I know I take a lot of trips to California, but I just love the state. The landscapes are so diverse and the cities are so different from one another. You really can have it all in California. I touched a little bit on San Francisco in my California road trip blog, but I just went on a work trip to San Fran and extended a few extra days to spend some more time in this glorious city.
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When to Go and Where to Stay
When you’re heading for San Fran, the best times to go are the spring and the fall to avoid the cold winter temperatures and the city heat of the summer. No matter when you go, you need to be prepared for some potential rain and definitely some fog. I always have a light windbreaker in my bag and a long sleeve in case the weather changes, which can be known to do. Also, if you’re looking for cute outfit ideas for your trip, check out my other post on boho outfit ideas for some inspo!
As you know, I love road trips, but in this city, you do not need a car. Public transportation is great and the bus system is easy, affordable, and can get you all around the city. You can also take the underground train called the BART, which is very efficient but might not be able to get you everywhere you want to go. I walked a lot, rented a bike, and took the bus when needed. Biking is really easy and pretty safe in San Fran.
For this particular trip, I picked the middle-of-the-road price point and found a place called the Argonaut Hotel in Fisherman’s Wharf historic Haslett Warehouse building. This place has some serious charm and funky decorations; very San Fran! My favorite parts about this hotel are the views of the San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz, and the Golden Gate Bridge and the fact that it’s just a few steps away from Ghirardelli Square & Hyde Street Pier.
Day 1: Alcatraz Island
I’m sure you’ve at least heard of the infamous Alcatraz Island, home to Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary where some of the most famous criminals have been locked up. The prison was a maximum-security prison that was in operation until 1963. It was so successful as a prison because it was an island surrounded by the cold waters of San Francisco Bay, preventing anyone from swimming away.
It is now a tourist attraction where you can check out the island, learn about its extensive history, and tour the prison. The best way to see the island is through a tour from the mainland. I used Alcatraz Cruises and it was easy, fluid, and informative. The island has a very interesting history, including being occupied by 89 Native Americans for a 19-month protest. I would recommend getting a guide for your visit to the island to learn as much as you can about the history of the island.
When you get back to the mainland after your tour you will be right around Fisherman’s Wharf, which is a great place to have some lunch and explore the waterfront for the afternoon. Head towards Pier 39 to get to the heart of the Wharf. There is also a streetcar that runs the length of The Embarcadero, right into the Fisherman’s wharf. This is a cool ride if you don’t feel like walking.
I had heard whisperings of amazing seafood at Boudin Bakery, which is right out on Pier 39. The food was to die for, but it is a little bit on the pricier end as this is the most touristy part of San Francisco’s Waterfront.
If you’re interested in having a tour guide for this part of your day too, you can use SF City Guides for a walking tour of the waterfront.
I spent the afternoon wandering in and out of shops along the waterfront and then grabbed an Uber back to my bed and breakfast to freshen up and relax for a bit. I had a lovely dinner at Reed and Greenough, which had a trendy vibe with great cocktails and a unique menu. Would definitely recommend it.
Day 2: Golden Gate Bridge, Golden Gate Park, and Lands End
I have been to the bridge a handful of times and it is still one of my favorite things to see. It’s just so impressively proud and red! Last time I biked across, but this time I just viewed it from the Round House Cafe. I Ubered there and sipped some coffee and enjoyed a light breakfast. After taking in the view of the bridge and the San Francisco Bay in the morning sun, I made my way to Golden Gate Park. If you need some tips on how to snag some pretty epic photos on the bridge, check out my other post on how to take aesthetic photos.
Golden Gate Park is a destination in and of itself. It is comparable to New York’s Central Park — an oasis in a concrete jungle. The park is over 3 miles long and about a mile wide. It is full of paths, benches, and grassy knolls for relaxing with your dog or friends. It’s been busy every time I have visited, and for good reason; it’s beautiful.
I grabbed some lunch at Beach Chalet, which was fabulous! A little on the pricier side because of the amazing view, but you’ll see I don’t like to skimp on restaurants! I’ll always go for experience here. After lunch, I headed to a spot called “Land’s End” that has some great, easy hiking along the bluff. There is a paved path that turns into a dirt trail that has some amazing views of the San Francisco Bay and bridge.
Also at Land’s End, you can check out Sutro Baths which is an old saltwater swimming pool that was destroyed in a fire — you can still see the remains of the bath. You can also head down the path to Mile Beach which gives you a view of the beautiful rocky coastline. Check out The Labyrinth on the path on the way down. You’ll have to peruse around a bit, but you’ll find it!
This was such a good outdoor day! Taking in the sun and salty air all day had me feeling fulfilled and ready for a cocktail at my bed and breakfast. I made my way back home and had a relaxing evening after a long day of walking.
Day 3: Alamo Square, Union Square, Coit Tower, and North Beach
Today was reserved for exploring the city so I woke up early and headed directly to Union Square and had an amazing breakfast at Tarallucci e Vino. There’s lots of shopping and restaurants in the area and it’s great for sightseeing. I wandered around for about an hour shopping and admiring the trendy restaurants.
From Union Square, I headed to Chinatown via San Fran’s famous cable cars. The Chinatown in San Francisco is one of the oldest in the country and is packed with sights! The food is amazing and made right in front of you in most cases. There are ornate temples, souvenir shops, karaoke bars, butchers, and tons of restaurants featuring classic Chinese food. There is a population of 100,000 in San Fran’s Chinatown so you can imagine it has a culture of its own.
You have to visit Chinatown and you must do it by cable car! These cars give you the real feel of old SF. Next up, Coit Tower! Coit Tower is an iconic part of the San Francisco skyline. It was built in 1933 to add beauty, and it does just that. You can go to the top of Coit Tower for a nominal fee and get 360-degree views of the city. I highly recommend this to get some perspective on the city.
Finally, I topped the day off at Alamo Square. Alamo Square is in a residential neighborhood overlooking downtown San Francisco and you can hang in the park for a view of the Painted Ladies. The Painted Ladies are Victorian row houses that were painted in different colors in the ’60s. They are an infamous sight in San Francisco and I do think they are worth seeing in person. It was a very chill way to end the day.
As I said, I have been to San Francisco many times, but I always love to explore new spots and revisit the classics. On this trip I missed Lombard Street and North Beach, but if you have more time add those destinations to your list! San Francisco is worth 3 days at least, but you could easily pick one of these day itineraries and have an awesome day trip if you find yourself there for a shorter amount of time!