How to Plan the Perfect Weekend in San Francisco

San Francisco is one of a kind city with so much to do you need to have a plan to get it all in on a weekend visit. We just got back from our third weekend trip to the city in recent years and we want to show you how to have the perfect weekend in San Francisco.


How to get around San Francisco

Uber/Lyft: Many locals use Uber daily and there are tons of drivers. No matter where you are in the city you won’t wait for more than a few minutes for a ride. The rates are also very affordable with most rides within the city under $10.

Hop on Hop Off Buses: While we don’t always recommend using these types of buses because they can be kind of a tourist trap, but in San Francisco, they can be a good way to get around and not a bad way to see the city. They are a particularly good option if you want to go across the bridge because a round trip Uber ride will be more than $40 because of the distance and tolls on the bridge. Also, if you buy one of the larger packages it also comes will a boat tour of the bay which is a nice way to spend an afternoon.

Cable Cars: These cars aren’t just for show, they are still a functional part of the city’s transportation system (and they make for a fun ride and photo opp too). A single ride will set you back $7 or a multi-day pass is $39. You can buy passes at ticket kiosks and several local stores like Walgreens.

From the SFO airport into the city: Transportation to the city from the San Francisco airport is easy to arrange. An Uber will cost you between $40-$60 depending on where in the city you are going and how much luggage you have and car class. Note Ubers are not allowed to pick up people from the arrivals level, you must head one floor up to the departure area at Door 11 to be picked up (this is subject to change, it’s best to check the app before ordering your uber ride).


View from Marshall's beach at sunrise with golden gate bridge - Best San Francisco Itinerary

The Perfect San Francisco Weekend Getaway Itinerary

Follow this simple itinerary step by step or mix it up to fit your travel style. This is a pretty busy trip plan that will have you on your feet and on the move most of the day. So, if you like to take things a little slower just skip the things that aren’t as appealing and you’ll still have lots to see and do in San Francisco! Here is our perfect 3 day weekend in San Francisco!


Day 1 in San Francisco – Sample of San Fran

On the first day, we are going to hit the ground running and see some of the cities best things to do and show how diverse San Francisco is. To make the most of the day use Ubers or purchase a hop on hop off bus ticket for today’s adventures because these sites are too far for most to walk between.

Couple walking past the painted ladies in San Francisco - Historic Homes - San Francisco Itinerary

Visit the Painted Ladies

Start your trip to San Francisco with a visit to some of the cities most famous residents, the Painted Ladies. Mornings are your best chance to have these beauties all to yourself. Later in the day, the park can get busy will people coming to admire them and live out their Full House inner fan dreams. Besides being historical landmarks, these houses we also the theoretical house where the TV family of Full House lived. The homes were featured during the intro scene which also adds to their popularity.

If you miss it in the morning, the afternoon light is actually great to photograph the Painted Ladies. The sun will light up the front of the houses in the afternoon and if you plan your shot just right you can get the cityscape in the background.

Next Stop: China Town Take an Uber from Alamo Square to Dragon’s Gate (Bush & Grant Ave. – About $10)

Girl in San Francisco Chinatown

Chinatown

San Franciso is home to the largest Chinatown outside of Asia and it’s also North America’s oldest Chinatown. Here you’ll find bustling markets filled with exotic ingredients and lots of unique shopping. Red lanterns hang above many of the streets letting you know exactly what part of the city you are in as well as make for some great photo opportunities. Don’t miss the beautifully decorated Dragon’s Gate at the entrance of Chinatown at Bush St. and Grant Avenue.

Chickens in the window of a Chinese Restaurant in San Francisco Chinatown

Lunch in China Town

For those that enjoy Asian cooking should not miss the main tasty restaurants to grab a bite to eat. A few local favorites are House of Nanking and Z & Y Restaurant.

Fortune Cookie Factory Chinatown San Francisco

Fortune Cookie Factory

After lunch head to the Fortune Cookie factory for a little dessert and to see how they are made. Here you can also hand write fortunes and have them sealed into a fortune cookie to bring home as gifts. It’s a fun little stop but it can get quite busy and the shop is small. If you want to avoid the crowds try visiting earlier in the morning.

Next Stop: Helicopter Tour – Pick up Point at the Fairmont San Francisco in Nob Hill, walkable from Chinatown (1o minutes) or a short Uber ride.

couple standing in front of a helicopter in San Francisco

San Francisco Helicopter Tour

There is really no better way to see the city than aboard a helicopter. Get unparalleled views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the city’s most iconic skyscrapers. The tour brings you along the beaches on the west side of the city before taking you to right over the Golden Gate Bridge! When the weather conditions are good your pilot might even fly under the bridge, we had a great day for flying and we took the surreal flight under the bridge.

From the bridge, we made our way around Alcatraz and then pointed toward Coit tower, passing the city skyline. Next, we traced the Bay bridge past Treasure Island before looping back toward the city. For a finale, our pilot took us right over the city’s most impressive buildings like the TransAmerica Pyramid and the new Salesforce Tower.

View from a helicopter tour of San Francisco - Downtown San Fran - Must do things in San Francisco

Flights take off from the private section of the SFO Airport in South San Francisco, about a 30-minute ride from the city – plan on the door to door time to take about 2 hours. There are several pickups and drop off points around the city, save time and Uber costs by being dropped off closer to your next destination!

Next Stop: Nob Hill to Battery Spencer will cost you around $40 round trip in an Uber or this would be a great time to use your hop on hop off bus pass if you have one. This ride alone would justify the price for one person’s pass. Alternatively, you could have the helicopter tour drop you off somewhere closer to the Hop on hop off bus route or close to the bridge to save time and money.

couple standing at Battery Spencer at sunset with views of the Golden Gate Bridge

Sunset at Battery Spencer

If you have any energy left after the adrenaline rush of the helicopter ride head across the bridge to Battery Spencer for one of the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge.

This was our favorite view of the Golden Gate Bridge and a great place for sunset (sunrise is also great here too). On a clear day, you’ll have views of the city skyline in the background behind the bridge. While the sun sets in front of the bridge from here, you still get nice colors in the sky most nights and this way the bridge is lit up by the sun giving you great photos of the beautiful red bridge.

couple having tiki drinks at the Tonga Room in San Francisco during a weekend

Dinner and Drinks at the Tonga Room

After a busy day exploring San Francisco, unwind at one of the most fun bars in the city. The Tonga Room is a full on Tiki Bar experience located inside the Fairmont San Francisco. If you visit on the weekends you find a band playing classic island vibe songs aboard a floating stage/boat in the middle of the centerpiece of the restaurant, a pool inspired by the tropics. They spared no expense in creating an elaborate environment to help transport you to a small island in the South Pacific. Surrounding the pool are palm-thatched huts and other immersive elements to complete the vibe – it even rains while the band takes a break!

The details don’t stop at there, the menu is full of Asian and Pacific Island fusion dishes and of course a full line up of giant Tiki drinks to share.


Where to stay on a weekend in San Francisco

Like most big cities, the area and the hotel you choose can have a big impact on your trip. We loved our last stay at the Fairmont San Francisco and the Nob Hill Neighboorhood. It was the perfect base to explore the city in style and luxury.

 

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The Fairmont San Francisco

We called the Fairmont San Francisco home for our long weekend getaway trip. Located in Nob Hill this property was a great location and full of history. This hotel was actually the first Fairmont property and it opened shortly after the 1906 earthquake. In its early years, it hosted many important people and was the place of some historical events. In modern days it’s a peaceful retreat in a central location with easy access to many of the cities top attractions.

Couple walking into the Fairmont San Francisco - Weekend Getaway

We stayed in the Tower on the 23rd floor with stunning views of the new Sales Force Tower and city skyline. Every morning we had great sunrises right from the bed watching the pinkish golden orb emerge from behind the city’s skyline. The views at night were great too and the hotel has some great restaurant options right on site so we didn’t have to go too far after busy weekend days exploring San Francisco!

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The Seeker Project

The whole reason we ended up in San Francisco was because of the Seeker Project. We were scientifically matched to the city. Using AI and your biometric responses to travel stimulations, Le Club AccorHotels developed a quiz to figure out your perfect next trip! Take the quiz now and see if you match with San Francisco, or where your next trip should be. Leave your results in the comments!


Day 2 in San Francisco – The Classic Sights

couple eating breakfast in bed at the Fairmont San Francisco

Sleep in and get Breakfast in Bed

After traveling to San Francisco and having a fun night out at the Tonga Room, spend part of the morning in bed. Order some room service and enjoy some relaxation time together. Mimosas are always a good idea on a weekend getaway!

– or – if you are more of a morning person grab a cup of coffee and some bakery at Caffe Centro on the way out the door of the Fairmont on your way to explore the city.

 

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California & Powell Street Car Hill

Just steps from Caffe Centro & the Fairmont is one of the cities most sought after Instagram spots. From the corner of California & Powell, you get the perfect view of a dramatic hill with cable cars making the long accent with the Bay Bridge perfectly placed between the tall building of downtown.

how to get around San Francisco on a weekend visit - Woman on a cable car

Ride a Cable Car

Have you really been to San Francisco if you don’t ride a cable car? Catch a single ride just to say you’ve done it, or grab a multiday pass and take a ride into the past while making your way around this one of a kind city. The cable cars are a fun way to see the city and save your glutes from the dauntingly steep hills.

Lombard Street Aerial View

Take a Ride Down Lombard Street

The Guinness World Record holding Lombard Street is famous for its 8 hairpin turns as it meanders its way down one of the many hills in San Francisco. The road makes its 8 turns in just one city block earning the title of World’s Crookedest Street. Many people line up for blocks to make the voyage down the windy road.

Powell & Hyde Cable Car Turn Around

A lesser known spot to get a great photo of the famous cables cars is at the intersection of Hyde & Beach street. Here you’ll find a few cable cars out of service taking a break and the perfect spot for some posed photos with the cable cars.

Ghirardelli Square

The once large-scale chocolate factory has been repurposed a few times since opening in 1893. It had a short stint as a macaroni factory and was almost lost to apartment development. However today the square has been transformed into a top-notch dining and shopping complex making a great place to put on your San Francisco itinerary. It also hosts the 53 room 5-star Fairmont Heritage Place hotel as well – and of course, you can still get plenty of Ghirardelli chocolates here too.

Baked Bear Ice Cream Sandwich San Francisco

Afternoon Snack: In case you didn’t get enough sugar while tasting chocolates at the Ghirardelli Square make a stop at a unique food truck serving up made to order ice cream sandwiches at the Baked Bear. Pick between fresh baked cookies to stuff full of ice cream and toppings. It’s a fun little pick me up while exploring the North Beach Neighboorhood and Wharf.

Fisherman's Wharf San Francisco Sign

Fisherman’s Wharf & Pier 39

If this is your first time to the city you kinda need to go and see what all the hype is about. This old pier turned tourist attraction now holds restaurants, shops, and even a carousel. Even with all of its tourist kitsch, it’s still worth a visit, especially with kids. Don’t miss the backside of the pier for great views of Alcatraz and a colony on sea lions who have taken up residence on the nearby docks.

Sunset at the Pier

A great spot to catch the sunset is right on Pier 39. Head to the end of the pier and stare off toward the Golden Gate Bridge as the sun melts into the horizon. The sun sets behind the big red bridge and usually lights up the skies with vibrant colors.

Dinner at the Pier or the Wharf

Restaurant options are nearly endless in this part of the city if you don’t want to stray too far from the dock you can usually find something to suit all tastes here.


Day 3 in San Francisco – San Francisco Classics

View from Marshall's beach at sunrise with golden gate bridge - Best San Francisco Itinerary

Sunrise at Marshall Beach

One of our favorite views of the Golden Gate Bridge is from Marshall’s Beach in the Presidio on the city side of the bridge. This spot comes with a little work. From the parking lot there is a half mile hike down to the beach and a short walk in the sand. However, when you get there you’re rewarded with a very uncrowded beach with stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge. This could also be a nice place for sunset also if you aren’t a morning person!

Couple looking at the Golden Gate Bridge

Find the famous trees overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge

While visiting Marshall’s Beach make sure to take a minute to pay a visit to another famous Instagram Photo Spot. A short walk from the parking area there are two perfectly placed trees that frame the Golden Gate Bridge and make for another great photo. This one again gets quite busy during the day, but if you visit early in the morning you might just have it for your private photo shoot!

Walk across the Golden Gate Bridge View

Walk the Bridge

Another must do thing in San Francisco is to take a walk on the Golden Gate Bridge. Yes, you can actually walk across the entire bridge. It’s not recommended for people who are afraid of heights, the bridge is surprisingly bouncy and a lot higher above the water than it looks. However, if you don’t mind the heights you’ll get nice views of the city and see up close how this bridge was made giving a better appreciation of how large it actually is.

Coit Tower San Francisco from a Helicopter

Take in the View from the top of Coit Tower

Make the journey up the steps of this Art Deco style tower for stunning views of the city and the bay. Set high on Telegraph hill this icon of the city is said to be shaped like a fire hose and dedicated to the volunteer firemen who died in the city’s five major fires. Whether you are standing at the top of simply admiring the tower from afar, it’s a beautiful part of the city.

Sunset Boat Cruise San Francisco with Golden Gate Bridge in the background

Boat tour of the Bay

A trip to San Francisco wouldn’t be complete without hopping on a boat for a tour of the bay. This body of water has always been a big part of the city to truly appreciate it, a boat ride is almost required.

Most tours set sail from Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf and they make their way around Alcatraz and under the Golden Gate Bridge before returning to the pier. It’s definitely a must do on your first trip to San Francisco.

Coit Tower San Francisco from a Helicopter

Take in the History of Alcatraz

The infamous home to some of the most dangerous and notorious criminals of the 20th century. It once housed the likes of Al Capone and “Machine-Gun” Kelly and around 1,500 prisoners in total. Located about a mile and a half from shore, in the center of the bay, it was thought to be impossible to escape from. Now you can take a tour of the prison nicknamed “The Rock”.

John’s Grill for Dinner

If you have time in your weekend plans for one more dinner try to get a table at John’s Grill. This is an old-school steakhouse kinda place. They aren’t making establishments like this anymore – with a glowing old-time neon sign out front, traditional service, and nice cuts of steak – the way they should be.


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