7 days in San Francisco

Epic 7 days in San Francisco itinerary by a local (with options for 10 days)

San Francisco or SFO or just “City” as we locals call it, is the most famous and densely populated city in Northern California and a financial and cultural hub. I have lived most of my adult life in San Francisco suburbs and know the city quite well. I have also worked in San Francisco Financial District for a few years.

Even after so many years and visiting SFO countless times, I love going to the city. San Francisco is home to me and has a special place in my heart.

Planning to visit San Francisco? I have the most perfect 7 days in San Francisco itinerary planned for you which covers all the must see and must do things!

There is so much to see and do in San Francisco from the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz island, historic cable cars, Crooked Street, unique neighborhoods and sights. You need at least a week in San Francisco to explore all that it has to offer.

Itinerary for 7 days in San Francisco

This itinerary is for a week in San Francisco. The daily itineraries are created such that the most popular sights are in the initial days. So you can follow this itinerary for 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 days in San Francisco and you will be able to explore the most popular SFO attractions in that order.

The daily places and activities suggestions are grouped by location so that you do not spend too much time in transit and can maximize and truly enjoy your day. Of course, the most popular things are in the first 3 days!

This 7 days in San Francisco itinerary is jam packed and covers a lot, but can be customized as per your vacation style. There is enough here to please the do it all folks and others can just pick one or two each day and take time to take it all in.

I have even listed some more day trips from SFO ideas in the end, if you want to extend your itinerary for a few more days! I think you should!

Day 1 in SFO: Golden Gate Bridge, Sausalito

On Day 1 in our SFO itinerary we will explore the most famous San Francisco landmark – the Golden Gate Bridge and visit the town of Sausalito to the North of the bridge.

Golden Gate Bridge

If you have time to see only one thing in San Francisco, it should be the Golden Gate Bridge! Golden Gate Bridge was at one time the longest and tallest suspension bridge in the world and is still an engineering marvel. It connects the San Francisco Peninsula to Marin County.

Golden Gate Bridge
Golden Gate Bridge

But all that technical facts aside, Golden Gate Bridge is so breathtakingly gorgeous! The red bridge stands out like an icon against the blue ocean and the white sky. I can admire it for hours and still not have my heart’s fill! Its majestic and not to be missed.

Golden Gate view points

There are quite a few vista points to admire the Golden Gate bridge as you need to be a bit away from it to look at the whole panoramic view of the bridge. Some of them are listed below.

Dana Bowers Rest Area and Vista Point – This is the biggest parking lot on the north east end and closest to the Golden Gate Bridge. Even if the parking lot is full, circle a few times or wait and you are likely to find parking. We always do. You can see really clear views of the bridge and you can walk on the bridge from here as well.

Headlands Parking – This is a smaller parking lot, on the other side of the Dana Bowers parking lot, north west area of the bridge.

From Hawk Hill in Marin Headlands – The Hawk Hill offers one of the best panoramic views of the bridge. You can drive up the Conzelman Road, there are a couple of parking lots here and you can park your car along the street as well. There are several vista points on Hawk Hill to admire the Golden Gate bridge.

Battery Spencer – This is a very famous vista point on Conzelman Road with a slightly bigger parking lot then the other higher up vista points. There is a chain link fence here that makes taking photos a bit tricky.

From Sausalito, you can park on Sommerville Road near the Bay Area Discovery museum and see the bridge from below, this is a completely different and breathtaking angle of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Crissy Field – From the southern east part of the bridge, Crissy Field offers some great views of the bridge.

Biking on Golden Gate Bridge

If you enjoy biking or someone in your group does, biking across the Golden Gate Bridge is a very popular thing to do in San Francisco. The bike route starts from Fisherman’s Wharf and goes along the water and across the Golden Gate Bridge to the charming town of Sausalito on the other side of the bridge. Biking across the Golden Gate Bridge takes around 3 hours one way from Fisherman’s wharf to Sausalito.

At Sausalito, take a break and you can either ride back or take a ferry back (recommended) to Fisherman’s Wharf to come back to the starting point. You can take your bike with you on the ferry.

There will be areas along the route where you will be driving on the road in the bike lane with traffic. Locals bring their own bikes to ride across the Golden Gate Bridge but if this is your first time I highly recommend booking a tour for this experience as doing it yourself can be a bit daunting.

Sausalito

In the afternoon visit the town of Sausalito. If you biked across the Golden Gate Bridge, you will arrive in Sausalito at the end of your route. If you are driving, then there is paid public parking at the Sausalito Ferry Building and street parking as well.

Sausalito
Sausalito with the fog rolling in

Sausalito is a charming town to the North of Golden Gate Bridge in the Marin County. It reminds one of a Mediterranean seaside town with the Ocean on one side and hills on the other with homes perched high up on the hills.

You can easily spend couple of more hours here, walking along the marina, shopping at the cute shops that line the main Bridgeway street and eating at one of the many fantastic local restaurants.

Lappert’s icecream is a must try before heading back to the hotel. You can take the Ferry back instead of biking all the way back as the way up the bridge can be quite uphill. It is highly recommended to book return ferry tickets in advance.

Day 2: Fisherman’s Wharf, Lombard Street, Pier 39

On Day 2 of our San Francisco itinerary we will explore the Fisherman’s wharf area, Ghirardelli square landmark, the unique crooked Lombard Street and Pier 39.

Lombard Street

Start you day by visiting the famous crooked street of San Francisco! The Lombard Street is very unique street with 8 hairpin turns and its open for traffic. There are houses on both sides of the street as well!

Lombard Street in SF
Lombard Street with hairpin turns

If you have a rental car and are adventurous, you can drive the one way street by entering from Hyde and Lombard and going down. Otherwise the next best thing is to view it from Leavenworth Street and Lombard Street so that you can see the full street from the lower end.

Morning time is when you might find less tourists and can take better pictures.

Fisherman’s wharf area

From here you can walk to Fisherman’s wharf and explore the northern waterfront. Fisherman’s Wharf is a lively tourist area full of souvenir shops, eateries and tourist activities. Make sure to visit the famous Ghirardelli square and try the delicious Ghirardelli ice-cream.

Ghiradelli Square in SF
Ghirardelli Square in SF

Walk along the Aquatic park and Aquatic Park Pier admiring the views of Ghirardelli square and the San Francisco Bay. If you are into historic ships, visit the Hyde Street Pier.

At Hyde and Jefferson is the Cable Car turnabout. If you want to ride the historic San Francisco Cable Car then this is one of the two boarding areas. The other is at Powell and Hyde near Union Square (more on Union Square later).

Alcatraz Prison Tours

If you are able to book a ferry ticket or tour to the Alcatraz island, then you can do that on Day 2. Alcatraz tour is very popular and booked months in advance, you might have to make room for it on some other day of your trip depending on when you get the tour tickets.

Alcatraz was a maximum security federal prison during the 1900s and it was considered to be impossible to escape. It had the reputation of being the toughest prison and the worst inmates were sent here.

Alcatraz Island

There is a true story about 3 prisoners who escaped Alcatraz but were never found. There is a movie made on this story called ‘Escape from Alcatraz’.

The prison is free to explore, its the ferry ride to the island that gets sold out way in advance. Once you make it to the island there are docents that provide free guided tours of the prison, cell, gardens and other administrative buildings.

Blue and Gold Fleet Cruise

If touring a prison is not your thing, then you can hop on a 1 hour cruise from Pier 39 on the Blue and Gold Fleet and enjoy fantastic views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the San Francisco sky line.

Pier 39

Fisherman's Wharf in SF
Fisherman’s Wharf in SF

In the evening explore the Pier 39 area of Fisherman’s wharf. This is the most touristy pier of San Francisco with tons of tourist attractions, restaurants, carnival rides, street performers, shopping and the world famous sea lions!

From Pier 39, you can see fantastic views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz island. The Sea lions lounging at the K Dock is a sight to see and they have a permanent home at Pier 39.

There are plenty of tourist attractions at Pier 39 like Aquarium of the Bay, 7D experience, Magowan’s Infinite Mirror Maze, Musical Stairs, The Flyer. The Carousel is very popular with younger kids. There are free outdoor stage shows for all to enjoy several times during the day.

Pier 39 in San Francisco
Pier 39 in San Francisco

Pier 39 is home to some world famous restaurants like Fog Harbor Fish House, Boudin Bakery Café and Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.

With two levels of shops, there are several unique shops here like Pearl Factory and Houdini’s Magic Shop.

Day 3: Ferry Building, China town, Union Square

In Day 3 of our 7 days in San Francisco itinerary we will explore the Embarcadero, China town and Union Square areas of San Francisco. This is the financial District of San Francisco with the beautiful views of Bay Bridge in the backdrop.

San Francisco Ferry Building

Start your day by having hearty breakfast at the Ferry Building. The historic Ferry building originally built in 1898 has a grand exterior with the iconic Clock tower, and an amazing restored interior with an arched ceiling that allows a lot of natural light.

The San Francisco ferry building is a terminal for ferries going across the bay to Sausalito, Tiburon and Larkspur. It is also a dining and shopping hub with food stalls from local farmers, bakeries, breweries, etc. Here you can shop for wines, cheeses, breads and baked goods, fresh produce and picnic food items for your day.

Ferry building in San Francisco
Ferry building in San Francisco

Some popular eateries here are the Hog Island Oyster Co., Gott’s Roadside, Blue Bottle coffee, Humphry Slocombe ice cream.

Walk along the long Pier 14 boardwalk south of the Ferry Building for excellent views of San Francisco city skyline and Bay Bridge. At the very end of the boardwalk there are chairs to admire the 360 degree views!

If you are travelling with young kids, the Exploratorium is a great indoor science hands on museum with endless things to nurture creativity and science in young minds.

China town

In the afternoon visit the China Town neighborhood which is one of the oldest and largest Chinatown neighborhoods in the United States. You can easily spend a few hours or an entire day here exploring the shops, eateries and the attractions here.

Most touristy places are along the Grant Ave between Bush Street and Broadway. Stockton Street is popular too and where the locals shop for Chinese groceries and produce.

The Dragon Gate at the intersection of Bush Street and Grand Avenue is a must see here and a great photo op. Sing Chong and Sing Fat historic buildings depict traditional Chinese architecture and are at Grant and California Street.

There are several souvenir shops and restaurants here to explore. Try tea tasting at Vital Tea Leaf which is free, but you might end up buying their delicious tea. Good Mong Kok Bakery on Stockton St is very popular for dim sum and baked goods.

Union Square

In the evening explore the Union Square area of San Francisco. Union Square is the main shopping hub of San Francisco which high end stores and souvenir stores lining the four sides of the iconic Union Square. A lot of luxury hotels are in this area like the Hotel Fairmont Union Square, The Westin St. Francis San Francisco, Beacon Grand, and many more.

Union Square during Holidays
Union Square during Holidays

The iconic Dewey memorial in at the center of Union Square as a tribute to American Hero – Admiral George Dewey. There are shopping hubs here like the block long Macys, The Westfield Center, Croker Galleria and high end stores like Saks Fifth Avenue, Tiffany and Co.

The starting point of the historic Cable Car is at Powell and Market which is a few blocks from Union Square.

Some popular restaurants here are the rooftop Cheesecake factory with amazing views of the Union Square, Barlett Hall which has a sports bar theme.

During the holidays Union Square has an ice skating rink and a magnificent Christmas tree, adding festive cheer to holiday season.

Day 4: Golden Gate Park, Ocean beach, Haight-Asbury neighborhood

On Day 4 in our San Francisco itinerary we will explore the Ocean Beach, Golden Gate park, and Haight-Asbury neighborhood.

Golden Gate Park

Golden Gate Park (not to be confused with Golden Gate Bridge, they are both in separate places!) is on the western side of San Francisco and is huge. It is considered to be much larger (almost 20 times larger) than Central Park of New York. East to West is 3 miles.

At the West of Golden Gate Park is Ocean Beach and at the East is the Ashbury Heights neighborhood. JFK Drive and MLK Drive are the two main streets inside the park.

Walking the entire Golden Gate park loop would be around 7 miles starting and ending at Ocean beach and would take around 5 to 6 hours. An alternative is to just walk one way and then take a taxi / rideshare back to your car.

There are several must see attractions in Golden Gate park and you can spend hours at each of these awesome places. If you only have one day to spend here, pick a few that interest you the most.

California Academy of Sciences is great for all ages and not just for kids with a planetarium, rainforest, and several historical and science exhibits and artifacts. The Japanese tea Garden and Conservatory of flowers are both great for experiencing nature and tranquility. De Young Museum is a must for art lovers.

The Bison Paddock is a great place to see these beloved resident animals of the park. Golden Gate Park also has numerous lakes, waterfalls, and a Dutch windmill.

Ocean beach

Ocean beach is on the Western end of the Golden Gate park and popular among locals. You can start your day here first and then visit Golden Gate Park. Alternatively you can end your day here and watch a spectacular sunset over the Pacific Ocean.

Ocean beach is popular for surfing, walking, kite flying, dog walking and bonfires. There are designated concrete fire pits for bonfires. There are few surf shops here for renting surfing gear. The water here is always cold and currents can be strong, so swimming is not recommended at Ocean beach.

There are several parking lots along the length of the Ocean beach and you can park in the nearby residential streets as well. It can be pretty windy here so keep a jacket. Northern California beaches are not like Southern California, it can be cold here!

Haight-Asbury neighborhood

In the evening (or morning, if you are going to Ocean beach in the evening) spend a couple of hours strolling through the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood which was once the Flower Power and hippie neighborhood in the 1960s. Many shops here still retain this charm of olden days.

Stroll through the vintage shops, record stores, see the famous Haight-Asbury sign, wall murals and the “Legs” statue. You can have dinner here at one of the many restaurants.

Day trips from San Francisco to explore nearby popular places

San Francisco itinerary should not only include the main city but also the popular things nearby, after all the entire region is called San Francisco Bay Area.

After visiting the popular attractions and neighborhoods in SFO, on Day 5, 6 and 7 we will explore the nearby famous and must see places like Angel Island, Muir woods, and drive on the scenic Pacific Coast Highway 1 route.

Day 5: Day trip to Angel Island

On day 5 we will take a day trip to Angel Island State Park. Angel Island was once a Immigration processing station and now designated a California Historical Landmark. Now Angel Island is a popular recreational spot with hiking trails, and biking.

Angel Island is only accessible via ferry from Tiburon or private boats. You can book the ferry tickets online and its highly recommended for weekends. Bikes are allowed on the ferry, bike rentals are also available at the Island. Pack a picnic lunch or you can buy food from the café on the island.

Angel Island in San Francisco
Angel Island in San Francisco

The Perimeter trail along the island is a wide paved road and is 5.5 miles long. You will come across the old immigration buildings while walking on this trail. The trail offers excellent panoramic views of the San Francisco bay, Golden Gate bridge and Alcatraz island.

If you are up for some elevation, then the Sunset trail is around 3 miles with 800 feet elevation gain and takes you to the top of Mt. Livermore. From here you will see excellent panoramic views of the Bay.

The Island has a restaurant, gift shop, restrooms and bike rental facilities. There are also group tram tours of the island in large open air trams, that go along the entire Perimeter. The tour provides good history about the Island for first timers and also stops at a couple of vista points for photo ops.

There is a small beach on the island at the left hand side of the ferry station with very calm waters. The beach is the perfect place to relax after a long hike.

Day 6: Day trip to Muir woods

On day 6 in our San Francisco itinerary we will visit Muir woods and Point Reyes to the north of the Golden Gate Bridge. Mir woods is very popular for hiking trails in the redwood forest.

Muir woods

Muir Woods National Monument is named after the legendry naturalist John Muir and is located in South Marin country and around 30 minutes drive from San Francisco.

You do not need a car to visit Muir woods. You can take the ferry to Sausalito and take the shuttle bus to Muir woods from Sausalito. Parking is very hard to find at Muir woods and you now need a reservation to park there.

Muir woods
Giant Redwood trees in Muir woods

Muir woods is majestic with all the tall redwoods towering above you. The redwoods provide a lot of shade and Muir woods is great for hiking even in the summer months.

Some popular Muir Woods hikes
  • Muir Main Trail (easy) – Also known as Redwood Creek Trail, this is the main intial trail and doable by all age groups. Total trail length is 1.5 miles and is out and back. Inital part of this trail is paved or has a boardwalk.
  • Fern Creek, Lost, and Canopy Trail (moderate) – This is a loop trail and is around 3 miles with some elevation gain of around 600 feet. Its a beautiful hike surrounded by the giant redwoods.
  • Dipsea Trail (difficult) – The Dipsea Trail is around 9 miles long out and back trail that goes to Stinson beach and back. This trail has around 2700 feet elevation gain and is quite strenuous. It is a full day hike. You can also start and end this hike at Stinson beach instead.

Muir woods has a cafe, gift shop, restrooms, and picnic tables. Muir woods is a very popular weekend hiking spot among the locals as well so expect crowds here especially near the café and on the initial paved boardwalk portion of the trail. As you go deep into the trails, the crowds thin out.

Day 7: Drive the CA-1 Pacific Coast Highway from SFO to Big Sur

Several hidden beaches along Pacific Coast Highway

No trip to San Francisco is complete without driving on the scenic Pacific Coast Highway 1 also known as the PCH. The entire drive is cliffs and towns on one side of the road and Pacific Ocean on the other side with breathtaking views at every turn of the road. You will need a rental car for this epic Pacific Coast Highway road trip.

The most scenic part of the Pacific Coast Highway road trip is the drive from San Francisco to Big Sur, which is around 3 miles round trip without any stops. But of course, you will make a lot of stops along the way as its so beautiful! Start as early as possible in the day.

Best stops on the Pacific Coast highway 1 drive

Half Moon Bay beach which is a very popular beach in Northern California. The water is cold here and it can be windy so layers are advisable. Its Northern California, we have beaches that require jackets 🙂 but we will take what we get!

Santa Cruz beach and boardwalk
Santa Cruz beach and boardwalk

Next stop is Santa Cruz Beach and Board walk and if you start early you can stop here for lunch and a stroll along the Board walk. Santa Cruz beach and boardwalk is very popular and you can spend an entire day here. This is a great day trip destination on its own.

Monterey is next, which is a famous seaside city. Monterey is famous for the Monterey Bay Aquarium and its bustling downtown with restaurants and souvenir shops. Monterey beach is very popular with the locals as it is less colder than the San Francisco beaches.

17 mile drive in Pacific Grove is a popular drive along the coast and you have to pay to drive on this part of the road.

Carmel is another seaside town, popular for the Carmel beach and small town feel.

Bixby Bridge vista point is towards the end of this drive near Big Sur and is a very popular bridge on highway 1, you will see this bridge in a lot of hwy 1 pictures. Caste Rock Viewpoint is a great place to get some photos of the Bixby Bridge.

Pfeiffer Big Sur State park is popular for beaches and hiking trails.

If you are doing a Pacific Coast Highway day trip then depending on the time of the day you can return back from any of the stops listed above. Each stop can take up a whole day to explore, so its best to just pick two or three stops to explore. Check bonus day 8 for my recommendation on how to make the most out of the PCH road trip.

Bonus Day 8, 9, 10 days in San Francisco

If you have a few extra days in your itinerary, below are some suggestions for things to do for next 3 days in San Francisco, making it a 10 day San Francisco itinerary.

Day 8: Overnight in Monterey and 17 mile drive

If you have an extra day in your San Francisco itinerary then you can spend more time on CA-1 Pacific Coast Highway road trip which is listed as a day trip in Day 7. There are so many awesome towns and cities along the highway 1 that staying overnight in Monterey will give you more time to explore them.

In the morning, you can spend a couple of hours driving on the 17 mile drive scenic route. It has a lot of cool vista points to explore like the famous Lone Cypress tree.

After that you can do a hike in Pfeiffer Big Sur State park and visit Pfeiffer beach. Finally return back to San Francisco.

Day 9: Day trip to Napa wine country

If you are a wine enthusiast (or not) on your Bonus day 9 in San Francisco visit the world famous Napa Valley. Napa is a wine country and has more than 500 wineries and vineyards. It is very popular and visited by millions of people each year.

Napa valley is beautiful and a must visit if you have an extra day in your itinerary. If you are really only have 7 days and love wine, you can switch this with Angel Island day trip.

There are several famous wineries and vineyards here like Sattui Winery, Castello De Amorosa, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, Domaine Carneros, Trefethen Family vineyards and many more. It is highly recommended to book a wine tour or tasting ahead of time with most wineries.

The small Napa downtown is lively and brimming with restaurants and tourists. You can spend hours here admiring the art galleries and the shops. Eat dinner at a nice restaurant.

Napa valley wine train is a popular attraction here in which you hop onboard a exquisite vintage train for a 36 mile round trip journey stopping at celebrated wineries. You enjoy gourmet meals on board and beautiful country side scenery.

Hot air balloon rides over the Napa valley is another popular thing to do here.

Day 10: Point Reyes National Seashore

On day 10 visit Point Reyes National Seashore. Point Reyes is around 1.5 to 2 hours drive from Muir woods. You will need a rental car to visit Point Reyes Lighthouse.

The last drag of the ride past the town of Inverness on Sir Frances Drake blvd is very scenic with green pastures and open land and lots of cows grazing.

At Inverness look for the Point Reyes Shipwreck near the local market. Further up the road there is a scenic photo op called the Cypress tunnel, which is a canopy of trees on lining the road and is beautiful.

Point Reyes Lighthouse

The main attraction here is the historic Point Reyes lighthouse. The red and white lighthouse looks beautiful against the ocean backdrop. There are 300 steps to go down to the light house so its quite a workout climbing back! Also it is very very windy here with the ocean on all sides! Caps will fly!!

There is a visitor center here at the top of the stairs for souvenirs and snacks. The parking lot is half mile away and there is a restroom there. There is a paved road from the parking lot that leads to the stairs. Then you descend the 300 stairs to reach the lighthouse.

Drakes beach is a popular beach at Point Reyes National Seashore. Its good for nice long walks and finding sand dollars and seals! There is a parking lot here. It is a little protected here from the wind and currents because of the bay, perfect for the beach. It can still be cold though.

Point Reyes Beach South is also popular and stretches for miles. Please note, that this beach is for long walks only, or for sunset views. The currents are quite strong at Point Reyes Beach and its not advisable to enter the water here.

Where to stay in San Francisco

Union Square and Fisherman’s wharf are the best locations to stay in your visit to San Francisco as they have the most hotels ranging from brand name to mid range. Public transport is also abundant in these areas.

Best Hotels In Union Square

Union Square area has the advantage of being accessible by BART which is San Francisco’s metro train system. This will help with easy airport transfers as you can take BART train from San Francisco airport to Powell station which is only few blocks from Union Square.

Luxury hotels in Union Square Area:

  • Palace Hotel San Francisco is a historic heritage hotel close to BART train station and a few blocks from Union Square. The lobby and the pool areas are impressive.
  • The Westin St. Francis is right at Union Square and is also a historic heritage hotel with impressive architecture.
  • Grand Hyatt San Francisco Union Square has excellent views of the Union Square area and part of the Hyatt chain of hotels.

Mid Range Hotels in Union Square Area:

  • San Francisco Marriott Marquis is famous for The View Lounge rooftop bar with great views of the city. Great location of the hotel too.
  • Chancellor Hotel on Union Square has a great central location and a good no frills hotel with friendly service.

Best Hotels in Fisherman’s Wharf

Fisherman’s Wharf has the advantage of being closer to Golden Gate bridge and to the various ferries that go to Sausalito, Alcatraz, Angel’s Island and Tiburon.

Hotel Fairmont Heritage Place is a luxury hotel right on Ghirardelli Square.

San Francisco Marriott Union Square has a great central location and you can walk to all nearby attractions.

Courtyard by Marriott San Francisco Fisherman’s Wharf is a good mid range hotel also at a central location in Fisherman’s Wharf.

In Conclusion: 7 days in San Francisco itinerary

I hope you are able to do most of the places and activities outlined in this itinerary and have the most amazing 7 days in San Francisco!