Planning a trip to the city by the bay? This 3 day San Francisco Travel Guide is perfect for those that only have a few days in the city and are on a budget. We’ve highlighted some of the best San Fran “must see” attractions and the most convenient way to get around the city.
This is a partnered post. All opinions are my own.
3 Day San Francisco Travel Guide
Here’s how to make the most of your visit:
Start by snagging a CityPASS booklet which includes 3-day unlimited-use Muni Passport for Cable Car and Muni transportation – this alone is a steal of a deal! Instead of paying for car pick-up services which will cost you anywhere between $10-$40 each time, you can ride the convenient local transportation and get anywhere in the city! Pick-ups are typically every five to ten minutes which is typically how long you wait for a car service anyway.
The CityPASS also includes tickets to:
- California Academy of Sciences
- Blue & Gold Fleet Bay Cruise Adventure
- Aquarium of the Bay
- and your choice of the Exploratorium or SF Museum of Modern Art
San Fransisco Travel Day 1:
We recommend an early flight into San Fran so you can make the most of your three days! This is the one time you’ll need to use a taxi or shuttle service as the Muni transportation does not pick-up or drop-off at the airport. Once you’ve checked into your hotel, ask your concierge for a city map that includes the Muni routes so you can easily get around with your CityPASS then head down to Fisherman’s Wharf for an afternoon of sightseeing.
Take a stroll through the infamous Pier 39 where you might see a few street performers – we saw artists, a one-man band, dancers, and more. Stop into a few souvenir shops and make sure to grab a seat to see the sea lions playing in the water nearby. You can also use your CityPASS to visit the Aquarium of the Bay or enjoy a sightseeing tour on the Blue & Gold Fleet.
Next, walk a few blocks to the Museum of 3D Illusions. This world-class museum offers one-of-a-kind photo opportunities where you and your family can explore incredible 3D paintings and snap Insta-worthy photos!
Seriously, this place is so much fun! It’ll take you roughly 45 minutes to an hour to get through, and staff is on hand to assist with taking your photos at just the right angle too. One of my most liked Instagram photos is below. Isn’t it neat?
For dinner, cross the street to the Boudin Bakery – the building covers the entire block! The aroma of freshly baked bread fills the air and will draw you in. You have the option of quick service dining on the first floor or a sit-down meal upstairs. We highly recommend clam chowder in a bread bowl – you won’t be disappointed!
Finally, end your day at Ghiradelli Square, a bayside landmark since 1862! In addition to housing the original Ghiradelli Ice Cream & Chocolate Shop, the square also has shops, restaurants, and bars. After you indulge your sweet tooth at Ghiradelli, you may want to stop in for a glass of wine at The Cheese School just around the corner.
San Francisco Travel Day 2:
Head to Pier 33 via Muni transportation, as the parking garage for the piers is highly overpriced then take a ferry ride over to Alcatraz Island – once home to some of America’s most notorious criminals. This National Park is one of the most visited spots in San Fransisco, so we highly recommend booking your tickets a month or more in advance.
The ferry ride offers the perfect city backdrop for great photos! Once on the island, explore the grounds on your own. I highly recommend comfortable walking shoes as there are many stairs and steep areas to walk through.
Once at the main prison, headphones are provided for a self-guided 45-minute cellhouse walking tour where you’ll learn a ton of history about Alcatraz and their legendary inmates like Al “Scarface” Capone and the “Birdman” as well as escape attempts from other prisoners.
You’ll notice Alcatraz goes beyond an infamous federal prison. Volunteers maintain the beautiful grounds with lush plants, and you may see a variety of wildlife birds as well. We really enjoyed exploring Alcatraz and learning about the history of the island.
Continuing with our San Fransisco travel guide – Once you’ve returned to Pier 33, stop for a bite to eat at the Wharf. And if you didn’t explore the Aquarium of the Bay with your CityPASS the day before, now’s your chance. Next, take the Muni or walk a few blocks to Powell Street to hop on a cable car for a ride through the city. The wait can be roughly 30 minutes or more for this popular attraction but it’s such an enjoyable ride after walking around Alcatraz!
Take the Powell-Mason Cable Car to the Chinatown Dragon Gate to meet your San Fran Food Tour guide. We highly recommend the Chinatown and North Beach night walking tour that begins at 6 pm. This is a great way to meet an intimate group of travelers like yourself and have a great night out in the city.
The tour begins with a stop at Vital Tea Leaf with Kenny where we received an extensive lesson on the benefits of tea along with sampling five varieties including Ginseng and Oohlong energy tea, Jasmin Silverneedle relaxing tea, Iron Goddess King antioxidants tea, Puerh black tea for digestion and finally Lychee tea. As someone who’s not a tea drinker (I don’t drink caffeine at all) I found Kenny to be very entertaining and I thoroughly enjoyed all of the samples as well.
As you walk through Chinatown your tour guide will share bits of history about the area. Next, we convinced our guide to make a detour to a local bar for something stiffer to drink before pressing on with the tour.
We then headed to Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory to taste test real fortune cookies and learn a bit about the history of them. They are delicious! Our third stop was at Grant Place for a sit-down meal including Peking duck, shrimp odoo, spicy green beans, dim sum, sesame seed rice bowls, and potstickers.
Due to our extended visits at the tea and Grant Place, and our bar detour we missed Z Cioccolato in North Beach before it closed, but they did have a basket of delicious fudge waiting for us to sample. We each grabbed a sample bag for later as we kept walking to our final stop at Mona Lisa in Little Italy for authentic margarita pizza and red wine.
We had such a fun group and can’t remember laughing that hard in a long time. It was so much fun and highly recommend a San Fran food tour!
If your tour runs late too, we recommend taking a car pick-up service instead of public transportation at night.
San Fransisco Travel Day 3:
Take the Muni to the California Academy of Sciences at San Fran’s Golden Gate Park for an incredible aquarium, planetarium, and natural history museum—all under one living roof. This is included with your CityPASS so it’s free!
We spent several hours exploring the many exhibits. There’s so much to see and do! Our favorite part hands-down would be the indoor Rainforest. This four-story rainforest houses hundreds of tropical butterflies, exotic birds, reptiles and much more. You’ll definitely work up an appetite so stop into their cafe for delicious food. We thoroughly enjoyed exploring the Academy of Sciences aquarium and planetarium as well. Every part was incredible and very family friendly.
After exploring the Academy of Sciences, we recommend heading to the Golden Gate Overlook in the Presidio neighborhood for exquisite views of the bridge. Other ideas for your third and final day in San Fransisco include the Botanical Garden or the 40,000 square foot building of imagination at the Walt Disney Family Museum.
We had such a great vacation and know this 3-day San Fransisco travel guide will be a ton of fun for you too! This travel guide is ideal for couples and those that want to travel on a budget.
Travel tip: booking a hotel in San Fran can be quite expensive. We found a great price at the Laurel Inn near Presidio Park. The boutique hotel was very clean, had great customer service and was in a safe, quieter neighborhood. Additionally, a light breakfast, coffee, and juice are included, and they have freshly baked sweets and water each afternoon. We definitely recommend it!
Look out for a future travel guide through Napa which was our next stop! Pin the top image to save this travel guide for your visit San Fran!