Trip Itineraries

Fun Things To Do in San Francisco: How To Plan the Perfect 3 Day Itinerary

Considering California for a quick get-away trip? There are so many fun things to do in San Francisco that you’ll want to put on your list! After spending a long weekend there, we realized we’re going to have to go back. There’s just so much to do and see there!

I’ll bet the Golden Gate Bridge is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of San Francisco, am I right?

It’s one of the most recognizable landmarks in the United States. However, there are so many unique things to do in San Francisco besides just visiting the bridge.

I’ll start with a description of many of the top things to do in San Francisco, followed by a sample itinerary you can use to plan the perfect getaway trip. We had a great time there and I’m sure you will, too!

Table of Contents

Bike Across the Golden Gate Bridge

Recommended by Karee of Our Woven Journey

Since seeing the Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most iconic things to do when in San Francisco, I’ve put it first on the list. However, why simply see the bridge when you can bike across it?

Before you keep scrolling, I have a secret to let you in on. Rent an electric bike! Seriously, this made our excursion so much fun! There are a couple of places to rent bikes from and both are a little ways from the bridge. They’ll tell you there are only two hills between there and the bridge, but trust me, if you don’t get an electric bike, those hills might as well be mountains!

Electric bikes are not like motorbikes. They only work when you are pedaling and basically give a really nice boost to the effort you’re putting in. There are some very simple gears to use, but they’re more like “small hill, medium hill, big hill” gears. Even if you haven’t ridden a bike in years, an electric bike is a dream to ride!

Once you rent your bike, you’ll ride along the marina heading toward the bridge. If the weather is nice, you’ll be in for some spectacular views all along the way.

We were in San Francisco celebrating our anniversary when we did this bike ride, but it would also be so much fun to take a girls’ trip and go on a bike ride!

Plan to spend a few minutes at Fort Point and explore the history there. Plus, you’ll get a really impressive view from underneath the bridge from that viewpoint.

Once you’re on the bridge, you’ll need to ride single file. Be aware of other bikers who may pass you on your left and never stop right in the way. There’s room to pull over, so be sure to do that if you need to stop or want to just soak in the view of the San Francisco Bay.

You’ll have a choice of either continuing on to the quaint little town of Sausalito and taking a ferry back or turn around and biking back. Either way, spend some time exploring the overlooks and the amazing views you’ll see. It’s quite the reward for biking that far. (Even if you did let the electric bike do the majority of the work!)

For many people, biking across the Golden Gate Bridge is a bucket list moment. It may seem daunting, but rent yourself an electric bike and you’ll be reliving your childhood while the wind blows your hair back and all your worries away. Enjoy!

Note: On busy days (especially in the summer), bike rentals can be sold out. Reserve your bike online to be sure you have one when you get there.

Many people bike across the Golden Gate Bridge.
Biking across the Golden Gate Bridge is one of the top things to do in San Francisco for many people.

You can reserve your bike ahead of time here ⬇️

Drive Through Muir Woods National Monument

Recommended by Rebecca Gade Sawicki from Veggies Abroad

Just a short jaunt outside of San Francisco (only 12 miles!) is the gorgeous Muir Woods National Monument. It’s the perfect place to take a break from the hustle and bustle of the city and breath in some fresh air.

The 554-acre park is filled with California’s famous towering redwood trees. The largest one is 258 ft. tall, which is equivalent to 45, 6 ft tables stacked end to end! The average age of these trees is 600 to 800 years old.

Aside from being mesmerized by the sagacious trees, visitors can also enjoy six miles of trails. If you don’t have time for that, there is a ½-mile loop for short strolls that you shouldn’t miss!

The trails are flat and easy; no need for serious hiking gear. A visit to Muir Woods can be as short as an hour to a half-day, depending on how much time you want to spend in nature.

It is important to note that the park is popular. Parking reservations are required ahead of time because the lot is small. (Many people visit on tours to avoid parking issues.) Dogs are not allowed in the park. Also, it’s only open from 8 am – 5 pm every day.

The park entrance fee is $15 for people 16 and older, and the parking fee is $8.50 per vehicle. Once you get back to the city, you’ll be hungry from all that exploring—be sure not to miss some of San Francisco’s best vegan restaurants!

tour Muir Woods National Monument to see the giant redwood trees.
California is famous for its giant redwood trees.

You can book a tour in advance here ⬇️

Take a Selfie in Umbrella Ally

Recommended by Kara Harms, founder of Whimsy Soul

Umbrella Alley is a relativity new street art spot in San Francisco. Located next door to Ghirardelli Square, this alley is covered in rotating murals from famous local artists like Kate Tova. It also showcases a few permanent pieces, like the famous “Greetings From San Francisco” mural. 

If you’re looking for tons of Instagram-worthy walls all in one place, this is the spot for you. They even have little iPhone stands installed, so taking group photos on a timer is easy. 

Umbrella Alley is free to visit but is only open on weekends from 11am-Sunset, so plan accordingly.

The best time to visit is in the later afternoon when the alley is in the shade so you can grab that perfect photo in front of the murals. Put this on your list of fun things to see in San Francisco.

A fun thing to do in San Francisco on the weekend is see the greeting mural in Umbrella Alley.
Visit Umbrella Alley to see the best Instagram worthy murals in Sa Francisco.

Drive Down Lombard Street

Recommended by Milijana Gabrić of World Travel Connector 

Lombard Street is one of the most famous tourist attractions in San Francisco. It is globally known as the most crooked street in the world.

Lombard Street is in the upscale Russian Hill neighborhood, one of the best areas to stay in San Francisco

Russian Hill has some of the most beautiful and most expensive buildings with gorgeous views of the Bay Area in San Francisco.

However, Russian Hill features some of the steepest streets in San Francisco city. Lombard Street is one of the steepest streets of Russian Hill, in addition to being one the most twisted street in the world.

Driving down the steep and crooked Lombard Street is one the best things to do in San Francisco. 

Lombard Street goes down the hill from Hyde Street to Leavenworth Street. The road has eight sharp turns. So, driving down the street goes slowly, merely 5 miles per hour!

But, while someone else drives, you can take photos and videos of the quirky road with lovely buildings, stunning gardens, and amazing views of San Francisco.

The gardens are rich with Hydrangea flowers which bloom in summer.

So, if you want to drive down the most crooked street in the world while Hydrangeas are blossoming, head to San Francisco in summer!

You can drive your car, but you can also rent a yellow two-seater GO Car in San Francisco to drive down the most crooked street in the world.

There’s no fee for driving down the street, but you can expect crowds there. After all, Lombard street is a top tourist attraction in San Francisco!

Many tourists enjoy either walking or driving down Lombard Street in yellow go-cars
Driving down Lombard Street is one of the Top Ten Things to do in San Franciso.

Reserve your GoCar in advance here ⬇️

Scenic 49 Mile Drive in San Francisco

Recommended by Kenny Chow of Knycx Journeying   

This Scenic Drive has actually been part of San Francisco for decades – yet it’s one of the city’s best-kept secrets.

This route is a giant loop that covers almost all major San Francisco attractions and landmarks, making it a wonderful thing to do while visiting. 

The Scenic Drive originated in 1938 by the San Francisco Downtown Association for the Golden Gate International Exposition. The project garnered a high level of popularity, and so it expanded to become a marketing campaign, aiming to boost tourism.

The route officially covers 37 spots, including many city classics like the Golden Gate Park, Golden Gate Bridge, Powell Cable Car Station, Painted Ladies, Coit Tower, Lombard Crooked Street, and Alcatraz. 

One of the reasons tourists are not aware of this drive is that there are no longer any signs on the streets. The seagull blue-and-white road sign was the winner of a design competition held by the Down Town Association in 1955. Collectors often stole the signs, and the city took a long time to replace them.

The best way to complete the drive is to have your own car, and it’s easy to design your own Scenic 49 Mile Drive itinerary with its official map and guide.

With that said, tourists are welcome to explore these attractions at their own pace by car, bike, or any public transportation.

They can also decide whether to complete the route or not, but it’s a great reference guide to get to know San Francisco – especially for first-timers.    

San Francisco's Scenic 49 Mile Drive is a popular thing to do when visiting California.
You can see many of San Francisco’s top attractions on the Scenic 49 Mile Drive.

Take a Ferry to Tour Alcatraz

Recommended by Karee of Our Woven Journey

I’ll bet when you think of Alcatraz, you don’t think of it as one of the most visited National Parks in America, do you? With almost 1.4 million people touring the abandoned prison each year, it easily ranks as one of the most popular San Francisco tourist attractions.

You’ll start your tour on Pier 33, and after a quick ferry ride, you’ll have the opportunity to explore the entire island. If the weather is nice, you’ll have a gorgeous view of the San Francisco skyline. You’ll also have a clear view of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Oakland Bay Bridge.

Although you’ll have access to other parts of the prison, such as the warden’s office and even the rose garden, the main cell house is what most people come to see.

The cell house is where inmates, including famed mafia-leader Al Capone, were kept during the 29 years the prison was in operation. The empty, three-tiered cell house is a stark reminder of the times when some of America’s most hardened criminals were housed there.

Although there’s nothing scary about touring Alcatraz, some people claim it’s rather creepy to take the night tour. That’s precisely what makes it a popular choice, though, so book your tickets early if you’re into eerie tours of abandoned prisons.

Plan at least three hours at Alcatraz, although once you’re on the island, you can stay until the last ferry leaves for the day.

Alcatraz Island is one of the most popular places to visit in San Francisco.
Alcatraz is one of the most popular places to visit in San Francisco.

Get your tickets ahead of time here ⬇️

Explore Fisherman’s Wharf

By Mayuri from ToSomePlaceNew

The Fisherman’s Wharf is a tourist attraction in California and is a must-add to any San Francisco itinerary. It is located on the city’s northern waterfront, and it’s a popular destination for visitors to enjoy.

The Wharf is home to quite a few restaurants, seafood markets, souvenir shops, and other attractions.

This popular spot is always bustling with activities and crowded with tourists enjoying the colorful pier and the water views. 

Pier 39 is one of the most important landmarks at Fisherman’s Wharf. It’s also the home of many sea lions, often seen lounging on the docks and in the water. The animals are a popular tourist attraction, and they usually draw large crowds of visitors who want to see them up close.

Along with the Pier, there is the Ghirardelli Square, San Francisco Maritime Museum, Musée Mécanique, the Cannery Shopping Center, a Ripley’s Believe it or Not museum, and the Wax Museum located at the Fisherman’s Wharf.

Fisherman’s Wharf is a must-see destination for anyone visiting San Francisco. Mornings are the best time to beat the crowds. However, only a limited number of attractions and restaurants will be open before 9 or 10 am. 

Your best option is to explore Fisherman’s Wharf in the mornings when all the attractions and food stalls are open. This popular site offers a wealth of things to see and do.

The Wharf has something for everyone from history, trying out seafood, or just sightseeing.

There are tons of things to do in the city and beyond by taking road trips from San Francisco.

Fisherman's Wharf is a fun place to visit in San Francisco.
Fisherman’s Wharf is a main attraction in San Francisco, California.

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See the View from Twin Peaks

Recommended by Mikaela of Voyageur Tripper

Twin Peaks offers one of the best viewpoints in all of San Francisco. From the lookout point at the top of the peak, you can see the skyscrapers of the Financial District, the Presidio, a glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge, and even Alcatraz.

The best part is that Twin Peaks is road-accessible, so anyone can reach the lookout by car. (Although you can hike up it if you’d like.)

If you’re walking up Twin Peaks, you can take transit to the Castro and then follow the AllTrails route to the top. (Give yourself at least two hours for the entire walk.)

If you’re driving, you won’t need long. The road that winds up the peak takes about 5 minutes, and you only need about 20 minutes at the top to take in the best views.

Note, at the time of writing, there’s no fee for parking at the top of Twin Peaks.

The best time to visit Twin Peaks is either in the early morning for sunrise or in the evening for sunset. You’ll get a beautiful view of the skyline under the colorful sky.

That said, afternoon on a clear day is also incredible as you’ll have excellent visibility and be able to see all the details of the city.

One of the best views of the San Francisco skyline is from Twin Peaks.
Twin Peaks offers a magnificent view of the San Francisco skyline.

Relax at Crissy Field

Recommended by Rasika at Bae Area and Beyond

Crissy Field is a former U.S. Army airfield turned national park site. It’s a part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and a favorite destination for San Franciscans and tourists alike.

The park is a popular spot to explore, with sweeping views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Marin Headlands.

You can walk the San Francisco Bay Trail along the water’s edge or dip into the Crissy Field Beach. Make sure to pack your beach essentials when visiting Crissy Field.

Allow 2-3 hours to explore the beach during the afternoon and relax until sunset.

You can also explore Crissy Field’s sand dunes and walk on the boardwalk across the tidal wetlands.

Feeling hungry? Head over to the Warming Hut Park Store for snacks and drinks and eat at the West Bluff Picnic Area.

If you’re looking for some adventure, visit the House of Air, an indoor park that includes trampoline jumping, slacklining, and rock climbing. Out of the many things to do in San Francisco with kids, this one is a hit.

Before you leave, hike to the Wave Organ, a public sculpture with organ pipes that play music with the sound of waves.

It’s free to visit Crissy Field and the best time to visit is around sunset. You’ll have an amazing view of the beautiful sunset colors behind the Golden Gate Bridge. 

It's free to watch the sun set over the Golden Gate Bridge from Crissy Field.
One of the best free things to do in San Francisco is watch the sun set over the Golden Gate Bridge.

Stroll through the Palace of Fine Arts

Recommended by Mary King of Bucket List Places

The Palace of Fine Arts is a Roman-style building that hosted art exhibits in the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition.

San Francisco hosted this world’s fair to celebrate the opening of the Panama Canal and constructed temporary buildings to house nearly 70,000 exhibits representing the world’s cultures.

Though meant to be temporary, the Palace was so beloved that it has been restored and rebuilt several times to showcase its full glory, and today is one of San Francisco’s most recognizable landmarks.

Whether you’re on a long weekend getaway from Los Angeles to San Francisco or staying in the Bay Area for a longer visit, this architectural gem is worth visiting – even if only for an Instagram photo.

The Palace of Fine Arts is located in the Marina District of San Francisco, close to many restaurants and other attractions.

Though no longer housing paintings or other artworks, the Palace itself is a work of art. The open structure is a neoclassical dome held up by intricate columns, set in a park with a small lagoon.

If you’re lucky, you’ll even encounter the lagoon’s resident swans.

This idyllic setting is often used as a venue for events or weddings, but since it’s free to visit, it’s an excellent place to explore, stroll, or picnic.

The Palace is open day and night, and you can wander under the dome to view the gorgeous details of the columns, ceiling, and sculptures that are a part of the building. It’s one of the best things to do in San Francisco at night.

Visiting the Palace of Fine Arts is usually a shorter stop. You can spend as little as 20 minutes on a quick walk-through or set up camp in the park to relax for an entire afternoon.

A fun thing to do in San Francisco at night is to visit the Palace of Fine Arts.
The Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco is beautiful at day or night.

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Japanese Tea Garden

Recommended by Lenore from The Nitty Gritty Travel OT

San Francisco is a beautiful city with many things to do and see. I’m sure when you think of San Francisco, certain things come to mind, such as the Golden Gate Bridge, cable cars, and delicious food.

While the aforementioned things are great, how about trying something a little different? What might that be, you ask?

Well, I’m talking about the Japanese Tea Garden.

The Japanese Tea Garden located in Golden Gate Park is something I’d highly recommend checking out.

While visiting the garden, you can expect tranquility, extraordinary views, as well as lush greenery. If you love nature and wildlife, there are plenty of geese, ducks, and flora that you can photograph and observe.

In addition to its natural beauty, the Japanese Tea Garden is the perfect place to explore on foot.

You can also stop by the gift shop to purchase sake sets and daruma dolls, just to name a few. The options are endless for the garden.

You can bring your own food and have a picnic or sample delicious teas and Japanese noshes at the Tea House.

Admission to the garden is pretty affordable. Tickets are $10 per person and free for San Francisco natives.

I would recommend setting aside at least an hour to an hour and a half to explore the garden and experience the tea sampling mentioned earlier.

The garden is open every day, and it’s best to go earlier in the day to really take everything in.

If you’re seeking a quieter experience, I’d suggest going in either March or April as it will not be as packed.

I hope I piqued your interest in visiting and you have as an amazing time as I did.

See the ducks and other wildlife while visiting the Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco.
Set aside time for a tranquil visit to the Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco.

Visit the Sutro Baths and Lands End Trail

Recommended by Alisha Mansfield of Travel Today Work Tomorrow

One of the best things you can do in San Francisco is to visit the historic Sutro Baths and Lands End Trail, a popular location among locals. It features stunning coast views, miles of hiking trails, and Golden Gate Bridge views.

Built in 1896, the Sutro Baths were once the world’s largest indoor saltwater bathing facility along the rocky coast of San Francisco. Many of the remnants from this historical site remain today.

You can stand in awe and admire the Sutro Baths from above. If you desire to see more, make your way down the flight of stairs and walk along the edge of the baths for a closer look.

After you visit the Sutro Baths, move on and explore the Lands End Trail. The loop is 3 miles, but there are numerous detours, lookouts, and stops along the way to extend your hike.

The trail winds along the coastal bluffs teeming with wildflowers and cypress trees and reveals several epic views of the Pacific Ocean and Golden Gate Bridge.

It is free to visit the Sutro Baths and Lands End Trail. There is a large parking lot with a kiosk outside of the Sutro Baths, or street parking is available for a fee.

On the weekends, plan to arrive early, and you will not have an issue finding a spot. Another great perk is that they are dog friendly!

You will not regret visiting the Sutro Baths and Lands End Trail. It is a fun and unique way to explore San Francisco.

A perfect free thing to do in San Francisco is to visit the Sutro Baths and Lands End Trail.
Admire the stunning views of San Francisco from the Sutro Baths and Lands End Trail.

Visit San Francisco’s Chinatown

Recommended by Gabriel from Chef Travel Guide

Any trip to San Francisco would be incomplete without the chance to experience the history and culture of Chinatown.

This section of the city centered on Stockton Street and Grant Avenue makes up close to 24 blocks and has been called Chinatown since 1853.

It first got its name from the Chinese immigrants that moved into the city to start up laundry shops and to offer other services for the miners. Flash forward to today and Chinatown is one of the tourism highlights of San Francisco.

Instead of sitting down at a single restaurant, you should graze your way through Chinatown, trying out several different dishes and restaurants. Start with some dim sum dumplings from Good Mong Kok, followed by Capital restaurant for their famous crispy wings.

Next, head to AA Bakery for some bbq pork and pineapple buns. Last, grab a few yellow and white egg tarts from Yummy Bakery & Cafe for dessert.

For fun things to do in San Francisco, here are some free experiences to try:

Start with free tea tasting at Vital tea leaf. Then, hunt for traditional Chinese ingredients at the markets along Stockton Blvd. You can learn how fortune cookies are made at the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory. Don’t forget to snap a few selfies at the Dragon Gate at the corner of Bush and Grant!

You will want to plan to spend at least 2 to 3 hours starting in the late morning exploring as there are a lot of fun things to experience and so much delicious food to try.

The best part is this can easily be the cheapest part of your trip in San Francisco.

Have fun and eat way too many dumplings!

No visit to San Francisco is complete without seeing Chinatown.
San Francisco’s Chinatown is one of the most famous in the world.

The Painted Ladies of San Francisco

Recommended by Michal from Wanderlust Designers

When you think of world-famous landmarks, you rarely think of actual residential houses. But hey, in San Francisco, every corner (or every hill, shall we say) is unique.

With its row of utterly photogenic and vividly painted Victorian houses, Alamo Square is just one of the many iconic places in this great city.

The houses are well known as the “Painted Ladies,” “Seven Sisters,” or “Postcard Row.” All of these nicknames tell you part of their story.

The seven houses are painted in beautiful pastel shades of yellow, red, brown, and blue. You’re very likely to find them on postcards of San Francisco.

While San Francisco features many Victorian houses, these particular seven on the west side of Alamo Square became extremely famous, and for a good reason. The setting is just picture-perfect.

As you sit on the grass in the southwest end of Alamo Square Park, there’s an unobstructed view towards the Painted Ladies with downtown San Francisco and its dominating Transamerica Pyramid in the background.

Locals love it, tourists love it, and filmmakers love it, with the scene having appeared in dozens of movies and TV programs. Yet it never feels crowded here.

Anytime is a good time to visit and it’s free. (The houses are for admiring only, not for visiting).

The whole place is easy to reach with public transportation (bus). To make the most of your visit, we suggest enjoying a picnic lunch on the grass in Alamo Square Park, just like the family from the sitcom Full House did.

Come just before sunset to capture the beauty if you’re into photography. Allow about an hour to visit and enjoy.

Seven painted houses called the Painted Ladies are a fun and free thing to do in San Francisco.
The Painted Ladies are an icon in San Francisco.

Ride a Cable Car

Recommended by James Ian from Travel Collecting

One of the classic things to do in San Francisco is to ride a cable car. They are such a symbol of the city that no trip there is complete without riding them at least once.

There are three lines you can choose from. The Powell-Mason line starts at the Powell Street Cable Car turnaround near Market Street and Union Square and goes up and over Nob Hill and down to Bay Street at Fisherman’s Wharf.

The Powell-Hyde starts at the same place and runs over Nob and Russian Hills before ending near Ghirardelli Square at the other end of Fisherman’s Wharf.

The California Line runs east-west across these lines between the Financial District and Van Ness Avenue, passing through Chinatown and over Nob Hill.

In each car, there are long wooden benches inside and benches outside, facing outwards.

It’s also possible to stand on the edge, holding on to a pole. This is a super fun way to ride the cable cars, but you can’t do this if you have backpacks. If you do this, you should pay close attention to the driver/ gripman as he will warn you if you need to lean in tightly as you pass something close.

There are designated cable car stops along each route. Just line up at the stop and when the car comes to a complete stop, hop aboard.

They get crowded, so early mornings or evenings are best.

An insider tip: There are often long lines at the first stop of each route. However, the driver usually leaves the first stop with a few spots still vacant so that there is room to pick people up along the way. The stops are not far apart, so you can often skip the long lines by walking to the second stop along the route and hopping on there. This works especially well if you’re happy to stand.

The cable cars run seven days a week from 7:00 am to 10:30 pm. You can use the MuniMobile App or Clipper Card or pay with cash (exact change) on the car itself.

An added bonus – at the San Francisco Cable Car Museum, you can see the engines and cables that keep the system running. You can also learn about the history of the cable cars. It’s free and open every day.

Cable cars in San Francisco
Riding a cable car is a must when you visit San Francisco!

See the View from Golden Gate Viewpoint

Recommended by Emilie Brillon of Live Life Abroad

San Francisco is a great starting point to a California trip. The city is famous for its beautiful Golden Gate Bridge. This iconic reddish, orangy bridge connects Marin County to the city of San Francisco.

There are many places where you can admire the bridge, but one of the best ones is definitely at the Golden Gate View Point.

The Golden Gate View Point is one of the northside of San Francisco. To reach the location, you’ll have to drive on the Golden Gate Bridge if you are staying in the city.

It’s important to note that Tolls are collected in one direction only, in the southbound direction into San Francisco. It is free to cross the bridge in the southbound direction (leaving the city).

To access the viewpoint, there are some parking spaces along the street as well as at the Battery Spencer Overlook. On a busy summer day, you may have to wait for someone to free up space. Please leave no valuable belongings in your car as the area has reported some incidents of thefts.

Once you are parked, it’s time to be amazed by the view. You’ll have a perfect and wide view of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Pacific Ocean. Plus, on the other side, you’ll have the beautiful landscape of the Marin Headlands and cliffs.

To make the most of your day trip to the northside of San Francisco, you may want to park on Conzelman Road (in or near the Coastal Trail Parking lot). Then, you’ll walk along the oceanfront cliffs toward the Golden Gate Bridge.

End with a visit of Battery Spencer to learn about the military history of the area.

A spectacular view of San Francisco from the Golden Gate Viewpoint
The view from the Golden Gate Viewpoint in San Francisco is spectacular!

Visit the Lincoln Park Steps

Recommended by Aimee of Snap Happy Travel

The Lincoln Park Steps are one of the best and lesser-known attractions in San Francisco. It’s a unique art installation located on 34th Avenue, very close to Lincoln Park Golf Course.

There are 52 colorful steps in total, each covered in bright mosaic tiles. The steps were built way back at the start of the 20th Century.

They lost their appeal over time, but in 2007 a local organization decided to enlist the help of local artist Aileen Barr to give the steps a refresh. What a sight they are today!

The Lincoln Park Steps are a free attraction in San Francisco, and the best time to visit is in the morning (ideally before 11 am) so as to avoid any crowds.

You will likely spend less than an hour here, taking photos and admiring the detail of each step.

The best way to reach the Lincoln Park Steps is to hop on the 1-California bus from Chinatown, the Financial District, or Nob Hill.

The Lincoln Park Steps in San Francisco are painted in vibrant colors.
Take time to admire the artwork at the Lincoln Park Steps in San Francisco.

Tour the Ferry Building

Recommended by Denise Mucak of Chef Denise

The Ferry Building is a must-visit for anyone interested in the San Francisco food scene. Located at the end of Market Street, you can’t miss the building’s landmark clock tower.

When the Ferry Building first opened in 1898, it was indeed for ferryboat travel to and from the peninsula. By the 1950’s, the Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate were in mass use, and ferryboat travel became obsolete. It was converted to office space shortly thereafter. 

Years later, the Ferry Building marketplace underwent a grand restoration, and in 2003, it reopened as a marketplace for local food artisans, restaurants, and the like.

Shops filled with snacks and foodie souvenirs like unique spices, local olive oils, craft beers and wines, and sweets of every kind line the long corridor. Spend a couple of hours strolling along; you’re sure to find a few items to cross off your food bucket list.

Eating at one of the Ferry Building’s restaurants is always a treat. From the famous Slanted Door to Hog Island Oyster Company to Boulette’s Larder, you can’t go wrong. Make reservations ahead of time if you can. If not, there’s always Gott’s Roadside.

Take time to walk outside the back of the building and enjoy the views. In the front of the building, on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday mornings, enjoy one of the best farmer’s markets in California.

The Ferry Building sits right by the water in San Francisco.
Save time to explore the shops in the Ferry Building when you visit San Francisco.

Climb Aboard at the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park

Recommended by JJ Haglund of The Minivan Bucket List

A trip to San Francisco isn’t complete without taking a stroll down Fisherman’s Wharf or grabbing a sweet bite to eat at Ghirardelli Square. But nestled in there is a fun little hidden gem that most people overlook.

As you’re exploring the area, you’ll notice some old pirate-looking ships. It turns out the ships are open to the public, and you’re welcome to climb aboard.

It’s actually a historic site run by the National Parks Service called the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park.

You’ll definitely want to add it to your California Bucket List!

If you have an America the Beautiful Pass, you can even get in for free. Otherwise, it’s $15 per person. You could also go on one of the national park’s fee-free days listed here.

Walking the decks of these old 1800s ships is a great way to learn about the history of the area and let your imagination run wild with a trip back in time. There is a square rigger, a schooner, a ferry boat, a paddlewheel tugboat, and more.

The most prominent ship is the Balclutha (pronounced ball-clooth-uh), a 301-foot, three-masted cargo ship built in 1886. Depending on how much you like to stop and read about the history, touring all the ships only takes about an hour or two and is well worth a slight detour from the other sites in the area.

Afterward, you can hop on a cable car at the Hyde Street Pier station and continue exploring the city. 

There are several ships located at the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park.
Step aboard one of the ships at the Maritime National Historical Park in San Francisco.

Visit Ghirardelli Square and Eat Chocolate

Recommended by Karee of Our Woven Journey

Do yourself a favor right now and promise that you’ll put Ghirardelli Square on your San Francisco itinerary. You can’t come all the way here and not experience some of the best chocolatey treats around!

You’ll find an entire city block of restaurants and shops located within the square, complete with a mermaid fountain in the center. You also can’t miss the four ice cream parlors and the chocolate shops.

Even if you have the willpower to pass up the first three shops, you’re probably not getting out of there without giving in. You’re on vacation, though, right? Go for it!

Fair warning that the price of a sundae is pretty outrageous, as in over $13 each. Gulp! One taste of this yumminess, though, and you’ll be saying, “Shut up and take my money.” Well played, Ghirardelli. Well played.

The huge Ghirardelli sign above the building is another San Francisco icon and is lit up with large, white, light bulbs at night. Speaking of, evening is the perfect time to take your dessert and stroll down to the water’s edge while the sun goes down.

It’s one of the sweetest things to do in San Francisco at night. No matter what time you go, save room in your tummy and your budget for a trip to Ghirardelli Square. You can even get packages of their famous chocolate squares to take back as souvenirs.

Enjoy!

Getting ice cream is a fun thing to do in San Francisco.
Make time to visit Ghirardelli Square and treat yourself to an ice cream sundae!

The Perfect 3 Day Itinerary

Now that we’ve listed so many fun things to do in San Francisco, it’s time to put together an itinerary. You can take it and stick with it as it is, or mix in other activities and excursions to fit your needs.

There’s simply too much to choose from to fit it all in a three day itinerary, which means we’ll just have to go back to do more!

Following this 3 day San Francisco itinerary will fill up most of your days. However, I’ve intentionally left time for you to add in any stops along the way that you find interesting.

Also, San Fran has no shortage of yummy food. Make it a point to try something different each day!

San Francisco Itinerary: Day 1

  • Ride a cable car to the Ferry Building
  • Tour the Ferry Building (explore the Farmer’s Market on weekends)
  • Visit Alcatraz 
  • See the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park
  • Enjoy the sunset at Chrissy Field

San Francisco Itinerary: Day 2

  • Bike across the Golden Gate Bridge
  • Spend time at Fisherman’s Wharf
  • Take Selfies at Umbrella Alley
  • Visit Ghiradelli Square and indulge in an ice cream sundae
  • Stroll down to the beach at Aquatic Cove and enjoy the sunset
  • Admire the Palace of the Arts after dark

San Francisco Itinerary: Day 3

  • Rent a GoCar and drive down Lombard St.
  • Go see the Painted Ladies of San Francisco
  • Enjoy a picnic at the Alamo Square Park
  • Spend a few hours exploring Chinatown
  • Admire the artwork at the Lincoln Steps
  • Take a cable car in the evening to see the city lights

What will you do in San Francisco?

Isn’t this a fun list of what to do in San Francisco? Whether you’re traveling as a couple like we did or bringing the kids along, you’ll find plenty of things to do there.

I’m sure we missed things so if you have something to add, please leave a comment. We’d love to hear about it!

Till next time,
Karee

I’m Karee—traveling and travel planning make my heart sing! Thanks for coming along for the ride with me here at OWJ. I’ll be sharing valuable info on how to travel like a Queen without a Royal Budget, how to take amazing trips using points and miles, and plenty more!

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