Currently, the information on this site should only be used as future travel inspiration. Also, this post contains affiliate links. At no additional cost to you, I may earn a small commission if you book or purchase through these links. You can read my full disclosure policy here.The fall is a great time to visit San Francisco. My previous visits were in spring and summer. While spring is also a nice time to visit, there’s just something about the fall that is so magical. If you have a fall break or just need a weekend to get away, San Francisco can be done over a long weekend. Hitting the highlights in 3 days in San Francisco? Yep, totally doable and makes for a perfect fall getaway trip!
3 Days in San Francisco
Since I was visiting a friend who was on a work trip in San Francisco, we had some opportunities not open to the general public so I do provide alternate popular options. Also, this wasn’t my first or second trip to San Francisco and due to that I did some things that might not be on a first-timer’s list but might be on the list for a repeat visitor.
Additionally, we planned one longer sit-down meal per day (with the exception of day two) supplementing with snacks or my favorite California fast-food runs the rest of the time. This allowed a good balance between enjoying delicious food and free time to see as much as possible. To sum it up, there’s something for everyone in this guide no matter which visit this is for you to San Francisco!
I flew in on a Thursday night so day one really started for me on Friday morning. And most of that day consisted of touring Facebook Headquarters.
While Facebook isn’t open to the public, you can walk up and get photos with the sign. I personally love the address!
If the Facebook sign isn’t of interest to you, then begin your day with a tour of Alcatraz. The idea behind the island was to house the highest level of criminals who were top issues in other prisons. Probably the most famous of the prisoners at Alcatraz was Al Capone.
TIPS: Visiting Alcatraz does require planning ahead with reservations that include ferry service to and from the island. If you like organized tours try these below.
Fisherman’s Wharf & Pier 39
After you return from Alcatraz, hang around the waterfront and check out Fisherman’s Wharf. There are many places to shop and eat with iconic views to get beautiful travel photos.
Fisherman’s Wharf is where you will find Pier 39 which is home to sea lions who love to steal hearts. Hey, all I’m saying is there is cuteness overload here. You have been warned! 😍
TIP: Have lunch in the area and grab a sweet treat in nearby Ghirardelli Square!
Drive the famous Lombard Street. It is a beautiful block of the street and gives glorious views of Coit Tower and the San Francisco Bay from the top. It is quite short at only one block but there are 8 switchback turns in that one block!
TIPS: For those who get carsick (as I do), this is a very short but steep, curvy drive. Due to the fact you can’t go very fast at all and the fact that it is typically one tourist car after another, most people don’t get sick. However, you know you best so prepare as you normally would.
A visit to San Francisco is simply not complete without a trip to the top of Coit Tower. Officially known as Coit Memorial Tower, it was built in 1933 to honor the fallen volunteer firemen in San Francisco’s five major fires. The tower is known for its beautiful interior murals and 360° views of San Francisco!
TIPS: I highly recommend going for the views and photo opportunities alone. It isn’t open after dark but at certain times of the year it is possible to time your visit to watch the sunset. There are elevators and prices range from free for kids under 4 to $9 for adults (non-San Francisco residents).
San Francisco’s Chinatown is the oldest in North America and the largest outside of Asia. Not only is the food authentic and delicious, but it also offers great souvenirs and a lively atmosphere. It truly is a bucket list item for those who love visiting Chinatowns!
TIP: Try this tour of San Francisco’s Chinatown.
San Francisco Cable Cars
Everyone has heard of the famous San Francisco Cable Cars. Riding one of these is an excellent opportunity to knock off another activity and see a bit of the city. There are different lines which take different routes so just choose which is best for you!
Although they’ve been featured in many movies, The Painted Ladies were made famous by the TV show Full House. The Victorian homes or Seven Sisters are a free attraction and can be viewed from the big hill across the street with San Francisco in the background.
If you’re wondering which one is from Full House, that Victorian beauty isn’t located on Postcard Row as it’s affectionately called. That house is located nearby at 1709 Broderick Street. Jeff Franklin, the creator of Full House and Fuller House, bought the house in 2016 and put it back on the market in 2018.
TIPS: A beautiful (but popular) time to see the houses is at sunset. Because the sun is setting behind you, the golden hour glow cast on the houses and the city is gorgeous! Parking is limited to street parking only and can be difficult to find.
Another beautiful place to capture photos of San Francisco is Twin Peaks. You can drive up to these viewpoints either by private car or tourist bus.
TIP: Check to be sure the viewpoints are open before you go.
Probably my favorite place to watch the sunset in all of San Francisco is Baker Beach. I highly doubt I’m alone in my opinion. It’s also one of a few places to get up-close-and-personal views of the Golden Gate Bridge’s ocean side.
See how beautiful the sunset is here? And it’s truly peaceful and also great for a romantic idea in San Francisco.
Twilight at Baker Beach
TIPS: It can be very crowded on weekends. Go during the late afternoon on a weekday to get good photos of the Golden Gate bridge and then stay to watch the sunset and twilight hour. Heads up, the north part of the beach is a nude or clothing-optional beach. More information including parking, buses, and hikes can be found here.
In N Out Burger
If you’ve never had In N Out Burger then you’re missing out! Seriously, this is my absolute favorite fast-food chain. Since they’re only located in seven states, I eat it as much as I can when I travel to California, Texas, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, Oregon, or Colorado (opening soon). As much as I wish it was everywhere, the fact that it isn’t helps me maintain my weight loss. 😉
TIP: If you are gluten-free or low-carb it’s easy to eat here with their different options.
If you are looking for a relaxing way to end your day, Thai massage is a favorite of mine. It is cheaper than visiting a spa and is something I try to do everywhere I travel. I really enjoyed my experience at Siam Orchid in San Francisco and they have multiple locations.
You might also like: THREE DAYS IN LOS ANGELES
Be sure to get an early start for your second day so you won’t be pressed for time.
Lighthouse Café, Sausalito
Start your day with a fantastic breakfast at Lighthouse Café. Located right on the water, this eatery offers the best in robust breakfasts and lunches. Sausalito is a charming little town located right on the north side of the Golden Gate Bridge and is home to this quaint, little diner.
TIPS: Get there early especially on a weekend or risk a long line. They open at 7 am and there is very limited seating. Metered parking is available on Bridgeway or Caledonia (25 cents per 15 min or $1 per hour).
Want to see the redwoods while you’re in town? You’re in luck! Muir Woods is located not far from the city and if you’re pressed for time, it makes a great half-day trip from San Francisco.
This sign really says it all don’t you think?
I think it would be hard for anyone to NOT look up as that’s what we all came to do. Be forewarned, the treetops are a long way up in this forest!
The morning is a beautiful time to visit. Not only is it a quieter time to visit but the lighting is absolutely gorgeous.
TIPS: There are parking requirements. Use the park’s tip page for full information including the latest opening times, fees, and services available. Muir Woods is accessible.
Golden Gate Bridge
Even though you will have driven over the Golden Gate Bridge already to get to Muir Woods, it was probably foggy which is quite common. The marine layer is a real thing and will need most, if not all, of the morning to blow over. Therefore, I suggest biking over it or stopping at the locations below in the afternoon for better visibility.
TIP: If you like organized tours, try this walking tour or these below.
Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center
Visit the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center. It’s perfect for beautiful views of the Golden Gate Bridge’s bayside view. Just another up-close-and-personal viewing site of the iconic bridge.
TIPS: It’s better to go mid-day to afternoon to give the marine layer time to blow off. Also, pay attention to the directions and parking information as parking can be tricky.
Sutro’s at Cliff House
Sutro’s at Cliff House is where you want to go for fine dining and fine views of the ocean and sunset. You might even spot a whale or a sea lion. It’s happened both times I’ve had dinner here.
Definitely choose a colorful cocktail to start your experience.
I highly recommend going through all courses. This time, I started with the Ahi Tuna Tartare with pine nut, Asian pear, mint, quail egg yolk, habanero infused sesame oil, and Aleppo pear. Yes, it was as amazing as it sounds.
For my entree, I had the Bacon Crusted Scottish Salmon with pink lady Apple, full belly from Rainbow chard, potato purée, and whole grain mustard sauce. Perfection!
And to top off the night, for dessert, I had the Butterscotch Pot de Crème (almost like butterscotch creme brûlée) with garam masala tuile. Pure heaven!
TIPS: Time your visit so you arrive when it’s still daylight and you can watch the incredible sunset. If you can only eat at one nice place during your 3 days in San Francisco, let the Cliff House be it!
If you choose not to have a sit-down dinner at sunset, this is another great place from which to watch it set behind the city. However, if you did have dinner at sunset, head to Treasure Island after dark for beautiful nighttime views of the San Francisco skyline all lit up!
TIP: This involves a drive across the Oakland Bay Bridge which is pretty at night especially on the way back into the city.
Again, since this wasn’t our first visit to San Francisco we chose to go see Stanford University in Palo Alto. If this is your first trip or something you don’t wish to see in your 3 days in San Francisco, you might want to use today to spread out the previous days’ activities.
Joanie’s Cafe, Palo Alto
Sit down to a yummy breakfast or brunch at Joanie’s Cafe in Palo Alto. Depending on the day and time you go, there could be a bit of a wait. The food was so good that I can’t imagine anything on the menu not being a good choice. However, I had the Crêpe Complete which was two scrambled eggs, ham, mushrooms, Swiss, feta, and cheddar cheeses. Topped with Hollandaise, it was served with fresh fruit and hashbrowns. Yum!
TIP: Joanie’s has outdoor dining and has been voted the best breakfast in Palo Alto!
California Avenue Farmer’s Market
After you finish breakfast, walk off that full stomach at the California Avenue Farmer’s Market. So much to see from handmade, local products to fresh fruits, veggies, and beautiful flowers.
I enjoyed seeing the sidewalks. I found them very unique! Also, see those fall leaves coming out?
TIP: The market is on Sundays 9 am-1 pm year-round, rain or shine, holiday weekends included.
I love the S made with flowers!
The last stop on our three days in San Francisco was Stanford University. I love to visit college campuses and had never seen Stanford. I would have to say they’re probably my second favorite team in the PAC-12 (sorry, as a former resident of Los Angeles, I’m partial to UCLA!).
Stanford is an ivy league university located in Palo Alto, California. The university opened in 1891 and has around 16,000 students. Although it isn’t a member of the Ivy League, Stanford is an extremely prestigious university and admission is difficult to achieve.
TIP: If you need to leave Stanford out this time around, you can always tour it virtually!
And with that, we headed straight to the airport to fly home. Our 3 days in San Francisco was the perfect weekend! Even if you don’t live close, it’s still a trip to consider. I traveled from Birmingham, Alabama!
Where To Stay
Since we were ultimately here for my friend’s work trip, we stayed between San Francisco and Menlo Park where Facebook is located. However, the AC Hotel by Marriott San Francisco Airport was convenient for flying in and out. If you are looking to stay in San Francisco, try these options:
There are many luxury options available but one of my favorites is The Ritz Carlton, San Francisco or try the Mansion on Sutter if you like local boutique hotels. Think Victorian bliss!
For another boutique option try The Laurel Inn.
And for those who prefer Airbnbs, find the best one for you!
While there is so much more to do, 3 days in San Francisco gives you plenty of time to hit the highlights featured in this post. Shuffle the schedule around to fit your needs and enjoy your time in the Bay Area!
Have you been to San Francisco? If so, how many days did you stay and what all did you see during that time? If not, what (besides Golden Gate) do you want to see most?
‘Til next time…
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