury

Historic Walking Areas, Neighbourhoods, Points of Interest & Landmarks

Golden Gate Park

Parks

Cliff House

Historic Sites

Martha C's City Tips

  • No trip to SF is complete without a cable car ride. There are lots of options for hopping on & off each route.
  • If you like to cycle, rent a bike and ride along the waterfront. Just be careful of getting caught out going up those famous hills!
  • Use the ferries! You can take them to the seaside towns of Sausalito or Tiburon, on a journey around the San Francisco Bay (or to one of the islands), or over to the hip East Bay.
  • If you ride the cable car more than once, one-way tickets can add up. Instead, buy a 1- or 3-day passport, good for cable cars, buses, and the Embarcadero's vintage streetcars.
  • Get ready to eat a lot! This is a food city for sure and you will be spoiled for choice here.
  • San Francisco is a very service oriented city, so be sure to tip accordingly! In restaurants 15-20% is standard.
  • Many things are a go here in this eclectic city. Don't be afraid to take any and all fashion risks!
  • A generally pedestrian and bike friendly place, be sure to share the road no matter what your mode of transportation.
    Day 1
  • Save
    Alcatraz
    Historic Sites, Islands, National Parks, Nature & Wildlife Areas
    See more photos
    Martha C Says:

    Kick off your visit to San Francisco with one of the most iconic destinations the city has to offer. Originally a pelican nesting ground ('alcatraces' is Spanish for 'pelicans') and then a 19th-century military fortress, 'The Rock' is most famous for its stint as a maximum-security prison. From 1934 until 1963, this imposing fort in the middle of the bay housed some of America's most notorious criminals, from Al 'Scarface' Capone to Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. Today, visitors can explore the cell blocks, listen to an audio guide with firsthand accounts from guards and inmates, and enjoy some of the most stunning views of the San Francisco skyline.

    Good for
    • Must See
    • History Buff
    • Nature Lover
    Tips
    • No matter what the weather is like in the city, bring a jacket! The weather is erratic on this rocky outcrop in the bay!
    • Give yourself a lot of time here — you'll need to set aside a few hours for the ferry rides and lots of time to explore the prison interior and exterior (go early!).
    • The audio guide is included in the regular ticket purchase, and is available in a variety of languages.
    • When you disembark the ferry, a park representative will give a brief orientation, mentioning any talks or other programs happening that day. Programs are free and worth it!
    • Don't miss seeing the island's five historic gardens, which were once tended by the wives of Alcatraz staff, and the inmates themselves.
    • Spots for this popular attraction fill up fast, so be sure to book your tickets a few weeks in advance of your visit — especially in the summer and on holidays.
    • For a truly unique (and possibly spooky) experience, consider booking a night tour of the island.
    • Be aware that there are no dining options on the island. Pack some snacks (food can be enjoyed on the dock area only) so that hunger pangs won't abruptly end your visit.
    Plan to stay:
    More than 3 hours
    From the community
    Ranked #1 of 717 things to do in San Francisco
    Certificate of Excellence 2014Certificate of Excellence 2014
    • Don't expect too much 25/04/2015
    • So much more than a prison.... 25/04/2015
    • Alcatraz
    Address:
    Bay Street and Embarcadero
    Pier 33 Alcatraz Landing
    San Francisco, CA 94133
    Phone:
    +1 415-981-7625
    Other:
  • Save
    Ferry Building Marketplace
    Speciality & Gift Shops
    See more photos
    Martha C Says:

    A day on the waterfront is not complete without a visit to the Ferry Building. It's a great stop for lunch, where everyone can eat a different type of cuisine if desired! Make your way down the main hall and sample from several food and beverage shops, then head out behind the building to get an amazing view of the Bay Bridge.

    Good for
    • Foodie
    • Must See
    • Thrifty Traveller
    • Like a Local
    Tips
    • For a fancy lunch, stop into Slanted Door for stellar Vietnamese cuisine. Be sure to make a reservation at this busy restaurant.
    • It's a lovely 20-minute walk from the Alcatraz ferry to the Ferry Building.
    • It's especially fun to wander through the Ferry Building when the Farmers Market is going on (10am-2pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays; 8am-2pm on Saturdays).
    Plan to stay:
    1-2 hours
    From the community
    Ranked #1 of 247 Shopping in San Francisco
    Certificate of Excellence 2014Certificate of Excellence 2014
    • Cute shops 24/04/2015
    • Fun place at lunchtime 23/04/2015
    • Ferry Building Marketplace
    Address:
    One Ferry Building
    The Embarcadero at Market Street
    San Francisco, CA 94111
    Phone:
    415 693 0996
    Other:
  • Save
    Union Square
    Speciality & Gift Shops
    See more photos
    Martha C Says:

    San Francisco's main shopping hub, Union Square is surrounded by shiny shops, restaurants and hotels. Peruse posh Nieman Marcus, stroll among the luxury shops on Maiden Lane, and even pop into an art gallery (or several). From up-market designers to affordable brands, there's something for everyone in Union Square.

    Good for
    • Must See
    • Luxury Traveller
    • Thrifty Traveller
    • Trendsetter
    • Shopping Fanatic
    • Art and Architecture Lover
    Tips
    • Attention shoe lovers: Be sure to check out the shoe floor at Macy's which has every style you could imagine.
    • Head down the road to Westfield San Francisco Centre for more great shops, including Bloomingdale's. Be sure to check out the circular escalators in the Nordstrom Center.
    • If you're visiting in winter, ice skating under the giant Christmas tree makes for a great holiday activity.
    Plan to stay:
    2-3 hours
    From the community
    Ranked #5 of 247 Shopping in San Francisco
    • Iconic Hotel 24/04/2015
    • Fun place to window shop or serious shop 24/04/2015
    • Union Square
    Address:
    Bordered by Powell, Stockton, Post and Geary Streets
    San Francisco, CA 94123
    Phone:
    415 391 2000
    Hours:
    Sun - Sat
    9:00 - 0:00
    Other:
  • Save
    Chinatown
    Neighbourhoods
    See more photos
    Martha C Says:

    San Francisco is home to the largest Chinatown outside of Asia, which has been a bustling area since the late 1800s. It is filled with interesting shops, restaurants, tea houses and so much more. Be prepared to sample lots of new ingredients that you may have never come across before.

    Good for
    • Foodie
    • Must See
    • Thrifty Traveller
    • History Buff
    • Thrill Seeker
    • Shopping Fanatic
    • Art and Architecture Lover
    Tips
    • To get the true feel, walk along Stockton St (between Columbus and Broadway), where you'll pass live markets selling everything from chickens to turtles. Saturdays are busiest.
    • Hidden on teensy Ross Alley, the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory makes a fascinating (and free!) visit, if you find yourself with some extra time.
    • You must stop in at House of Nanking for some food, and be sure to try the Fried Pork Potstickers!
    Plan to stay:
    1-2 hours
    From the community
    Ranked #94 of 717 things to do in San Francisco
    • Impressive! 24/04/2015
    • What an eye opener 23/04/2015
    • Chinatown
    Address:
    Grant Avenue
    San Francisco, CA 94108
    Phone:
    888-212-3203
    Other:
  • Day 2
  • Save
    Lombard Street
    Points of Interest & Landmarks
    See more photos
    Martha C Says:

    You can't visit San Francisco and not see this famous crooked street! If you take the cable car up here, walk down the steps along the street to get some great photos of the view up the hill. The flowers that line the road are beautiful and the Victorian houses along the street are impressive too.

    Good for
    • Thrifty Traveller
    • Trendsetter
    Tips
    • Keep a look out for some famous homes here, including the "Real World" house (949 Lombard) and Scottie's apartment from "Vertigo" (900 Lombard).
    • Take the Powell-Mason cable car to Lombard and Columbus to end up at the bottom of the curvy section, or the Hyde Street line to end up at the top.
    • No matter what time of day you visit, you're almost guaranteed to have company. For the best photo (without someone's rear end), stand on Leavenworth looking up the crooked part.
    Plan to stay:
    Less than 1 hour
    From the community
    Ranked #31 of 717 things to do in San Francisco
    • Beautiful section of Lombard 25/04/2015
    • Fun 25/04/2015
    • Lombard Street
    Phone:
    415-391-2000
  • Save
    Pier 39
    Piers & Boardwalks
    See more photos
    Martha C Says:

    Pier 39 is in every San Francisco travel guide for a reason: It's a city staple. The bustling waterfront area is definitely a classic tourist spot — very busy and full of people looking to buy their SF souvenirs — but it's also loads of fun and a classic San Francisco attraction. An aquarium, street performers, shops, a carousel, and myriad eateries are just the tip of the iceberg of things to do here.

    Good for
    • Must See
    • Thrifty Traveller
    • Nature Lover
    Tips
    • It's about a 17-minute walk from Lombard Street down to Pier 39, or you can take the Powell-Hyde cable car to Hyde and North Point, and hit Fisherman's Wharf before walking over.
    • Be sure to head to the back to see the sea lions, the most famous residents of this destination.
    • Don't miss Fisherman's Wharf, famed for hawking fresh seafood from both stalls and sit-down eateries (skip the more upscale spots here — they tend to be overpriced).
    Plan to stay:
    2-3 hours
    From the community
    Ranked #32 of 717 things to do in San Francisco
    Certificate of Excellence 2014Certificate of Excellence 2014
    • Sea Lions 26/04/2015
    • FUN! 25/04/2015
    • Pier 39
    Address:
    Beach Street & The Embarcadero
    San Francisco, CA 94133
    Phone:
    +1 415-705-5500
    Hours:
    Sun - Sat
    10:00 - 21:00
    Other:
  • Save
    Golden Gate Bridge
    Bridges
    See more photos
    Martha C Says:

    The most iconic structure in San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge is not to be missed. Hopefully you'll hit it on a clear day so you can see it in all its glory, but even shrouded in fog it's a magical sight. To get a real sense of its beauty or scale, walk or bike its 1.7-mile span.

    Good for
    • Must See
    • History Buff
    • Art and Architecture Lover
    • Nature Lover
    Tips
    • Make sure you have a jacket (it gets windy!), water and a snack.
    • You can rent bikes near Fisherman's Wharf and ride along the water and across the bridge into the Marin Headlands. Have lunch in Sausalito or Tiburon, and then catch a ferry back.
    • If you don't feel like walking or biking the bridge, you can get some great views (and Instagram-worthy photos) from Fort Mason.
    Plan to stay:
    2-3 hours
    From the community
    Ranked #2 of 717 things to do in San Francisco
    Certificate of Excellence 2014Certificate of Excellence 2014
    • Bucket List✔️ 26/04/2015
    • Spectacular 25/04/2015
    • Golden Gate Bridge
    Address:
    Lincoln Boulevard, near Doyle Drive and Fort Point
    San Francisco, CA 94129
    Phone:
    415-921-5858
    Other:
  • Sausalito
    Destinations
    See more photos
    Martha C Says:

    Tucked between the waterfront and a hillside, quaint and lovely Sausalito is reminiscent of a picturesque Italian village. It's got loads of cute shops, plenty of waterfront restaurants, and oodles of charm.

    Good for
    • Must See
    • Luxury Traveller
    • Trendsetter
    • Shopping Fanatic
    • Art and Architecture Lover
    Tips
    • If you feel like getting out on the water, Sea Trek offers kayak and stand-up paddleboard rentals.
    • You can either take the ferry in from Pier 39, or walk or bike down into town after crossing the Golden Gate Bridge (and then take the ferry back to the city after exploring).
    • Check out the galleries here for great local art and sculptures.
    • Stop in at Scoma's restaurant for a classic seafood dish and great views of San Francisco.
    Plan to stay:
    More than 3 hours
    • Sausalito
  • Day 3
  • Save
    Coit Tower
    Architectural Buildings, Monuments & Statues, Observation Decks & Towers, Points of Interest & Landmarks
    See more photos
    Martha C Says:

    The views from this iconic tower — and its perch on Telegraph Hill — are spectacular day and night. Named for Lillie Hitchcock Coit, one of the city's many famed eccentrics who left a bequest for 'adding beauty to the city,' the tower features incredible WPA murals by famed artist Diego Rivera.

    Good for
    • Must See
    • History Buff
    • Nature Lover
    Tips
    • The tower is open 10am-6pm May through October and 10am-5pm November through April.
    • You can take bus #39, or brave the steep hike via Telegraph Hill's famed Filbert Street Steps.
    • If you visit at night, you can't enter the tower, but the sparkling skyline is still worth the trek.
    Plan to stay:
    Less than 1 hour
    From the community
    Ranked #60 of 717 things to do in San Francisco
    • Awesome views of San Francisco 25/04/2015
    • Beautiful views, a bit of a wait 24/04/2015
    • Coit Tower
    Address:
    1 Telegraph Hill Boulevard
    San Francisco, CA 94133
    Phone:
    +1 415-488-7772
  • Save
    Haight-Ashbury
    Historic Walking Areas, Neighbourhoods, Points of Interest & Landmarks
    See more photos
    Martha C Says:

    San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury neighborhood saw its height of popularity during the Summer of Love in 1967, but is still a haven for alternative lifestyles. Expect lots of colorful houses, funky cafes and shops filled with tie-dye and other '60s throwbacks.

    Good for
    • Foodie
    • Must See
    • History Buff
    • Shopping Fanatic
    • Art and Architecture Lover
    Tips
    • Haight is a nice street to stroll along before you head off into Golden Gate Park for a bit.
    • If you're here around lunch time, check out Cha Cha Cha for amazing Caribbean cuisine.
    Plan to stay:
    1-2 hours
    From the community
    Ranked #114 of 717 things to do in San Francisco
    • Vicki Ratliff. 25/04/2015
    • Fun walking tour - mostly residential 24/04/2015
    • Haight-Ashbury
    Address:
    Haight Street between Masonic and Stanyan
    San Francisco, CA 94117
    Phone:
    415 391 2000
  • Save
    Golden Gate Park
    Parks
    See more photos
    Martha C Says:

    Within its 1,017 acres, San Francisco's famed park boasts everything from playgrounds and picnic groves to windmills and wild bison. That's to say nothing of the museums to explore, lakes to row and gardens to stroll. Golden Gate Park is a place where you could spend a couple of hours or the whole day (or several!) if you chose. You can admire art at the DeYoung Museum, sip tea at the Japanese Tea Garden, be amazed at the California Academy of Sciences, and so much more.

    Good for
    • Must See
    • Thrill Seeker
    • Art and Architecture Lover
    • Nature Lover
    Tips
    • Bring a picnic and spend a few hours in the San Francisco Botanical Gardens.
    • On a nice day, rent a boat at Stow Lake and pedal around for a bit.
    Plan to stay:
    More than 3 hours
    From the community
    Ranked #6 of 717 things to do in San Francisco
    Certificate of Excellence 2014Certificate of Excellence 2014
    • Can't get enough of this park! 24/04/2015
    • Beautiful Park 24/04/2015
    • Golden Gate Park
    Address:
    501 Stanyan St
    San Francisco, CA 94117
    Phone:
    (415) 831-2700
    Other:
  • Save
    Cliff House
    Historic Sites
    See more photos
    Martha C Says:

    A city mainstay, the Cliff House has been watching over the Pacific and thrilling guests since 1863. It's now part of the Golden Gate Recreation Area and serves up classic dishes like Clam Chowder, Trout Almondine and the stellar Cliff House Bistro Burger - along with a side of stunning views. Before or after you dine, walk along the ruins of the old Sutro Baths, which were originally built in 1894. The buildings are long gone there, but it's still fascinating (and photogenic!) to walk through their remnants and learn all about old San Francisco.

    Good for
    • Foodie
    • Must See
    • History Buff
    • Nature Lover
    Tips
    • It's about a 15-minute walk from the end of Golden Gate Park to the Cliff House.
    • Bring a jacket to keep you warm, as the wind can pick up suddenly on this side of the city.
    Plan to stay:
    2-3 hours
    From the community
    Ranked #72 of 717 things to do in San Francisco
    Certificate of Excellence 2014Certificate of Excellence 2014
    • I always go back 21/04/2015
    • Brunch with a perfect view 07/04/2015
    • Cliff House
    Address:
    1090 Point Lobos
    San Francisco, CA 94121
    Phone:
    415 386 3330
    Other:
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