Last updated on June 7th, 2022San Francisco, or the city by the bay, is well-known for its cool foggy summers and attractions such as the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, Fisherman’s Wharf, and Chinatown. This bike-friendly city is the 13th most populated city in the United States. It is easy to see why the famous singer Tony Bennett left his heart in San Francisco. Whether you like nature, attractions, food, or history, there is something for everyone to enjoy in San Francisco. If you only have 4 days in San Francisco, I recommend this itinerary to see all the highlights: Be prepared to walk a lot! We walked more than 20,000 steps per day. Mind you, that was because we decided to walk everywhere and not take public transportation, other than the cable cars and one uber ride. Tip: Make sure you try an uber ride in San Francisco! After all, it was created in San Francisco, so where better to experience it. It was our first uber ride, and we had a great time chatting with our airline pilot uber driver.
Day 1 – Cable Car, Lombard Street, Alcatraz, and Fisherman’s WharfToday will take you to the Tenderloin, Russian Hill, North Beach, and Fisherman’s Wharf areas of San Francisco.
Famous Cable CarSan Francisco is home to the last manually operated cable car system in the world, making it one of the biggest tourist attractions in the city. You should not go to San Francisco without experiencing the cable car at least once. Of the original 23 lines that operated between 1873 and 1890, only 3 remain today. The three cable car lines are Powell-Mason, Powell-Hyde, and California Street. The majority of cable cars were either destroyed in earthquakes or were replaced by electric streetcars and buses. In 1947, the last of the cable cars became protected by the citizens of San Francisco from an overwhelming vote in support of keeping them. Cable cars move along a cable that runs below the street surface to pull the car along the track. The cable car is operated by a gripman, who grips and releases the cable as required to ensure a safe and smooth ride for passengers. Passengers can either sit or stand on the cable car. If standing, remember to hold on tight, and don’t hold anything in your arms. Be safe and have fun! San Francisco Cable Car Hours of Operation: Daily 6:30 am-midnight Cost: $7 for a single ride, included on MUNI passes Note: You must purchase your tickets in advance, before riding, between 8 am-5 pm Tip: Use the cable car going uphill as opposed to downhill to save walking up the vast amount of hills in San Francisco. Hop off the cable car at Lombard Street, the next destination for today.
Lombard StreetBuilt in 1922, this one-way, one-block section of Lombard between Hyde and Leavenworth is famous for its 8 sharp and twisty turns. Lombard Street is known as one of the most crooked streets in the world. The cable car stops at the top of Lombard Street on Hyde. You can experience Lombard Street by walking or driving down the steep turns. When I visited, there was a car that drove down Lombard Street, and while at the very bottom of the hill, their brakes failed, and the car ended up crashing into a building. Luckily no one was hurt, including the driver, and people rushed to help ensure the driver was okay. Just please be careful if you drive down Lombard Street, and drive slowly. Once finished at Lombard Street, head to Pier 33, where you will find the ferry dock departing to Alcatraz Island.
Alcatraz IslandWhile Alcatraz island is primarily recognized worldwide for the famous US penitentiary Alcatraz, the island is full of history. Alcatraz Island is the site of America’s first lighthouse on the west coast. The lighthouse was built to guide ships into the San Francisco bay during the gold rush of the 1850s. During the 1890s, the island was used by the military during the Civil War. Fort Alcatraz was the largest US fortress during the Civil War. Alcatraz Penitentiary operated on Alcatraz Island between 1934 and 1963. Located on 22 acres of rock and with more than 300 cells, Alcatraz was the first maximum-security in the United States. Criminals like Al Capone spent a short period of their prison sentence in Alcatraz. Fun Fact: Alcatraz was not as vicious as displayed in the movies, but still a tough prison. Alcatraz Island Tour Daytime Departures: 8:45 am – 3:50 pm, arrive an hour before departure to queue for your ferry Cost: $39.90 for an adult Time Recommended: 2 ½ – 3 hours from the pier to pier, however, your ticket is valid all-day Ferry Ride: The ferry ride is 15 minutes each way to reach Alcatraz Island Note: It is best to purchase tickets in advance, up to 90 days before, due to the limited number of tickets available. Tickets do sell out, and you do not want to miss visiting Alcatraz Island. Tips:
- Do not bring large bags as they will not be allowed. A small backpack is fine, for your water and snacks.
- Wear comfortable shoes as it’s a lot of walking.
Fisherman’s WharfThe historic Fisherman’s Wharf covers the northern waterfront of San Francisco and is a must-do on your trip to San Francisco. In particular, Pier 39 is a popular tourist attraction within Fisherman’s Wharf. Around Pier 39, you will find an abundance of seafood restaurants and attractions to visit, including Ghirardelli Square (which you should visit for some delicious local chocolate that is loved around the world), Aquarium by the Bay, and watching sea lions on the K dock of Pier 39. Tip: Make sure you have a clam chowder bread bowl, they are delicious. Note: The cable car runs to Fisherman’s Wharf if you would like to arrive via cable car. From Fisherman’s Wharf, walk or take public transit to Pier 7.
Pier 7A few piers west of the Ferry Building in San Francisco’s Embarcadero is Pier 7. Pier 7 is a great spot to take photos with the Transamerica Building in the background while facing the city, and great views of the bay while looking towards the water.
Day 2 – Chinatown, Crissy Field, and the Golden Gate BridgeToday will take you to the Chinatown and Presidio areas of San Francisco.
ChinatownEstablished in the 1840s, the Chinatown of San Francisco is the oldest and largest Chinatown in North America. These 24-blocks of downtown San Francisco are visited by as many or more tourists as the Golden Gate Bridge annually. Once you walk through the Dragon’s Gate entrance, you can spend the next few hours walking around Chinatown trying dim sum and other Chinese cuisines, visiting the fortune cookie factory and Far East Flea Market, and wandering through the various tiny shops. While in Chinatown, make sure you go souvenir shopping. You will find that Chinatown is a good place to buy your souvenirs for less than elsewhere in San Francisco. Once finished at Chinatown, head to Crissy Field.
Crissy FieldCrissy Field is a former US Army airfield, operating until 1974 when it was later restored and turned into an urban national park under the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy. Crissy Field opened to the public in 2001. With 130 acres located right next to the Bay, Crissy Field offers fantastic unobstructed views of the Golden Gate Bridge. Enjoyed by both locals and tourists, Crissy Field is a great spot to have a picnic, fly a kite, or walk along the beach. On my visit, I flew a kite that I bought from Chinatown. Are you looking for an attraction to visit while at Crissy Fields? Visit the Walt Disney Family Museum, which focuses on the story of Walt Disney and his creations, including Mickey Mouse. Walt Disney Family Museum Hours of Operation: Daily 10 am – 6 pm, except Tuesday Cost: $25 for an adult Note: Last entry is 4:45 pm After Crissy Field, the next activity for today is the Golden Gate Bridge.
Golden Gate BridgeThe Golden Gate Bridge is a world-famous bridge that has connected San Francisco to Marin County since 1937. The orange-coloured bridge spans 2.7 km and is 227 m high, with more than 100,000 cars crossing daily. Originally, the Golden Gate Bridge was supposed to be painted in stripes of black and yellow for visibility for ships, but the designing architects liked the orange colour contrast against the landscapes of San Francisco. You can walk, bike, or drive across the bridge. On my visit, we drove and walked across the bridge and back. It took about 2 hours to casually cross the bridge and return to our starting point. I recommend both driving across and walking across if you have the opportunity to do so. You must include the Golden Gate Bridge into your San Francisco itinerary as you will not want to miss viewing it. Fun Fact: Before the Golden Gate Bridge, the only way to get across the San Francisco Bay to Marin County was by ferry boat.
Day 3 – Painted Ladies, Golden Gate Park, and Lands EndToday will take you to the Western Addition, Golden Gate Park, and Sea Cliff areas of San Francisco.
Painted Ladies (famous houses landmark)The Painted Ladies are a group of Victorian houses that were colourfully painted starting in the 1960s to highlight their architectural features. Before the 1960s, many houses in San Francisco were painted grey using the leftover paint from WWI and WWII. The colourful movement started with one gentleman painting his house a lively colour, and then the trend caught on throughout San Francisco. This section of Steiner Street, between Hayes and Groves, is the most well-known group of Painted Ladies and has been featured in the media and TV many times, including on the show Full House. Although I’ve never seen Full House, I’m a fan of colourful houses, so I enjoyed admiring the Painted Ladies while sitting in Alamo Square Park across the street. From the Painted Ladies, take the bus to Golden Gate Park.
Golden Gate ParkGolden Gate Park is a huge 1017 acres filled with lakes, museums, trails, gardens, and even a brewery. In fact, Golden Gate Park is actually larger than Central Park in New York City. Within the park, a few attractions you will find include the Japanese Tea Garden, De Young Museum, Conservatory of Flowers, and the Golden Gate Park Aquarium. When deciding on what to do in Golden Gate Park, make sure you visit the Japanese Tea Garden. The Japanese Tea Garden is the oldest public Japanese garden in the US and is known as the birthplace of the fortune cookie. Tip: There is free admission to the Japanese Tea Garden on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday before 10 am. When you finish at Golden Gate Park, head to Lands End.
Lands EndLands End is an oceanside park in northwest San Francisco along the Pacific Ocean. Part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Lands End Park offers picturesque views of the Golden Gate Bridge, shipwrecks, and the Sutro Baths ruins. There are multiple trails within Lands End, with the Coastal Trail being the most popular. There is a rocky and windy shoreline overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Please stay clear from the edges and be safe. Within Lands End, you will find the Sutro Bath Ruins, the next stop for this San Francisco itinerary.
Sutro Baths RuinsBuilt by Sutro in the 1890s, the Sutro Baths were a place of relaxing and inexpensive swimming for the people of San Francisco up until the 1940s. The architecture for the Sutro Baths was inspired by Greek architecture. Once spanning more than 3 acres, the ruins are what remain from the fire that burned down the Sutro Baths in 1966.
Day 4 – Muir Woods and Half Moon BayToday will take you to Marin County and San Mateo County, just outside San Francisco.
Muir Woods National MonumentMuir Woods is a 554 acres National Park found just 19 km north of San Francisco, in Marin County. Home to ancient coast redwood trees up to more than 1000 years old, Muir Woods is not to be missed on your trip to San Francisco. Fun Fact: the tallest redwood tree in Muir Woods is over 258 m high! Muir Woods National Monument Hours of Operation: 8 am – sunset daily Cost: $15 per adult Free days: check out https://www.nps.gov/planyourvisit/fee-free-parks.htm Note: You will need to book your parking and shuttle reservation in advance, however, you do not need a reservation if traveling by tour bus, bicycle, or on foot. Reservation Details: Parking Reservation Cost: $8 per vehicle Shuttle Reservation Cost: $3 per adult for the shuttle from the parking lot Special Note: You will not be able to book onsite. Reservations for Muir Woods can be booked up to 90 days in advance. Please plan your visit to not miss visiting Muir Woods National Monument. Tip: Fall, winter, and spring can be rainy; bring a raincoat to be prepared. There were slight showers when we visited, but the mist felt amazing and added to our experience. Once you are finished at Muir Woods, head to Half Moon Bay State Beach.
Half Moon Bay State BeachIf you have a rental car, drive 45 minutes south of San Francisco on Highway 1 to Half Moon Bay State Beach. If you are using public transportation, be prepared for the approximately 2 hours 40-minute bus ride. Half Moon Bay State Beach is 6 km of protected beaches along Half Moon Bay. If you are visiting between January and April, you can potentially whale-watch from the shore as they migrate along the coast. I spotted a couple of whales on my visit in late April and watched them splash their fins around and blow water. It was my first time seeing them in the wild, and it was very memorable. After this, you have now completed this 4 day San Francisco itinerary. Prepare to fly or drive home. Have more time or finished early? Try these activities.
- Twin Peaks