San Fran: Days To Explore

how many days to travel in san francisco

San Francisco is a bustling city that attracts more than 20 million visitors a year. The Golden Gate Bridge is a must-see, but how many days will you need to explore the rest of the city?

Most visitors find that three days in San Francisco is enough to get a solid introduction to the city. However, if you have longer, it is highly recommended that you take some San Francisco day trips. For example, you could visit Wine Country, or the vibrant cities of Oakland and Berkeley, which are just across the Bay.

If you only have one day in San Francisco, you will have to choose between visiting two of the city's most famous attractions, Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge, or opting to explore the city itself. If you have two days, you can do both. With three days, you will have time to explore some of the city's residential areas, and with four to seven days, you can visit other attractions in the city or take day trips to nearby destinations.

Characteristics Values
Minimum number of days to visit San Francisco 3 days
Maximum number of days to visit San Francisco 7 days
Best time to visit San Francisco September and October

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Golden Gate Bridge, Crissy Field, Alcatraz, and more

San Francisco is a bustling city that attracts over 20 million visitors annually, all eager to see the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. The general consensus is that 3 days is the minimum amount of time to spend in the city to see the main attractions.

On your first day, you could start by walking the Golden Gate Bridge. This engineering marvel is a must-see, and you can also drop into the visitor's centre to learn about the history of the surrounding park. You can then walk along the harbour towards the centre of town to Crissy Field, a park with a beach, piers for fishing, and green spaces for activities. There's also a small eatery at the west end of the park called the Warming Hut.

Next, you could visit the Palace of Fine Arts, a remnant of the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition. The outdoor rotunda and lagoon are among the city's most photographed spots. You can stroll around the lagoon, relax under the rotunda, or enjoy a picnic.

After that, head to Alcatraz Island, home to the notorious maximum-security prison that operated from 1934 to 1963. Take a tour to learn about the island's history and famous inmates, such as Al Capone. Be sure to book the ferry in advance, especially during the summer.

Finally, visit Fisherman's Wharf, Pier 39, and Ghirardelli Square. This area has street performers, souvenir shops, and restaurants. You can watch fishermen at work along Fish Alley, but it's recommended to eat elsewhere, such as Waterbar or the Anchor Oyster Bar.

Other Things to See and Do in San Francisco

  • Lombard Street: One of the world's windiest streets with sharp turns and beautiful views.
  • Coit Tower: A city landmark with panoramic views and murals depicting life in San Francisco during the Depression.
  • Chinatown: The biggest Chinese community in America, with great food, teahouses, bars, and souvenir stalls.
  • Haight-Ashbury: The birthplace of America's counterculture and a great place to learn about the city's history.
  • Castro: San Francisco's gay neighbourhood, with restaurants, clubs, and locally sourced organic food.
  • Ferry Building: A foodie's dream with food stands, a farmer's market, restaurants, and specialty food vendors.
  • Beat Museum: Dedicated to the Beat Generation, with manuscripts, rare books, and letters from authors like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg.
  • Cable Car Museum: Learn about the history of San Francisco's cable cars, which date back to 1873.
  • Exploratorium: A hands-on science museum with exhibits for both children and adults.
  • De Young Art Museum: Showcases excellent art from the 17th century onwards, with a 9th-floor observation level offering great views.
  • Golden Gate Park: A gigantic park with walking trails, a museum, and an arboretum.
  • Japantown: A great place for sushi, Japanese food, Korean food, and unique kitchen ingredients.
  • Twin Peaks: Drive up to these small mountains for sweeping views of the city and hiking trails.

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Lombard Street, Coit Tower, Chinatown, and more

Day 2: Lombard Street, Coit Tower, Chinatown, and More

Lombard Street

Known as the "Crookedest Street in the World", Lombard Street is one of San Francisco's most famous landmarks. It is also one of the city's most scenic streets, surrounded by Russian Hill mansions and perfectly manicured landscaping and flowers. The famous “crooked" portion of Lombard Street is located between Leavenworth and Hyde Streets.

You can walk up Lombard Street for some great photo opportunities, or drive down its eight sharp hairpin turns. However, note that the curvy portion of Lombard Street only runs one way, towards the east, and is best suited to experienced drivers. If you're not a confident driver, you can rent an electric bike to navigate the hairpin turns.

There are a few landmark homes on the curvy part of the street, including the Real World house (949 Lombard Street), the former home of 1960s socialite Patricia "Pat" Montandon (1000 Lombard Street), and Scottie's Apartment from Alfred Hitchcock's film "Vertigo" (900 Lombard Street).

Coit Tower

Coit Tower, located at 1 Telegraph Hill Boulevard, is another major city landmark. Built in 1933 to help beautify the city, the tower features 27 fresco murals by different artists and offers panoramic views of San Francisco from the top. You can explore the monument and murals at ground level, or head up to the observation deck for a small fee.

Chinatown

San Francisco's Chinatown is the largest Chinatown outside of Asia and the oldest in North America. It is famous for its lively maze of streets and alleys, bursting with dim sum restaurants and other traditional eateries, teahouses, bars, souvenir stalls, and fortune cookie makers. It attracts more visitors a year than the Golden Gate Bridge!

Chinatown is only a 10-minute drive or 25-minute walk from Lombard Street, making it easy to visit both in one day.

Other Attractions

There are several other attractions near Lombard Street that you can visit, including:

  • Fisherman's Wharf: A busy tourist area and the vital centre of San Francisco's fishing industry, located a 15-minute walk or 5-minute drive from Lombard Street.
  • North Beach: A great place to get breakfast or lunch before or after hiking up Lombard Street.
  • The San Francisco Art Institute: Located just a few blocks from Lombard Street, this institute sometimes features events, lectures, and art shows.

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Beat Museum, Golden Gate Park, Ferry Building, and more

Day 3: Beat Museum, Golden Gate Park, Ferry Building, and More

The Beat Museum

Dedicated to the Beat Generation, the Beat Museum is a must-visit for literature lovers. Here, you'll find original manuscripts, rare books, letters, and more from renowned authors like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. The museum is open daily from 10 am to 7 pm, except on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and admission is $8. Please note that some sections may be closed for renovations during your visit.

Golden Gate Park

Golden Gate Park spans 1,017 acres and offers a wide range of attractions. You can explore the AIDS Memorial Grove, Anglers Lodge, Beach Chalet Visitor Center, Bison Paddock, California Academy of Sciences, Conservatory of Flowers, de Young Museum, and the Japanese Tea Garden, to name a few. The park also features the oldest public playground in the nation, the Koret Children's Quarter, along with a charming 1914 carousel.

Ferry Building

The Ferry Building is a food lover's paradise. Outside the building, you'll find food stands during the week and a bustling farmer's market on weekends. Step inside, and you'll discover a plethora of restaurants and specialty food vendors, including butchers, cheesemongers, and wine bars. It's the perfect place to indulge in the city's renowned culinary delights.

Other Suggestions for Day 3

  • Exploratorium: An interactive science museum with hands-on activities and adult-only evenings.
  • Cable Car Museum: Learn about the history of San Francisco's iconic cable cars, dating back to 1873. Best of all, admission is free!
  • Asian Art Museum: Explore one of the world's most comprehensive collections of Asian art, with nearly 20,000 items.

The ideal number of days to spend in San Francisco depends on your interests and the depth of your exploration. Most sources recommend a minimum of 3 days to cover the main attractions. If you're combining your trip with a visit to Napa, allocating 2 days for San Francisco may be sufficient for a quick overview. However, if you wish to delve deeper and explore various neighbourhoods, 4 to 5 days in the city itself is suggested.

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Japantown, baseball game, wine country, and more

San Francisco is a bustling city that attracts over 20 million visitors a year. The Golden Gate Bridge is a must-see, but there is so much more to explore in this eclectic city.

Japantown

San Francisco's Japantown is the largest of the three remaining Japantowns in the US. It has been the centre of the Bay Area's Japanese and Japanese-American community since 1906. The area was first settled in the early 1860s, and generations of Japanese immigrants and their descendants have kept the arts and culture of Japan alive. Here, you will find world-renowned artists, performers, cultural cuisine, and items for sale just as you would in Japan. Japantown is a great place to find unique items directly from Japan, such as Hello Kitty and fresh mochi. It is also a great place to enjoy some of the city's unique restaurants and eateries.

Baseball Game

San Francisco locals love their sports teams, especially their baseball team, the Giants. If you're in town during a game, head to the stadium to cheer on the local team. Even if you don't like baseball, the locals will happily take you in, explain the game, and drink a beer with you.

Wine Country

Near San Francisco are the world-famous Napa and Sonoma wine regions. Napa is one of the world's leading wine-producing areas, attracting 3.3 million people each year. If you love wine, be sure to visit this region, which is only an hour from San Francisco. There are also organised day trips available.

And More

There is so much to see and do in San Francisco that it is impossible to cover everything in a few days. Here are some additional highlights:

  • Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge
  • Fisherman's Wharf
  • Mission District and Castro
  • Haight-Ashbury
  • Chinatown
  • Golden Gate Park
  • Exploratorium
  • Cable Car Museum
  • De Young Art Museum
  • Berkeley
  • Oakland
  • Muir Woods

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Muir Woods, Berkeley, Oakland, and more

When it comes to how many days to spend in San Francisco, opinions vary. Some say that 3 days is enough to see the main attractions, while others suggest that you would need 4-5 days to really get a feel for the city. If you are combining your trip with a visit to Napa, you could spend 2 days in SF and 2 days in Napa, or 3 days in SF and 1 in Napa.

If you are planning to visit Muir Woods, Berkeley, Oakland, and more, here is a suggested itinerary:

Day 1: Oakland and Berkeley

Start your day in Oakland with a walk around Lake Merritt, a hub for locals and tourists alike. Check out the Bonsai Garden, which is free to visit. Then, head to nearby Grand Lake Kitchen for brunch. After brunch, take a short drive to the Berkeley Botanical Gardens, which boasts 12,000 different plant species from around the world. For lunch, try Tane Vegan, a vegan sushi restaurant that will blow you away even if you're not vegan. In the afternoon, drive to Grizzly Peak for panoramic views of the Bay Area. End your day by watching the sunset at Alameda Beach.

Day 2: Muir Woods

Spend your second day exploring the natural beauty of the Muir Woods area. Start with the Muir Beach Overlook, which offers stunning views of the coast and the ocean. Then, head to Muir Woods National Monument, home to some of the tallest and oldest coastal redwood trees on Earth. Be sure to purchase tickets and a parking pass in advance. Hike one of the six miles of trails that wind through the forest, including a half-mile loop, a 1-hour loop, and a 1.5-hour loop. Finish your day with a short hike to the Gardner Fire Lookout Tower in Mount Tamalpais State Park.

Day 3: San Francisco

Take the ferry from Oakland to San Francisco, which will give you gorgeous views of the city. Spend your day in San Francisco exploring iconic spots like Fisherman's Wharf, the Golden Gate Bridge, and Ghirardelli Square. For plant lovers, the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park and the San Francisco Botanical Garden are must-visits. If you have time, head to Mission Dolores Park, which offers great views of the city, and explore the surrounding Mission area for great restaurants.

Day 4: More of San Francisco

On your fourth day, you can either continue exploring San Francisco or venture further afield. If you want to stay in the city, check out some of the museums, like the Exploratorium, the Cable Car Museum, and the De Young Art Museum. You could also take a walking tour to learn more about the city's history and eclectic neighbourhoods. If you want to get out of the city, you can visit Sausalito and Muir Woods, take a ferry to Point Bonita Lighthouse, or explore the wine regions of Napa and Sonoma.

Frequently asked questions

Most people recommend spending at least 3 days in San Francisco to get a good feel for the city. This will give you enough time to see the main attractions, such as the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, Fisherman's Wharf, Lombard Street, and Golden Gate Park. However, if you want to explore more of the city in depth or take day trips to nearby destinations, you could easily spend a week or more in San Francisco.

There are several interesting neighbourhoods in San Francisco that are worth exploring. Here are a few:

- The Mission: Known for its vibrant street art, diverse food scene, and Mission Dolores Park.

- North Beach: A historically Italian neighbourhood with plenty of trattorias and a lively nightlife scene.

- Chinatown: One of the largest Chinatowns in the US, featuring colourful building facades and delicious dumplings.

- Haight-Ashbury: Famous for its role in the 1960s counterculture and the Summer of Love.

- The Castro: San Francisco's LGBT-friendly neighbourhood, known for its brunch spots and nightlife.

There are several interesting day trip options from San Francisco. Here are a few suggestions:

- Wine Country: Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley are world-renowned wine-growing regions, offering tastings, gourmet tours, and romantic resorts.

- Muir Woods: Home to towering redwood trees and located just north of San Francisco, making it a convenient day trip option.

- Berkeley and Oakland: These cities across the bay offer warm weather, beautiful waterfronts, colourful neighbourhoods, and excellent dining options.

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