San Francisco is a beautiful & picturesque city with plenty of things to see & do, which is why we share the best San Francisco attractions. Planning a 3 day trip to San Francisco just got easier!
San Francisco is a quirky, beautiful city in California and is an ideal place to visit for all types of travellers. There are plenty of family attractions in San Francisco but also plenty of romantic things to do here too. There are ways to save money here but generally speaking, San Francisco is one of the more expensive cities in the USA.
If you have extra time, Take a weekend road trips from San Francisco or take a drive along the Big Sur.
How to plan a trip to San Francisco
Best attractions in San Francisco
The world famous federal prison is top of the list of things to do whilst in San Francisco. The audio tour is fascinating and wandering around the prison is eerie and at times emotional.
We recommend you book tickets 3-4 weeks in advance of your trip (especially during the summer) and get the first boat out in the morning to beat the crowds. Buy your tickets directly from alcatrazcruises.com to avoid over charging, tickets cost $31 for an adult entrance.
We have a full guide to visiting Alcatraz here, including tips for booking tickets and when to visit the famous prison.
Golden Gate Bridge
Of course, you can’t visit San Francisco without a trip to the Golden Gate Bridge. This is an iconic landmark in the USA and a reason for many to visit the city. Opening in 1937, the steel wonder of the world connects San Francisco Bay and Marin County. There are many viewpoints of the Golden Gate Bridge to choose from but also try to walk and/or drive across the bridge itself to appreciate the size.
The bridge is open 24 hours a day to drive across but the pedestrian walkway is only open during daylight hours.
Fishermans Wharf and Pier 39
Home to some delicious seafood restaurants and stalls along with the famous sea-lions and a selection of unique boutique shops, Fishermans Wharf and Pier 39 is an ideal way to spend a sunny afternoon. Fog Harbor Fish House is a favourite of ours with delicious food (try the crab!) and a superb view of the Golden Gate Bridge. The Aquarium can also be found on the Pier with entrance included in the City Pass.
San Francisco’s famous Zig Zag road is an iconic street in the heart of the city. City planners and residents of San Francisco struggled with the steep hills of the city, so in the 20’s, home-owners on the street decided to create a plan to include sharp turns in order to make the road more manageable. Now the street is one of the most famous, unique roads in the world and sees around one million cars driving down it every year. Catch the Powell-Hyde Cable Car to the top of Lombard Street and enjoy a leisurely walk down the sides of the street.
Home to Macy’s, Bloomingdales and Saks fifth avenue, Union Square is the place to shop, dine and drink. Most tours and sightseeing buses leave from the Square so hotels within walking distance to Union Square are ideal. The square offers some fun and lively Irish bars along with a vast variety of restaurants and eateries to suit every taste.
Golden Gate Park
With over 13 million visitors to this park every year, it isn’t exactly the best place to escape the crowds. However, there is plenty of space in the 1000 acre area to unwind and enjoy the lakes, picnic spots, gardens and monuments. Inside the park, you will also find the California Academy of Sciences and the de Young Museum which are both worth visiting if you have the time.
Standing at the top of Telegraph Hill, Coit Tower offers some incredible views of the city. Head up to the viewing deck for a 360 degree view for just $8 per person and aim to visit first thing if you want to avoid the crowds.
San Francisco’s Cable Car
As the last manually operated cable car system in the world, you must try the cable cars in San Francisco at least once. Although there were once 23 cable car lines in the city, there are now just three left used mostly by tourists.
The Ferry Building
For foodie travellers, head to the Ferry Building; a marketplace of local restaurants and vendors. You can try some delicious food from some of the best chefs in the city all day long, with the market opening from 10am to 7pm weekdays, 8am – 6pm on saturdays and 11am to 5pm on Sundays. This is one of our favourite unique places to visit in San Francisco and we highly recommend it to all travellers.
There are many Chinatowns across the world but San Francisco has four to choose from, with Grant Avenue being home to the biggest Chinatown outside of Asia. Head here for authentic Chinese cuisine or time your visit for the Autumn Moon Festival or Chinese New Year, when the neighbourhoods come to life.
Clam Chowder in a Sourdough Bread Bowl
Whilst in San Francisco, take advantage of the delicious sea food dishes on offer; particularly the delicious clam chowder available from Pier 49. You can get the Chowder served in a Sourdough Bread Bowl which is just perfect.
The museum of science, technology and arts in San Francisco is a unique, interactive museum that forces you to see the world through a different perspective. Located at Pier 15, this is a great day out for families but it does come with a price; adult tickets cost $29.95, teens are $24.95 and children aged 4-12 cost $19.95.
The Painted Ladies
A quirky and free thing to do in San Francisco has to be the Painted Ladies. This is a row of Victorian and Edwardian houses on Alamo Square that are iconic to San Francisco.
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
As a stand out museum in the world of art, this was the first museum on the West Coast to display only modern (20th century) art. The museum holds over 33,00 words of art including sculptures, paintings, photography, architecture, design and media arts. Tickets cost $25 for general admission but children under 18 can enter for free.
California Palace of the Legion of Honor
Known as the city’s most exquisite museum, the Legion of Honor was gifted by socialite and patron of the arts Alma de Bretteville Spreckels. Here you will find a unique and gorgeous collection of European decorative arts, paintings and sculptures. Plus, just outside the museum is the Lincoln Highway. Follow this path to see some stunning ocean views alongside the Golden Gate Bridge.
Watch the San Francisco Giants
If you are visiting San Francisco during the season, head to Oracle Park for a baseball game. Choose tickets along the 1st or 3rd base to get some cool views of the ocean from your seat but remember to book tickets in advance; the San Francisco Giants are a popular team.
Golden Gate National Recreation Area
The 600 square mile park in Marin County, located across the Golden Gate Bridge from downtown San Francisco is a huge natural area to explore. It is a designated Biosphere Reserve with many attractions and beautiful places to explore. Choose one of the walking trials, enjoy the beaches (some of which have fantastic views of Golden Gate Bridge) and enjoy a picnic in one of the many picnic areas around the park. You can even spend a night here at the campgrounds.
- We LOVE this camera for our travel photography.
- For a cheap, easy and compact camera, we use this to vlog and take photographs.
- We use this travel drone (but make sure to check drone laws in your chosen destination first).
- This is our favourite travel Insurance because it covers so many activities and travel situations that could arise on longer trips but also offers year coverage.
What to pack
- No matter where we travel to, I always take these trusty hand sanitizer’s and a mini first aid kit.
- We love these toiletry bags (especially great for smaller bathrooms) and choose a laptop bag like this as our hand luggage.
- We keep our devices charged on long travel days with these lightweight battery packs and bring these worldwide travel adaptors on all our trips.
- I still struggle not to overpack so stick to using an expandable suitcase like these, over backpack and always take my trusty luggage scales to avoid being charged at the airport.