San Francisco Itinerary for 1, 2, and 3-day visits with options to adapt it to your interests and enjoy this fun city with great food and lots to do.
San Francisco is a beautiful and fun city with a great many things to do and see. To make the most of your time, it’s helpful to know what the sightseeing choices are, and how to organize the ones you choose to visit. Our San Francisco Itinerary can help; it covers 1, 2, and 3-Day visits and can easily be modified to suit your interests, time, budget, and the weather.
If this is your first visit and you only have one day, deciding what to do can be as straight forward as seeing the most popular sights: ride a cable car, tour Alcatraz, and visit the Golden Gate Bridge. Just those three make a great day, so those, with a few optional extras, are what’s on the first day of the 3-day San Francisco Itinerary. But wait — there are more days and more options.
For a very quick preview of the attractions in the itinerary, see this 44-second video:
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Here are the things you’ll get in this article:
- Itineraries for 1, 2, and 3-Day visits with a free PDF version you can download
- Link to a Google map with locations pinned for each day’s sights
- Best time to visit San Francisco
- A few food and drink suggestions
- Getting around San Francisco on Public transit
- Links to four companion articles with more San Francisco sights. Use them to customize the itinerary to suit your interests. The four articles are: Popular Attractions, Museums, Parks & Gardens, and Interesting Neighborhoods.
The downloadable version of the itinerary is very brief and compact. It simply has suggested sights, locations, and food and drink recommendations. This article has the same list of sights as the downloadable version, but it has more information including brief descriptions, locations, time to allow, tips, and helpful links.
1 Day in San Francisco Itinerary
Ride a Cable Car: These unique and exciting little cable cars are like a theme park ride except you’re swooping up and down hills on real city streets with real traffic. There are 3 cable car lines, but take the Powell-Hyde Line if you can because it’s the longest run and climbs the highest up Russian and Nob Hills.
Location: The Powell-Hyde Line runs between the Wharf (Hyde & Beach) and Downtown (Powell & Market).
Time: About 15 minutes one-way
Link: Cable Cars
Tip: Ride in the early morning when lines are shorter and the cars are less crowded.
Pier 23 Café (Waterfront café near Alcatraz Landing) at Pier 23 on the Embarcadero
Tour Alcatraz: The infamous former prison on an island in San Francisco Bay. The ticket includes the ferry ride to and from the island and the excellent Cellhouse Audio Tour.
Location: Alcatraz Landing at Pier 33 on the Embarcadero.
Time: Allow about 3 hours for the ferry ride and tour.
Links: Alcatraz National Park Service
Alcatraz City Cruises
Tip: Get tickets early; they often sell out days/weeks in advance, and get them from Alcatraz City Cruises. They are the only concessioner authorized by the National Park Service.
Golden Gate Bridge: Considered one of the seven wonders of the modern world, the bridge is San Francisco’s most iconic sight. You can walk or bike onto or across the bridge, and it’s free.
Location: The bridge spans the entrance to San Francisco Bay connecting the city to Marin County. Access the bridge at the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center. There is limited, metered parking and these essentials: food, drink, and restrooms..
Time: Allow at least an hour and more if you walk all the way across the bridge and back. It’s 1.7 miles (2.7 km) each way.
Link: Golden Gate Bridge
If you have more time after visiting the bridge, consider these sights (locations are pinned on the linked Google Map):
- go to Coit Tower
- Visit Chinatown
- Wander around North Beach (Little Italy)
Franciscan Crab Restaurant at Fisherman’s Wharf
Original Joe’s in North Beach (601 Union Street)
Joe’s is Italian but don’t miss their amazing Hamburger Sandwich on sourdough.
Comstock Saloon on the corner of Pacific and Columbus.
It’s one of the few remaining traces of the Barbary Coast.
2 Days in San Francisco Itinerary
Morning & Afternoon
Golden Gate Park: This 1,017-acre park is now 150-years-old and it’s aged really well. It’s packed with so much to see and do that you can easily spend a full day here.
Location: Golden Gate Park is a long narrow strip between Fulton Avenue and Lincoln Way. It ends at the Great Highway and Pacific Ocean.
Time: You can easily spend an entire day.
Links: Golden Gate Park
Park Map (Downloadable)
Golden Gate Park Free Shuttle
Tip: There are bike and surrey rentals in the park and, on weekends and holidays, a free shuttle runs the length of the park on JFK Drive.
Here are the top sights in Golden Gate Park. Choose some or have a really packed day and do them all:
Botanical Garden: 55-acres chock full of trees, plants, and flowers from around the world.
Location: 1199 9th Avenue in Golden Gate Park
Time: Allow at least 90 minutes to walk through all of the areas.
Links: San Francisco Botanical Garden
Botanical Garden Map
California Academy of Sciences: A hands-on science museum with an impressive aquarium, living rainforest, an excellent planetarium, dinosaur skeletons, live penguins, and even a white alligator named Claude.
Location: 55 Music Concourse Drive in Golden Gate Park
Time: Allow at least 3 hours, especially if you see the Planetarium show.
Link: California Academy of Sciences
Conservatory of Flowers: Opened in 1879, the Conservatory is a glass and wooden greenhouse modeled after Kew Gardens in London. It has an amazing collection of rare and exotic plants including bromeliads, carnivorous plants, and giant Amazon lily pads.
Location: 100 John F. Kennedy Drive in Golden Gate Park
Time: 30-60 minutes
Link: Conservatory of Flowers
De Young Museum: The museum has an extensive permanent collection and always has multiple special exhibits from around the world. Take the elevator to the top of the 144-foot tower for an expansive 360° view of the city.
Location: 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive in Golden Gate Park
Time: About 2 hours; more if you see all of the exhibits
Link: De Young Museum
Japanese Tea Garden: The beautiful, peaceful 5-acre garden is complete with Koi ponds, a Temple Gate and Pagoda, Zen Garden, moon bridge, bronze Buddha, and a Tea House serving tea and refreshments.
Location: 75 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive in Golden Gate Park
Time: About an hour; perhaps more if you have tea and take lots of photos
Link: Japanese Tea Garden
Stow Lake and Strawberry Hill: Stow Lake is a 12-acre manmade lake in the middle of Golden Gate Park. Strawberry Hill is an island in the middle of the lake. Climb Strawberry Hill, walk the 2.1-mile trail around the lake, or rent a boat (pedal, row, or electric) and explore the lake.
Location: Take the short trail and stairs behind the Japanese Tea Garden, or if driving, turn onto Stow Lake Drive from either Martin Luther King Jr. Drive or John F. Kennedy Drive. Parking is free along Stow Lake Drive.
Time: 1 hour; 2 hours if you rent a boat
Links: Stow Lake
Stow Lake Boathouse
The California Academy of Sciences and the de Young Museum both have cafés
Beach Chalet on the Great Highway at the west end of the park (overlooking the Pacific Ocean)
Union Square: It’s a beautifully landscaped plaza in the heart of downtown. It’s surrounded by upscale shopping, hotels, and restaurants.
Location: Downtown: bordered by Geary Blvd. and Stockton, Powell, and Post Streets
Time: 15-30 minutes to wander through and around the square plus more for shopping and food
Link: Union Square
Dinner and Drinks
Johnny Foley’s Irish House, a popular Irish Pub one block from Union Square
Location: 243 O’Farrell Street
3 Days in San Francisco Itinerary
Exploratorium: It’s science museum with over 650 hands-on exhibits. It’s a gold mine for inquisitive minds where visitors explore “the world through science, art, and human perception.”
Location: Pier 15 on the Embarcadero
Time: Allow at least 3 hours. Sometimes we spend the whole day with a break for lunch in the onsite Seaglass Restaurant.
Tip: Skip the long-line by buying tickets online.
Exploratorium’s Seaglass Restaurant
After the Exploratorium, take a historic F-Streetcar from Pier 15 to Market and 3rd Street. Walk east on 3rd to Mission Street. There are three museums and two parks at or near this location. Pick a museum or two and visit the must-see parks.
Museums and/or Parks and Gardens — all of these except the Asian Art Museum are South of Market at or near Moscone Center (3rd and Mission):
Parks and Gardens
Salesforce Park: An amazing 5.4-acre park and garden on the roof of the Transit Center.
Location: There are several entrances to the 3.5 block-long Transit Center along Natoma or Minna Streets between Beale and 2nd. Take the escalator or an elevator to the 4th floor.
Time: Allow at least 30 minutes to walk the full loop, admire the trees, plants, and flowers and read some of the signage. Add more time if you just want to sit and contemplate how they created this amazing landscape on the roof of a 4-story building.
Link: Sales Force Park Garden Guide
Yerba Buena Gardens: A park with a waterfall, gardens, artworks, carousel, playground, ice skating rink, and more covering the Moscone Convention Center.
Location: Enter the 5-acre Esplanade on Mission Street between 3rd and 4th Streets, or any of several entrances to the 2-block complex.
Time: Plan an hour just to see the Dr. Martin Luther King Memorial, wander the grounds, and see the garden and scattered artworks. If you have children with you, allow time for the playground and carousel, and maybe the ice-skating rink.
Link: Yerba Buena Gardens
Take your pick of these four museums. They are all in the downtown area. The Asian Art Museum is in Civic Center. The other three are within a block of each other around Mission and 3rd Streets.
Asian Art Museum: It has one of the finest collections of Asian art in the world. The permanent galleries contain more than 18,000 artworks. The artworks represent every region in Asia, and some are more than 6,000 years old.
Location: 200 Larkin St. in Civic Center
Time: 1-2 hours
Link: Asian Art Museum
Contemporary Jewish MuseumMuseum: It has no permanent collection; instead, it hosts exhibits from other institutions. On my recent visit it had a great “Levi Strauss: A History of American Style” exhibit with 150 years of Levi history.
Location: 736 Mission Street
Time: 1 hour
Link: Contemporary Jewish MuseumMuseum
Museum of the African Diaspora: The museum has exhibits and programs to document, connect, and celebrate the cultural heritage of the people of Africa. On my recent visit, the second floor had a wonderful collection of works by South African artist Billie Zangewa. She creates amazing collages by hand-stitching colorful fragments of raw silk.
Location: 685 Mission Street. The museum is inside the St. Francis San Francisco Hotel, but it has its own entrance on Mission Street.
Time: about 60 minutes
Link: Museum of the African Diaspora
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art: SFMOMA is housed in a remarkable building and has one of the largest collections of modern art in the U.S., including works by familiar artists like Frida Kahlo, Richard Serra, and Andy Warhol.
Location: 151 3rd Street
Time: You can easily spend half a day here, but my personal art museum limit is about 2 hours.
Link: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
Day 3 Alternatives
Not up for museums or parks/gardens? Consider these alternatives:
- Take a San Francisco Bay Cruise. The Red and White Fleet and Blue and Gold Fleet are both located at Fisherman’s Wharf. Both offer San Francisco Bay cruises, and both have a 1-hour bay cruise that goes under the Golden Gate Bridge.
- Go to Crissy Field and walk the Golden Gate Promenade; it has gorgeous views of the Golden Gate Bridge, the Bay, and city skyline — and it’s free.
- Check the lists of sights in the Customize Your Itinerary section below and find something you’d rather do.
Dinner and Drinks
Garden Court at the Palace Hotel (2 New Montgomery Street)
Map with Pins for 1, 2, and 3-Day Itineraries
The locations of the sights in the itineraries are shown on the map below: orange for Day 1, purple for Day 2, green for Day 3, and blue for places to eat.
Best Time to Visit San Francisco
Weather-wise, mid-September through mid-November is best. The summer fog (nature’s air conditioner) doesn’t roll in as often and the winter rains haven’t yet started. The rest of the year, the weather is mixed: there are often gorgeous, sunny days in winter and overcast, chilly days in summer.
You may notice that the souvenir shops stock and sell a lot of sweatshirts and jackets. This is convenient for visitors because when the inland areas of California heat up in summer, it causes fog to roll in from the Pacific Ocean. The temperature in San Francisco can quickly drop 20-30°.
The coldest winter I ever saw was the summer I spent in San Francisco.Attributed (without confirmation) to Mark Twain
Even in winter, there are always some nice sunny days. Just bring layers of clothes, and when you pack your day bag, include a sweatshirt or nice warm jacket.
Where to Eat and Drink in San Francisco
These are a few of my favorite places in San Francisco. It’s a pretty eclectic mix because I tend to favor places with interesting locations, decor, and histories:
- Beach Chalet & Brewery in Golden Gate Park is actually two restaurants in the same building. Beach Chalet is on the second floor overlooking the ocean. Park Chalet is on the back patio with both indoor and outdoor seating. Checkout the depression era art on the first floor.
Location: 1000 Great Highway at the west end of Golden Gate Park
- Bistro Boudin is on the second floor of the Boudin sourdough bread bakery. It has great food in a spacious restaurant where you can enjoy a crab or corn chowder bread bowl without the downstairs crowd. Customers are also welcome to visit the free museum with its 40-foot-long catwalk overlooking the bakery.
Location: Fisherman’s Wharf (160 Jefferson)
- Comstock Saloon is a genuine remnant of San Francisco’s wild Barbary Coast. It wasn’t always called the Comstock, but it’s been a Saloon since 1907 and the mahogany bar with its beveled fanned mirrors, a tiled trough along the base of the bar (don’t ask), and, of course, the pukka walla fans are all original. The food choices are a bit unique; the cocktails are awesome.
Location: 155 Columbus Avenue (Columbus & Pacific)
- Franciscan Crab Restaurant is on the waterfront and most tables have a view. It’s a favorite for family get-togethers and we typically share a Sizzling Iron Skillet of roasted crab.
Location: Fisherman’s Wharf (Pier 43)
- Garden Court in the Palace Hotel is an elegant restaurant under a beautiful glass domed ceiling. The Palace Hotel has a long, interesting history and has had lots of famous and infamous guests.
Location: 2 New Montgomery Street
- Johnny Foley’s Irish House is a very popular Irish Pub with good food and a beautiful bar.
Location: 243 O’Farrell Street (a block from Union Square)
- Original Joe’s has not always been in North Beach, but it’s been a San Francisco favorite since 1937. I understand their Italian food and steaks are great, but I love Joe’s Famous Hamburger Sandwich so much that it and a Caesar salad are all I’ve ever tried.
Location: 601 Union Street
- Pier 23 Café is a waterfront favorite on the Embarcadero. They serve seafood, sandwiches, and drinks including on their back patio/deck overlooking the bay. It’s all very enjoyable.
Location: Pier 23 on the Embarcadero
Getting Around San Francisco
San Francisco is a very compact and densely populated city. That makes it possible to have awesome things like world class performing arts and major league sports, but it also creates traffic jams and scarce and expensive parking.
In San Francisco, I prefer taking public transit. With the MuniMobile transit app on my smartphone, I plan my route, know when cable cars, streetcars, light rail or buses will arrive, and pay my fare. By combining walking with public transit, I move around the city with ease.
For detailed instructions for using public transit, see our article Getting Around San Francisco on Public Transit. It provides:
- Routes and instructions for getting to Golden Gate Park, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Palace of Fine Arts.
- Fares and ways to pay
- Apps and maps
- Public transit options in San Francisco
Customize Your San Francisco Itinerary
Because one size definitely does not fit all, we have four related articles with more San Francisco sights. Use them to adapt the itinerary to suit your interests, budget, and time. The four articles are:
- 12 Popular San Francisco Attractions
- 7 Unique and Iconic San Francisco Neighborhoods
- 12 Extraordinary San Francisco Parks and Gardens
- 15 Best San Francisco Museums
Each of the above four articles has:
- Lots more photos
- A brief description of each sight (why it’s worth visiting)
- Location and typical time needed to visit
- Link(s) to official website(s)
It’s little wonder that 26 million people visit San Francisco annually. There are so many sights to see and things to do and never enough time to do everything you want. I hope this article helps you create your perfect San Francisco Itinerary by discovering sights you want to visit and organizing them in a way that makes the most of your time.
About the Author
Ginny Vail is a travel writer, whose goal is to help you pack your travels with more adventure and less stress. Her posts, photos, and videos will help you discover places to visit, sights to see, sight locations, ways to get to them, and when to go. She is a native Californian, and, although she’s visited all 50 states and traveled around the world, her main focus is the San Francisco Bay Area, where she lives.