Last Updated on June 22, 2020 by Amanda Stancati
Take on San Francisco by foot or bike and start exploring its varied neighbourhoods. Whether it’s Union Square or the Financial District, each area has its own claim to fame. Don’t miss out on an iconic cable car ride to get you around; the 17 in service are painted in the original colours from the 1920s and ‘30s. You have 72 hours: Here are the things to see in San Francisco.
The map outlines the route of attractions in blue. Opt for a hotel in the center of it all and get started with Day 1, bringing you to the coast.
Arrive at the San Francisco International Airport and make your way downtown, only a 30 minute drive away. Check into your centrally located hotel or, if you’re renting a car to store your luggage, go straight to your first stop: The Golden Gate Bridge. Stretch your legs after the plane ride and get refreshed with a walking or biking tour. The Pavilion (open daily from 9-6) is an informative stop with exhibits and stories about the history and engineering of the bridge. Both ends of the bridge touch Golden Gate Park where you can hike the trails and admire the flowers.
Make your way to the waterfront community of Fisherman’s Wharf for lunch. Fisherman’s Wharf is a shopping, dining and entertainment hub great for families, featuring an array of attractions including an aquarium, experimental arts and science museum, National Liberty Ship Memorial, Ripley’s Believe It or Not, Madame Tussauds, San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park, and more. Grab a delicious seafood dish from an outdoor stand or gourmet restaurant and take an afternoon bike or boat tour. Two blocks east of Fisherman’s Wharf is Pier 39, offering amazing views of sea lions and mouth-watering chowder and California wines. Take in views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, Angel Island, and the famous skyline.
From Fisherman’s Wharf, take a ferry to Alcatraz Island (there are many excursions available, but book in advance). Take a guided tour to discover the rich history of the federal penitentiary and explore the natural side of the island’s bird colonies, gardens, and beautiful views.
Today, visit the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art* (SFMOMA) to view contemporary works by both established and young artists for a couple of hours. Then, head over to Chinatown, one of the city’s top tourist attractions, the oldest Chinatown in North America and the largest outside of Asia. There are great restaurants, churches, herbal shops, markets, and bustling streets to be explored. Known as the heart of Chinatown, Portsmouth Square is the gathering spot marked by historical statues and locals hanging out playing Chinese chess or practicing Tai Chi. Satisfy your curiosity at the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Company, the factory that has been making them since 1962. You may also want to visit the Chinese Cultural Center, showcasing the street art and avant-garde photography of immigrants.
*The museum is currently closed for renovations, but there are temporary exhibitions around the Bay Area and beyond.
Later, head to North Beach, the Little Italy of San Francisco. Have your afternoon or evening cappuccino or espresso and explore the galleries and boutiques. Don’t forget to visit the Coit Tower atop Telegraph Hill for its breathtaking views and floor murals painted by 30 local artists in 1933. Choose from many restaurants for dinner and enjoy a night filled with live music and dancing. Remember to save room for gelato before you head back to your hotel.
Today is the day for exploring bold neighbourhoods. Go back to the Summer of Love with a visit to the famed Haight Ashbury, one of the stops that tops most lists of things to see in San Francisco. Remnants of the counter-culture live on, with vintage clothing stores, smoke shops, and book and record collections easy to find, but new commercial centers like high-end boutiques, restaurants, and internet cafes have also settled in. The area is often visited for its colourful Victorian homes, architectural highlights, and the University of California. Opt to stay in this neighbourhood for its nightlife scene, or make your way to the Mission District or The Castro for their bars.
The Castro is a historic neighbourhood with a thriving gay and lesbian community. While it’s bustling all day long with people walking past gift shops (including many adults shops) and cafes, the vibrant streets at night are even more of a sight, as the Castro Theatre’s neon lights shine bright and nightlife is booming. Visit for Halloween or the last Sunday in June for San Francisco Pride for one hell of a party. The Castro is a fairly safe neighbourhood, even after hours.
Once home to mostly Latin American families, the Mission District has a distinct Latin flair and is one of San Francisco’s oldest neighbourhoods. Now gentrified and home to the city’s hipsters, the Mission is known for its cafes, thrift shops, produce markets, and public art. Spend time under the sun at Dolores Park with a bottle of wine, hunt for the area’s brightest murals, indulge in the best Mexican cuisine, and settle down at one of the casual bars for the night.
After your 72 hours in San Francisco, you can finally go home and cherish your sunny Cali memories — and start planning your next getaway, this time, to LA.
Want to visit San Francisco for yourself? Call 1-800-665-4981 to chat with a travel expert and book your flights and hotel (without extra fees!).