Only got four days in San Francisco? See the very best this beautiful coastal city has to offer in this ultimate 4 days in San Francisco itinerary. From riding the famous cable cars, watching the fog creep over the Golden Gate Bridge and tasting the very best of California cuisine at the Ferry Building, here are the best things to do in San Francisco.
The first rule of San Francisco? Don’t call it San Fran. It’s a faux pas around these parts. Instead, locals call it SF, the City, or by its full name. But well before it was San Francisco as we know it today, it was called Yerba Buena which means, “Good herb” in Spanish.
San Francisco gets its name from colonists from Spain who, in 1776, established the Presidio of San Francisco and Mission San Francisco de Asís (now known as Mission Dolores). It wasn’t until 1846 that the city was renamed after St. Francis of Assisi.
Today, SF is the heart of Silicon Valley, famous for leading the way in information technology, producing smartphones and computers. Did you know the first electric TV was invented here 1927 by Philo Farnsworth?
Here is my favourite fun fact of them all. Did you know, that in 1867, San Francisco introduced America’s first “ugly law,” which prohibited unsightly people from showing their faces in public?! Needless to say, this law has since been revoked.
During my four days in San Francisco, I divided the city up into four major pockets which I used as my itinerary for each day. This worked so well for me and managing my time during the trip that I wanted to share it with you.
Whilst there is so much that can be done, seen, and explored in the City, my 4-day itinerary ensures that you will see and experience the best SF has to offer.
I’ve covered everything including accommodation, transportation, where to eat and how to manage your days around this beautiful bayside metropolis.
Three Things You Should Know
Before we jump in, here are five important things you should know about this itinerary to San Francisco.
- If you’re visiting San Francisco for the first time, this guide is for you! This guide assumes you have no prior knowledge of the city and all it has to offer. You’re in for a real treat!
- Driving around San Francisco can be stressful and finding a car park can be a nightmare. I recommend using a mix of Hop on/ Hop off bus tours, cable cars, Muni bus service, and car share services like Lyft and Uber.
- I’ve tried to find a balance between quality and quantity. That being said, how often do you get to go to San Francisco? For some, this might be a once off experience and you want to see as much as possible. The best part of this itinerary is that you can adjust it to suit your needs and personal preferences. For each daily itinerary, each location is no more than 30 minutes from the next, which gives you total flexibility should you prefer to linger a bit longer at any location. I’ve also included optional activities that may also interest you.
Bring this itinerary to life and watch my video of San Francisco.
So, without further ado, here is my San Francisco itinerary.
Looking for something in particular? Use these links to jump around.
Included in this 4-day guide to San Francisco
- Map of San Francisco Itinerary
- Day 1 itinerary
- Day 2 itinerary
- Day 3 itinerary
- Day 4 itinerary
- Where to Stay in San Francisco
Want to know where you’ll be going? Take a look at the detailed map below.
Click on this interactive map and see where this itinerary will take you. I’ve created this map using Google Maps which you can save and use as you travel around.
Day 1 – Purple pins
Day 2 – Blue pins
Day 3 – Yellow pins
Day 4 – Pink pins
1. Coit Tower – See San Francisco’s Rooftop
San Francisco is a huge city and there’s no better way to orientate yourself with its sprawling metropolis than to start at Coit Tower.
Located in Pioneer Park in the Telegraph Hill neighbourhood, Coit Tower stands 210-foot (64 metres) tall and offers wonderful panoramic views of the entire city and Bay Area including Golden Gate Bridge.
The tower was built between 1932 and 1933 and named after Lillie Hitchcock Coit, a wealthy eccentric and patron of the city’s firefighters. Coit’s bequest was to build the tower in an effort to beautify the city.
After Coit’s death in 1929, the funds he left behind for the project went towards building both the tower and the monument to Coit’s much-loved volunteer firefighters which is located in Washington Square.
If someone tells you Coit Tower was designed to look like a firehose nozzle, that’s an urban myth.
Coit tower was designed by the same firm which designed San Francisco’s City Hall.
Coit Tower Opening Times
- April – October: 10 am to 6 pm (last ticket sold at 5:30 pm)
- November – March: 10 am to 5 pm (last ticket sold at 4:30 pm)
- Closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, New Year’s Day
Coit Tower Ticket Prices
- Adult $9
- Senior (62+) $6
- Youth (12-17) $6
- Child (5-11) $2
- Child (4 & under) Free
How to Get to Coit Tower
- Bus – Take the Muni’s #39 Coit bus which connects Coit Tower and Fisherman’s Wharf. The Bus runs every 20 minutes seven days a week. The first bus from Fisherman’s Wharf departs at 9:04 am. The last bus from Coit Tower departs at 7:20 pm. Exact fare is required and includes round trip transfer. Tickets: Adult $2; Youth (5-17) & Seniors (65+) $0.75; Child (4 & under) Free.
- Walk – For a scenic hike to the tower, climb Telegraph Hill’s eastern slope via the Filbert Street stairs, which pass through the Grace Marchant Garden, or the Greenwich Street stairs.
- Car – If you’re arriving by car, keep in mind that there is very limited parking. At peak times the line of cars waiting to reach the lot can be very long.
2. Lombard Street – “The World’s Crookedest Street”
This unique attraction is one of the coolest things you can visit in San Francisco. Made up of eight hairpin turns located at the end of Lombard Street, this street is so popular that some 350 cars an hour drive down this iconic street.
What is lesser know is that this unique design was built in 1922 as a way to reduce the hill’s natural 27 percent grade, which was too steep for most vehicles.
This is actually a lovely place to walk down and enjoy the red bricked road lined with beautiful homes. The road itself is only 600 foot (182 metres) long and has a recommended speed limit of 5 mph (8 km/h). During peak times, vehicles have to wait up to 20 minutes to enter the Crooked Street segment!
How to Get to Lombard Street
Lombard Street is a long road, but the famous section you’re looking for is located between Jones St. and Hyde St. The exact address you’ll need to punch into your car GPS or phone is 1070 Lombard Street, San Francisco, California 94109.
- City bus – Several city buses serve this area. The most popular of which is the 30, which runs from Union Square. Get off on Columbus near Lombard then walk west (uphill) a few blocks to get to Jones. This is where the curvy part of Lombard Street begins.
- Cable car – The Powell-Mason cable car line also stops at Lombard and Columbus. Another option is to that the Hyde Street cable car which will take you to the top of the curvy street.
- Car – If you want to drive down the crooked portion of Lombard Street, keep in mind that it’s one way only, running towards the East. To do this you’ll need to arrive from Van Ness and turn east on Lombard.
- Tour bus – Another option is to take on of the city’s tourist buses which pass by Lombard Street. Since the busses are too large for this crooked street, the busses will stop to let visitors off and walk around. The hop-on / hop-off tour buses include 31 more popular sightseeing stops with a full day pass around San Francisco.
3. Sea Lions at Pier 39
Just a 15-minute walk from Coit Tower is Pier 39, a popular area with lots of family fun located right on the waterfront. Located on the pier is a two-story carousel, shopping center, boutique shops, restaurants, a video arcade, street performances, the Aquarium of the Bay, and virtual 3D rides.
The highlight of Pier 39 is without a doubt the large sea lion colony and who have called this place home since an earthquake hit San Francisco in October 1989. The sea lions are the unofficial mascots of Pier 39, which draw large crowds that watch them relax in the sun on their permanent home on K-dock.
The sea lions are completely free to come and go as they please. But since the food supply in the Bay is so plentiful and the area offers them protection from natural predators, the size of the sea lion colony continues to grow. Depending on the food supply and natural migration patterns, numbers will rise and fall but no matter what time of year you go, there’s bound to be at least a few sea lions around.
Not only that but from one on the piers can see Alcatraz Island, Angel Island, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Bay Bridge.
How to Get to Pier 39
- Walk – Pier 39 if just a 15-minute walk from Coit Tower. Walk down Telegraph Hill Boulevard which turns into Lombard Street. Stop, look at the get a unique view of the famous eight-hairpin street from here. Continue on and turn right on to Stockton Street. Continue to the end and turn right onto Beach street and you’re there.
- Bus – Take the Muni’s #39 Coit bus which connects Coit Tower and Fisherman’s Wharf.
4. Waterfront at Fisherman’s Wharf
Located right next to Pier 39 is Fisherman’s Wharf. A trip to Waterfront at Fisherman’s Wharf is like stepping back into the San Francisco gold rush past. In the 1800s Italian immigrant fishermen entered the city from the bay to take advantage of the influx of population due to the gold rush and made this area their own.
Most of these Italian fishermen settled in the North Beach area located close to the wharf and began fishing for local delicacies, one of which is the Dungeness crab. Today, Fisherman’s Wharf is still the home base of San Francisco’s fishing fleet.
The neighborhood maintains an old world charm with its wooden arcades and streetcars which runs through the area. So, it’s no wonder then that Fisherman’s Wharf is a hotspot for tourists who come here to enjoy the numerous seafood restaurants, attractions, souvenir shops, and sightseeing ferries.
If you find yourself in San Francisco for the Fourth of July, head to Fisherman’s Wharf to see its world-class fireworks display. You’ll also get the best views of the Fleet Week air shows featuring The Blue Angels.
There are so many things to do and see at Waterfront at Fisherman’s Wharf with literally something for everyone. I suggest you spend the majority of your afternoon wandering around and enjoying a meal overlooking the bay before you leave. Choose from Cannery Shopping Center, Ghirardelli Square, Ripley’s Believe it or Not museum, the Wax Museum at Fisherman’s Wharf, the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, USS Pampanito, a decommissioned World War II era submarine, and the Balclutha, a 19th-century cargo ship. Nearby Pier 45 has a chapel in memory of the “Lost Fishermen” of San Francisco and Northern California.
One place that’s worth a special mention is…
5. Musée Mécanique
I can’t begin to describe how cool and interesting Musée Mécanique is. This gaming arcade / interactive museum is full of original 20th-century penny arcade games. There are over 300 mechanical machines to choose from, and just like a modern arcade, you have to pay to play.
From hand-cranked music boxes to modern arcade games, this a great spot to take a trip down memory lane or imagine what life was like for your grandparents who didn’t have Playstations and XBoxes.
Musée Mécanique has even made it into pop culture, being featured in the 2001 film The Princess Diaries and the Girlboss series.
Musée Mécanique Opening Times and Admission
- Mon-Fri 10:00am-8:00pm
- Sat-Sun 10:00am-8:00pm
- Holidays 10:00am-8:00pm
Musée Mécanique is free admission. All machines are coin-operated with prices ranging from 1¢ to $1. Most games cost 25¢ to 50¢. Don’t worry about bring your own change, there are change machines are provided inside the museum.
How to Get to Fisherman’s Wharf
- Cable car – The F-Line streetcar runs up and down Market Street all the way to Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf. You can pay the conductor onboard or purchase tickets in advance at multiple locations or via smartphone using the MuniMobile app. Make sure you have the exact change before boarding.
- Walk – The cheapest and more scenic option is to walk along the waterfront until you reach Fisherman’s Wharf.
Where to Eat in Fisherman’s Wharf
There are tons of cafes, bars, and seafood restaurants are all over Fisherman’s Wharf. The local dishes to try are Dungeness crab and clam chowder served in a sourdough bread bowl.
Since the are is very touristy, some restaurants can be expensive and serve average quality food so it pays to do some research.
Places like Fisherman’s Grotto, Pompei’s Grotto and Alioto’s, are all well-known for their three generations of the same family ownership. Blue Mermaid Restaurant is also a great spot for clam chowder.
Boudin Bakery is famous for creating the San Francisco sourdough. The one in, Fisherman’s Wharf is its flagship and you can actually watch the bakers prepare the rolls through the window. There is even a Museum and Bakery Tour if you’re a keen baker.
A trip to The Baked Bear is a must. Allow some time to digest your lunch before you order one of their giant ice cream sandwiches. Super-premium craft ice cream is wedged between two homemade and original recipe cookies that will probably end up being the best dessert of your trip.
6. Ride a Cable Car
End your day with a ride on a cable car. San Francisco’s relied heavily on cable cars to transport people around the city in the late 1800s. With all those hills, it would take forever to walk anywhere. Back then, there are 23 routes which covers 49 square miles (126 sq km) of the city.
Today, there are only three remaining cable car lines you can take and are considered National Historic Landmarks. Climb aboard one of these cable cars and shoot back to simpler times.
To learn more about their history and get a glimpse of the giant wheels turning the underground cables that power them, visit the Cable Car Museum.
Where to Ride the Cable Car
Either walk up to North Point Street and jump on the Powell-Mason Line or catch the Powell-Hyde Line which runs from the corner of Powell and Market Streets to the end of Hyde Street.
How to Ride the Cable Car
Tickets for anyone over the age of four must be purchased to ride the cable car. Each ticket is valid for one journey only. Check here for the latest fares. Tickets can be purchased from the conductor, just make sure you have small bills or the correct change.
Cable Car Museum Opening Times and Admission
- 10 am – 6 pm (April thru October)
- 10 am – 5 pm (November thru March)
- Open every day except New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas.
- Admission is free.
7. Have Dinner in Chinatown
End your first day in the country’s largest Chinatown and the oldest enclave of Chinese immigrants outside of Asia. This is the birthplace of American Chinese food including chop suey and fortune cookies. Notable establishments include Hunan Home’s Restaurant and Good Mong Kok Bakery.
Don’t miss a visit to the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory where more than 20,000 fortune cookies that are handmade here every day! Taking a photo of these hard working ladies will set you back just 50 cents.
This might be the quickest stop on your list of Things to do in San Francisco, but your taste buds will thank you.
How to Get to Chinatown
Chinatown is just a 6-minute walk from the Cable Car Museum which can be reached via the cable car on Washington Street.
8. Lyon Street Steps
Just like Rome, San Francisco was said to be built on “The Seven Hills of San Francisco” including Telegraph Hill, Nob Hill, Russian Hill, Rincon Hill, Twin Peaks, Mount Davidson, and Lone Mountain or Mount Sutro.
Not only have San Francisco’s steep hills have heavily influenced transportation, building and urban planning but they have created many beautiful staircases.
The Lyon Street Steps is the most decadent staircase of them all and has wonderful views of San Francisco Bay.
Lyon Street Steps is located in the upscale Pacific Heights district, one of the few areas in San Francisco that survived the 1906 earthquake. To give you an idea of how affluent this area is, the western blocks of Broadway, at the top of Lyon Street Steps, is called Billionaires Row or the Gold Coast. Gordon Getty, the son of oil tycoon J. Paul Getty (at 2870-2880 Broadway), Oracle Founder Larry Ellison (at 2850 Broadway), Mimi Haas of the Levi Strauss Haas family (at 2800 Broadway), and several others all live here.
Start at the top of Broadway Street where it intersects with Lyon Street, from here walk down the stairs which will lead you to the Marina District.
The first block of stairs had a landscaped gardens with one of the Hearts of San Francisco at its centre. The second set of stairs are less impressive, but serve to quickly connect one district to the next.
Other staircases worth visiting in the City are the 16th Avenue Tiled Stairs, Hidden Garden Stairs (a mosaic staircase located at 16th Avenue at Kirkham), and Lincoln Park Steps (located at California at Lincoln Golf Course)
How to get to Lyon Street Steps
Take the #3 bus and get off at Jackson and Baker Streets. Walk two blocks until you reach Broadway then turn left. Warning, these two blocks are super steep so make sure you’re wearing shoes with decent grip and take it easy.
9. Palace of Fine Arts
Palace of Fine Arts is the only remaining structure from the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition. This historic World’s Fair-style event put San Francisco back on the map as a major global city after the 1906 earthquake and fire.
This Greco-Roman Palace dominates the lovely park maintained where the lush lawns invite visitors to relax and picnic on. The lagoon mirrors the grand buildings where fish, birds, and turtles play. Lining the lagoon are tall Australian eucalyptus trees.
For Star Wars fans, you’d be interested to know that the Palace was George Lucas’s inspiration for the design of Queen Amidala’s royal residence in Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace.
How to Get to the of Fine Arts
- Walk – The Palace of Fine Arts is located on Baker Street in the Marina. If you walk straight down the Lyon Street Steps you can’t miss it. It’s two-and-a-half miles west of Fisherman’s Wharf and three miles northwest of Union Square.
- Bus – You can reach the Palace of Fine Arts via Muni by riding bus lines 22, 28, 30, 41, 43 or 45.
Palace of Fine Arts Opening Times and Admission
- The Palace is open daily from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.
- Admission is Free.
10. See the Yoda Fountain
Calling all Star Wars fans, this is one stop you won’t want to miss. Located just minutes from the Palace of Fine Arts is Lucasfilm, where you can visit the lobby and see a bunch of Star War memorabilia including the very cool, Yoda Fountain. This small bronze Yoda statue sits atop of the fountain with water flowing from beneath. This is a place of business to remember to be respectful as you wander around.
How to Get to the Yoda Fountain
Lucasfilm is located inside Presidio, enter via 1 Letterman Dr, San Francisco, CA 94129 and tell the gate attendant that you’re there to visit the Yoda Fountain and he’ll show you the way.
11. Walt Disney Family Museum
Disney fans this one’s for you. Also located in the Presidio is the Walt Disney Family Museum. This non-profit museum was founded by Walt Disney’s eldest daughter, Diane Disney Miller which takes visitors on a journey through Disney’s fascinating life.
The journey documents Disney’s creative risks, failures, and triumphs, there is even the first-known drawing of his famous mouse.
Not to be missed is the two-story multi-plane camera, which Disney used to make 2D animations to come and the 13-foot model built to the specs of Walt Disney’s original vision of Disneyland.
How to Get to Walt Disney Family Museum
- Walk – It’s an 18-minute walk from the Palace of Fine Arts.
- PresidiGo Shuttle – Alternatively, there is a free PresidiGo Shuttle which connects Presidio residents, employees, and visitors to various locations throughout the park as well as to locations in downtown San Francisco. There are three routes—Crissy Field, Presidio Hills, and Downtown—and each has different schedules and stops.
Walt Disney Family Museum Opening Times
- Open 10 am to 6 pm Daily (Closed Tuesdays)
- Last gallery entrance at 4:45 pm
Walt Disney Family Museum Ticket Prices
- Adults $25
- Seniors (ages 65+) and Students $20
- Youth (ages 6-17) $15.
- If you have the CityPASS, you get a 34% discount.
12. Golden Gate Bridge Vista Point South via Crissy Field
The moment you’ve been waiting for is here. Golden Gate Bridge is just around the corner, and believe me, you’ll want to enjoy this Bridge from every angle possible. Start your journey towards the bridge by walking down to Crissy Field, a former U.S. Army airfield, which is now part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Follow the coastal path until you reach the bridge itself.
Golden Gate Bridge has a lot of fascinating history and interesting tidbits. For starters, it was once the longest and tallest suspension bridge in the world when it opened in 1937. It’s 4,200 feet (1,280 m) in length and 746 feet (227 m) tall. That title now belongs to Japan’s Akashi-Kaikyo Bridge, which spans 6500 feet (1,981m).
The bridge cost $35 million and took just over four years to build the bridge. Celebrations went on for an entire week.
Choosing a colour for the bridge wasn’t an easy task. Some wanted it to be carbon gray, aluminum, or black, and the U.S. Navy wanted black with yellow stripes so it was easier to see. The consulting architect Irving Morrow didn’t like any of these, he argued that black was unattractive and would reduce the scale of the bridge and aluminum would make the towers look small. In the end, he was inspired by the red primer the steel beams had been coated in at the factories back east, and settled on ‘International Orange’, which complemented the bridge’s natural surroundings and helped the bridge stand out from the sea, sky, and seasonal fog.
Head up the hill to the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center which documents the bridge’s history right from inception. For a fresh perspective on the bridge, take a few photos from Golden Gate Bridge Vista Point South. Nearby is the Round House Café set in an art-deco building. If you’re hungry, this is a good spot to grab a bite to eat.
Tips for Visiting Golden Gate Bridge
I visited the Golden Gate Bridge three times but only saw it once…huh? One word, fog! And there’s plenty of it.
Since the Northern California climate can be very hot this creates a low-pressure zone. On the other hand, San Francisco is surrounded by water, so as the hot inland air rises, this creates a vacuum for the cold, high-pressure, moisture-filled ocean air to quickly move in which causes the fog. For your absolute best chance of seeing the bridge in its entirety (not peeking through the clouds) is in the morning until noon.
How to Get to Golden Gate Bridge
I highly recommend taking a stroll along the coastal path from Crissy Point. This will lead you to the base of the bridge which provides a wonderful perspective from below. From here, backtrack along Marine Drive and take the winding path up the hill which will lead you to the Golden Gate Bridge Vista Point, Round House Café, and Welcome Centre.
13. Cross the bridge to Golden Gate Vista Point North
Uber it, drive it, bike it, walk it, run it, whatever you choose, make sure you go cross the Golden Gate Bridge. There are two sidewalks you can take, the EAST Sidewalk is for pedestrians and cyclist, the WEST is cyclists only. Check here for the latest details on the footpath rules and opening times.
It will take at least 30 minutes to cross the bridge on foot, an option I chose so I could stop and take a gazillion photos of the bridge and the city skyline.
On the other side is the northern vista point which provides another unique perspective. However, the better view in my humble opinion is from Battery Spencer.
This is a great spot to end your afternoon and watch the sunset.
How to Get to Battery Spencer
From Golden Gate Vista Point North, take the bridge underpass to the other side of the bridge which will lead you to a car park. Cross the car park and take the unmade footpath up the hill. At the top of the hill, turn left up Conzelman Rd. When you see a car park on the left, turn left and head down the path to Battery Spencer.
14. Have Dinner in Sausalito
After you’ve had your fill of the bridge, head to Sausalito, a quaint town with a sunny shoreline overlooking the bay towards the city. Head to one of the many bayside restaurants and take in the last moments of the day.
Choose from the Barrel House Tavern, serving New American fare and creative cocktails in a former ferry terminal, the Spinnaker, specialising in California-seafood, or for a sourdough pizza, head to Bar Bocce.
How to get to Sausalito
The quickest and best way to get to Sausalito from Battery Spencer is with an Uber or Uber Pool. San Francisco is Uber’s hometown, so you can bet there are loads of drivers. Uber Pool is a great money-saver and the perfect option if you’re not in a rush. The drive to Sausalito is just 11 minutes.
How to get back to the San Francisco City from Sausalito
To head back to the city, either take the ferry (check here for times). It’s worth noting that there are no late ferry services, most typically end by 9 p.m. unless otherwise stated.
If you end up missing the last ferry, book a ride share service such as Uber or Lyft. If your plans change during the daytime hours, you can travel between the two with the Big Bus.
Golden Gate Park
Start the day by enjoying the greener side of San Francisco, in Golden Gate Park. Hire a bike and visit this huge city park with miles of green lawns, lakes, countless trees and 7,000 kinds of plants. From a Dutch Windmill to roaming buffalo, this is one of the best things to do in San Francisco.
Located in the western part of San Francisco, Golden Gate Park spans 3 miles (4.8 km) in length and 0.5 miles (0.8 km) in width. Since cars are not permitted on certain roads within the park on Sundays, this makes it the ideal time to visit for a bike ride or stroll.
Here are some of the top things you can see in Golden Gate Park.
15. Conservatory of Flowers
Housed in an elaborate Victorian greenhouse, this historical landmark was established in 1879, Conservatory of Flowers is home to a wonderful collection (50,000 individual plants to be exact) of rare tropical flowers and plants from around the world including numerous Magnolia species, cloud forest species, and high elevation palms.
Conservatory of Flowers Opening Times
- Tuesday–Sunday, 10 a.m.- 4 p.m and on holidays except for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Conservatory of Flowers Admission Fees
- Adults $9
- Youth (12-17) $6
- College Students $6
- Seniors (65 and over) $6
- Children (5-11) $3
- Children (4 and under) go free
16. Japanese Tea Garden
The Japanese Tea Garden features torii (gates), pagodas, a moon bridge, and a 1.5-ton Buddha. Fortune cookies were first created and served here in 1914 and can still be enjoyed in the teahouse.
Japanese Tea Garden Opening times
- Open every day of the year, including holidays
- Summer (3/1 through 10/31): 9:00 am to 6:00 pm
- Winter (11/1 through 2/28): 9:00 am to 4:45 pm
Japanese Tea Garden Admission Fees
- Mon, Wed, Fri: FREE admission before 10:00 am
- Adult: $9.00
- Senior (65+) and Youth (12-17): $6.00
- Child (5-11): $3.00 (Non-Residents)
- Child (4 and under): Free
17. San Francisco Botanical Garden
Stroll through New Zealand, the Mediterranean or Central American rainforests in this beautiful, and calm oasis.
- Monday-Friday 7:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
- Saturday, Sunday and holidays 10 a.m. –5 p.m.
San Francisco Botanical Garden Admission Fees
- Adults $9.00
- Youth 12-17 and Seniors 65 and over $6.00
- Children 5-11 $2.00
- Children 4 and under FREE
- Admission is free every day between 7:30–9am, every second Tuesday of every month, and on Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, New Years Day
18. The de Young Museum
The de Young museum is home to a wonderful collection of American art. Start from the 17th through to the 21st centuries, you’ll find everything from modern and contemporary art to photography, international textiles and costumes, and art from Africa, Oceania and the Americas.
Make sure you head up to the ninth-floor Observation Level of the de Young’s Hamon Tower for epic 360-degree views of San Francisco and the Pacific Ocean.
De Young Museum Opening Times
- Tuesday–Sunday 9:30 am–5:15 pm
- Closed Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day
De Young Museum Admission Fees
- Adults: $15
- Seniors (65+): $12
- Students (w/ valid ID): $6
- Youth (17 and under): Free
19. Dutch Windmill
A little bit of the Netherlands has found its way to San Francisco with this 75-feet-tall (22 metres) windmill. It was originally constructed in 1902 to pump water but today its thousands of colourful tulips make this historic landmark one of the best places to see in San Francisco. The best time to visit is during March and April when the tulips burst into glorious flower.
Dutch Windmill Opening Times and Admission
- Open 24 hrs
- Admission is free
20. Rainbow Falls
Rainbow Falls is one of two artificial waterfalls in the park. Built in the 1930s, its names comes from the colourful lights which were installed to illuminate it.
While you’re here, head up to the top of the waterfall to see the Prayerbook Cross which dates back to 1894. This Celtic-style landmark is the tallest in the park. To reach the trail, look for signs that mark the entrance as you come from John F. Kennedy Drive.
Rainbow Falls Opening Times and Admission
- Open 24 hrs
- Admission is free
21. Strawberry Hill
Strawberry Hill occupies an entire island in Golden Gate Parks Stow Lake. The island is connected by to the mainland by two bridges, the Rustic Bridge and the Roman Bridge. Take either of these and head to the top for breathtaking views of Mt. Tamalpais and the Golden Gate Bridge.
Also worth visiting is the Golden Gate Bridge Pavilion. This Chinese temple-like building was a gift from the city of Taipei to commemorate early Chinese settlers.
Strawberry Hill Opening Times and Admission
- Open 24 hrs
- Admission is free
22. Buffalo / Bison Paddock
Long before Golden Gate Park was established as we know it today, a menagerie of animals such as bears, goats, eld and small herds of bison called this area their home.
Today, a small bison herd are cared for by staff from the San Francisco Zoo, while Recreation and Parks Department gardeners maintain the enclosure.
Buffalo Paddock Opening Times and Admission
- Open 24 hrs
- Admission is free
How to Get to Golden Gate Park
- Car – Limited free parking is available throughout the park and parking, in general, in San Francisco can be difficult, especially on weekends. There is time-limited parking available on John F. Kennedy Drive, Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, and on the side streets inside the park. Again, these fill up quickly and may be closed on weekends.More paid parking is available at the southern entrance on Concourse Drive and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive in the Music Concourse Garage. The entrance is located at 10th Avenue and Fulton Street and is open daily.If all else fails, parking is also available at the UCSF Medical Center Garage on Irving Street or on Ocean Beach.
- Bus – There are various Muni bus lines that run along and throughout the park. Visit sfmta.com for more information.
How to Get Around Golden Gate Park
Due to the park’s size, here are some of the best ways to get around the park.
- Golden Gate Park shuttle – The Golden Gate Park shuttle that provides free service to passengers situated at one of 15 locations spread throughout about the park. The shuttle runs on the weekends and holidays, from 10 am to 6 pm until the middle of December.
- Bike – There are various access points throughout the park for cyclists and roads feature safe, bike-friendly lanes. Click here for details on where to hire bikes.
Golden Gate Park Opening Times and Admission
Golden Gate Park is free to enter, however, many of the individual attractions like museums and gardens have admission fees. Here is a full list of the major attractions in Golden Gate Park, their hours and admission fees.
A great way to save money is timing your trip to coincide with the free museum days which happens once a month. Remember, the Japanese Tea Garden offers free entrance if you go first thing in the morning on Monday, Wednesday, or Friday.
23. 16th Avenue Tiled Steps
Since you’re in the area, you may want to stop by and see the lovely 16th Avenue Tiled Steps I mentioned earlier. It’s a slight detour, but absolutely worth it. This beautiful mosaic staircase is located on Moraga Street between 15th & 16th Ave.
24. Painted Ladies in Alamo Square
Located in Alamo Square is this iconic row of houses with a wonderful view of San Francisco, called “The Painted Ladies” this term “Painted Ladies” doesn’t just refer to these houses alone but to any set of Victorian or Edwardian houses that use three or more colors to embellish their architectural details.
When the Gold Rush hit San Francisco, the city was transformed into a world-class industrial city. Those with newfound fortunes wanted to show off their riches by building opulent houses similar to the Queen Anne architectural style, that meant, lots of bay windows, turrets, and decorated rooflines.
The first time I saw these coloured houses and images of the Golden Gate Bridge was in the intro credits for the TV show ‘Full House’. The actual Painted Lady used in the TV show with the red front door was actually the facade at 1709 Broderick Street. It has since been repainted a different colour.
How to get to the Painted Ladies in Alamo Square
- Bus – The Painted Ladies are included on several hop-on-hop-off tours such as Big Bus Tours. Alternatively, take the #21-Hayes Muni bus from Market Street to Alamo Square and get off at Steiner Street.
25. It’s Tops Coffee Shop
You’re in for a real treat, because today you’re having an indulgent lunch at It’s Tops Coffee Shop, one San Francisco’s most recognisable diners.
This historic institution and family run business has been serving up pancakes and cheeseburgers since 1935. The current owners are a brother-sister team who spent their childhood learning the ropes of the family business.
It’s Tops Coffee Shop Opening Times
- Monday – Saturday 8 am – 3 pm
- Wednesday – Saturday 8 pm – 3 am
- Sunday 8 am – 11 pm
How to Get to It’s Tops Coffee Shop
- It’s Tops Coffee Shop is located on Market Street just off the 101 exit at Octavia Blvd.
- It’s an 18-minute walk from Alamo Square or a 5 minute Uber / Lyft.
26. The Mission District Street Art
The Mission District is a lively neighbourhood with old-school taquerias, live-music clubs, and craft cocktail lounges. This Latin root district has a cool hipster vibe to it and incredible street art murals.
For the highest concentration of murals in San Francisco, head to Balmy Alley which was has been home to street art murals since 1972. Every mural tells a story. The art here focuses on beauty, womanhood, socio-political change, and indigenous Central American cultures.
There are many other alleys in the Mission District with impressive murals. Clarion, Caledonia, Cypress, Lilac, Osage, and Horace Alleys are also worth visiting if you have time.
The mural of all murals is the Women’s Building MaestraPeace Mural. This one dates back to 1994 and covers the entire building. It was painted by seven local female artists as a symbol of the contributions of women from around the world throughout history and fiction.
How to Get to the Mission District
- Bus – I recommend heading straight to Balmy Street. From It’s Tops Coffee Shop, take #14 Muni bus from Mission St. & 14th St. and get off at Mission St & 24th St. From here it’s a 9 minutes walk to Balmy Street.
- Car share – Take and Uber or Lyft which is less than a 10-minute ride away.
27. Alcatraz Island
Unless you’ve been living under a rock and don’t know what Alcatraz Island is, then you should definitely watch the Clint Eastwood movie, Escape from Alcatraz which made this island even more famous. Visiting Alcatraz is, without a doubt, one of the best things to do in San Francisco.
Alcatraz, also known as The Rock, was a military prison from the time of the Civil War right up until 1934, when it was converted to a civilian penitentiary. Today, the prison has been abandoned but can be explored either by day or night.
How to Get to Alcatraz Island
- To get to Alcatraz Island, buy a ferry ticket (this also covers admission to the island) from Alcatraz Cruises from Pier 33 on San Francisco’s Embarcadero near Bay Street. After 20 minutes you will arrive at the island.
- Allow at least three hours for your Alcatraz Island visit. This includes the ferry to and from the island, the Cellhouse audio tour, plus exploring the rest of the Island.
Alcatraz Island Admission
There are various tickets and tours available. The Early Bird Tour is the first of the day so you get a head start on all the crowds also has fewer people. The Night Tours are extremely popular and cost a bit more.
Early Bird & Day Tour Ticket Prices
- Adult $38.35
- Junior (12-17) $38.35
- Senior (62+) $36.10
- Child (5-11) $23.50
- Toddler (4 and under) Free
Night Tour Ticket Prices
- Adult (18-61) $45.50
- Junior (12-17) $44.50
- Senior (62+) $42.25
- Child (5-11) $27.05
- Toddler (4 and under) Free
Tickets sell out fast, especially on weekends and holidays, so be sure to book well in advance, either two to three weeks prior. There are a lot of unauthorized sellers offering Alcatraz tickets at inflated prices so make sure you book through the official website to avoid being ripped off.
Top tip: There is a steep walk from the dock to the prison so wear comfortable shoes and bring something warm to wear, it can get quite cold out there.
Optional Activities – Choose Your Adventure
Since this is your last day, you may want to go back to any of the places listed above or just have a free afternoon to chill by the waterfront. If you’re keen to see and do more, here are some other cool things to do in San Francisco.
28. Ferry Building Marketplace
Set inside a historic architectural landmark, Ferry Building Marketplace is the heart of San Francisco’s culinary scene. Inside is packed with food vendors selling all sorts of yummy treats, from coffee and pastries to charcuterie and farmstead cheeses. There are also various sit-down restaurants to choose from too.
How to Get to The Ferry Building Marketplace
The Ferry Building Marketplace is located on the Embarcadero near Market Street and the water. It is easy to get to with public transport, including Muni, BART, the F-Line historic streetcar, and by ferry.
29. Take an Anchor Brewing Brewery Tour
Beer lovers, this one’s for you. Anchor Brewing is America’s first and oldest craft brewery and famous for their Steam beer. During the tour, you’ll see their other tasty selections and learn about their centuries-old brewing techniques. At the end of the tour, enjoy sampling your choice of beer.
Tours last 90 minutes and cost $25. Visit their website for the latest info.
How to Get to Anchor Brewing
- Train – The closest BART station is on 16th Street.
- Bus – The #22 Muni bus will drop you off just one block from the Brewery.
30. Wilson & Wilson and Bourbon & Branch
End your time in San Francisco with a drink in a secret speakeasy located behind a nondescript door. When you ‘make an appointment (not a reservation) at Wilson & Wilson you are given a password which gives you access to Bourbon & Branch a 1920s style bar. Ask the expert mixologist for a recommendation or do a three cocktail coursing which includes an aperitif, main and digestif.
Bourbon and Branch Opening Times
- Monday – Sunday 6 pm to 2 am.
Got more time? Day a day trip
- Get my Ultimate Yosemite National Park Guide
- Muir Woods, Giant Redwoods and Sausalito from San Francisco
- San Francisco: 1-Day Yosemite National Park, Giant Sequoias
- Napa & Sonoma Valley Wine Tour from San Francisco
- Golden Gate Bay Cruise
- San Francisco Movie Sights City Tour
- Monterey and Carmel Explorer Tour from San Francisco
Since this is your first time in San Francisco, it’s best to stay near the city centre and close to public transportation. I recommend in staying in either Nob Hill or Union Square. The are located right next to each other but offer different atmospheres.
Union Square is great for its central location, the variety of accommodation option, restaurants and bars. During the holidays it’s even more lively when they set up the Christmas tree and ice skating rink and Christmas tree are on display. It’s right near the BART and bus hub. The only downside is that Union Square doesn’t have much charm or the typical San Francisco character you’d find in other areas of the city.
If you’re on a budget stay at Hi San Francisco Hostel. The Wi-Fi is free, so is breakfast and the tours are either free or super cheap. You can even buy your own food and use their fully equipped kitchen. Compare prices here
For a more upscale experience, stay at Hotel Nikko San Francisco, this modern four-star hotel features an indoor pool with a glass atrium and an on-site restaurant and is a 5-minute walk from Union Square. There a different rooms types to choose from, each with a marble en-suite bathroom with a deep-soaking tub. Other perks include a fitness centre, an indoor swimming pool, a seafood restaurant, and rooftop terrace. Compare prices here.
Nob Hill is the Notting Hill of San Francisco. It’s charming, affluent, and full of boutique shops and restaurants. It’s close to Lombard Street and Polk Street where you’ll find a variety of bars. I recommend staying in an Airbnb like this one or this one. If it’s your first time get US$35 (£25) off your first stay, when you book using my referral link.
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