San Francisco Itinerary – 3 Days in San Francisco for First Timers

Traveling to San Francisco for a long weekend? If you’ve got 3 days in San Francisco to plan, check out this suggested list of things to do for ideas.

This popular San Francisco itinerary is designed to showcase a wide variety of attractions and activities, and to appeal to visitors really looking for that authentic “San Francisco experience.”

This 3 day itinerary includes:

  • Hop-on Hop-off Big Bus Sightseeing Tour
  • California Academy of Sciences
  • de Young Museum
  • Legion of Honor
  • SFMOMA
  • Aquarium of the Bay
  • Exploratorium
  • Escape From the Rock
  • Madame Tussauds San Francisco
  • Bridge 2 Bridge Cruise
  • Ripley’s Believe it or Not!

Only have a few days in San Francisco? We’ve also put together a 1 day and 2 day itinerary.

Save on Attraction Admission

Pick up a 3-Day Go San Francisco® Card and save off combined admission vs paying at the gate.

Remember, this 3 days in San Francisco itinerary is just one of many ways to experience San Francisco.

The Go San Francisco® Card gives you the flexibility to create your own itinerary, so you can choose from dozens of top attractions and create a vacation tailored to your interests.

Looking for more things to do? – we’ve got a list of how to spend 5-7 days in San Francisco. Or, try our popular California road trip itinerary, which covers top San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Francisco attractions.

DAY 1

Stop #1: Big Bus San Francisco Sightseeing Tour

san-francisco-Hop-On-Hop-Off-Classic-Tour-2-Day-Ticket-1This Hop-on Hop-off San Francisco Bus Tour is the perfect addition to your itinerary to get around the city while sightseeing.

Tour guides are entertaining and knowledgeable, and you’ll see some of the best sights of the city, including Golden Gate Bridge, Chinatown, North Beach, Fisherman’s Wharf, and more

Your ticket is good for a full 48 hours, so you can use it to hop on and off at your leisure.

As a bonus, your ticket also includes a selection of free walking tours. Join up with one of these three tours at designated stops to see more of each neighborhood: Chinatown Walking Tour, North Beach Walking Tour, or Barbary Coast Walking Tour.

Getting In: Hop On Hop Off Big Bus San Francisco Bus Tour tickets are included on the Go San Francisco Card.

Stop #2: California Academy of Sciences

california-academy-of-sciences-san-francisco-museumsNo San Francisco visitor should miss the chance to explore the dazzling and delightful California Academy of Sciences.

Comprised of four distinct areas – a natural history museum, an aquarium, an all-digital planetarium, and a four-story rainforest – there’s no end to the things to do at this attraction.

This attraction is not just entertaining or informative, it’s also on the cutting edge of research and conservation.

They’ve even got a beautiful, 2 ½ acre “living roof,” just one of their many eco-friendly innovations.

There are a number of special programs and events that frequently run at the California Academy of Sciences, too, so be sure to check their calendar before you visit to see what’s on.

We recommend reserving between 1-2 hours for this attraction.

Getting In: California Academy of Sciences tickets are included on the Go San Francisco Card.

Lunch at the California Academy of Sciences

Because you’ll be spending the remainder of the day bustling around Golden Gate Park, it’s easiest to eat at one of the attractions.

Choose from two delicious dining options for lunch at the California Academy of Sciences, including a casual café and a more formal restaurant named The Terrace.

Or, if you prefer a more scenic dining experience, eat at the de Young before you explore the exhibits – their cafés offer gorgeous views of their sculpture gardens.

Stop #3: de Young Museum

de-young-museum-san-francisco-museumsHead back to Golden Gate Park to visit one of the other finest museums in the city – the de Young Museum. This gorgeous facility works to integrate art and nature and architecture all into one cohesive aesthetic experience, making it one of the most unique institutions on the west coast.

Their collections span millennia, featuring everything from ancient African art to contemporary painting. They also have a strong body of American painting from the seventeenth to twenty-first centuries.

We recommend reserving between 1-2 hours for this museum — perhaps more if you have an art lover in your party. They also have a lovely cafe for a nice coffee break!

Getting In: de Young Museum tickets are included on the Go San Francisco Card.

Stop #4: Legion of Honor

legion-of-honor-san-francisco-museumsLocated just north of Golden Gate Park, the beautiful Legion of Honor museum is another great artistic attraction.

Designed to look like an eighteenth-century French palace, this institution is beautiful inside and out. Exhibits span a wide variety of artistic genres and nearly 4,000 years of history, so there’s no telling what you mind find inside!

Highlights include Ancient Art and European painting.

We recommend reserving about 1-2 to explore the Legion of Honor.

Getting In: Legion of Honor tickets are included with the Go San Francisco Card.

Dinner Near Golden Gate Park

There are plenty of delicious dining options just south of the park, off of Lincoln Way  — as well as in the park itself.

There are cuisines to suit every taste, from casual Mexican to a wonderful local brewery with a nice menu.

DAY 2

Stop #1: SFMOMA

SFMOMA-5
This must-see San Francisco attraction is an excellent way to start off another day of your vacation. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) has recently undergone a multi-year renovation project that has totally transformed this amazing space.

It’s one of the best museums on the west coast dedicated to contemporary and modern art. They also have a unique focus on living artists from the Bay Area.

You’ll find all your favorite artists represented in their vast collections, from Klee to Calder to Stieglitz.

We recommend arriving when the museum first opens to avoid the bulk of the crowds. Set aside at a few hours for this engaging museum — more if you’ve got real art lovers in your group.

Getting In: SFMOMA tickets are included on the Go San Francisco Card.

Stop #2: Aquarium of the Bay

aquarium-of-the-bay-san-franciscoNow it’s time to head up to the Fisherman’s Wharf waterfront neighborhood for some prime explorations of the most popular locales in the city.

Pop into the fascinating Aquarium of the Bay, which is consistently a family-favorite attraction. It exclusively features specimens from the San Francisco Bay, from jellyfish to giant octopi!

You won’t want to miss their clear crystal tunnel system, with more than 300 feet of amazing views of over 20,000 marine creatures and plants. It’s a surreal experience to feel like you’re walking underwater!

Another popular exhibit with kids is “Touch the Bay,” where you can actually reach into water and feel sharks, rays, and sea stars.

We recommend reserving at least an hour for this attraction.

Getting In: Aquarium of the Bay tickets are included on the Go San Francisco Card.

Lunch on the Waterfront

There are tons of options in this area (most of them seafood) and many of them have great waterfront views.

Of course, you can also find sandwich and pizza joints, plus some Mexican and Thai options. If you’re feeling seafood, we recommend Scoma’s, located right on the water.

Stop # 3: Exploratorium

Also located near the waterfront is the kid-centric Exploratorium. It’s a highly interactive museum, with tons of opportunities for your kids to touch and play with hundreds of different exhibits.

You’ll find everything from fun, climbable outdoors exhibits to science-focused exhibits like viewing sea creatures through a microscope.

Adults can have fun, too! Just check out the more inventive exhibits and learn about San Francisco’s truly creative culture.

It’s also really worth your time to consult their website before you visit. They have activities organized by theme online, and its a good way to plan out what you want to tackle first.

Getting In: Exploratorium tickets are included on the Go San Francisco Card.

Stop #4: Escape From the Rock Cruise

escape-from-the-rockEnd the day with a truly enjoyable cruise that heads out towards the infamous Alcatraz Island. Sail under the beautiful Golden Gate Bridge, out to the Bay, and past this sinister prison while listening to informative narration from your crew.

And it’s not just about what you see in front of you, either — you’ll also be regaled with stories about famous crooks and criminals who served some time in Alcatraz, including tales about famous escape efforts that have inspired so many films.

The cruise itself last for one and a half hours; please arrive at least 30 minutes prior to your desired departure time. No reservations required.

Please not that this cruise does not include a landing at Alcatraz Island itself; if you’re interested in visiting the prison, purchase your Go San Francisco Card directly from Alcatraz Cruises.

Getting In: Escape From The Rock Cruise tickets are included on the Go San Francisco Card.

Dinner in Fisherman’s Wharf

Like the rest of the Waterfront area, there are tons of restaurant options around here.

From wine bars and sports bars to fish & chips and chowder, you’ll find everything here. Wipeout Bar & Grill is a popular favorite!

DAY 3

Stop #1: Madame Tussauds San Francisco

madame-tussauds-san-franciscoBegin your last day with a return to the wonderful Fisherman’s Wharf neighborhood.

Stop by Madame Tussauds San Francisco for a truly unique experience that only Madame Ts can produce. Meet celebrities from music to Hollywood to politics and snap your photo with your favorite.

It’s a fun way to keep the kids entertained, and it’s also an informative romp through pop culture’s most important figures and moments in time, from Elton John to Rosa Parks.

We recommend reserving about an hour to explore this attraction. You may experience lines, but probably not first thing in the morning.

Getting In: Madame Tussauds San Francisco tickets are included on the Go San Francisco Card.

Stop #2: Bridge 2 Bridge Cruise

red-white-fleet-bridge-2-bridge-tourNext in your itinerary, you’ll want to explore San Francisco by water! The Bridge 2 Bridge Cruise is actually the only cruise in the area that sails under both the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay Bridge (hence its name), and is an informative and relaxing activity.

You’ll also see a number of iconic sights from San Francisco’s shoreline and maritime history, including the infamous Alcatraz and Treasure Island.

Remember to pick up your ticket in advance at the booth prior to boarding the vessel. We recommend arriving at least 15 in advance of your desired sail time. Reservations are required for this cruise.

Getting In: Bridge 2 Bridge Cruise tickets are included on the Go San Francisco Card.

Lunch Near Fisherman’s Wharf

Now is a good time to enjoy some quick casual fare, whether you’re looking for sumptuous fresh seafood or the unbeatable taste of an In-and-Out Burger.

There are also some pub and pizza options for those who prefer a middle ground.

Stop #3: Ripley’s Believe it or Not!

Ripley's Believe It or Not! San FranciscoThis is another destination the kids will love. The endlessly fascinating Ripley’s Believe it or Not! makes for an astonishing and fully entertaining last stop of the trip.

Filled with the bizarre, the strange, and the wonderful, Ripley’s has been delighting and puzzling visitors for generations.

With hundreds of crazy exhibits — many of them new each year — there’s something for adults to like, too. An area that absolutely everyone loves is the Toy / Candy Factory, which offers hundreds of different classic and contemporary sweet treats.

A visit here typically takes about two hours, so plan accordingly based on your dinner plans.

Getting In: Ripley’s Believe it or Not! San Francisco tickets are included on the Go San Francisco Card.

Dinner in the Financial District

Head a bit south to explore a new area of culinary delights. Adjacent to the popular SoMa neighborhood (another great option for dining destinations), the Financial District is filled with inventive and tasty cuisine without feeling touristy — a plus for visitors who want an authentic San Francisco experience.

Let’s Recap

This 3 days in San Francisco itinerary really shows you the best and the brightest of the City by the Bay.

The wide variety of things to do and places to go on your three days in San Francisco will leave you feeling like you’ve gotten a true feel for the city.

Save on combined admission costs vs paying at the gate when you visit all of these attractions with a 3-Day Go San Francisco® Card.

You can also save even more with included extra discounts on dining, shopping, and additional attractions!

Go San Francisco Explorer Pass

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