Cool things to do for 4 days in San Francisco

San Francisco has a little ‘funk’ about it.  With so much to see and do here’s our guide to explore spend 4 fun days in San Francisco.

San Francisco is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the United States.  Known for its amazing landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, Fisherman’s Wharf, Cable Cars, Sausalito and Coit Tower.

With so much to see and do in San Francisco we tried to explore most of the city’s top highlights in the 4 days we visited San Francisco.

My favourite things in San Francisco

  • The Golden Gate Bridge
  • Pier 39’s Sea Lions
  • The Cable Cars

We arrived late in the day so checked into our hotel before heading out for a walk around Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39 to familiarise ourselves and find somewhere nice for dinner.

Day 1 – Golden Gate Bridge, Haight Ashbury & Chinatown

The Hop on-Hop off bus is a great way of getting your bearings when visiting a new city.  Our plans were to visit the Golden Gate Bridge, Haight Ashbury and Chinatown and everything else would be a bonus.

The Golden Gate Bridge

the Golden Gate Bridge

For us the Golden Gate Bridge was a ‘wow’ moment despite the foggy and drizzling rain.  It is an impressive sight!  It was a foggy morning when we visited with the bridge peeking out for some amazing photos whilst we were there.

A photogenic and picturesque landmark known the world over! 1.2 miles across, the bridge was considered unbuildable because of the foggy weather, 60 mile per hour winds and strong ocean currents and is a credit to the engineer who designed it.

Haight Ashbury

Legs in Haight Ashbury Streets

We stumbled on this ‘down to earth’ part of the city.  Locally known as the ‘Hippie’ area, Haight Ashbury community is recognised for it’s creativity and diversity. For me it was a flashback to my earlier days with 70’s style painted buildings, organic food in the grocery shops, tie-dyed clothing with vintage and retro shops everywhere!

There were great little speakeasy bars with music pumping out the open doorways, cool coffee shops and trendy boutiques everywhere.  Haight Ashbury is a great place to stop in and enjoy.

The interesting thing for us was the constant aroma of marijuana drifting by as people walked past (also reminded us of days gone by!).  We later learned that California has legalised ‘medicinal’ marijuana.

Chinatown

Chinatown San Francisco

San Francisco is not complete without visiting Chinatown.  Walking through Chinatown, we came across traditional herb pharmacies, temples and a number of traditional Chinese restaurants.  The famous fortune cookie factory is a destination on a number of the walking tours through this part of San Francisco.

Day 2: The Sea Lions at Pier 39, Alcatraz and San Francisco’s Cable Cars

Sea Lions

The Sea Lions

An early morning visit to Pier 39 gave us a spectacular vantage point for these amazing Sea Lions before they settled in to sleep away the day.  We were surprised to learn that after the big earthquake hit San Francisco in October 1989, a number of sea lions took up residence at Pier 39.

Famous for their intelligence, playfulness and noisy barking the Sea Lions put on a show for the people standing on the deck taking photos.  Click here for more information on these fascinating sea lions.

Alcatraz

Alcatraz

The trip to Alcatraz took about 3 hours including a short ferry ride from Pier 33.   The tour included a briefing, video presentation and then a steep climb to the main prison area for the self-paced audio tour.

The audio tour accompanied visitors as they walked through the prison providing a historical overview.  The audio tour was informative, with vivid descriptions of the conditions for prisoners during the years Alcatraz was open and included a number of anecdotes about the inmates.

It was interesting to note that some of the buildings were in disrepair and that much restoration work is currently being undertaken.  Take a step back in time and be sure to do the Alcatraz tour.

Take a Cable Car into the City

Cable cars

Mostly a tourist attraction today, the historic cable cars were introduced in 1873 as a link to the public transport system in hilly San Francisco until the earthquake and fires in the early 1900’s destroyed most of the cable car system.

A few lines were rebuilt after the earthquakes and are now designated National Landmarks.  They are an extraordinary experience – be sure to include this in your trip to San Fran!

Our cable car driver was obviously full of Christmas cheer and clearly loved his job. Much to the enjoyment of his passengers he rapped out “Jingle Bells” with the bell while his offsider provided a rap accompaniment over the microphone!  Loved it!

Day 4:  Napa Valley & Sonoma wine tour

Sonoma and the Napa Valley Day Tour

Napa Valley

A great day with Tower Tours taking us out to the Sonoma and the Napa Valley, north west of San Francisco.  It was a great tour experience with our ‘Tour Director’ Willie Robertson’s knowledge and local expertise of the area.

Madonna Winery was the first stop.  This family run winery was our favourite of the day.  Good tasting skills shared and a nice friendly group in the outlet.

Sutter Homes Winery provided a rose to taste followed by a number of other selections.  This winery had an extensive gift range complete with locally made sauces and mustards which were delicious.

Sabastiani Vinyards put forward a great selection to taste from one of the oldest wineries in America.  The guide shared many antidotes about the hand-carved wood barrels and the community support given to the Sebastiani family during the years of prohibition and depression era.

La Casa - Sonoma

Heading to the airport?

Want a tip to make the most of your last hour in San Francisco?  We asked our Uber driver to take us to the airport via Lombard Street.

Located in the Russian Hill area and known as “the most crooked street in the world”, Lombard Street has 8 sharp turns on a 40 degree slope.  Pedestrian pathways are on either side for those who wish to walk it.

Driving down Lombard Street is an experience to add to your bucket list!  The speed limit is 5 mph.  So go slowly, slowly!

Lombard Street

Where to eat and drink in San Francisco

San Francisco restaurants

When heading to a new city it seems to be all about food.  Where to eat?  What to try? Where the locals eat?   Enhance your travel experience by stopping into the local bars and cafe’s.

My favourite tip: Grab a hot pretzel with your morning coffee!

Breakfasts are easy.  Often your hotel has a cafe but we discovered the iHop Diners for something typically American (or so I think) and a great stack of pancakes.

My favourite was the hot pretzels that could be found from a number of outlets.

Cioppinos

Cioppino

This Italian style restaurant on Fishermans Wharf had magnificent views over the bay and specialises in seafood stew featuring the Dungeoness crab.  Cioppino’s is simply divine!

Jacks Cannery Restaurant & Bar

We stumbled into Jacks Cannery down near Fishermans Wharf (sadly, it’s now closed).  We were greeted as we came in the door by a guitarist and spent an hour or so out of the cold with a bowl of delicious clam chowder.  Friendly staff and a welcoming attitude are the most important memories we take home from every travel experience.

Boudins Bakery & Bistro

Oyster shucker

Freshly shucked oysters upstairs at Boudins Oyster bar with a couple of cocktails, followed by an exceptional meal at the Bistro.  Our steamed Dungeoness Crab Linguine was cooked to perfection.

Boudins Bakery is famous for it’s amazing sourdough.  The Original San Francisco Sourdough™, today sourdough is baked fresh every day using the same mother dough cultivated from a gold miner’s sourdough starter.

Bubba Gump Bar & Grill

You simply can’t go to the States without trying a Bubba Gump’s bar and Grill!  A great casual dining restaurant with a very country atmosphere.  A great place to try their famous ribs, chowder & gumbo before heading down to Louisiana for the real thing!

Rouge et Blanc

An awesome little wine bar we stumbled into after a cold day shopping and settled into a selection of pate, fresh breads and cheeses complimented with a selection of fine Spanish and French wines.  Clearly a popular spot with locals, this wine bar soon got busy after dark.

This cafe turns into a popular breakfast stop in the mornings with excellent coffee and pastries.

Chinatown’s Cafes & Restaurants

As we wandered through Chinatown, a stretch limo pulled up at one of the traditional style cafe style cafe’s so we decided to follow them in.  The cafe was not especially posh (plastic table covers were the clue) but it was obviously a family run enterprise and clearly very a popular eating house for locals.  All I can say was that the ‘yum cha’ was superb!

La Casa

Recommended to us by our tour director ‘Willie Robinson’ on a wine tour of the Sonoma valley.  Go there for the amazing fajita’s and even more awesome Margarita’s.  La Casa was quite possibly one of the best Mexican restaurants that we’ve eaten at in many years.  The fajitas are superb!

Peoples Cafe

If you are in San Francisco, going to Haight Ashbury is a must. There are so many cool shops and quaint cafe’s and bistro’s you can spend the day there with no problem.

We stumbled upon the Peoples Cafe after getting off the Hop on, Hop off bus in search of an afternoon coffee.  Perfect!   Be sure to stop in for a cuppa!

Best time to visit San Francisco

We visited in early December, when the weather was starting to chill down and it rained (of course).  Even so, the weather was milder than we expected.  Almost everywhere was heated and, coming from an Australian winter we loved the cooler time of year.

Popular Travel Times

  • June through August are busy for travellers so flights and hotels may be expensive.
  • March – April or around September are a good time to travel.
  • December despite the time when it rains most, is full of Christmas festivities, carollers and people out and about with the Christmas Spirit.

Tip: Carry a light jacket at all times, regardless of when you travel. It does get chilly (cold) in the evenings and night.

5 Essential Items to prepare for your trip to San Francisco

  1. A Good Camera: There will be plenty of great photo moments around San Francisco so bring along a good camera.  I highly recommend the Sony A6000.  It’s light, compact and takes amazing photos!
  2. Comfy Waterproof Walking Boots:  Get yourself a pair of good walking boots.  These have been great for day-to-day wear and cope with short hikes.  I love my Teva boots.
  3. A San Francisco Guidebook:  There is nothing like Lonely Planet Guidebooks so get yourself a copy of their San Francisco Guide to take you to all the best spots to visit.
  4. A Stainless Steel Water Bottle:  Stay hydrated.  Get yourself a Yeti stainless water bottle and refill as you go.  Make sure you have plenty of drinkable water with you!
  5. Waterproof Womens’ Rainjacket:  You will need a waterproof and packable Raincoat to carry with you for any unpredictable weather.  In my opinion you can’t go past this Zegolo Raincoat for lightweight active outdoor wear.  Keep dry!

Where to stay

Hotel Zephyr

We stayed at the Hotel Zephyr on Beach Road, San Francisco.  A funky boutique hotel with a modern decor and some very trendy decor.  Great staff, friendly service and cosy rooms.

Alternatively, check out availability at other hotels with the Booking.com link below.
Booking.com

How to get to San Francisco

San Francisco is well connected via air and road.  All airlines travel to San Francisco so check your favourite carrier for one that is the most direct.

We travelled into Los Angeles on VirginBlue connecting with American Airlines to San Francisco.  If you have an opportunity to travel direct into San Francisco, I would recommend it.  After our trip from Australia and a long wait at LA, it seemed as if we spent all day travelling.

  • Get Airport transfer to and from the city
    • Airport Transfers are available and will include airport to hotel transfers.
    • Call an Uber to take you direct to your hotel.

Budget options:

  • Flights: If you are flying to San Francisco, consider the cheaper flights to San Jose. San Jose is located 50 minutes away from the San Francisco Airport and may be a cheaper alternative.
  • Accommodation:  Hostels, hotels and AirBnB accommodation may be slightly cheaper in San Jose as compared to San Francisco.
  • Train:  Use the CalTrain to reach San Francisco from San Jose, Standford, Menlo Park and Mountain View to reach San Francisco and usually only takes 30 – 45 minutes. Check Caltrain fares here

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4 days in San Francisco

Hope you enjoyed our 4 day San Francisco Itinerary.  We loved San Francisco but didn’t have time to do justice to all it had to offer so are already planning our next trip to explore more of this part of the world.

Read more of our epic US trip

Have you been to San Francisco yet?  Perhaps you’d like to share some recommendations for our next trip. Drop me a line and I’ll be sure to follow them up.