3 Days in San Francisco For First Timers

3 Days in San Francisco For First Timers
| 4 min read

Spending three days in San Francisco, California will allow you to experience the uniqueness of the Bay Area and will leave you wanting to see more in future trips. With breathtaking views of the Pacific, a temperate climate that can be visited year round, as well as culture that spans from wonderful to wacky, San Francisco is a unique American gem. With the spirit of the 1960’s “Summer of Love” still lingering, as well as a thriving food and art scene, and influences from the Far East, San Francisco is not to be missed. Here is a three day itinerary to hit the Bay Area for the first time.

Day 1: Market Street, Union Square, Chinatown, North Beach, Coit Tower, and Fisherman’s Wharf

San Francisco's Iconic Chinatown Should Not Be Missed!

A great place to start is Market Street, which runs on a diagonal throughout the northeast of the city, and leads to most major attractions in downtown San Francisco. This street is literally the main thoroughfare in SF and can be followed from the Castro to the Waterfront. Here you can shop at the Westfield Mall, grab a coffee at a cafe, and of course, do some San Francisco people watching! From Market Street one can catch a classic San Francisco streetcar, a more conventional bus, or simply use their feet.

Turning left onto Powell from Market Street, climb the hill past the true tourist street car (San Francisco Municipal Railway) to Union Square just on the right. Union Square is a large open terrace with palm trees, a visitor’s information booth, and artists who set up each morning to sell their wares. Union Square is a good starting point, but not necessarily where one should end. It serves as a classic tourist attraction with high-end shopping surrounding the square, such as Club Monaco and Coach, but perhaps lacks some of the more interesting aspects of the city.

Not far from Union Square is Chinatown. Whether it is close to Chinese New Year or not, Chinatown is always a festive place, as well as an excellent place to get lunch, such as dim sum—small bite size portions that are fun to share. The tiny Good Mong Kok Bakery is known to have some of the best, although with no seating in the bakery, you’ll have to take your goodies to go. From Chinatown, you can spot the famous high-point of the city, Coit Tower, a 210-foot (64 m) tower in the Telegraph Hill neighborhood. I recommend walking there for some post-lunch exercise, as well as to get a taste for San Francisco architecture. Heavenly sights including the Golden Gate Bridge await the long ascend from the top of Telegraph Hill.

Descending towards Fisherman’s Wharf, pass through San Francisco neighborhoods, complete with hippie VW vans and that West Coast vibe. Fisherman’s Wharf lies below Coit Tower, and though not to be missed, is somewhat of a tourist area. One does feel revived after looking out on the San Francisco Bay, and perhaps eating an ice cream from the original Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory, so it’s not all bad.

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Day 2: Financial District,The Ferry Building at The Embarcadero, a ferry to Sausalito

Alcatraz 2020 01
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Cmichel67 used under CC BY-SA 4.0

To get to ferry for Sausalito, pass through the looming towers of the Financial District, the economic center of San Francisco. Though it’s not the prettiest part of San Francisco, it does give greater appreciation to The Embarcadero or The Ferry Building. The Embarcadero is where ferries depart and arrive, and also where you can get a swanky bite to eat, or hit up the very-famous Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market. The market happens every Saturday morning from 8 am - 2 pm, year round.

Sausalito, just a short ferry ride away, is known as the “American French Riviera.” At the Golden Gate Ferry at Pier 1, you can buy your ticket for 11.75 USD per way for adults, and children and elderly are a mere 5.75 USD per way. Sausalito is a great place to have lunch, buy some art, and dream of living the easy life. The view from the water also provides some stunning shots of The Golden Gate Bridge, Angel Island, Alcatraz, and the city.

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Day 3: The Castro, Haight-Ashbury, Golden Gate Park by bike

Biking Golden Gate Park Is the Best Way to Go!

Golden Gate Park is not to be missed on even the shortest of whirlwind trips to San Francisco. To get there, pass through some other San Francisco institutions: the gay-district of The Castro, and Haight-Ashbury, which was a mecca of hippies during times passed.

In The Castro, rainbow flags fly freely, and one has to feel a twinge of pride (no pun intended) for the home of the first gay mayor of San Francisco, Harvey Milk. Hopping on the 37 bus will take you past Buena Vista Park towards the famous cross-street of Haight-Ashbury. Here are the streets that housed Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin.

On to Golden Gate Park! One of the largest urban parks in the United States, Golden Gate Park blocks off the far northwest corner of the city, leading up to the Pacific Ocean. You can rent bikes from the edge of the park from Parkwide Bikes and bike a long, relaxing downhill towards the Pacific. Be warned, the way back is much harder (and hillier). Stops along the way, such as at the renowned Japanese Tea Garden, will only enhance your experience at this lovely spot.

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Perfect for any season!

It doesn’t matter what season you visit San Francisco, as all these activities are available all year round. Just remember that the bay isn’t always sunny, so pack a rain jacket, and walking shoes! Three days will whet your appetite for the beautiful city of San Francisco and will leave you wanting to return.

Any must-sees we missed? Tell us about them in the comments section or write a post here to help out fellow travelers!
Disclosure: Trip101 selects the listings in our articles independently. Some of the listings in this article contain affiliate links.


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Raised in the woods of Northern Wisconsin, adventure pulses through Samantha's veins. Her most notable trips have been a tandem bicycle ride 1,000 miles to New Orleans, surviving malaria in Kenya,...Read more

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