Planning a San Francisco Itinerary is quite the task – especially if you only have a few days over a weekend. The city boasts iconic sights, delectable food and an abundance of fun activities. After visiting the city numerous times, we created a guide to the perfect San Francisco Weekend Trip.
San Francisco has long ranked as one of our favorite cities in the world. During the many years that we lived in Phoenix, Arizona, we often escaped the summer desert heat to the cool coastline on quick weekend jaunts. Because there is so much to see and do in San Fran, we had to meticulously plan our weekend trips to make the most of our time. To help other travelers, we are sharing our best Itinerary for San Francisco.
Weekend Trip to San Francisco
We fit as much sightseeing as possible into our San Francisco Weekend Itinerary. It is ideal for first-time travelers who want to see the absolute best sights of the city in a short amount of time.
The highlights of our itinerary for San Francisco include the Golden Gate Bridge, Pier 39, Ferry Building Marketplace, Coit Tower and many more quintessential SF sights – plus our top tips for food and drink.
An Itinerary for 1, 2 or 3 Days in San Francisco
For our SF Itinerary, we assume that weekend visitors will have two full days in San Francisco. However, some travelers might only have one day in San Francisco, while others may visit over a long weekend and plan to see San Francisco in 3 days.
In this SF blog post, we outline a detailed San Francisco 2-Day Itinerary. However, to help fellow travelers with more (or less!) time for their perfect trip, we include plans and tips for longer (and shorter!) stays at the end of the post.
2 Days San Francisco Itinerary
Our San Francisco 2 Day Itinerary covers the top city sights! At the end of the post, we include other essential SF information – like how to get there, how to get around and where to stay.
Day 1 in San Francisco
On the first day of your 2-Day San Francisco Itinerary spend time enjoying some of the most iconic San Fran sights – and feasting on classic SF cuisine.
Shop at Ferry Building Marketplace
A symbol of the city, the Ferry Building opened in 1898 and has long been the city’s entry point for ferryboat passengers. In the early 2000s, the building was transformed into a luxury marketplace featuring a variety of regional goods. Blue Bottle Coffee, Cowgirl Creamery’s Cheese and Hog Island Oyster Company are a few of the most popular shops. Additionally, on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, an artisan farmer’s market – where shoppers can sample products and purchase ready-made meals – is held in the plaza.
Pro Tip: Enjoy breakfast at the coffee shop – and then pick up some fresh fruit and sandwiches to eat later as a picnic lunch!
Ride the Ferry to Sausalito
Hop on a Golden Gate Sausalito Ferry (from the pier at the Ferry Building Marketplace) for a 30-minute ride north to Sausalito. If the weather permits, find a spot in the bow of the ship. Passengers have excellent views of Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge and Angel Island.
Pro Tip: The boat has room for 200 bikes, so bring one along if you want to bike back across the Golden Gate bridge, rather than walk it!
The small seaside city of Sausalito is well-known for its artistic flair and houseboat community. Visitors are invited to stroll along the waterfront, wander through the marina, shop at the galleries and browse the boutiques.
Pro Tip: After exploring Sausalito, get an Uber to Vista Point at the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Walk across the Golden Gate Bridge
As one of the most recognizable bridges in the world, taking a walk on the Golden Gate Bridge is an essential activity for every San Francisco Itinerary! The two-tower, steel-cable orange bridge was built in the 1930s and stretches 1.7 miles across the bay. We think it is best to walk from north to south, so that trekkers have a view of the San Fran skyline in front of them.
The walk across the bridge takes about an hour, which allows for plenty of time to stop and take in the views and to look for swimming sea lions in the water below.
Pro Tip: The Welcome Center on the south end of the bridge offers exhibits and information about the bridge.
Picnic Lunch in Crissy Field Park
Once a military airfield, Crissy Field was converted into a national park in the early 2000s. Marked with trails, beaches, lookout points and picnic areas, the park is the perfect spot for an outdoor lunch (either eat what you brought with you from the Marketplace or stop at the Warming Hut Cafe, which is housed in a historic building in the park). Walk through the waterfront park to the east towards The Palace of Fine Arts (and detour out to The Wave Organ, if time allows!).
Pro Tip: To get to the next destination, visitors can either walk (about 45 minutes) or – rest your feet – and take an Uber!
Hop on a SF Cable Car
San Francisco cable cars have been in operation since 1873. At one time, there were a total of 8 lines, but only 3 routes remain today. Our favorite route is the northbound Powell-Hyde Line that terminates near Ghirardelli Square and Fisherman’s Wharf – passing Lombard Street along the way.
Riding one of the cable cars that rattle through the hilly streets of San Francisco is a must-do activity – and should definitely be on your 2-day San Francisco Itinerary! However, catching a ride on the historic trolleys can be time consuming (sometimes waits are up to 3 hours at the beginning of the line!). For shorter wait times, we recommend hopping on the cable car in the middle of the line at one of the Hyde Street stops (Broadway, Vallejo, Green or Union are all good choices). Tickets can be purchased onboard with cash; exact change is required.
Pro Tip: Visitors who want to zigzag down Lombard Street – the Crookedest Street in the World – can disembark the trolley at the famous street and walk down the 8 hairpin turns then continue the rest of the way to Fisherman’s Wharf on foot. However, the cable car ride down the backside of Russian Hill offers the most spectacular views of the bay and Alcatraz Island. Therefore, we recommend snagging a seat on the right side of the trolley so that you can get a view of Lombard Street to the east as you pass by…but don’t disembark.
Drink an Irish Coffee at The Buena Vista
Established in 1916, The Buena Vista Cafe in San Francisco is legendary. In 1952, the saloon owners created their own version of an Irish Coffee cocktail – a concoction of coffee, whiskey, sugar and cream. The delicious (and potent!) drink is an ideal afternoon warmer – and a must-try in SF!
Pro Tip: The classic tavern is located just across the street from the end of the trolley line; we think the best seats are at the bar, but there are tables for larger groups, too.
Get a Sundae on Ghirardelli Square
The Ghirardelli Chocolate Company opened a factory in San Francisco in 1852. Although the factory long ago moved from Ghirardelli Square, the gigantic landmark Ghirardelli sign, which was constructed in 1922, still hovers above the square. Tourists flock to the square for ice cream sundaes covered in Ghirardelli chocolate and to buy chocolate gifts and souvenirs from the shops.
Pro Tip: The complex of brick buildings date to the 19th century and are listed on the National Historic Register.
Stroll Through the Maritime National Historical Park
The shoreline SF Maritime National Historical Park is an interesting place to visit. The park hosts a fleet of historic vessels, the 1929 Muni Pier, the Maritime Museum (ticket required) and an informative (and free!) Visitors Center. Guests can learn about San Francisco’s maritime past…or simply take in the spectacular views across the bay.
Pro Tip: Visitors who are interested in learning about military ships can take a tour of the USS Pampanito – a World War II submarine that is docked at nearby Pier 45. Get the details here!
Chow Down on a Clam Chowder Bread Bowl at Fisherman’s Wharf
Eating clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl is an essential SF experience that needs to be on your San Francisco Itinerary…and there is no better place to do it than at Fisherman’s Wharf. We would wager that just about every restaurant at Fisherman’s Wharf has bread bowl clam chowder on their menu – so there are plenty of places to choose from – including classic seafood restaurants and kiosk take-away spots.
The Boudin Bakery Cafe is one of the most popular places to get sourdough bread bowl clam chowder (the bread is incredible!). Another hot spot is Scoma’s Restaurant, a San Fran institution (but it’s a bit on the pricey side).
Pro Tip: Not a fan of clam chowder or seafood, but still want a classic California dining experience? Head to In-and-Out Burger – a California fast-food chain – for a Double-Double cheeseburger, fries and a shake!
See the Sea Lions on Pier 39
Pier 39 is a hub of entertainment – featuring shops, restaurants, street performers, a carousel and aquarium. However, for us, the top reason to visit Pier 39 is the sea lions. Since 1989, California Sea Lions have taken up residence on the floating docks on the west side of Pier 39 – and they are hilarious to watch.
Visitors who want to learn more about Fisherman’s Wharf can complete a self-guided audio tour.
Day 2 of San Francisco Weekend Trip
On the second day of your itinerary in San Francisco discover more city attractions and a couple of iconic neighborhoods. At the end of the day, wind down and watch sunset from the beach.
Go to the Top of Coit Tower
Coit Tower stands atop Telegraph Hill offering stunning 360-degree views of the city, bay and bridges. The landmark tower was built in 1933 as a monument to the city’s firefighters. Visitors can go inside the tower (with a ticket) and ride the elevator up to the observation deck. Be sure you check out the interior murals that depict life in SF during the Great Depression.
Pro Tip: There is a Memorial to Volunteer Firefighters in nearby Washington Square that was funded by the same benefactor, Lillie Hitchcock Coit, who the tower is named after.
Buy a Book at City Lights Booksellers
The most famous bookstore in San Fran, City Lights Booksellers is an independent bookstore and publisher that was established in the 1950s. Known for selling and publishing progressive literature, the bookstore is often acknowledged as being an integral part of the San Francisco culture that blossomed in the 1960s.
Pro Tip: The City Lights business was bestowed the honor of an Official Historic Landmark in 2001.
Walk Through Chinatown
Considered to be the oldest and largest Chinatown in America, the San Francisco Chinatown dates to 1848 and covers 24 square blocks. It was within the streets of Chinatown that the American version of Chinese Food was created. In addition to eateries and bubble tea shops, top attractions include ornate temples, the decorative Dragon Gate and sign-filled Ross Alley.
Pro Tip: Visit the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Company for a behind-the-scenes look at how fortune cookies are made – and a chance to eat still-warm treats!
Shop at Union Square
The 2.6-acre Union Square is at the center of the city’s renowned shopping and theater district. Designed in 1850 and named for the Civil War pro-Union rallies held on the site, the square features a 85-foot-tall column, The Dewey Monument, at its center.
Two of the most iconic structures on the square are the upscale Westin St. Francis Hotel and the Tiffany Building, with Tiffany & Co occupying the two bottom floors. The TIX Bay Area discount ticket booth is also on the square. However, numerous fashionable stores and boutiques (like Bloomingdale’s, Louis Vuitton and Gucci) sit within a 3-block radius of the square.
Pro Tip: If shopping isn’t your thing, there are many other attractions near Union Square that you could add to your San Francisco Itinerary, like the SF Museum of Modern Art, Yerba Buena Gardens and the city’s quaint French Quarter on Belden Lane.
Take in the View of the Painted Ladies
The term ‘Painted Ladies’ refers to the colorful Victorian and Edwardian-style houses that were built from the late 1800s until 1915. The city’s most famous row of Painted Ladies is on Steiner Street, across from Alamo Square Park. The row of homes is often featured in movies and ads but is probably best recognized from the TV show Full House.
Pro Tip: The best view of the Painted Ladies (and city behind them) are from the top of the hill at Alamo Square Park.
The Haight-Ashbury district – centered on Haight and Ashbury Streets – has long played a significant role in modern culture…not only of San Francisco, but of the world.
The famed location of the 1967 Summer of Love, the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood was the epicenter of the hippie movement in the 1960s. In addition to the head shops selling drugs and the free society Diggers community group that both flourished in the district, several local musicians – like the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and Janis Joplin – lived in Haight-Ashbury.
Do you really want to feel the groove of the 60s and 70s in San Francisco? Take the Love Tour aboard a 1970s VW Van. Find out more here!
Pro Tip: In the 1980s, the comedy clubs of Haight-Ashbury were all the rage. Many famous comedians – like Robin Williams and Whoopi Goldberg – got their start at The Other Cafe comedy club.
Visit Golden Gate Park
The 3-mile-long Golden Gate Park, which is bigger than New York City’s Central Park, is an expansive green space in the middle of the busy city. Numerous attractions are found within the park, including the SF Botanical Garden, the Japanese Tea Garden, Dutch windmills, the Music Concourse and the Academy of Sciences. Additionally, visitors can follow the trails to lakes, statues, memorials, a carousel and the bison paddock.
Pro Tip: Park visitors can explore the park on foot – or rent a bike to discover the park on two wheels!
Sink Your Feet into the Sand and Watch the Sunset
At the west end of Golden Gate Park is Ocean Beach, which stretches for 3.5 miles. Although the water is cold and the waves are dangerous, the beach is an excellent place to watch skilled surfers and take in an epic sunset around a firepit. Baker Beach, to the north, is another popular beach that offers spectacular views of the Golden Gate Bridge, which is stunning at sunset.
Pro Tip: Cap off your 2-Day San Francisco Itinerary with dinner at the swanky Cliff House, which has origins that date to the 1850s and offers fine views of the sea.
More Things To Do in San Francisco
We included some of our favorite activities in our Weekend In San Francisco Itinerary – but there is so much more to do! When planning a trip to San Francisco, consider adding these activities and attractions to your SF itinerary.
San Francisco Sporting Event
The San Francisco Bay Area is home to 6 professional sports teams: 49ers (NFL Football), Giants (MLB Baseball), Oakland Athletics (MLB Baseball), San Jose Earthquakes (MLS Soccer), Golden State Warriors (NBA Basketball) and San Jose Sharks (NHL Ice Hockey). Attending a game is quite the spectacle…but can be pricey.
Ride a Bike
Despite the hills, riding bikes in San Francisco is a popular activity. Throughout the city there are numerous bike rental shops – and you can reserve your 24-hour bike rental in advance online.
Hike in Muir Woods
Muir Woods is a magnificent redwood forest just north of San Francisco. Within the national monument park there are 6 miles of trails that wind through epic nature. Visitors can plan their own hike in Muir Woods or let a guide lead the way on a hiking tour.
Visitors willing to travel further for nature can join an organized SF Day Trip to Yosemite National Park to see the Giant Sequoias. Get the details!
California is a known worldwide for its production of wine. Two of the best wine regions – Napa and Sonoma – are easily reached on day trips from San Francisco. The best way to experience California’s wine country on short time is to join a tour – like this highly rated wine tour!
Pro Tip: Combine your Muir Woods hiking trip with a Wine Country tour and gourmet lunch on a combo super saver day trip! Get the details here!
More SF Tours for your San Fran Itinerary
Hiking and wine tours are among the most popular day trip adventures from the city – but there are many, many more options!
Book the best tours online with Get Your Guide – where you can read fellow traveler reviews before reserving your spot!
How Many Days in San Francisco?
How many days do you need in San Francisco? As many as possible! However, determining how many days to spend in San Francisco will depend on numerous factors – including interests, time and money (because San Fran isn’t cheap!). We could easily spend a week in SF and not run out of things to do.
More Sample San Francisco Itineraries
We have outlined the best way to experience San Francisco in 2 days for weekend visitors who are limited on time. However, because we know some visitors are limited to just one day – while others are planning longer trips – we are offering our advice for shorter and longer San Fran itineraries.
1 Day Itinerary San Francisco
Travelers planning to visit San Francisco for a day will need a concise trip plan. Visitors could follow either Day 1 or Day 2 of our outlined SF Weekend Trip for an easy plan for what to do in San Francisco for a day. On the other hand, you could combine Days 1 and 2, eliminating the items of least interest, to create an ideal San Francisco 1-Day Itinerary.
Alternate 2-Day Itinerary San Francisco
We think we outlined the perfect San Francisco two-day itinerary, but other travelers might have different interests.
Visitors who want to cram as much as possible into a San Francisco in 2 Days Itinerary could combine Days 1 and 2 (choosing the activities that are most appealing) and then join the combo Muir Woods and Wine Country tour on the second day.
3 Day San Francisco Itinerary
Trying to plan what to do in San Francisco in 3 days? No problem! Planning a San Francisco 3-Day Itinerary allows visitors the opportunity to see much more of the city or region. For a 3-day trip to San Francisco, we recommend following our advice for 2 Days in San Fran, then on the third day, taking a day trip – either a full-day wine trip or the combo hike and wine tour.
4 Day Itinerary San Francisco
With 4 days in San Francisco visitors have ample time to see the city sights and explore more of the region. Our recommendation for visiting San Francisco in 4 Days would be to use the above 3-Days San Francisco Itinerary – then, on the last day, take another day trip to Monterey and Carmel.
How To Get To San Francisco
Most weekend visitors will arrive in the city by plane at either the San Francisco International Airport (code SFO) or Oakland International Airport (code OAK). SFO airport, which is one of the busiest in the USA, services flights from around the country and destinations worldwide. It is located 13 miles south of the city.
San Francisco Airport to San Francisco
There are a few different ways to get from OAK or SFO to San Francisco. The BART – Bay Area Rapid Transit – is the best public transportation route from the airport to the city; the ticket costs about $10 USD – you can book your roundtrip ticket online in advance. Travelers can also use Uber or Lyft, which will cost about $30-$40 USD. Taxis cost a bit more – about $55 USD, plus tip. Private transport can also be booked online.
How To Get Around SF
Our San Francisco travel itinerary covers some ground! While we enjoy trekking through cities on our own two feet, other travelers may not want to spend so much time walking. San Francisco has a good public transportation system, including the BART, Muni Trams, classic trolleys and ferries. However, many visitors may find that it is easiest (and fastest!) to get around the city using Uber or Lyft; short rides typically cost about $10 USD.
The Hop On Hop Off double-decker bus is another option for getting around the city to see the top tourist sights. Pre-book your tickets here!
We do not recommend driving in the city – as parking is limited and expensive. However, visitors who want to travel beyond the city limits may want to rent a car for the day.
San Francisco Trip Itinerary: Where To Stay
On a quick weekend trip to San Francisco, we think it is best to stay in the city center close to the attractions. It should be mentioned, however, that while staying at Fisherman’s Wharf puts visitors in the heart of the action, it is also incredibly expensive.
On our San Francisco weekend trips, we prefer staying in the Financial District – which is close to the Ferry Building, Coit Tower, Chinatown and Union Square. The hotels in the area cater to business travelers – and often offer better rates on weekends. The Financial District is also well-connected with public transport options.
Two San Francisco hotels we recommend are the Hyatt Regency and Hotel Griffon.
The 4-Star Hyatt Regency San Francisco is a luxury hotel that is situated just a five-minute walk from the Ferry Marketplace. The rooms are spacious, comfortable and some have views. Check availability for your trip!
Hotel Griffon offers an excellent location on the Embarcadero just steps from the Ferry Building. Top features are the onsite restaurant, free coffee in the lobby and delightful employees. Check rates now!
What You Will Need for your Trip To San Francisco
We have a few final tips of what you will want to bring with you for your weekend trip to San Francisco! You can find all of my packing tips on our Packing List page.
San Francisco weather changes quickly and can be unpredictable. Summers are cool, while autumn has the warmest temperatures. For the most comfort, we recommend wearing layers while sightseeing in SF.
Our 2-Day San Francisco Itinerary includes a ton of walking! Make sure to wear comfortable city walking shoes for your full days of exploration. I like wearing Skechers and lightweight Columbia shoes, while Kris prefers wearing Merrell shoes.
Like in all big cities, pickpocketing and petty crimes can be an issue – and tourists are a prime target. While we have never had the misfortune of being pickpocketed, we are cautious about our belongings. I carry a Timbuk2 Messenger Bag that has numerous interior zippered pockets where I can keep my valuables tucked safely away from thieves. Travelon is a good brand that specializes in anti-theft travel handbags – and a bra stash or money belt is always a good idea, too.
We think travel insurance is essential for any trip! Not only can travel insurance help with cancelled flights or lost luggage, but it can also be useful in the event of illness or injury. Find out more about coverage and rates at World Nomads.
We Want To Know: Is there anything you would add to our San Francisco Itinerary? What are your favorite things to do on a San Francisco Weekend Trip? Give us your best tips and advice in the comments below!
Like what you’re reading? Join the journey!
Subscribe to JetSetting Fools and get new blog posts and our quarterly newsletter direct to your inbox:
Pin it! See all of our travel pins on our JetSetting Fools Pinterest Board.