I had been thinking about visiting San Francisco for quite some time. During a trip on the westcoast, I finally had the opportunity to go to San Francisco! Sometimes we can feel like we’re not in the US. San Francisco is not too big so you can visit a good part of the city by foot. The vibe changes depending on the area you’re at, even though it’s quite relaxed, and there’s no constant traffic jams like in other big US cities. San Francisco is not perfect (more on that later) but I suggest to go there if you’re in the area. Here’s what you need to know and things to do in San Francisco in 3 days!
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Description of San Francisco
San Francisco is known for being the most expensive city of the US. Let’s not forget we’re in the Silicon Valley, where you’ll find Facebook, Google, Twitter, Airbnb, Pinterest… HQs. Their employees are overpaid so everything costs an arm and a leg, you’ll quickly realize it! Working classes had to leave town but many people ended up homeless… After leaving the airport, I went to the city center and I was shocked to see how numerous homeless people and junkies were, in the heart of the city! Talking to themselves, zigzagging, smoking weed nonchalantly inside the fast foods. I didn’t expect it, be prepared! There are numerous homeless people in Portland, Oregon too…
San Francisco is the world capital of homosexuals. It’s not hard to realize it, there are gay flags everywhere. Many people have tattoos there (on the westcoast in general), and San Francisco is really cosmopolitan (White, Black, large Asian community, etc). As I said, a good part of the city can be visited by foot but be careful, there are steep slopes! Fun fact: smoking weed is legal there however electronic cigarettes are forbidden. Anyway, let’s see what to do in San Francisco in 3 days!
What to do in San Francisco
I’m gonna start off this list with one of the most popular attractions of San Francisco, and the only one I didn’t do… I’m talking about the mythical Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary, which became popular thanks to the movies talking about it and the famous criminals who stayed there (Al Capone…) and the spectacular escape bids. The boats going to Alcatraz Island leave from pier 33. Book in advance, I didn’t think about it and the next dates available to visit Alcatraz were two months later!!! Click here to enjoy a boat cruise, then visit Alcatraz. Click here for a Golden Gate bike tour, then visit Alcatraz the day after.
The Golden Gate Bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge is the icon of San Francisco, the most photographed place of the city! Built in the 1930s, you can cross the bridge by foot, by car or by bicycle! Be prepared, the bridge moves. For your information, you can go on a Golden Gate Bay Cruise. Click here for more info. You can also go on a GoCar tour, passing by the Golden Gate Bridge. Click here for more info. Walking on the bridge is one of the numerous romantic things to do in the city. In fact, check out this list of romantic getaways in USA.
The Golden Gate Park
A few miles away from the Golden Gate Bridge, you’ll find the Golden Gate Park. It’s a park stretching over 410 hectares, larger than Central Park! It’s perfect to relax, you’ll find there numerous gardens each one more beautiful than the last. For instance there’s a Japanese garden (free before 10am, otherwise it’s $9 to get in). There’s also the conservatory of flowers ($9 to get in), which is home to many tropical plants. There’s also a botanical garde, a museum of fine arts and you can even spot bisons! Don’t miss it!
Fisherman’s Wharf looks like a funfair, but it’s one of the most touristic places of San Francisco! Therefore it’s almost always crowded! Over there you’ll be able to go shopping, have a walk, play arcade games… Pier 39 is probably the most packed area (restaurants, bars, live music…). There’s also Ghirardelli Square where you’ll find many stores selling ice creams, chocolate, souvenirs…
Why go see Lombard Street? It’s a sloping, zigzagging street! It’s also covered in flowers, you’ll be able to admire beautiful hydrangea! By foot you can go up and down but by carr you can only go down. It’s a popular street, there are many people there!
Take a cable car
Another icon of San Francisco! The cable cars have been here since 1873. They were helping the locals climbing the numerous hills of San Francisco. There are only 3 cable car lines now and the locals almost never use them (they’re not really fast). It’s mostly an experience for the tourists but you have to try. Take the Powell-Hyde line, passing by the most popular places of the city (Fisherman’s Wharf, Lombard Street…). A single ticket costs $8!
The painted ladies of Alamo Square
Alamo Square is a residential area of San Francisco. There’s a park in the heart of the area. From that park you can admire the city, especially in the foreground seven houses called the Seven Painted Ladies. Those are Victorian houses forming a harmonious ensemble. There are people living in those houses so you can’t visit them but they’re nice to watch. FYI, the last house Painted Lady for sale found a buyer who paid about $3 million dollars to get it.
The paradise of shopping! You can’t miss the huge Macy’s there! But it’s also a cool area to relax, have a drink, enjoy the luxury stores (Dior, Tiffany, Louis Vuitton), have dinner in a chic restaurant… There are also many terraces and even artists like in Montmartre, Paris! During Christmas, there’s a huge Christmas tree there! Union Square is in the heart of the city, and it’s the perfect area for a nice accommodation in San Francisco!
Chinatown in San Francisco is the largest one outside Asia and the oldest one in the US, it dates back to 1848! 120,000 Chinese live there! You’ll find restaurants and typical stores you usually see in Chinatowns, but also street events. You have to go through Dragon Gate to get in Chinatown! If you get there on a Saturday, there’s a huge farmer’s market in Stockton Street, don’t miss it! In Chinatown, there’s also Buddha Universal Church, the largest Buddhist temple of the US!
Museums in San Francisco
There are many of them in San Francisco, you have plenty of options! The SFMOMA is very popular. It’s dedicated to modern and contemporary art. It’s $25 to get in. The California Academy of Sciences is one of the largest natural history museums in the world! It’s $29.75 to get in. There’s also the Exploratorium, a science museum mostly for families. The De Young Museum exhibits works of art from all over the world. Otherwise, there are the fun museums: Madame Tussaud ($25), the Cable Car Museum (it’s free), the 3D Museum ($25), the San Francisco Dungeon ($35), the musée mécanique (free) and it’s bocca della verita like in Rome…
The palace of fine arts
The palace of fine arts is an architectural attraction you have to see! Sometimes it hosts shows but as a visitor, you mostly go there admire its architecture and have a walk along the lake next to the palace. A must see!
Other things to do in San Francisco
First off, check out this guide listing the best hidden gems in San Francisco, and this post listing the best things to do in San Francisco at night. Go to Dolores Park at the end of the day to admire a wonderful sunset. For your information, there’s a French district in San Francisco! Go see it!
Head to Twin Peaks to admire San Francisco from the heights of the city! From there you can admire one of the best sunsets in San Francisco. For another 360 degrees view of the city, go to Coit Tower. Also check out this list of day trips from San Francisco.
Activities in San Francisco
Here are a few ideas to enjoy your stay in San Francisco:
- Spend a day in Yosemite National Park! Click here for more info!
- Visit a vineyard in Napa and Sonoma, and enjoy a wine tasting! Click here for more info!
- Fly over the San Francisco Bay during sunset! Click here for more info!
I really liked my visit to San Francisco. Admittedly the city is expensive and you can’t not see the numerous homeless people there. But there’s a nice and relaxed vibe, typical of the westcoast. I really recommend you to visit San Francisco in 3 days! Moreover, it’s one of the most beautiful cities in the US!
How to get to San Francisco
You’ll probably have to get there by plane. Click here to check the latest flight prices. Wanna go to the US? If you’re not a US citizen, you need to apply for the ESTA beforehand here. That’s the only website you need to use to apply for an ESTA. It’s 14 dollars. If you’re using another website, you’ll inevitably pay more and you’re gonna get fucked. The unofficial website will apply for your ESTA using the official website, and needless to say, they’ll take their commission.
How to get around in San Francisco
San Francisco is not a city appropriate for public transportation because of its numerous hills. Fortunately, you can visit a good part of the city by foot! Otherwise, the bus will allow you to go a bit further. You have the schedule here. There are the cable cars I was talking about earlier. There’s a tramway (F line) along Fisherman’s Wharf. Finally there’s the subway but it mostly serves the outskirts of San Francisco. Click here for more info. It’s better to walk and sometimes take the bus. Oh and of course there’s Uber and Lyft.
The San Francisco CityPass
The San Francisco CityPass allows you to take public transportation for 3 days freely but also the cable cars. It gives you access to several museums, and you’ll skip the line! Click here to buy it!
Best time to visit San Francisco
The weather is nice more or less all year long in San Francisco. It’s better to go there from April to October. From November to March, it’s not too cold but it rains quite often.
Where to stay in San Francisco
First off, here’s a complete guide to find out where to stay in San Francisco. As I said earlier, San Francisco is one of the most expensive cities in the US! Consequently, accommodation is not cheap! If you’re traveling on a budget, the HI San Francisco Downtown Hostel is a nice hostel, well located, clean with a good breakfast! Click here to check the reviews, photos, and availability!
If you prefer mid-range hotels, I suggest you The Willows Inn. Beautiful decoration, nice staff, large rooms, well located, clean, good breakfast… Click here to check the reviews, photos and availability! If you’re into luxury hotels, The Fairmont Heritage Place is made for you! Large rooms, comfortable beds, clean hotel, well located, the staff treats you with the greatest of care, good breakfast… Click here to check the photos, reviews and availability! Otherwise click here to check the hotels available in San Francisco!
San Francisco travel tips
- Traveling soon? My travel resources page can help you out! This list of travel accessories can also be useful!
- Don’t go to the US without travel insurance! If something happens, you’ll see by yourself, medical expenses are extremely expensive there! Here’s why get travel insurance!
- Likewise, if you arrive from abroad, don’t forget you’ll need to provide proof of onward travel! You risk being denied entry to the country!
- Want a tailor made trip to the US? Get a free quote here!
- Always use a VPN when traveling! I use ExpressVPN and I love it! Here’s why use a VPN when traveling!