A Weekend in San Francisco: The Best 1-,2-, and 3-day Itineraries for the City by the Bay

painted ladies houses at Alamo square

Are you planning a San Francisco weekend trip? If not, we think you should be, because San Francisco is the perfect weekend getaway destination. San Francisco is filled with enough nature, history, and culture to thrill every kind of weekend visitor — from a family traveling with kids, to a couple, to a solo adventurer. 

But there is so much to do and see here that you need a good plan! Especially if it is your first visit. You will want to see all of the iconic San Francisco locations in the most efficient and fun way possible. That’s where we come in!

In this guide you will find action-packed San Francisco weekend itineraries. The right itinerary for you will depend on how much time you have to spend in the city. If you only have 24 hours in San Francisco, your whirlwind itinerary is up first! But first, a couple of frequently asked questions. 

What is the number one attraction in San Francisco?

Golden Gate Bridge view with fog

The number one attraction in San Francisco is the Golden Gate Bridge. The architecture and setting of this iconic landmark is simply spectacular. For this reason, you will see that we include it in every one of our itineraries. While walking or biking on it is not strictly necessary if on a tight schedule, getting a great view and photo of it is an absolute must when visiting San Francisco for a weekend. 

What to pack for a weekend trip to San Francisco?

The most important thing to bring with you to San Francisco is layers. This is true at any time of year. With its geography and climate, you can experience every kind of weather in just one day in San Francisco. Just be prepared to throw on or off layers to adjust and you will thank us. 

Do you need a car in San Francisco?

Couple driving across golden gate bridge

San Francisco is a compact and walkable city. For a weekend visit, it is our opinion that you do not need a car. In fact, a car might be a hindrance due to high parking fees. Of course if you do have a car, it will be easier to take an independent day trip out of the city, and cheaper to get to further flung places in the city like Twin Peaks. 

If you are arriving to SFO without a car, simply hop on the airtrain and then Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) straight into the city. Once there, a combo of walking, short Ubers, and fun cable car rides can get you everywhere easily. 

Is 1 day enough to see San Francisco?

While of course we think everyone should stay as long as they possibly can in the city, with the right plan, you can see a whole lot of San Francisco in 1 day. Let’s begin with our checklist of the not-to-miss San Francisco sites. 

Checklist for 1 day in San Francisco: 

  • Golden Gate Bridge
  • Golden Gate Park
  • Chinatown
  • Cable Car
  • Lombard Street
  • Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39

These can all be seen in just one day in San Francisco, and you will leave feeling like you experienced all of the classic City by the Bay activities. You will most likely have time to fit in more than just this list, especially if you make your way through some sites quickly. But if you want to linger at the Golden Gate Bridge, or take your time in Golden Gate Park, you may be limited to just this list, and that is great too!

Below are two different ways to approach your single day in San Francisco. The first includes a guided tour and then the afternoon on your own. This is the option to pick to see as much as you can. The second section will be for those who want a little more freedom and time to linger where they want the whole day. 

San Francisco 1 Day Itinerary with 1/2-day Tour

For those that want to see as much as humanly possible in their 1 day — start with this Morning Guided City Tour of San Francisco. It is surprisingly affordable, and will give you an excellent overview of the city in just 4 hours. It checks off the first two must-sees in our list above, plus tons of locations (many mentioned later in this guide) that would be otherwise difficult to fit into just one day on your own. 

At the end of your tour, choose the Fisherman’s Wharf drop off location and grab some lunch along the waterfront. Our recommendation is to get sourdough bread bowls filled with chowder from Boudin Bakery. Wander the (admittedly touristy) area and see what there is to see. 

a couple taking selfie at the golden gate bridge overlook

Morning Guided City Tour of San Francisco

  • 4 Hours
  • 65+

Most complete and entertaining San Francisco city tour available. Stops to explore Golden Gate Bridge, Palace of Fine Arts, Land’s End, and Twin Peaks.

More Info
Most Comprehensive
couple looking at the lone cypress tree

Monterey and Carmel One Day Tour from San Francisco

  • 11 Hours
  • 119+

This day tour hugs the scenic Pacific Coast, then offers free time to explore the Monterey’s Cannery Row and Old Fisherman’s Wharf. Relax along the 17-mile Drive to Pebble Beach and charming Carmel.

More Info

Don’t miss the sea lions on Pier 39.

sea lions sleeping near the sign of 39 pier

Take some spare change to the Musee Mecanique on Pier 45 and play a couple of vintage arcade games. Then continue west to Umbrella Alley on Beach Street between Larkin and Hyde. That photo in front of the “Greetings from San Francisco” mural will be a keeper.

Continue on to Ghiradelli Square for free chocolate samples and a decadent ice cream sundae for dessert. For any adults on the trip, consider a stop into the Buena Vista Cafe for a soul-warming irish coffee, especially on a chilly, foggy day. 

If you are up for a steep walk, walk up Hyde Street to Lombard. The other option is the Powell & Hyde cable car, but the lines at Hyde and Beach will probably be tremendous. If you choose to take the cable car and don’t want to waste an hour in line, try walking up just one stop.

Take a picture from the top of Lombard Street. 

a zigzagged street in between houses

The views of the Bay and Alcatraz Island are gorgeous. Here is your chance to walk the stairs down and then look back up at the “crookedest street in the world.” It really is a fun stop for photos and views. Just remember it is a working road and be careful of the cars.

When you are finished admiring Lombard Street, hop on the cable car (or take an Uber, Or walk!) to Union Square. If it is the holiday season take a moment to admire the decorations and festivity. If you are not a big name brand shopper, continue straight across the square to Grant Street. 

The northern edge of Union Square at Grant Street is the Dragon Gate entrance into Chinatown. San Francisco’s Chinatown is the oldest Chinatown in North America and the largest Chinatown outside of Asia. It is a must-visit in San Francisco. 

Walk through Chinatown, admiring the colorful lanterns, murals, and countless shops beckoning you inside with trinkets and delicious small bites. Hop into the fortune cookie factory in Ross Alley (if it’s open) for a fresh sample and a bag of cookies for later.

Continue through Chinatown into North Beach. 

Wander quietly through the iconic City Lights Bookstore for a moment. If you still have time before dinner, head to Coit Tower. It’s work to climb to the top, but the views of the city are worth it. 

Find dinner in North Beach.

This area is known as the Little Italy of San Francisco and fantastic restaurants are plentiful. Try the Tosca Cafe for drinks or Tony’s Pizza on the edge of Washington Square for casual pizza. 

If you have any energy left, and can keep your eyes open for a show, head to Dear San Francisco. This is a 90-minute love letter to San Francisco, which tells the history of the city with high flying acrobatics. The show is held at the Historic Club Fugazi, right there in North Beach. 

And there you have it! That is our whirlwind one day in San Francisco itinerary for those that want to see it all. Up next is our slightly slower route for those that want to do it on their own, maybe with a little transportation help along the way.  

San Francisco 1 Day Itinerary Option 2

famous haight ashbury street sign with a woman's legs in the air

Not a strict tour schedule type of person? Want to see a lot of San Francisco, but do it on your own agenda? Maybe the following itinerary is more your speed. 

This itinerary is set up in an order that makes the best use of the hop-on hop-off bus. This “tour” is a great way to easily get from place to place in the city, but see it on your own terms. It does however follow a very specific route, which makes planning your day important to avoid unnecessary time on the bus and repeat information. 

If you want to do the city completely on your own, we encourage you to do so! With a healthy amount of walking (and/or Uber) you can do everything below without purchasing a transportation ticket (except maybe for the cable car!). Skipping the hop-on hop-off bus will give you more flexibility in the order of your activities. Consider starting at the Golden Gate Bridge for an early, uncrowded stroll to the first tower and back before breakfast. 

The Hop-on Hop-off bus begins daily at 10 am at their Visitor Center along Fisherman’s Wharf, and the last bus pulls into Pier 39 just before 8 pm. Buses run every 15 minutes within that time and you can hop on any of them at any time within 24 hours of your first time boarding. You can redeem tickets at any stop along the route. 

Especially if your one day in San Francisco is a Saturday, we recommend starting your day at the Ferry Building. The well-known farmer’s market will be in full swing and the building is full of great places for breakfast and coffee. 

When you are ready, grab one of the first couple of buses (10:16, 10:31) on Steuart St. Ride past Union Square (for now) and get off at Alamo Square for the Painted Ladies. You will probably only need 15 minutes to snap a photo of the famous houses and hop on the next bus. 

Next, hop off and explore the Haight Ashbury neighborhood a bit. Soak in the hippie era vibes that still resonate here and then hop on the bus for one stop or simply walk over to Golden Gate Park. 

Did you know that Golden Gate Park is bigger than Central Park? It’s true! So you definitely can’t see it all today, but prioritize what you most want to see. We recommend sticking to the east end for time’s sake (unless you rent bikes here). 

Walk around Stow Lake for the cheapest experience, check out the Conservatory of Flowers for nature with a hint of Victorian glamor, or head to the Japanese Tea Garden to be peacefully transported across the Pacific. Whatever you do, don’t miss the Hamon Observation tower in the De Young Museum. It is totally free and offers a great bird’s eye view of the park. 

Grab lunch either in the park or nearby. 

fountain in the lake near palace of fine arts

If you aren’t quite hungry yet, buy something for a picnic lunch near the Golden Gate Bridge (the next stop!) Within the park, the De Young Cafe does not require entry to the museum. If you do end up in the west side of the park, the Park Chalet and Beach Chalet both offer lunch near the ocean. Alternatively, there are great restaurants in the neighborhoods closely surrounding the park. 

Our next stop is the Golden Gate Bridge! Enjoy the drive over the iconic bridge, and then get off at the North Vista Point viewing area. If you want to get your feet onto the bridge, head out towards the first tower. We don’t think you need to go further than the tower to get the full experience, especially on a time constraint, but of course this is up to you.  

Make your way back onto a bus and to the Palace of Fine Arts at the edge of the Presidio in the Marina District. This is a fascinating stop that will make you feel like you have been transported to Europe. It is cool to wander through and take photos, but it doesn’t take most people long. 

The next stop is Lombard Street. Once again, this is a quick visit, but the views from here are awesome, and the zig zag street is just super cool. From here we recommend either walking or catching a cable car down Hyde Street to Beach. 

Near the end of the cable car line you will find Ghirardelli Square. Grab some free chocolate samples, and maybe an ice cream sundae. Then walk east on Beach to take photos in Umbrella Alley before continuing along the waterfront to Pier 39. Check out the sea lions and maybe grab a mid afternoon bread bowl of chowder from Boudin Bakery

Grab the bus from Pier 39 (or the visitor center) to Chinatown/North Beach. The other option is to remain on the bus for another 20 minutes to get off at Union Square and walk to Chinatown from there. This is really only necessary if you are a fan of big name brand shopping or if it is the holiday season. 

Wander through Chinatown, admiring the neighborhood’s color and flavor. End in North Beach, also known as San Francisco’s Little Italy. Stop into the City Lights Bookstore, and maybe head to Coit Tower for a great view if you have time. 

Stay in North Beach for dinner (mmm italian) and maybe even a show. Dear San Francisco at Club Fugazi is a fantastic way to end a full day in San Francisco. 

San Francisco Insider Tip:

If you are here during the long days of summer, grab an Uber to Twin Peaks for the sunset. Unfortunately Twin Peaks is not along the hop-on hop-off bus route, but this is a glorious vantage point of the whole city and a romantic way to end a busy weekend day in San Francisco. 

Here is a compact version of this itinerary with the corresponding hop-on hop-off bus stops.

4. Ferry Building

8. Alamo Square for Painted Ladies

9. Haight Ashbury

10. Golden Gate Park

11. Golden Gate Bridge

12. Palace of Fine Arts

14. Lombard Street 

Walk/cable car to Ghirardelli Square/Umbrella Alley/Fisherman’s Wharf 

16. Pier 39 (last stop of loop)

2. Chinatown/ 5. Union Square

Walk to North Beach

Is 2 Days Enough to Visit San Francisco?

With two days in San Francisco you can see the highlights, plus a little more! The main addition in this section is a visit to Alcatraz, and no full weekend itinerary to San Francisco would be complete without it. 

Alcatraz Island sits just 2 km from San Francisco, in the middle of the Bay. The excellent tour of the island includes a stunning ferry ride, fascinating audio guide tour of the prison, and free reign exploration of the rest of the island. 

While the ambitious can fit a tour of the island into a single day in San Francisco (especially if they can snag tickets to the popular night tour) we think the time commitment fits more comfortably within a 2-day San Francisco itinerary. The rest of your extra time is best used to further explore some of San Francisco’s iconic neighborhoods and parks. 

Checklist for 2 days in San Francisco:

  • Golden Gate Bridge
  • Golden Gate Park
  • Chinatown
  • Cable Car
  • Lombard Street
  • Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39
  • Alcatraz
  • Mission
  • Haight Ashbury
  • North Beach

2-Day San Francisco Weekend Itinerary with Tour

a couple in helmet riding a bike with golden gate bridge as background

The best tour to do if you have a two day weekend to spend in San Francisco is this Alcatraz Island and Guided San Francisco City Tour. It is the same morning tour as we mention above, a short break to grab a bowl of chowder on pier 39, then an afternoon trip to Alcatraz. This packs a lot of sightseeing into the day and still leaves that evening free.

You will disembark the ferry from Alcatraz at Pier 33. North Beach is a short skip away, so we recommend heading there for the evening. If you have time, circle up into Chinatown and then explore North Beach (Coit Tower, City Lights Bookstore, Saints Peter and Paul Church…)  before grabbing some dinner and hitting Dear San Francisco at Club Fugazi for your evening entertainment. 

Your second day itinerary is a bit more free form. The only must-do we recommend is taking a cable car to or from Lombard Street. From there you can hit Ghirardelli Square and Umbrella Alley for chocolate and photos. If you feel your time was rushed along Fisherman’s Wharf the previous day, take more time there now.

You can spend the rest of your day revisiting any of the neighborhoods you found fascinating in your tour the day before. Head back to the Mission for to-die-for burritos at Taqueria La Cumbre, or go vintage shopping in the Haight. If you are a ramen fan, run, don’t walk, to Japantown. If you didn’t have time to visit Chinatown on day 1, definitely walk through it today. 

If you can’t get enough of those Victorian houses, make the side trip to Alamo Square for the famous Painted Ladies. Alamo Square is also a great place for sunset. On the other hand, if you want to see the Golden Gate Bridge again, take some time today to walk out to the first tower and back, or watch the sunset from Crissy Field or Baker Beach for fabulous bridge views. 

It is also a great option to spend a portion of your second day further exploring Golden Gate Park. Read our article about the best things to do in Golden Gate Park. Hit the Hamon Observation Tower, find a zen moment (and mochi!) in the Japanese Tea Garden, maybe even row boats across Stow Lake if the weather is nice. 
If you are really loving Golden Gate Park and want to see all of it in an efficient way, rent bikes! And if you end up near the western side of Golden Gate Park near dinner time, check out the Beach Chalet for great food with views of the Pacific.

2-Day San Francisco Weekend Itinerary Option 2

colorful flowers near one of golden gate park's ancient mills

So we still can’t convince you to take that morning city tour? No worries. But you absolutely have to take the tour to Alcatraz still. It’s one of a kind, and the tour includes that ferry ride, which is an iconic San Francisco experience you can’t leave without. 

If your first day is Saturday, start at the Ferry Building for breakfast and wander through the farmer’s market. Then take the F streetcar north along the Embarcadero to Pier 33 for your Alcatraz tour. Make sure to book these well in advance, as they do sell out! 

Once you return from Alcatraz (now completely convinced of how smart we are ;)), walk along Fisherman’s Wharf. Grab that famous bread bowl chowder from Boudin Bakery for lunch and enjoy the fun tourist-trap that is the waterfront. Walk west to Umbrella Alley for photos and then Ghirardelli Square for dessert and/or Buena Vista Cafe for Irish coffee. 

Walk or cable car up to Lombard Street for photos of the kooky, crooked street and then take the cable car up to Union Square. If it isn’t the holidays, walk straight through to Grant Street and the Dragon Gate into Chinatown. Slowly make your way through Chinatown and into North Beach. 

Spend the rest of the day in North Beach, similar to our recommendations above. Climb Coit Tower, admire the Saints Peter and Paul Church from Washington Square Park, and find a book in the City Lights Bookstore. Find some amazing Italian food and then take in the show at Club Fugazi to end your day. 

For your second day, you need to walk a bit on the Golden Gate Bridge and visit Golden Gate Park. There are good reasons to do both early as there will be less crowds. Sunday is an awesome day to go to Golden Gate Park because the main road through the park is closed to vehicle traffic. Take advantage of this for a care-free stroll or cycle. 

For the afternoon, explore some more neighborhoods, like Haight Ashbury and the Mission. If you want an incredible view of the city (and the weather is clear), try either hiking or getting an Uber to the top of Twin Peaks. Spend the sunset here or maybe catch the sun shining its last rays on the Golden Gate Bridge from Baker Beach near the Presidio. 

Is 3 days in San Francisco enough?

Well you obviously know the answer to this one by now! 3 days is more than enough to have a wonderful weekend visit to San Francisco. You can see all of the classic San Francisco sites, and really spend some time getting a good feel for the distinct neighborhoods. 

So what to do on your third day in San Francisco? We recommend taking a day trip out of San Francisco. The Bay Area is chock full of incredible scenery, and getting out to see some of it gives you an even better sense of San Francisco than staying in the city. If you do want to stay in the city though, spread out the previous 2-day itinerary a bit and take in a couple of museums.

San Francisco has absolutely fabulous museums. If you are into art, you have to visit the SFMoMA in Union Square and/or the De Young in Golden Gate Park. If you (or your kids) love science, the California Academy of Sciences, also in GGP, is for you. You could spend many hours exploring just this one establishment, as they have an aquarium, natural history museum, 4-story rainforest, planetarium, and more!

If you are interested in a day trip close by the city, this Muir Woods Redwood Forest and Sausalito Morning Tour is for you. This tour brings you up close and personal to some of the tallest trees on earth and then ends in the charming seaside town of Sausalito across the Bay from the city. 

You can either return to the city right away, or take your time exploring Sausalito before returning on the included ferry ride back across the bay. The tour is only 5 hours, so you will still have plenty of time in the rest of your day for anything else you wish to fit in or revisit. 

Another day trip option is to start in Muir Woods and then go to wine country! This Redwoods and Wine Country Tour will require a bit more of a time commitment (10 hours), but wine lovers should definitely consider this option. Napa and Sonoma are legendary in the wine scene, and are just so enticingly close to the city!

If you are interested in seeing another itinerary option for your 3 days in San Francisco, check out our First Timer’s San Francisco 3 Day Itinerary

Enjoy your weekend visit to San Francisco!

Published on: January 16th 2024
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