San Francisco, California Weekend Itinerary

3 Days in San Francisco: The Perfect Weekend Itinerary

A visit to San Francisco means exploring everything from notable historical landmarks to one-of-a-kind cuisine. If you were to venture from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Bay Bridge, you’d find that San Francisco is filled with tons of different communities, all with their own unique activities and attractions to explore. 

Planning a trip to San Francisco? There are a few things you might need to know. The first is not to call it San Fran. But the most important thing to know is that summer in San Francisco isn’t like you might expect. June, July, and August tend to be the foggiest months for the city, which is so famous for its fog that it actually has its own name: Karl the Fog.

Although San Francisco never gets too hot or cold in general, the warmest months tend to be in the fall. But expect temperature fluctuations depending on where you are in the city. More coastal spots, like the Presidio, tend to be chillier, whereas a place like the Mission District is often much hotter. Wear layers to help you adjust to the temperature changes.

From the coastal breezes found at the Presidio to the art and architecture of Chinatown to the mom-and-pop shops of the Richmond District, all of these communities are worth spending time in. But if you’re only planning to spend 3 days in San Francisco, you might be wondering how to fit in everything you want to see. 

We’ve picked some of the best spots and sights to help you put together a perfect 3-day San Francisco itinerary. Stick to this list, and you’re bound to have an amazing weekend in Fog City!

If you’re still deciding where to stay then make sure to check out our article on the cool boutique hotels in San Francisco!

How to Spend a Weekend in San Francisco, California

Getting Around San Francisco

Getting Around San Francisco: The Perfect Weekend Itinerary

For your 3 days in San Francisco, you’ll likely fly into the city’s airport, San Francisco International Airport (SFO). This airport is a major travel hub, so you shouldn’t have too much difficulty finding a flight to take you to SFO. It’s the second-busiest airport in California after Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). 

From there, you’ll need to figure out how to get to your accommodations. Although you can rent a car, it’s neither necessary nor encouraged. Drivers often say that San Francisco is one the worst cities to drive in, thanks to its heavy traffic, steep hills, lack of parking, and abundance of public transportation. But that wealth of public transit is good for you as a traveler because it means you don’t really need a car. 

San Francisco is a highly walkable city. For the places you can’t walk, you can hop on the MUNI, which offers both buses and a metro system to help you navigate the city. Most of the itinerary we’re sharing here is walkable, but you’ll need to either hop on a bus or metro or opt for a taxi or rideshare occasionally to reach your next destination. 

Explore San Francisco

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San Francisco Weekend Itinerary – Day 1

Art’s Café

3 Days in San Francisco Itinerary: Art’s Café

For the first day of your 3-day trip to San Francisco, we’re starting at an iconic spot: Golden Gate Park. But today’s going to require a lot of walking, so you’ll need to fuel up. Luckily, Art’s Cafe can help you out.

This family-owned Korean-American diner serves up classic American fare alongside dishes with unique Korean twists, like a cheese omelet mixed with bulgogi (Korean barbecue beef). You can also get some more traditional Korean dishes, like bibimbap. 

Golden Gate Park

From there, head over to Golden Gate Park, which begins just a short stroll away. For your first stop of the day, you’re visiting one of the coolest attractions around: the California Academy of Sciences. Whether you’re bringing young ones or simply young at heart, everyone will marvel at the majesty of this massive museum, which also happens to be one of the most eco-friendly museums in the world. 

Greet the menagerie of butterflies in the four-story Osher Rainforest, or explore the depths of the darkest parts of the ocean in the Steinhart Aquarium. Check out the record-breaking scientific collection in the Kimball Natural History Museum, or book a seat to study the skies in the Morrison Planetarium. 

Discover Golden Gate Park on a Segway Tour

Japanese Tea Garden

Weekend in San Francisco 3 Days Itinerary: Japanese Tea Garden

From the California Academy of Sciences, you won’t have far to walk to see the stunning Japanese Tea Garden, a five-acre garden with classic elements of Japanese architecture, like an arched drum bridge, pagodas, zen gardens, and koi ponds. All these structures are surrounded by tons of native Japanese plants. If you’re visiting between March and April, be sure to look for the cherry blossom trees, which will be in bloom.

The Japanese Tea Garden is also where you’ll pick up a light lunch. At the heart of the garden, you’ll find the Tea House, where you’ll find teas and traditional Japanese bites to eat. From light and savory soups to sweet treats, you’ll want to eat your way through the whole menu. Sit down with a pot of tea and enjoy taking in the peaceful sights of the garden. 

Weekend in San Francisco: Japanese Tea Garden

From there, you’ll continue on over to Stow Lake. You can either walk to the lake or hop on the free Golden Gate Park Shuttle

There are two main ways to enjoy Stow Lake: from the land and from the water. Definitely spend some time on land, following the paths. Stroll around the Chinese Pavilion and the waterfall, or take a small hike up to the top of Strawberry Hill for a view of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Then, get out on the water by renting a rowboat or paddleboat from the boathouse. Sail under the old stone bridge and feel the mist of the waterfall from the lake. It’s a relaxing way to spend an afternoon. 

San Tung Chinese Restaurant

3 Days in San Francisco Itinerary: San Tung Chinese Restaurant

All that walking and paddling likely worked up an appetite, so now let’s end the first day of your weekend trip to San Francisco with dinner at an SF institution: San Tung Chinese Restaurant. It’s best known for its dry-fried chicken wings, which are then covered in garlic, ginger, and red pepper sauce. Expect a wait, as San Tung doesn’t take reservations, but it’s well worth it. 

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San Francisco Weekend Itinerary – Day 2

Fisherman’s Wharf 

3 Days in San Francisco Itinerary: Fisherman's Wharf

The second day of your weekend trip to San Francisco may be a little controversial. Many San Francisco locals steer clear of Fisherman’s Wharf. And there’s a good reason why. It’s where many tourists tend to flock to. As a result, it’s crowded, food and entertainment are overpriced, and there’s a litany of tourist traps in the area.

However, just like any place, there are always good and bad things that come with any area. Fisherman’s Wharf is no exception. Sure, there are things there that aren’t worth the price tag, but there are certain experiences at Fisherman’s Wharf that you just can’t miss. 

One of those things is where you’ll get breakfast on the second day of your 3 days in San Francisco. Eight AM is a hole-in-the-wall restaurant that’s serving up one of the best breakfasts in the city. 

Whether you want indulgent or healthy or something in between, you’ll find it on the menu here. From their famous crepes to their overstuffed frittatas to their massive fruit-filled parfaits, there’s something for everyone here. And you can guarantee you’ll leave full and fueled to start your day.

Explore the Historic Fisherman’s Wharf

Alcatraz Island

San Francisco 3 Day Itinerary Weekend Guide: Alcatraz Island

From breakfast, your day begins with a boat cruise. There are many to take in San Francisco, so instead of telling you which one to do, we’ll share a few options.

One of the most famous is the Alcatraz City Cruise, and if you’re a history buff, it’s a must-do. Departing from Pier 33, this cruise invites you to uncover the complex history of Alcatraz Island. Most people know Alcatraz best at “The Rock,” a maximum security prison that was once home to famous names like Al Capone and Robert Stroud, aka the “Birdman of Alcatraz.”

Today, you can visit the prison and walk its grounds. But you can also learn more about all the moments in history where Alcatraz played a vital role, like the 1969 Native American occupation to promote freedom and Native American civil rights. 

Alcatraz is a unique place to visit because it’s where light and dark are married. The history here can often be dark, but stories of hope are also shared here. The grounds are also beautiful, with wildflowers growing throughout and scenic views of San Francisco from its shores.

But if you’re not a big history buff or simply don’t care to visit a place with as dark a history as Alcatraz, there are many more cruises to go on to enjoy the views of San Francisco. Plus, the Alcatraz cruise runs for four hours. If you want something shorter, multiple companies offer one-hour tours of the San Francisco Bay, where you’ll take in sights of Alcatraz, the Presidio, and, of course, Golden Gate Bridge. 

The historic Red and White Fleet, found at Pier 43 ½, offers such a cruise, as well as a 90-minute expanded Bridge 2 Bridge Cruise, in which you’ll also get to sail under the Bay Bridge as well as the Golden Gate Bridge. Keep in mind that any cruise you pick might be sold out on the day you want to take a ride, so be sure to buy tickets before your trip.

Take a Visit to Alcatraz Island

Boudin Bakery 

Weekend in San Francisco: Boudin Bakery

After your cruise, pick up lunch at an iconic San Francisco location, Boudin Bakery, famous for its sourdough. Sourdough has its roots in San Fransisco, where gold miners discovered they could keep their bread starters stable by continuously adding flour. Boudin Bakery claims that they still use those bread starters today. 

Boudin Bakery may be a popular tourist stop, but it’s worth a visit. You can stop by to just pick up bread, like the adorable teddy bear sourdough rolls they make, or you can sit down in the restaurant upstairs, which features a wonderful view of the city. There you can eat their famous clam chowder served in massive sourdough bowls.

Aquarium of the Bay

3 Days in San Francisco Itinerary: Aquarium of the Bay

After lunch, venture back onto the piers to find the Aquarium of the Bay, one of the highlights of Fisherman’s Wharf. Located on Pier 39, this aquarium is home to more than 20,000 marine animals and is dedicated to conserving the San Francisco Bay and the aquatic worlds beyond its shores. You’ll see dancing jellies, sleek sharks, playful river otters, and much more. 

Get an Aquarium of the Bay Ticket

Pier 39

San Francisco 3 Day Itinerary Weekend Guide: Pier 39

Also on Pier 39 is another attraction you don’t want to miss. Just off the pier are a group of floating wooden pallets. There you’ll spot sea lions snoozing or barking hellos to passersby. There are almost always sea lions here, although you may see hundreds if you visit in the winter.

Ghirardelli Square

3 Days in San Francisco Weekend Itinerary: Ghirardelli Square

Stroll back through Fisherman’s Wharf for a 15-minute walk or hail a taxi if your legs need a little break because dinner is over at Ghirardelli Square. Here you’ll find the famous Barrio, one of the best restaurants around the Fisherman’s Wharf area. This Latin-inspired restaurant serves up incredible views alongside specialty drinks and flavorful dishes.

Ghirardelli Chocolate Company 

Weekend in San Francisco 3 Days Itinerary: Ghirardelli Chocolate Company

After dinner, you can’t leave Ghirardelli Square without grabbing dessert at Ghirardelli itself. Here is where Ghirardelli first began serving sundaes all the way back in 1966. There’s nothing like a Ghirardelli hot fudge-covered sundae to end a day in San Francisco!

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San Francisco Weekend Itinerary – Day 3

Garden House Cafe

3 Days in San Francisco Itinerary: Garden House Cafe

For the third day of your 3-day San Francisco vacation, start out with a bite to eat at the Garden House Cafe. It’s an unassuming spot serving up delicious sandwiches and sweets. 

Begin your day with a bacon and egg sandwich and an espresso on their lush back patio. Enjoy the cool morning air in the Outer Richmond area as you prep for a day of adventuring through San Francisco.

Lands End Coastal Trail

San Francisco 3 Day Itinerary Weekend Guide: Lands End Coastal Trail

Next up, take a walk or hop on the bus to get to the Lands End Coastal Trail. This 3-mile hike offers some of the best views in the city, as well as a number of historical landmarks. One such landmark is where you’ll start your walk.

Sutro Baths

Begin near the Sutro Baths. These baths were built in 1894 by an eccentric millionaire who wanted to provide swimming to the community. He created a landmark that could house up to 10,000 people. 

Though it was popular in its heyday, its massive size was eventually its undoing and became too costly to maintain. Today, you can explore its ruins, which offer one of the most incredible sights in San Francisco. 

Lands End Point

Weekend in San Francisco: Lands End Point

From there, you’ll continue up the trail to Lands End Point, which features an amazing view of the Golden Gate Bridge. Along the way, you’ll spot plenty of overlooks and memorials, so be sure to take your time on your journey. Depending on the time of year, you might just spot a whale in the water as well.

The Presidio

San Francisco 3 Day Itinerary Weekend Guide: The Presidio

After you’re done with your hike, give your legs a rest and hop in a taxi or rideshare to get to the Presidio, where you’ll be able to spend a lovely afternoon. The Presidio is filled with historic spots, as well as golf courses for those who want to get out on the links. 

If you’re hungry after your hike, pick up lunch over at Presidio Tunnel Tops, where food trucks are out every day of the week. The list of trucks rotates, so you’ll always have a new variety to choose from.

One can’t-miss stop in the Presidio is Baker Beach. Known for its fantastic view of the Golden Gate Bridge, a stroll along this beach fits in perfectly with your San Francisco itinerary. 

3 Days in San Francisco Itinerary: The Presidio

If you’re a Disney fan, head over to the Walt Disney Family Museum, which is filled with little-known Disney artifacts, including models that began Disneyland and Walt Disney World. You can even take a class to learn how to draw like a Disney animator. 

If you’re a Star Wars fan, there’s a gem here for you, as well. Walk on over to the Letterman Digital Arts Center, home to Lucasfilm. Snap a picture with the iconic Yoda fountain and even stroll into the lobby for unique memorabilia. 

A Star Wars fan should definitely also stop by Sessions at the Presidio. The restaurant has a partnership with George Lucas’s Skywalker Ranch in Marin County, allowing Sessions to get access to the ranch’s fresh produce, Wagyu beef, and eclectic wines.   

Experience the Beautiful Presidio

Palace of the Fine Arts

End your evening with the best golden hour photoshoot you could possibly imagine. Initially built for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exhibition, the Palace of Fine Arts is a true work of art. 

With a style that makes it look like Greek or Roman ruins, it seems lost in time. What was meant to be a temporary exhibit has become a permanent part of San Francisco’s landscape and a can’t-miss attraction for your 3 days in San Francisco.

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More Places to Eat & Drink in San Francisco

Dine at Delfina:

3 Days in San Francisco Itinerary: Delfina
Image courtesy of Delfina

A San Francisco staple where you can find traditional Italian favorites and dishes with a more distinctly Californian twist. Located in the Mission District, you’ll find that the menu is filled with Italian inspiration, from the cocktails to the pizza. But every dish is made with fresh, local ingredients you can only get in California, like the Grilled Monterey Bay Calamari.

Eat the freshest seafood around at Angler:

San Francisco 3 Day Itinerary Weekend Guide: Angler

This Embarcadero find centers its menu on the day’s catch, working with local fishermen to ensure the highest quality meals. The ingredients are then cooked around an open wood fire courtesy of a fireplace designed specifically for the restaurant. 

Crash a dinner party at Lazy Bear:
Although Lazy Bear is indeed a restaurant, it’s probably more fitting to call it an intimate dining experience. There are very limited seats, and you’ll need to buy a ticket. But it’s absolutely worth the hassle for the seasonal, one-of-a-kind menu served here.

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What to do if you have more than 3 days in San Francisco

Conservatory of Flowers

3 Days in San Francisco Weekend Itinerary: Conservatory of Flowers

Golden Gate Park takes up over 1,000 acres, so it makes sense that you probably won’t be able to see it all in one day or even one weekend. One stop that didn’t make this San Francisco itinerary but should definitely be done if you have more than three days is the Conservatory of Flowers. Across five galleries inside a gorgeous Victorian-era glass greenhouse, you’ll find nearly 2,000 plant species. With so many species, there will always be something in bloom, no matter when you visit.

16th Avenue Tiled Steps

Weekend in San Francisco 3 Days Itinerary: 16th Avenue Tiled Steps

Walk up the 16th Avenue Tiled Steps, a set of hidden mosaic steps in the Inner Sunset District. The 163 steps look like an underwater wonderland, filled with all types of sea creatures alongside a luminescent moon and vibrant sun. With gardens on either side of the steps, it’s a lovely walk, and the view from the top is simply stunning. Though there are several tiled stairs around San Francisco, the 16th Avenue Tiled Steps are likely the most famous.


Weekend in San Francisco: Sausalito

Hop on a Sausalito Ferry. Departing from Pier 41, this ride offers incredible views, all leading up to the charming Sausalito. From there, you’ll be able to enjoy fine dining, tons of art galleries and boutique shops, stroll through scenic and historical locations, take one-of-a-kind tours, and much more.   

Spend a Half­-Day in Sausalito

San Francisco Cable Cars

3 Days in San Francisco Itinerary: San Francisco Cable Cars

Take a cable car. The San Francisco cable cars are iconic and worth a ride. Take the often fairly empty California Line for a great view from the top of Nob Hill or hop on the much more crowded Powell-Hyde Line to be taken to the famous Lombard Street. One word of warning about the latter, though. The lines for this route are often massive at the turnaround points of Powell and Market or Hyde and Beach. Don’t attempt to get on at the exact turnaround points. Walk a little way to get to the next stop and get on there.

Ride the Iconic Cable Car of San Francisco

Alamo Square Park

San Francisco 3 Day Itinerary Weekend Guide: Alamo Square Park

Picnic at Alamo Square Park. This scenic park places you just across from the iconic Painted Ladies, a beautiful row of colorful Victorian houses. Picnic here and recreate the opening credits from Full House. As a bonus, the actual Full House house is just a mile away.

We hope you enjoy your weekend trip to San Francisco! Should we add something else to our 3-day San Francisco itinerary? Let us know in the comments.

Planning a trip to California? Check out our favorite travel guides and resources!


About the Author:

  • Jacqueline Gualtieri

    Jacqueline is a writer and editor pursuing the freelance life to explore the world. Born and raised in New Jersey, she spent her college years in Boston before settling down with her partner and puppy in Monterey, California.

    When she’s not writing, you can often find her planning her next trip. Road trips are her favorite, whether it’s driving across the country or simply exploring a new city in her own backyard. She loves uncovering the history of every new place she goes.

    Jacqueline has a restless passion for learning and makes it a goal to pick up a new skill every year. She’s picked up embroidery, crocheting, knitting, and cross-stitching, but she’s hoping to master more languages to help her in her travels. She’s also a published author, with short stories and poetry appearing in several anthologies.

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