Fun 4-Day Vacation in San Francisco

San Francisco is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the United States. This is no wonder with all of its unique and iconic landmarks. San Francisco is only 49 square miles, but it is absolutely filled with cultural and culinary diversity.

This city is home to hipsters, techies, immigrants, hippies, and yuppies. There is so much to see and do in this city, from that beautiful red bridge to the cable cars “reaching halfway to the stars” to Alcatraz and Chinatown. 

I don’t live in San Francisco, but I am a northern California native who has had the pleasure of visiting San Francisco on numerous occasions as a local recurrent tourist. As such, I have put together a 4-day fun filled itinerary for anyone wanting a San Francisco vacation. You may try to follow this as precisely as possible or use it as a general skeleton outline to build your own modified itinerary around.

Regardless, if you make an itinerary of your own or try to follow this one, I would definitely check with hours of operation of each proprietorship as they vary widely according to days and seasons. Also, there are many places/events that require advanced reservations. So, it really pays to plan ahead and adjust your schedule accordingly.

Get the Big Bus Tours Hop On Hop Off Ticket

I want to start by saying I am receiving no compensation for any of these recommendations. That being said, I do recommend getting a Big Bus Tours Hop On Hop Off 2 day explore + Alcatraz ticket. The advantage of the Hop on Hop Off bus is you can stop at all of the tourist attractions and stay as long as you want at each location. When you are ready to move on, just go to the Big Bus Tours Hop On Hop Off bus stop and there should be a bus coming by every 15 minutes from 10 AM to 6 PM. This also allows you to avoid the nightmare that is finding and paying outrageous prices for parking in San Francisco. 

Day 1: Stops #5, #11, #12 and #14

Start your day at 9 AM at the Buena Vista at 2765 Hyde Str. for a signature Irish coffee and breakfast. Then, trek right across the street for a photo op at the Cable Car turntable and a Welcome to Fisherman’s Wharf sign. After that, walk down Hyde Str. to Jefferson Str. and make a right for a 4-minute walk to the main Fisherman’s Wharf sign for another photo.

At Jefferson and Mason Str. there is Hop on Hop off stop with Big Bus Tours. Take the red route to Stop #5, Union Square South. From Stop #5 bus stop, it is a 4-minute walk to SFMOMA, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. There are more than 32,000 artworks by numerous artists including Frida Kahlo. And, there is a whole floor dedicated to photography. 

After SFMOMA, head over to Super Duper Burger on Mission Str. for a great burger and fries. Go back to Stop #5 to hop back on the bus to disembark at Stop #11, North Vista Point. Here you may get some great photos of the Golden Gate Bridge or you may not. It is really hit or miss if Karl will roll in and ruin your view (yes, the San Francisco fog has a name and its name is Karl). When you have had your fill of this view, hop back on the bus and get down at Stop #12 to explore the Palace of Fine Arts with its beautiful Greco-Roman architecture.

Board the bus again and next is Stop #14. From this stop it is a 12 minute walk to the cross street of Lombard and Hyde. Here you get a great view of the famous Lombard Str., one of the windiest streets in the world. There is a straight walking path alongside the curvy street for cars if you feel the urge to take a hike down and get some photos from the other end and trek back up.

From the cross street of Lombard and Hyde, take a cable car to Beach Str. (and you can forever say that you rode a cable car in San Francisco). Then you will be right back where you started, across from the Buena Vista restaurant. From there it is a 7-minute walk to Scoma’s Seafood for dinner. Wander through Fisherman’s Wharf and you can call it a day.

Day 2: Alcatraz Tour and Pier 39

Start this day with a hotel breakfast or grab and eat some grub at a convenience or grocery store and then it is time to see Alcatraz. Even though you bought the 2-day explore plus Alcatraz ticket, you must get confirmation of your Alcatraz tour, through the Alcatraz Cruises company only, at least 5 days in advance. When I say at least, I very much mean at least. I advise you to purchase the Big Bus tour hop on hop off tickets and confirm the Alcatraz booking as soon as possible as Alcatraz trips in particular can fill up fast, especially in the summer.

Cruises start at 8:45 AM to 3:50 PM April through early October and 8:40 AM to 1:35 PM late October through March. The weather is unpredictable, so wear layers. Alcatraz is an abandoned federal prison, and the tour is very interesting in terms of its history and infamous inmates.

Once you are done with your Alcatraz trip, make the 6-minute walk to Pier 39 and have lunch at the Fog Harbor Fish House. Then, stroll through Pier 39 with all of its shops and performers. There is also a sea lion viewing area, Hearts in San Francisco photo op and viewing, musical stairs, a carousel, Aquarium of the Bay, and Magowan’s Infinite Mirror Maze.

Your 2-day explore plus Alcatraz ticket includes admission to The Flyer or 7 D Experience, both of which are at Pier 39. The Flyer is northern California’s only flying theater where you can enjoy a film of San Francisco’s landmarks. The 7 D Experience is a thrill ride, full motion seat and giant 3D screen with a laser blaster game. 

Hop on the bus at Pier 39 and head to Stop #2, North Beach/Chinatown. Peruse through historic Chinatown shops and make your way to the Golden Gate Cookie Factory. From there, it is a 9-minute walk to Dragon’s Gate for a photo op and then an 11-minute walk to the Great Eastern Restaurant for a Dim Sum dinner.

Day 3: Golden Gate Park

Although the Big Bus had a stop at Golden Gate Park, I advise you don’t waste your Big Bus ticket on this stop because Golden Gate Park really takes a whole day to explore. It is 3 miles long and 20% bigger than New York’s Central Park. So, however you manage to get to Golden Gate Park, be prepared to stay a long time.

I suggest starting at the Crepevine Restaurant at 624 Irving St. for breakfast. Then it is off to the Botanical Gardens. After this, make your way to the DeYoung Museum with its expansive collection of art. Then go to Park Gyros for lunch. Following that, make your way to the California Academy of Science which is a world renowned institution. It contains the Steinhart aquarium with over 40,000 live animals, the Kimball Natural History Museum, the Morrison Planetarium and the Osher Rainforest.

Afterward, make your way to the Blue Heron Boathouse to rent a paddle boat or row boat to traverse the lake. Plan accordingly because the boats cannot be rented after 4 PM. Then go to enjoy the Japanese Tea Garden. After spending a very full day in Golden Gate Park maybe use an app ride to go to Top of the Mark for a dinner of bites and cocktails. This sky lounge and bar is on the 19th floor and has sweeping views of the city.

Day 4: Museums and Ghiradelli’s Square

This morning head back to Fisherman’s Wharf for breakfast at Boudin Bakery at 100 Jefferson Str. Then take the 1-minute walk for some silly fun at Ripley’s Believe It or Not. They open at 11 AM. You can follow this up with a romp through Madame Tussauds Wax Museum. Then, make the 11-minute walk to Ghiradelli’s Square. Here you may get a light meal in the square followed by dessert or forgo the meal all together and completely indulge at the Ghiradelli Experience Ice Cream Shop.

Then, peruse the shops and take advantage of the photo ops throughout Ghiradelli’s square. There is the mermaid fountain, Ghirardelli sign, and the 19th century brick buildings that used to be factories that produced a variety of products. Next, use an app ride for an 11-minute drive to the Exploratorium. Not quite sure how to describe the Exploratorium. I would say it is a science as art and coolness, hands-on museum. You will observe and be immersed in interactive science fascination at a multitude of exhibits. After the Exploratorium, you can take a 5-minute app drive to Original Joe’s restaurant in Little Italy for a delicious and hearty Italian meal.

And that completes the fun 4-day vacation in San Francisco itinerary. It is a city with a wonderful and interesting history. There is so much to see, do and eat that even locals have trouble experiencing everything. So, use this whole itinerary, part of it or simply use it as inspiration. Just make sure you have lots of fun.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

Is San Francisco a city where you would like to vacation? What things on this itinerary interest you? Have you gone to any of the places on the itinerary? If so, what did you think of these places?

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