If you are planning to visit San Francisco, but you have little time available and you want to know what to see in just 3 days, this itinerary touches the main points of interest and the things not to be missed for your first trip to the “City by the Bay”.
One of the symbols of San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge
San Francisco is, in my opinion, the most beautiful city in the United States of America and one of the most beautiful in the world: an eclectic city, it is the home of Golden Gate Bridge, of the famous island of Alcatraz, of the largest Chinese district in the USA, a city that has been the scene of events such as the Summer of Love, of the Beat Generation, of many American cult films.
San Francisco she is charming, cheerful and lively with i cable cars that go up and down rattling through its hills, but above all it is very colorful.
For me San Francisco is simply magical, to the point of not being able to stop going back.
During the trip to Alcatraz, 4 years old and (fortunately) 12 kg ago!
Even the first time I was in the “City by the Bay” I was alone 3 days to dedicate to the city: I left with the awareness that they were absolutely insufficient to fully experience it, but that I could still have a good taste of what it has to offer.
So if you are short on time, this is the itinerary on what to see in San Francisco absolutely unmissable.
If you are planning to visit San Francisco and do a lot of things, a good option to save is to buy cards with cumulative discountsie which include some tours and places of interest.
A card that offers discounts and free entries, including transportation (including Cable Cars), is the San Francisco City Pass which saves you up to 44% and in which the tour to Alcatraz island.
Taking the Cable Car and hanging out is one of the things to do in San Francisco
Take the Cable Car
I Cable Cars they are the icon of the city, as well as its traditional trams. The Cable Cars tram network consists of three lines: The first two, Powell-Hyde and Powell-Mason, depart at the intersection of Powell and Market Street and connect the city center to Fisherman's Wharf, while the third runs along beautiful California Street , one of the main arteries of San Francisco. The best choice is to make the card for several days and definitely not sit, but hang out!
Walk along Lombard Street, "The Crookedest Street"
One of the most famous streets, as well as the crookedest street in the world, Lombard Street it is definitely among the things to see in the city. Get off at the Cable Car stop which is right at the top of the road and walk downhill. At the bottom stop for a few minutes to observe cars and motorbikes zigzagging down the street in the midst of the riot of flower beds: an explosion of colors and a must-see especially on a beautiful sunny day.
Lombard Street, the crookedest street in the world
Climb the Coit Tower
Coit Tower is perched on top of Telegraph Hill: 64 meters high, it was financed with the legacy that the extravagant and eccentric Lillian Coit left in San Francisco in 1929 to make it even more beautiful.
The Coit Tower can be reached by car, by bus (39 from Washington Square) or if you are brave (and trained) you can "climb" on foot along the strenuous Filbert Steps, from which however you will be rewarded with beautiful glimpses on the city. Arriving at the Coit tower you can take the elevator and go up to the top (you can buy the ticket inside), from where you can enjoy one of the most beautiful panoramic views of San Francisco.
Panorama of San Francisco from the climb to the Coit tower
Wander around Chinatown
Along with New York, San Francisco is the largest Chinese community in the world outside Asia, as well as the oldest in all of North America.
Chinatown it really is a small city within the city: here you can find the best places to eat Chinese food (dim sum) from all over the United States, tea houses, bars, souvenir stalls, shops of all kinds and manufacturers of fortune cookies. If you have time, organize a tour inside the little one Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory.
The easiest way to get to Chinatown is to take the Cable Car from Fisherman's Wharf. Both Powell-Hyde and Powell-Mason are fine. The best stop is Washington & Mason (near the Cable Car Museum) or Powell & California. From here to get to Chinatown just walk down a couple of blocks.
Harbor Tour in the bay
Taking a Bay Cruise and seeing San Francisco from the water is a great way to spend the afternoon in total relaxation.
From aboard you can take fantastic photographs, spot wildlife and enjoy the sun.
There are tons of agencies and companies that organize tours, but the cheapest way to get around the Bay is to take the public ferry.
The entrance to the Haight Ashbury Gift Shop, along Haight street
Absolutely the neighborhood I love the most, the place where American counter-culture was born, the point of origin of the summer of 1967, aka The Summer of Love: this used to be the hippie district and even though many of the old shops have been replaced by fine boutiques and cafes, when you walk through its streets you can still breathe the same atmosphere of hope and idealism that animated the boys that in the 70s they came here from all over North America and maybe walking aimlessly you could end up in some extravagant shop that sells used clothes or old (and new) CDs.
To spend the evening I recommend you go to Castro, the gay district, where there are many restaurants and clubs.
Dedicate the morning to one of the most beautiful experiences you can live in the Bay: the Whale Watching!
If you are wondering if Whale Watching is something to do in the city, I answer you: absolutely yes, it will be one of the most beautiful experiences of your life.
In addition, California is an excellent destination for whale watching: just outside the San Francisco Bay there is the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary which is located right on one of the whale migration paths. Here you can practically spot them at any time of the year: Humpback Whales migrate from May to November, gray whales and killer whales from December to May and blue whales from July to the end of October.
The excursion can be easily booked the day before at one of the numerous agencies.
Have lunch at the Ferry Building Marketplace
After a morning of true adrenaline with the whales, you will be back in San Francisco in time to go to Ferry Building MarketPlace, which is located along the Embarcadero at the foot of Market Street and taste the most famous dish, the clam chowder, a fish soup, usually based on clams and potatoes, served inside a large hollowed out sandwich.
Sit down to eat on a bench under the sun with a view that sweeps over the bay from here, but beware of the seagulls, they are many and big and they will have no qualms about jumping hungry on your lunch!
Visit Fisherman's Wharf, Pier 39 and enjoy a chocolate at Ghirardelli Square
Pier 39 with the colony of sea lions that have lived here since 1989
Il Fisherman's Wharf it is one of the most famous places in all of San Francisco and even if I don't love it very much because it is really too touristy, it is still worth a walk. Here you will find many souvenir shops, restaurants (but try to avoid them, they are expensive and often the quality will not pay you back the high bill that they will present you), agencies that offer the most disparate tours, various car rentals.
From Fisherman's Wharf continue along the sea until you reach the Pier 39, famous for having been chosen as a home by a colony of sea lions in 1989 and which still today, in spring and summer, populate the piers around.
After an intense but tiring day, a stop to enjoy a high quality chocolate in Ghirardelli Square is a must!
In the evening, visit another colorful and interesting district: the Mission District.
It is a busy neighborhood, but not as touristy as some of the other neighborhoods: here you will find a mixture of cultures, some of the best restaurants in the city (go there for dinner), a number of places to get a drink and many other fun things to do. .
It is one of my favorite places to visit during the night. If you want a true San Francisco experience, you must go to Mission at least once during your visit.
Tours in Alcatraz
The sign at the entrance to Alcatraz, America's most famous former penitentiary!
Also known as “The Rock”, the Alcatraz prison it became a maximum security federal prison in 1934 and was closed due to high operating costs in 1963. To visit Alcatraz and take part in organized tours with rangers, you can buy a ticket from the official company: there is no purchase option.
The tour is beautiful, an audio guide is provided in various languages that tells the fascinating history of the island which in its almost 30 years of activity has seen as protagonists some of the greatest criminals in the history of the United States, such as Al Capone.
Despite being considered the safest prison in the world due to its location in the Bay, surrounded by icy waters and strong currents, it has been the scene of various escape attempts which have inspired many American films (Remember Clint Eastwood in the film “Escape from Alcatraz ? ").
Cross the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito
Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge
Another of the things to do in San Francisco is definitely to walk the Golden Gate Bridge.
Il Golden Gate Bridge is one of San Francisco's most famous landmarks as well as a piece of artistic engineering. You can cross the bridge on foot, enter the visitor center to learn about the history of the park, or simply look at it from every possible angle and spend hours taking thousands of photos, like I did.
Don't forget to go to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA), which offers a boardwalk, bridge views, and numerous hiking trails. If you have children inside the park you shouldn't miss the Walt Disney museum.
A nice alternative is to cycle through the Golden Gate and get to the small town of Sausalito. At Fisherman's Wharf there are many bicycle rental companies and during the approximately 13 km that separate San Francisco to your destination, in addition to crossing the bridge, Crissy Field, the National Park, you will cross breathtaking landscapes.
You can alternatively also book a 3-hour guided bike tour online, which includes a free child seat.
On the way back you can take the public ferry. The path is not strenuous and is suitable for everyone, including families with children.
And if you still have time
for most San Francisco residents, Treasure Island it's good to see for two things: 1 - the music festival, or 2 - the flea market. In fact, there is much more to this small man-made island (which can be reached by a short bus ride).
Just make sure you spend at least a full day there!
Palace of Fine Arts
An imposing monument surrounded by a garden and a lake, it is worth stopping by to take some nice pictures.
Alamo Square e le “Painted Ladies”
UAnother place to see in the city, a small square from which to observe the panorama of San Francisco, in front of a row of 800th century Victorian houses in pastel colors close to each other and known as the “Painted Ladies”.
The “Painted Ladies” of Alamo Square
Cable Car Museum
Il Cable Car Museum it's a small but interesting museum not to be missed not only for tram enthusiasts.
Aquarium of the bay
If you are visiting San Francisco with children this is definitely a great option.
Napa and Sonoma
Close to the city are the famous wine regions of Napa and Sonoma. If you love wine like me and have time to leave the city, of course you should come here. Napa is one of the leading wine regions in the world and 3,3 million people come to know the region every year.
Some companies organize day trips to Napa Valley as it is close enough, but you will get to visit it a bit on the run. The best would be to spend at least one night there.
A hidden gem, Muir Woods
In Marin County, a few miles from San Francisco driving north, there is a little gem (especially if like me you love taking long walks in the midst of nature), the Muir Woods National Monument: a protected park in which you can admire the evergreen sequoias, relatives of the giant sequoias of Sequoia National Park. The tallest tree within the park is nearly 80 meters and the oldest ones are around 800 years old.
If you don't have a car and don't plan to rent one, you can still buy this nice tour from Ticketbar which takes you to Muir Woods and Sausalito in just one half day. Places are limited, so if you decide you want to visit, buy your tickets a little in advance.
This route on San Francisco, su what see and to do is just to get a taste of the city but it has so many other activities to experience, attractions to see and places to eat that I would recommend you to spend in the city as a minimum 4 or 5 days.