Put on your walking shoes and explore one of the greatest cities in the world. From the Gold Rush to the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco is rich with historical landmarks, Pacific views, great food and colorful people.
With houses that defy the rules of gravity – built on steep hills, Pacific Ocean views, a beautiful bay, colorful neighborhoods, a notorious former prison, Gold Rush history, and one ‘golden bridge’ – San Francisco is a destination on every traveler’s mind. We had the privilege of visiting San Francisco during August when the days are long and the summer fog meets the California sun.
America’s closest version of a European city, San Francisco’s appeal is not only in the beautiful panoramic views it offers from the hills dotting the city but also from the diversity that lies within its strikingly different neighborhoods. In a matter of a few city blocks, one can visit Chinatown, Little Italy, the hipster Mission, and so on. We also used our holiday in San Francisco to explore the beautiful coastline and head out on one of the ultimate road trips, California Highway 1.
So, as the famous tune goes “if you’re going to San Francisco”… be sure to read through this 5 days in San Francisco travel guide and plan your memorable holiday.
What’s Included in this 5 Days in San Francisco Itinerary?
- Essential San Francisco travel tips & itinerary map [This Page]
- Day 1: Union Square, Chinatown, North Beach & Telegraph Hill [Skip To Page]
- Day 2: Civic Center, the Painted Ladies & The Mission District [Skip To Page]
- Day 3: Farmer’s Market, Embarcadero, Alcatraz & Fisherman’s Wharf [Skip To Page]
- Day 4: Cable Car Ride, Lombard St, Bike Tour, Golden Gate Bridge, Baker Beach, Golden Gate Park & Sausalito [Skip To Page]
- Day 5: Muir Woods, Stinson Beach & Point Reyes [Skip To Page]
Looking for a Quick Read?
San Francisco Travel Tips:
- Pack this with you! Get the Pocket Rough Guide to San Francisco. It’s got loads of photos, restaurant listings and will be your best friend in SFO along with this guide of course.
- Browse through this collection of online tickets to San Francisco’s various sites, tours, and experiences. Tickets are immediately issued and delivered by email, and in certain cases, you can also enter via a ‘special queue’ (a.k.a skip the line). San Francisco is packed with tourists, so this can come in handy in certain situations.
- San Francisco is famous for its microclimates and the summer fog. We can get into the scientific explanation but instead, check out this link. Basically, summer mornings are foggy and chilly, then in the late morning / early afternoon the sun usually comes out, and around early evening, the fog rolls back in along with some wind. Therefore, always dress in layers and be prepared for some chilly weather at times, even in the summer. But do be sure to pack those sunglasses. Fear not the terrible weather as the fog does usually clear as mentioned above and traveling just a few miles out of San Francisco, the temperatures can be a lot higher and the sun quite strong.
- San Francisco is best enjoyed by foot. It is not your typical US city. So be sure to pack comfortable shoes and be prepared to walk up a few hills – it’s the best way to see the city (though there are plenty of options if you are not able to walk extensively).
- Speaking of the hills – if distances look short on a map, they could involve negotiating some steep (but beautiful) hills so take that into account.
- The city is served by two public transportation companies: BART and Muni. The BART is essentially a subway system that serves the entire bay area whereas Muni serves the city (streetcars, buses, cable cars). On the BART, your fare depends on the destination while on Muni, the adult fare is $2.25 per ride and that includes a free transfer valid for 90 minutes on other Muni lines aside from cable cars. A Clipper Card is worth it if you’ll be doing a lot of traveling and can be used on both Muni and BART as well as on ferries and the Caltrain. Above ground, you’ll need to have exact change (no change is given on buses, streetcars, etc.).
- Cable cars are synonymous with San Francisco. The popular line is Powell & Hyde which runs from Market Street to Fisherman’s Wharf and offers the best views (fare is $6 per ride). More tips on riding the cable cars later on.
- If you’re hopefully planning to drive across the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, keep in mind that it’s tolled on the southbound leg, heading back into town. A one-way fare is $7 per car and must be paid online. If you have a rental car and fail to pay the toll on time, an invoice will be sent to the rental company and it will add a service fee to the toll so be sure to go online and pay ahead of time for the duration of your rental period by license plate number.
- San Francisco is one of the most expensive cities in the US. Book early to find good deals. Tipping is also part of the local custom. In restaurant- add 15-20% (to the pre-tax value), in bars – $1 per drink, valet parking – $2 minimum, hotel porters – $1 per bag and in taxis – 10%
- As the tech capital of America, you’ll find plenty of wi-fi spots across the city. However, if you don’t like surprises, T-Mobile offers a $3 per day package that includes unlimited talk and text (The US only of course) and most importantly, 200Mb of data per day. In any case, download an offline Google Map of San Francisco and use your GPS to get around.
- Renting a car in San Francisco? Rates are competitive but most locations close at 5 or 6 pm without the option of just dropping off the keys (aside from airport locations). Take that into account when renting and at the very worst, pay for an extra day so you are not in a hurry to get back.
Where to stay?
If you’re after a hotel, a great choice is the Villa Florence Hotel. It’s comfortably situated smack in the middle of Union Square, close to shops, restaurants and the famed cable car. If you’re looking to stay closer to Fisherman’s Wharf, the Holiday Inn Fisherman’s Wharf is quite a bargain. Rates are competitive, continental breakfast is included in the price and you’re super close to the beach. I’ve stayed at both places and feel very comfortable recommending them to you.
Here’s a list of all available San Francisco accommodations that you can book online
Our 5 Days in San Francisco Route:
Click on the map to open in Google Maps