Last updated on May 3, 2024 by Stefano Ferro, founder of MEL365, following extensive travelling in San Francisco

3 days San Francisco itinerary – 4 routes with self-guided walks

Having 3 days in the Golden City will allow you to see and experience so much of this destination.

However, I highly suggest planning your 3 days San Francisco itinerary in advance, otherwise it’s so easy to miss out on lots of attractions and little gems

In this guide, you will find 4 detailed daily plans that work great for couples, families, art & culture, or a bit of everything.

You will also discover 3 self-guided walks to the most characteristic areas of the city, with a handy free map to follow

But, let’s have a start

You can read also

3 days San Francisco itinerary – In a nutshell

Three days in San Francisco is enough time to even plan a visit to one or more attractions outside the city.

These could be the Sonoma or Napa Valley, the Alcatraz Island, Sausalito and I could keep going.

That leaves at least 2 days to explore the city.

3 days San Francisco itinerary
3 days San Francisco itinerary
  • 3 days San Francisco itinerary for couples: you and your partner will enjoy roaming around this unique city. Start your trip with Chinatown (one of the oldest in USA) and Little Italy, then it’s time of the Mission District and Downtown and finally, on the last day, rent an e-bike to visit the rest of San Francisco, also with a ride over the Golden Gate Bridge. Read below a detailed daily plan for 3 days in San Francisco for couples
  • 3 days San Francisco itinerary for families: One of the best areas for a trip with kids is with no doubt Fisherman’s Wharf. There are so many things to do for the entire family, including a lovely boat trip around the bay. Then it’s a time for a day of fun museum, like the Exploratorium. And finally a day at the park. Read more below for the best family itinerary with morning and afternoon programs
  • For art & culture: San Francisco is such an amazing arty city. There are so many museums, art galleries and street art places around. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art was the first museum of contemporary art opened on the west coast, a must see on any trip to San Francisco. You may not know that San Francisco launched the mural’s movement, and the Mission District is the best neighborhood to see the finest street work. Leave the last day for the Sonoma and Napa wine culture. Read more below for a comprehensive 3 days plan
  • For a bit of everything: Still not happy with all the options above. In this itinerary I mix a bit of everything, art, culture, beach time and sports activities, to enjoy in a relaxed way. Read below for more details

Here below I have organised and shared a Google Map with lots of attractions, things to do and places to visit in the city and the bay. A great reference to use during your San Francisco itinerary.

Things to do in San Francisco
Things to do in San Francisco – Check the shared Google Map for all the attractions

3 days San Francisco itinerary for couples

Day 1 Chinatown, Little Italy & Boat Tour

In the morning, experience one of the most characteristic districts of San Francisco, Chinatown.

I have drawn a self-guided walk with a map of the area and 10 stops.

You can also take an organized culinary tour to learn more about Chinese culture.

Make sure you visit the picturesque Li Po Cocktail Lounge to enjoy a cocktail in a surprising environment.

As soon as you are done exploring Chinatown, I suggest you continue walking along Columbus Avenue until you enter Little Italy, where you can have some food.

For lunch, pick up a focaccia from the lovely Liguria Bakery, or eat at the Piccolo Forno, where you can sit at a table

In the afternoon, get a 360-degree view of the city from the Coit Tower. Although it’s a bit of a steep, however short, hike from Little Italy, it’s definitely worth it.

Take the Greenwich Steps, located on the other side of the hill, to walk down to the Pier area through a lush vegetation and a multitude of viewpoints.

Last but not least, take a boat tour into the San Francisco Bay for a beautiful view of the city and, of course, to go under the Golden Gate Bridge.

The boat trip lasts approximately 60 minutes, with the standard route I just described, or 90 minutes with the circumnavigation of Alcatraz Island.

90 Minutes Boat Trip     1 hour boat trip

San Francisco - Chinatown walking tour
San Francisco – Chinatown walking tour

Day 2 Mission District & Downtown

In the morning, get a taste of the unusual experiences of the Mission District.

Explore the Misión San Francisco de Asís Church and the cemetery before heading into the district’s heart to discover these three hidden gems:

  • Pirate Supply Store, the best spot to buy a new set of masks and swords for your next adventure in The Caribbean
  • Paxton Gate, filled with unusual and bizarre items.
  • The Peephole Cinema, tucked away in a lane, where you can seat and watch a short movie from a little hole

You can enjoy the best of the Mission District on this self-guided walking tour, which includes suggestions also for a lunch break within the area

There are a few things you can do in the afternoon:

  • For some shopping in downtown, visit Union Square
  • Get active at Mission Cliffs (climbing and more).
  • For some fun and quirky time, take the bus #27 to the Antique Vibrator Museum in the Polk Gulch area or to the nearby Haas-Lilienthal House, one of the few Victoria houses to survive the 1906 earthquake, which is now open to the public.

Self Guided Mission District     Mission District Food Tour

Mission District Walking Tour - Self Guided
Mission District Walking Tour – Self Guided

Day 3 Cycling around San Francisco

On the last day of your San Francisco itinerary, I suggest renting an e-bike and experience San Francisco on your own.

Start by riding on the Golden Gate Bridge to the other side of the bay, up to the Battery Point observation deck, where you will get one of the best views of San Francisco.

You then have 2 options:

  • ride down to the lovely village of Sausalito, where you can have a pleasant walk and lunch
  • keep riding through the spectacular Conzelman Road where you will have multiple viewpoint as well as a few possibilities for some trekking. Back to the bridge from Bunker Road. This is an 8 miles loop.

Riding an e-bike will be less physically demanding not only on the hills of San Francisco and the Sausalito area, but also in the typical windy conditions of the Golden Gate Bridge.

If you haven’t still had your lunch, head to Japantown, where you can have a ramen at Waraku.

Then ride to Alamo Square for the famous Painted Ladies, the historical raw of colourful Victorian house that you may have already seen on Tv or at the cinema.

Spend the rest of the afternoon in the Golden Gate Park, where you can also decide to have a rest at the Ocean Beach side or pay a visit to the de Young Museum, with exhibitions of modern and contemporary art.

Close your stay in San Francisco with a sunset cruise in the bay.

Sunset cruise

Accommodations and experiences for couples:

The Painted Ladies and San Francisco skyline at dusk, from Alamo square
The Painted Ladies and San Francisco skyline at dusk, from Alamo square

3 days Francisco itinerary for families

Day 1 Fisherman’s Wharf & North Beach

Take your kids to Fisherman’s Wharf and North Beach, where you will spend the first day of your family break.

It is one of San Francisco’s most popular areas, especially for children.

Here’s a self-guided walking tour to the North Beach that you can easily follow along with a map.

Here are some of the places you must visit:

In the afternoon, consider also a boat ride in the bay, which is sure to be lots of fun for kids and adults alike.

You can either opt for a 60 minutes boat trip to go under the bridge and then see the city and the island of Alcatraz (although from a distance)

Alternatively, get the longer 90-minutes boat trip that will circumnavigate the Alcatraz Island as well.

If interested in visiting inside Alcatraz, book this 4-hour Tour that includes access to the prison as well as a guided tour to Fisherman’s Wharf

4-hour Tour with Alcatraz    90 Minutes Boat Trip     1 hour boat trip

Little Italy and North Beach walking tour
Little Italy and North Beach walking tour

Day 2 Exploratorium & Randall Museum

This is another great day for a couple of creative and stimulating children museums that are also so beloved by adults.

In the morning, make your way to the unique Exploratorium (buy your tickets in advance to avoid the long queues).

This is one of the best museum in San Francisco because you and your kids will get to know plenty of new things having fun.

The exhibitions are mostly hands on, leaving the children, and adult alike, to interact in the experience.

There are also lights and sounds shows where you will be surprised by how much you will learn.

The Exploratorium will stay in your memory for a long time, which is what you want from a museum, isn’t it?.

Once you finish wandering in the Exploratorium, walk two piers down to Pier 7 for one of the best views of the city.

Then make your way to the Embarcadero Metro Station through the Sue Bierman Park, where you will find a playground to exhaust some of the kids’ energy.

But before taking the train, get your lunch at the Ziggy’s Burger, meters to the station.

Once your meal is over, take the M Ocean View line to Castro Station (10 minutes or 6 stops), to the Randall Museum, where you will spend the afternoon.

The Randall Museum is a great place for any age because it allows children to experience first hand with science, art and nature.

Classes and workshops , with subjects that spread from ceramics to robotics, are organised throughout the day (see full program here)

Another great thing about the Randall Museum is that access is free, making it a real deal for the whole family.

View from Pier 7 to the SoMa and Union Square area
View from Pier 7 to the SoMa and Union Square area

Day 3 Golden Gate Park & Downtown

Dedicate your morning to the most visited park in the United States, the Golden Gate Park

As you take a walk around the park, you will meet great people and find interesting things to check out.

Aside from the scenic view, there are musicians playing live music, artists showing off their artistic skills and even bikers enjoying the park’s open spaces.

Inside the park you will find so many places to visit and enjoy.

Let’s start with a walk to the San Francisco Botanical Garden. Picture over 55 acres of flowers, plants and beauty.

Take a walk around, learn some things about exotic plants and even have a picnic on the grounds.

What makes the Botanical Garden a treasure is that it sits on the ancestral homeland of the Ramaytush Ohlone, the original peoples of the San Francisco Peninsula.

In the Golden Gate Park you will find also the California Academy of Sciences, the place to go for your nature and science fix.

The museum has served over 80,000 annual visitors since 1874.

Only the California Academy of Sciences can boast of a swamp with real animals that visitors can learn about.

The adventure does not stop there, because those who love the stars can visit the planetarium and check out an amazing projection on a 180 degree screen. 

Other beautiful exhibitions at the museum include the Rainforests of the World dome and the Naturalist Centre.

The Academy of Science is a popular attraction. Buy your tickets in advance to skip the queues.

On the eastern side of the Golden Gate Park you will find the Koret Playground, the place that will definitely raise your kid’s spirit.

Start with the old carousel for a ride and amazing photographs.

Next, check out the other rides available at the playground. After playtime is over, you can enjoy a family picnic on the grounds.

In the afternoon, if you are done with the Golden Gate Park, take the tram to downtown to visit the iconic Union Square.

If you want to quench your retail therapy thirst, there are many gift stores and shops for you to visit. 

Finally, take a stroll towards the Dewey Monument and marvel at the Greek Goddess statue.

End your day tour at the Children’s Creativity Museum.

Let your kids aged 2 to 12 stretch their artistic and creative muscles while at the museum.

You and the kids can create your own animation or take a look at the lovely sculptures if you visit during the winter.

You can’t leave without taking a wild ride on the LeRoy King Carousel.

Accommodations and experiences for families:

View of Treasure Island and San Francisco in the background
View of Treasure Island and San Francisco in the background

Three days for art & culture

Day 1 San Francisco Museum of Modern Art 

Start off your tour at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, fondly nicknamed SFMOMA.

This is the most popular art museum in San Francisco. Remember to buy your tickets in advance to skip the queues.

What kind of exhibitions can you expect?

There is architecture, paintings, sculptures and even digital art.

There are options for kids and adults, so there is never a dull moment at SFMOMA.

After the morning at SFMOMA, head to the smaller but unique American Bookbinders Museum.

Bookbinding is an age-old tradition that has kept physical books alive, and the American Bookbinders Museum wants to make sure that we never forget this.

This is one of the only places in the US that is dedicated to the art of bookbinding, using the classic machines from the early 19th Century.

We are not done with our museum day tour, so the next place to head to is the Asian Art Museum.

Here, you can view a large collection of Asian artwork in one place.

Come and appreciate over 18,000 exhibitions of jade and ceramic pieces as well as video installations.

There are other ways to appreciate Asian culture while at the museum.

There are film screenings, cultural events and tours for the whole family.

Downtown San Francisco and Treasure Island in the background
Downtown San Francisco and Treasure Island in the background

Day 2 Mission District

If you are into cemeteries, old churches, murals, street art and restaurants, then the Mission District is the place to start your tour day.

Murals are a raw, unrestricted type of art and the Mission District has plenty of those for you to check out.

There are numerous walls of murals, the most popular being in the Balmy Alley.

You will find hundreds of murals, each with a unique and powerful message..

It was in the 1970s that the first murals in the Mission District were painted, and since then, there have been more pieces from local and international artists.

While at Balmy Alley, the first mural you should look for is one of Father Richard.

It is a powerful piece dedicated to him and his fight against HIV/AIDS, after losing a close family member to the disease.

Another mural you must visit is the one of the Archbishop of San Salvador, Monsenor Oscar Romero, a well-known missionary back in the day.

Once done with Balmy alley, look for the Lilac Mural Project for more pieces. You can also visit Clarion Alley, another popular street art spot in The Mission.

I have written a self-guided walk in the Mission District with a map that you can download.

Alternatively, why not joining this Mission District Food Tour for more of an inside on the Mexican-American cuisine and the local culture with a knowledgeable guide.

Self Guided Mission District     Mission District Food Tour

Mission Dolores Park - South side with the playground
Mission Dolores Park – South side with the playground

Time to leave the Mission District and walk towards downtown.

On the way, if you are a fan of old posters and advertising printwork, you must stop by the Historic Pressroom and Mercantile.

Picture walls and show tables with over 15 million pieces of posters, packaging, classic advertising and classic toys for you to enjoy..

The museum has restored all the printing press equipment so that visitors can see how print rooms worked in the past.

You get to learn how posters, newspapers and advertising posters were created.

This is the perfect inspiration place for those in graphics and advertising careers.

At the end of this fun day tour, it is time for some dinner and excitement.

The Luxury Dinner Dance Cruise is a 2.5 hour cruise on the San Francisco Bay.

Get on board and enjoy some cocktails, wine and a delectable 3-course dinner. Check out the views of the bay while dancing to some live music for the rest of the cruise.

Luxury Dinner Dance Cruise

View of San Francisco from Treasure Island at night.
View of San Francisco by night.

Day 3 Sonoma and Napa Valley for a wine day

One hour out of San Francisco is a place rich with culture, tourism and, of course, wine.

That is the scenic Sonoma Valley. Aside from the winery visits, there are plenty of shops and various restaurants for you to try out.

There will always be something to do in Sonoma, especially because there are over 100 wineries.

One of these is the Valley of the Moon Winery. Visit the tasting room where you will get to experience the locally produced wine paired with some small food.

There are also fire pits and a patio for you to relax and enjoy your wine, great on those cold winter days.

As you sip your Pinot Noir or Chardonnay, take a walk around the vast Gloria Ferrer Caves and Vineyards.

You can enjoy your wine tasting and thereafter take a stroll around the vineyard.

A visit to the town of Glen Ellen will make you appreciate small town living.

With a little over 800 residents, you can make new friends while visiting places like the Sonoma Botanical Gardens or the Jack London State Historic Park.

You can also combine a trip to Sonoma with a visit to the famous Napa Valley, another absolute must, not too far away.

There are over 400 wineries and is home of the award-winning Cabernet Sauvignon.

One of the wineries to visit is the Domaine Carneros, a spot with a fine French Chateau and sprawling gardens.

The winery dabbles in both sparkling and still wines.

Not enough?

Then head on to the Hyde Estate Winery, which is not too far away.

It is a well-known winery that offers elegant wine tasting experiences, over 25 acres of estate and award-winning Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Aside from the wineries, there are high-end restaurants you can try out while on your tour.

You can drive yourself to both valleys, however, there is a small drawback, the driver will not be able to have any wine (watch out because alcohol tests are common)

For peace of mind, join instead this Sonoma & Napa Valley winery tour that will take you from and back to the city. Easy.

Sonoma & Napa Valley

Accommodations and experiences:

Hot Air Balloon ride over Napa Valley
Hot Air Balloon ride over Napa Valley

For a bit of everything

Day 1 San Francisco Zoo

Spend the better part of your day at the Zoo!

The San Francisco Zoo and Gardens is 100 acres of animals, plants, gardens and beauty located next to the ocean.

The Zoo is home to over 2000 exotic animals such as giraffes, monkeys, apes and big cats.

While at the zoo, both kids and adults can enjoy the game zone, the gardens and tours for the kids to learn more about the animals.

The Zoo is dedicated to wildlife conservation and has exhibitions showing how they work to protect animals like the yellow-legged frogs or the Western Pond turtles.

An exhibition that you must not miss is the Leanne B. Roberts African Savanna, which is a walk-through experience to see the animals found in Africa like giraffes, birds, the kudu and even zebras. 

Buy your tickets in advance if you visit the zoo on weekends, a popular time with families.

If you have some time left in the afternoon, you can think of either make it to downtown for some shopping or why not a visit to the Walt Disney Family Museum (pre-book your tickets here).

Zoo Tickets     Walt Disney Tickets

Inside the Presidio of San Francisco
Inside the Presidio of San Francisco

Day 2 Fisherman’s Wharf District

Fisherman’s Wharf District is the place to visit when you want to experience San Francisco Bay by the water.

It is one of the most visited neighbourhoods and it is easy to see why.

You can also follow a walk I designed for North Beach, Fisherman’s Wharf and Little Italy that goes through the major attractions, viewpoints and little gems with a free map.

If you love chocolate, shopping and food, then you must visit Ghirardelli Square.

You will find a neat chocolate factory called the Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory.

At the same time, you can shop for jewellery and toys for the kids to take home. 

After a visit to the square, check out Hyde Street Pier where you can experience amazing views of San Francisco.

You can visit the bay and check out the colony of sea lions, enjoy some fine dining at the pier and also visit some historic ships.

That’s not all, there is always a live event for you to wind down your day at the square and the perfect way to end your tour.

You should also not miss a 60 minutes boat trip in the bay that will go under the Golden Gate Bridge

Extend the boat trip to 90-minutes to make it around Alcatraz Island.

Do you want to make it inside Alcatraz? Book this 4-hour Tour that includes a walking tour of Fisherman’s Wharf

4-hour Tour with Alcatraz    90 Minutes Boat Trip     1 hour boat trip

San Francisco in one day
San Francisco in one day

Day 3 A day in the bay

Use the last day to explore beyond the city of San Francisco.

I would suggest one of these 3 trips. You can do all on your own or join an organised tour.

The first option is to explore Treasure Island, the man-made island between San Francisco and Oakland.

This is a still-kept-secret corner of San Francisco, which works particularly well for wine and spirit tasting, beside sailing and SUP.

You should read to my ultimate guide on the things to do on Treasure Island, including information on how to get there (hit, it’s very easy and cheap).

Treasure Island (San Francisco) things to do
Treasure Island (San Francisco) things to do

The second possibility is to have a trekking day in the Muir Redwood Forest, on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Rent a car and do it on your own. You will have also the flexibility to stop at a few viewpoints to admire the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco from the other side of the bay.

Alternatively, join an organised day trip that includes a visit to Sausalito, a small coastal village with a Mediterranean feeling.

You can also kill two birds with one stone by visiting the Muir Woods together with the wine country. Yes, a long day, but so worthy!

Muir Woods Trip    Muir + Wine Country

Walking in the Muir Woods National Monument
Walking in the Muir Woods National Monument

The last possibility for this third day is to explore Silicon Valley.

This is where the world innovation starts, an area famous for the techies, of course.

It must be said that you cannot enter any building, so you can see, for example, the Facebook or Google headquarter, but only from outside.

Apple is the only one with a shop & tech park accessible to everyone.

You can also think of visiting a part of the Stanford University, being already in the area.

Again, you can organise this trip on your own with a rented car (make a stop also at the Pulgas Water Temple and the Center for Visual Arts) or join an organised tour to see the area

Tour to Silicon Valley

Accommodations and experiences:

Silicon Valley - Apple Park
Silicon Valley – Apple Park
The popular Fisherman's Wharf
The popular Fisherman’s Wharf
View of Alcatraz Island from San Francisco piers
View of Alcatraz Island from San Francisco piers
 City view on a beautiful sunny morning
City view on a beautiful sunny morning
Beautiful tams of San Francisco - A real experience
Beautiful tams of San Francisco – A real experience
The iconic tram ride in San Francisco
The iconic tram ride in San Francisco
Walking in the streets of Chinatown in San Francisco
Walking in the streets of Chinatown in San Francisco
Dragon Gate in Chinatown
Dragon Gate in Chinatown
Chnatown - Wandering around the shops
Chinatown – Wandering around the shops
The Coit Tower, the Art Deco tower in Pioneer Park
The Coit Tower, the Art Deco tower in Pioneer Park
View of Little Italy from the Coit Tower
View of Little Italy from the Coit Tower
The famous Sea Lions at Pier 39
The famous Sea Lions at Pier 39
The Palace Of Fine Arts - Presidio
The Palace Of Fine Arts – Presidio
View of San Fran from Treasure Island (Yerba Buena Island).
View of San Fran from Treasure Island (Yerba Buena Island).
Treasure Island Museum
Treasure Island Museum
Womens Building in Mission District
Womens Building in Mission District
Wandering around the small lanes of the Mission District
Wandering around the small lanes of the Mission District
View of Treasure Island and San Francisco in the background
View of Treasure Island and San Francisco in the background
Stefano Ferro - MEL365.com Founder and Editor

About the Author

Stefano is a seasoned travel expert and the visionary founder of MEL365.com, a leading travel website with traffic across 6 continents. With a rich background in the travel industry, Stefano spent four pivotal years at Amadeus Travel Distribution System, gaining invaluable insights into travel technologies and distribution.

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