San Francisco is without a doubt one of California’s greatest travel destinations! For me, San Francisco was only the second city I’ve visited in the US but after spending 2 weeks in this diverse place I can already say it holds a place in my heart! <3
The reasons why San Francisco is such a special city to visit are plentiful: the immense cultural diversity each with its own delicious cuisine, the famous red Golden Gate Bridge, the United States’ most peculiar prison, its steep hills and the cute cable cars that run on them, the often so present fog named Karl, and so much more!
The person who thinks that San Francisco can be visited in one day is terribly wrong. The city counts more than 20 different neighborhoods each with their own character which makes it easy to spend an entire week in San Francisco without seeing the same things twice! Tell me, who can see all of that in one day? Or even two or three days?
With this guide, I’ll try to give you an as extensive San Francisco itinerary as possible with all the tips and tricks I’ve gathered by spending 2 weeks sightseeing in the city without breaking the bank. And if you don’t plan to spend 7 days in San Francisco you at least have a broad choice of activities ;)!
Let’s get into it!
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7-day San Francisco itinerary
Day 1: China Town & the Golden Gate Bridge
On the first day of your San Francisco itinerary, you have to see the city’s major highlights, namely China Town and the Golden Gate Bridge. In what order you’d like to discover them doesn’t matter but I do recommend going to China Town for dinner of course!
San Francisco’s China Town is the oldest one in the United States and also the largest one! You can expect an entire district full of Chinese shops, beautifully decorated streets, and cultural ornaments. Plan your route through China Town based on these must-see places:
- Dragon’s Gate: every visit should start here! Remember that only the emperor walks through the middle entrance ;).
- Tin How Temple: on the upper floor of the apartment at 125 Waverly Place can the oldest Buddhist Temple on the continent be found. Convince the lady at the entrance that you’re trustworthy and light a candle or interpret your future in this beautiful room.
- Fortune Cookie Company: did you know fortune cookies have been invented in San Francisco? In this old factory, you can see how they make them, taste them and put your own message inside!
- Old St. Mary’s Cathedral: dating from 1855 this is the oldest cathedral in California.
- Vital Tea Leaf: in this Chinese tea shop, the owner will give you a free tea-tasting experience and answer all your tea-related questions (after which it is of course very polite to buy a bit of tea ;)).
- Waverly Place: the coziest street in China Town where you’ll find a lot of old Chinese family houses.
Biking over the Golden Gate Bridge
One of the top touristic activities in San Francisco is renting a bike and riding alongside the water, over the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito where you can take the ferry back to the city! Although this might sound a bit cliché, it was one of my favorite activities in San Francisco and definitely worth considering!
This activity will allow you to see a bit more of what makes San Francisco so special. You’ll pass by Crissie Field Beach and make your way up to the bridge to cross the water. However, getting up to the bridge is quite difficult as the road is pretty steep. If you might have difficulties with that, make sure to rent an electric bike!
Just over the bridge, you’ll come across a great view on your left-hand side which is the perfect photo spot if you’d like to take some pictures of the bridge and San Francisco’s skyline.
Make sure to count at least half a day for this experience so you have enough time to go around Sausalito as well, the little village that is located on the other side of the water and almost gives you a certain Mediterranean vibe. This is the perfect place to stop for a drink before taking the ferry back to the mainland!
I highly recommend renting your bike at Blazing Saddles. They have multiple locations around the city, and yes, also electric bikes!
Tip: have dinner at Z&Y Restaurant in China Town where President Barack Obama once dined. But line up before 6 p.m. to have a spot!
Day 2: the harbor & Alcatraz
As you probably know by now, San Francisco counts many districts and one of the most popular ones you should definitely add to your San Francisco itinerary is the coastline including the Marina District, Fisherman’s Warf, and Alcatraz!
You can’t say you’ve been to San Francisco if you haven’t visited Alcatraz! After being a military fortification, this island has been the country’s most protected prison for the most dangerous criminals from 1934 until 1967. Besides that, the island also played an important role in the Native American Occupation as a protest against the oppression they suffered.
Today, you can visit the island and learn all about this rich history. At Pier 33, ferries for Alcatraz leave every half an hour approximately to bring you there. An adult day ticket costs $41 and includes the ferry back and forth as well as a self-guided audio tour of the former prison. You can walk around as long as you like on the island (until the last ferry leaves of course) and explore more about the types of birds breeding here as well as the other buildings.
What makes the audio tour and a visit to this island so unique are the testimonials of former guards and prisoners of the island. You’ll hear them tell about their time at Alcatraz to get a realistic image of how being imprisoned used to be. Quite a special experience!
The coastline & harbor
Start your visit on day 2 at the Ferry Building, which used to be the main transportation and trade hub for San Francisco, and today you can still see many (non-touristic) ferries leaving for the surrounding regions. Moreover, many food stands are located in the building, and on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays there’s a local farmer’s market in the building, perfect to grab breakfast or lunch!
The easiest way to get from the center to the Ferry Building is by jumping on one of the old colorful streetcars, little trams that have been donated by cities all over the world after the devastating earthquake of 1906.
Then, make your way alongside the coast in the direction of the Golden Gate Bridge, but don’t forget to stop at Pier 7, a wooden pier especially made for tourists so that you can enjoy a view of Oakland and Berkeley on the other side of the water. Besides tourists, you’ll also find quite a few fishermen here who try to catch fish and crabs to sell later on.
Next up at the shore you’ll notice the heights of Telegraph Hill and its remarkable monument, Coit Tower. This tower is dedicated to the firemen of San Francisco and has one of the best views of the entire city! For $10 you can go up in the elevator to the top. Make sure to get here in the afternoon for the best lighting and admire the paintings representing San Francisco’s history on the ground floor.
A bit further on, you’ll also notice the crowds getting thicker as you approach Pier 39, one of the most famous tourist attractions of San Francisco and not so beloved by the inhabitants. This pier resembles a theme park with its attractions, cringy souvenir shops, and sugary snacks, but there is one good reason to visit this spot: you can take a look at the city’s famous sunbathing sea lions!
As you enter the area of Fisherman’s Warf you’ll notice that this is the place all the tourists hang out (it was the only place where I saw so many tourists together!). But certain stops are definitely worth making:
- Boudin Bakery: try a clam chowder here!
- Musée Mécanique: got spare quarters? Use them to play with old arcades in this arcade museum!
- Ghirardelli marketplace: visit the original Ghirardelli chocolate shop and try their famous Hot Fudge Sundae!
The last worthwhile stop you’ll encounter is Fort Mason and its surrounding park. On the park’s hill, you can watch an amazing sunset as the sun goes down behind the Golden Gate Bridge. Moreover, from March until October, a food truck festival is held in the fort where you can enjoy live music and many international cuisines every Friday evening!
If you still have energy left after this walking tour then you can make your way to one of the most iconic monuments of San Francisco, The Palace of Fine Arts. The palace was originally built for the world exposition of 1915 but the people were such a fan of it that they kept the monument and built it in a permanent form. Today it is an idyllic spot for visitors and wedding photographers! (Tip, for pictures, the light will be best in the morning!)
The last monument I want to recommend to you at the marina is The Wave Organ, an installation that produces a peculiar sound when the waves bump into the tubes. However, you won’t hear anything at low tide so make sure to come at the right moment!
If you’d like to return in the direction of Union Square at the end of the day, I highly recommend going by the cable car that runs on Hyde Street so you can pass by Lombard Street on your way, the street that is famous for its hairpin turns. A one-way ticket on the cable car costs $8, a bit expensive but it’s definitely a fun experience to get around!
Day 3: Mission, Twin Peaks & Haight-Ashbury
One of the most colorful neighborhoods of San Francisco is without a doubt Mission District. This Latin-American district is the place to be when it comes to burritos, artistic murals, and the oldest building in the city. Below you can find an overview of all the places you should have seen in this district!
- Balmy Alley murals: a colorful street full of murals made in the seventies.
- Dandelion Chocolate: chocolate shop and bar where you can find some high-quality delicacies
- La Tacqueria: award-winning tacos and burritos
- Paxton Gate: store for strange curiosities such as stuffed animals and magical stones
- Pirate Supply Store: the place to be for pirates to get their stuff, proceeds go to a foundation to help children with writing
- Mission Dolores Park: gives you a stunning view of San Francisco’s Skyline
- Golden Fire Hydrant: the hydrant that saved part of San Francisco from the devastating fires in 1906
- Mission San Francisco de Asis: oldest building and church in the city from the Spanish missions
As you can see there is plenty to visit in the Mission District. Make sure to at least walk around in the cozy 24th street and taste some delicious Mexican food!
Haight-Ashbury is also known as the hippie district of San Francisco. It is here that the Summer of Love started and this can still be seen in the streets today. From the peculiar shops to the way people dress, everything has a little hippie vibe attached to it. When walking through Haight Street, definitely watch out for the store with a pair of female legs coming out of it.
Besides the entire hippie vibe, there is so much more to see in this neighborhood! Make sure to pass by The Painted Ladies for cute Victorian houses in different colors, the Buena Vista Park for another great view of the area and to walk around to admire all the other beautiful Victorian houses!
Tip: if you want to take nice pictures of The Painted Ladies, go visit in the afternoon!
If you want to find the ultimate viewpoint of San Francisco then you should be at Twin Peaks. This point gives you a 360 degrees view of the city and the best moments to enjoy this spot are at sunrise or sunset. However, for tourists without a car, it requires some climbing since public transport doesn’t go all the way to the top!
Day 4: Golden Gate Park
Surprisingly, San Francisco is home to quite some green areas and parks. The largest park you can find here, even larger than Central Park in New York, is the Golden Gate Park. Walking from one end of the park to the other will take you nothing less than one hour, making this the perfect spot to discover when you’re tired of all the city noise! A must-add to your San Francisco itinerary!
But why would you be able to spend an entire day in a park? That’s what I’m going to show you! First of all, you’ll want to visit the park on a Monday, Wednesday, or Friday since these are the days that you can enter the Japanese Tea Garden for free before 10 am. As this wonderful garden is a must-visit in the park you’ll be able to save $10 on the entrance fee!
Take at least half an hour to walk around in the garden, admire the colorful pagoda, try to cross the immense steep bridge, and have a drink at the Japanese tea house. And did you know that the Chinese fortune cookie was invented here?
If the Japanese Tea Garden is too small then the botanical garden might be heaven for you! This large garden has an impressive plant collection and is several times larger than the Japanese Tea Garden. For $10 you can stroll around the garden and enjoy the smell of blooming flowers.
When you’re tired of the gardens, you’re visiting on a rainy day or you just want to enjoy a stunning view, consider visiting de Young Museum. This museum of fine arts holds a permanent collection of both contemporary art as well as collections of Native art from America and other continents. Taste is personal but I highly recommend the museum if you’re interested in the history of the United States. Moreover, if you visit on the first Tuesday of the month, you’ll enjoy free admission to the museum!
But even if you’re not into art at all you’ll want to visit this place for the Hamon Observation Tower which gives you a stunning 360 degrees view of San Francisco. This place can definitely count as one of the most inspiring viewpoints! Luckily for you, this tower is completely free to visit and you don’t need a ticket to the museum!
If you love water activities then you might want to make your way to Stow Lake. At the Stow Lake boathouse, you can rent rowboats and pedal boats to enjoy a relaxing time on the lake, pedaling around the island. If you do so, make sure to enjoy the views of the stone bridge, Chinese Pagoda and Huntington Waterfall. Just watch out for the begging geese who might want to steal some food from you!
The last must-visit places I want to inform you about in a bit more detail are the windmills. Yes, you heard that right. San Francisco is home to 2 Dutch windmills. Why? Because Queen Wilhelmina of The Netherlands was so generous as to gift the city a windmill to pump up water for the park’s maintenance. The windmill is worth a visit for its colorful tulip garden, still named after the Queen, or if you’ve never seen a Dutch windmill in real life ;).
As the first windmill proved to be a success, they decided to build a second one, immediately the largest Dutch windmill that has ever been built, called Murphy’s Windmill. Although quite impressive, if you have to pick one, go for Wilhelmina’s windmill with its charming tulip field.
Of course, there are plenty of additional things to do at the Golden Gate Park! Here’s a bit more inspiration for you:
- pass by the Bison Paddock
- visit Shakespeare’s Garden
- be amazed at the California Academy of Sciences
- admire the Conservatory of Flowers
- enjoy the Rose Garden
- picnic at one of the many meadows
Tip: every weekend a free shuttle bus takes you around the park to visit its main attractions
Day 5: Shopping around Union Square
Although you might feel like there’s not a lot to see near Union Square, this neighborhood is definitely worth adding to your San Francisco itinerary as well! Besides being a good spot to base yourself (you can reach almost all places through public transport from here), you’ll also find the most exclusive stores here. So if you dream of visiting a Luis Vuitton or Gucci store, this is the place to be.
For the most expensive and exclusive stores, you’ll need to be in and around Maiden Lane. Even though this is still the hotspot for these kinds of boutiques, you’ll also see many shops being empty due to the recent health crisis.
Definitely go into the Neiman Marcus store to admire their wonderful glass ceiling, appreciate the architecture of the Phelan Building, sneak into the Palace Hotel to soak in its luxury, and search for all the POPOS in the neighborhood.
What are POPOS? Privately Owned Public Open Spaces are publicly accessible spaces maintained by private companies. You’ll find them on top of hotels, shopping malls, and the most random companies. Although it is obligatory to have such a space, these companies are not happy with this directive, and therefore, it’s often hard to get into a POPOS. But search and you shall find! This is the moment where you’ll want to use your persuasion skills to convince the security guard to let you in ;).
Some of the POPOS I recommend:
- CitizenM Hotel: open from 12-5 pm, ring the bell for the reception or wait until a guest comes in/out
- Westfield Center: entrance at number 835, you’ll only get in when someone comes out, only 1 of the 4 elevators goes to the rooftop
- One Kearny: said to be beautiful but the guard wouldn’t let me in, I hope you have more luck!
- 100 First Street
- 343 Sansome Street
If you haven’t yet by now, this is the perfect moment to jump on the cable car that starts at Powell Street & Market Street and passes by Union Square!
Tip: Macy’s is open until 9 pm if you’re more into an evening shopping spree!
Day 6: Japantown & Land’s End
Another beautiful natural area that gives a perfect reflection of the rough coast of the Bay Area is Land’s End. This is the perfect place for a short hike alongside the ocean! But before you’ll get there, some other places will attract your attention along the way.
On your way to Land’s End, you’ll likely pass by Japantown. Although called a town, Japantown is more of a shopping center with lots of Japanese stores and restaurants. The only thing that reveals the nature of this neighborhood immediately is the Peace Pagoda on the Japantown Peace Plaza.
I highly recommend walking around in the Japanese shops for a while or stopping here for either lunch or dinner to have delicious ramen at Kui Shin Bo and Matcha ice cream at Uji Time Dessert. You’ll likely have to wait in line for both of these places but I promise you that it’s worth the waiting!
Once a year in April, you’ll also find the Japanese Blossom Festival taking place here. It’s quite a special experience with several performances and a small market two weekends in a row so if you’re visiting around this period, definitely stop by!
When you make your way to Land’s End from Japantown, you’ll also want to stop at Little Russia, a Russian neighborhood that is home to a magnificently decorated Russian Orthodox Church, the Holy Virgin Cathedral. Go in, burn a candle and observe how the visitors are praying. In need of a snack? Stop at a Russian bakery!
Far away from the touristic center of San Francisco, you’ll find Land’s End and one of the most stunning trails of the city, the Land’s End Trail. Start your visit at Sutro Heights, a smaller park that gives you a view of the coastline and windmills of the Golden Gate Park. The hike itself starts at Land’s End Lookout, from where you can follow the coastal trail that takes you past several protected beaches, rocky cliffs, and the remains of sunken boats.
The hike takes you at least two hours but is not too difficult if you don’t descend to all the beaches you encounter. First, you’ll pass by the Sutro Baths, the ruins of an impressive bathhouse. Proceeding the hike, if you’re lucky, you’ll also see parts of three ships that sunk before the rocks of Land’s End. Make sure to also stop at Mile Rock Beach and the viewpoint above it. From this spot, you have an amazing view of the Golden Gate Bridge!
You’ll approach the end of the trail when you see China Beach in front of you. Here you can decide to hike all the way to the Golden Gate Bridge through Presidio Park where you can continue on other trails or have a break and enjoy your time on the beach. (Little disclaimer: it can be VERY windy.)
Day 7: Muir Woods and/or Wine Country
As beautiful as San Francisco is, there’s also plenty to discover outside the city at a reasonable distance. Two of these top activities include visiting Muir Woods National Monument and wine tasting at Napa or Sonoma Valley. Either you choose one of these to add to your San Francisco itinerary or you combine them into a day trip!
If you were not planning on renting a car, don’t worry, you won’t need it! Many tour companies are offering organized day trips to these places, in large, small, or private groups. If you’re on a budget you can also decide to just go by public transport. This will require a bit more planning and take you a bit longer, but is a perfectly viable option as well!
Muir Woods is probably the closest park to San Francisco where you can find the tallest trees in the world, namely the Redwood Trees. This park is perfect if you want to spend the day or afternoon hiking between these giants!
As Muir Wood is quite popular amongst the citizens of San Francisco, it can get busy, and therefore, you better book a ticket beforehand. Entrance will cost you $15 and depending on how you get there, you’ll need to pay an extra fee.
Most people get to Muir Woods by car, which takes at least 45 minutes. If this is the case for you, make sure to reserve a parking spot beforehand and come early since spots are not named so you might end up at the furthest parking lot.
If you’d like to come to Muir Woods via public transport this might take up to 2 hours (I can tell you this from experience), but it is in my opinion totally worth it! Either take bus 130 or 150 for about 50 minutes to get to the shuttle Park & Ride. Bus 130 won’t drop you off at the exact spot and requires an additional 20-minute walk. Here, the shuttle will pick you up to bring you to Muir Woods. Total cost: $21 (back and forth). On the way back you can also choose to take bus 61 to Sausalito and take the ferry back to San Francisco from there!
If this is all a bit too much of a hassle for you, I suggest you book a group tour that takes you to Muir Woods from a well-rated organization. I recommend taking a look at Viator and booking a tour with good reviews and a great value-price ratio. This is how I booked my tour to Wine Country!
Important! Make sure to download your entry tickets beforehand because you might not have service at Muir Woods!
Wine Country (Napa & Sonoma)
Another option is to visit Wine Country, which is a region north of San Francisco known for its excellent wines. Many wineries are located here, some professional, others just as a hobby, that make excellent wines and even take part in competitions.
You might already have heard of Napa Valley, which is the most popular wine valley of the two, but that fame also comes with a price tag if you want to taste wines here. Sonoma is lesser-known but produces equally good grapes and wines! Wine tasting at Sonoma Valley is therefore much more affordable than at Napa Valley. Good to keep in mind ;).
I must be honest, going to Napa by public transport is a pain in the ass, it takes you at least one train and a bus (about 1h40) but then you’re just in the center of the village, not at the wineries. Traveling to Sonoma by public transport takes you about an hour longer, even worse thus.
Therefore, what I did was book a small group tour that drives you to 3 different wineries to have a wine tasting. This is probably the only way to get to different wineries without a car and I also highly recommend it to you! (Of course, if you have a car you can arrange all of this yourself!)
The tour included a pick-up at our hotel, a stop at the Golden Gate Bridge for some pictures, and visiting the wineries Homewood Winery, Peter Cellars, and Mayo Family Winery. All these wineries were boutique, thus smaller, wineries with limited production and after the visit, you have the chance of buying some bottles. Our guide was a lovely Englishman who told us all sorts of fun facts about San Francisco and wine tasting.
Even if you’re not planning on booking a tour I highly recommend a wine tasting at Peter Cellars since Peter makes some of the best award-winning wines and I honestly haven’t tasted such exquisite wine in my life! So if you want to add one winery to your list, it should be this one!
Where to stay
As I mentioned before, I recommend staying somewhere in the area around Union Square. From there you’ll have the best public transport connections, including easy access to and from the airport. The area where you absolutely don’t want to stay is Tenderloin, where you’ll find most of the homeless and drug-addicted people. This is not the safest place to pass by, especially at night.
I personally stayed in the CitizenM Union Square Hotel and I’m still super happy about the choice I made. Here’s a list of what I loved about it:
- The hotel is very recent and thus everything was basically brand new and modern.
- The location is super central, perfect if you don’t have a car and want to explore everything on foot or by public transport.
- The iconic cable car starts just around the corner.
- Breakfast included bagels with avocado and salmon, by far one of the best breakfast buffets I’ve seen!
- The staff was very helpful with check-in, cleaning, and storing our luggage after check-out.
- The hotel has a large living space where you can work, chill or have a drink anytime.
- The design of the hotel was a VIBE! From the artsy decorations at breakfast to the color lights in the shower ;).
- Affordable prices for San Francisco standards.
In general, I believe that staying at CitizenM made my San Francisco trip just that tiny bit more special and stress-free!
Of course, you might want to consider other options as well so here are some other hotel suggestions for you!
- Luxury: Palace Hotel San Francisco – a monument on its own with its excessive decorations
- Boutique: Petite Auberge – a cute French-looking bed-and-breakfast
- Budget: Pacific Tradewinds Hostel – best-rated hostel in San Francisco
Where to eat
After spending 2 weeks in San Francisco and eating out every day, I can say I know quite a few nice places for you to have delicious dinner or lunch! Be prepared for some wonderful international suggestions: ;).
Looking for delicious Italian food? Pass by Tony’s Pizza Napoletana for the best pizza in San Francisco that even won awards in Naples! Tip: look at the size of the pizzas, they can be huge!
Feeling a bit more exotic? Fill your stomach with spicy Ethiopian delicacies at House of Tadu! Did you know that the proper way to eat Ethiopian food is with your hands?
In for some Indian? You would probably never just enter this place (and you should probably also not walk in this neighborhood alone at night) but Lahore Karahi is definitely worth a stop!
It would be a shame not to eat any Japanese food while you’re in Japantown right? Go stand in line at Kui Shin Bo (yes, there is a queue, the owner is very good at making this queue invisible though) for some delicious ramen and make your way to Uji Time Dessert for some Matcha ice cream as dessert!
Not so much of a ramen fan? Go to Wago Sushi and order their Bento Box to choose the delicacies you like most or just order an entire sushi boat!
If you’re at Fisherman’s Warf and don’t want to enter one of the fancy restaurants (like Scoma’s), you’ll probably enjoy your dinner at Cioppino’s where you’ll find lovely Italian seafood dishes on the menu. Definitely try their signature dish with all kinds of seafood called Cioppino, which you can perfectly share with two!
There’s only one place in San Francisco for the best chocolate dessert and that’s of course Ghirardelli! This old chocolate factory is famous for its Hot Fudge Sundae, a true sensation that you better share with someone else as it’s a huge caloric bomb ;).
Although I wasn’t a fan, many people argue that you should stop at Boudin Bakery to taste their most typical dish, the clam chowder, which is basically soup in a bread bowl. Skip the one at Pier 39 and go straight to their other location a bit further. This is also the place to be for bread in all kinds of animal shapes!
For authentic Italian food, you should be at Il Casaro Pizzeria. Here I had a delicious lasagna bianca but as the name says, you might also want to try a pizza ;).
One of the most famous Chinese restaurants in the city is definitely Z&Y Restaurant. If it’s because Obama had dinner here or because the food is just that amazing, I’ll never know since the line was too long for me to get in ;). But if you’d like to find out, I recommend going before 6 p.m. to have a seat (nope, they don’t take reservations).
I don’t think you can visit the Mission without having one of the best burritos of your life! A phenomenal place to get these burritos, as well as tacos, is La Taqueria. Order outside and eat inside, this is the perfect combination of tasty food and an affordable price!
Never been to Greece? No problem. Taste delicious Mediterranean food at Dunyā Mediterranean Bistro & Wine Bar. Besides having wonderful options on its menu, the restaurant is also one of the coziest places I had dinner in San Francisco. If I can make one recommendation, try the Musakka.
Every Friday night between March and October you’ll get lucky. This is when you can find the food truck festival stationed at Fort Mason including international cuisines, a live band, and a great atmosphere!
If you’re visiting from outside the US then you definitely want to try a typical American burger before going home. One of the best places for this is Mel’s Drive-In where you’ll get the entire 80s vibe! To complete the experience, make sure to have a local beer with your burger!
Exploring the Russian Hill area? Stop at the Spanish restaurant Abrazo for a high-end and incredibly delicious dinner. Afterward, you’ll wonder how they get so much taste in their ingredients! For dessert, cross the street to have the best ice cream in San Francisco at Swensen’s.
Looking for a nice brunch? Avotoasty has you covered with its delicious super bowls and tasty avocado toasts. Make sure to also try one of their smoothies!
Budget tip: if you’re really on a budget, go take a look at the supermarket Whole Foods. Here they sell salads and warm meals for a fraction of the price you’ll get at a restaurant!
Where to find the best city views
San Francisco is a wonderful city to see from above, and its skyline will for sure enchant you! Especially if you can visit one of these viewpoints below at either sunrise or sunset!
- Twin Peaks: the most popular place to watch the sunset and especially beautiful when you can see the fog float over the city.
- Hamon Observation Tower: this free-to-visit observation point gives you a 360 degrees view of the city and is located in the beautiful Golden Gate Park!
- Coit Tower: located in the heart of San Francisco, this tower gives you stunning views as well. Contrary to the other viewpoints, you’ll pay $10 to get up. I recommend getting there in the afternoon for the best light!
- Alcatraz Island: if you want to see the skyline of San Francisco, you need to be at Alcatraz Island or one of the ferries running to Sausalito.
- Mission Dolores Park: because this park is located on a hill at a decent distance from the financial district, you’ll have a wonderful view of the skyscrapers lining up next to the bay.
- Great Meadow Park at Fort Mason: this park is ideal to watch the sun set behind the Golden Gate bridge. Magical moments guaranteed!
- Your plane window: this is no joke! From the plane, San Francisco will look like a monopoly board! So I highly recommend booking a window seat ;).
San Francisco Itinerary Practicalities
How to get around
San Francisco is a huge city, therefore, it is useful to know beforehand how to get around and plan this in your itinerary. In my opinion, the best way to travel from and to the different attractions and neighborhoods is on foot and by bus. There is an extensive bus network in the city that can take you anywhere, but there are some other options as well.
The cable car is definitely the most touristy way of getting around. These yellow cars are pulled by a cable under the street and have only a few lines running, for example to Fisherman’s Warf. A one-way ticket costs $8 and people will line up early to get a spot. Nevertheless, this is quite a fun experience! I recommend getting on the less popular line that goes from Van Ness to the Financial District.
The streetcars run on one line that covers most of Market Street. These old trams were donated by several cities all over the world after the devastating earthquake of 1906. The oldest tram stems from the 19th century and comes from Milan! If you have the chance to hop on one, definitely do so! Luckily, they go at the usual public transport fare of $2.5 for 2 hours.
The BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) is a regional transportation method that will take you in no time (or half an hour) from San Francisco International Airport (SFO) to the city center. This is ideal if you need to travel long distances but there’s only one line running so it’s definitely not for everyday use. A one-way ride from the airport to the center will cost around $10.
To get from San Francisco to Sausalito or any islands and surrounding regions, you might want to take a ferry. Taking a ferry should definitely be on your bucket list since it’s a fun thing to do but you want to be careful with which ferry you take. The ferries leaving at Fisherman’s Warf are namely a bit more touristy and expensive. Therefore, you might want to take a ferry at the Ferry Building.
To make use of all these transportation methods you’ll need a Clipper Card. With this card, you can pay for your public transport (whatever it is). You can buy this card for a one-time $3 fee at several locations in The Bay Area, but the easiest might just be Walgreens. There you can also load money on your card to use on public transport. Take into account that a bus ride costs $2.50 and counts for 2 hours.
Alternatively, you can also just download the Clipper app so that you can load your card and pay for public transport even more easily! By using the clipper card you can also get a discount on your ferry rides, so it’s definitely worth getting one.
Do I need a car?
No. Definitely not.
San Francisco is generally known for its many car burglaries plus there’s no use in having a car when you can easily take the bus anywhere. You only need a car when you plan to visit some National Parks or wineries outside of San Francisco and even for this you can just book a tour that takes you there.
Areas to avoid
San Francisco also has some downsides and one of them is the large homeless population that lives on the streets. These people are often also drug addicted and you shouldn’t be surprised to see people talking to thin air. In general, you should just ignore them as they normally won’t hurt anyone.
But if you look like a typical tourist, you’ll want to avoid walking through the neighborhood Tenderloin, certainly at night or when you’re alone. If you need to pass through this area I recommend taking the bus instead of walking since this is the place where you’ll find the most homeless people.
Make sure that you always know where you’re walking because Tenderloin is located in the heart of the city center just next to Union Square and you’ll easily end up here if you don’t watch out.
If you plan on staying in a certain neighborhood, make sure to check on safety first.
When to visit San Francisco
Before you plan your San Francisco itinerary it is good to know when to visit and when not to visit. It’s no secret that San Francisco is famous for its fog and cooler microclimate. Did you know that the fog here even has a name? Yes, the fog is called Karl and has its own social media channels. To avoid picking the wrong time and ending up in the fog, I have some tips for you.
The best periods to visit san Francisco are spring and autumn. I visited San Francisco in early April and the climate was very nice for a city trip! You especially want to AVOID visiting the city in June, July, and August since the city will be covered in fog during these months. In autumn, the fog will be gone but the temperatures will remain warm for an extended period, warmer than in spring.
How to get to San Francisco
The easiest way to get to San Francisco is definitely by plane. If you land at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) you’ll be in the city within 30 minutes by taking the BART (cost: $10). As you don’t need a car at all, this is pretty convenient!
Of course, you might be on a road trip through California by car when making a stop in San Francisco. Although this is also a nice option to get to the city easily, you’ll pay enormous amounts ($25 – $50 a day) to park your car safely. But more expensive parking is also a necessity in a city that is being flooded by car burglaries.
What to pack
Many people get surprised by the weather conditions in San Francisco since the city has a particular microclimate that is nothing like the weather anywhere else in California. In general, you’ll always need to have a jacket on hand as the ocean winds can make the climate quite cool.
So please don’t think you can survive with only t-shirts in your suitcase! Bring enough warm clothes such as long pants, sweaters, jackets and maybe a hat. If you visit Wine Country or Stanford university then you can use your shorts and tops ;).
This is probably the longest guide I’ve ever written about a destination and I still feel that I have forgotten to include important details. I really hope you enjoyed this guide and gained some useful tips to plan your San Francisco itinerary so that you’ll have a great time once you’re there!
If you think I forgot to include something important in this guide, feel free to comment on this post and let me know! After you return from your trip I’d also love to know how you experienced the city!
Are you interested in more fun facts about San Francisco? Then check the article I’m featured in: 20 fun facts about San Francisco.