San Francisco is one of the most iconic cities to visit in the USA at an only 14-hour direct flight from Sydney or 10-hour flight from Paris. It is located in Northern California and is known for its history, culture and now technology boom. With only more than 800,000 inhabitants, the city is thriving but never too busy.
If you spend one week in San Francisco, you’ll have plenty of time for you to discover the beautiful city by the bay. But be prepared to walk a lot, brave the hills and the weather!
Discover here what itinerary I did for my week in San Francisco in April 2017, the perfect time for spring!
To see all of my photographs from my San Francisco trip, head over here!
Day 1 - CBD discovery
The first day is always tricky because you are either super jet-lagged or not knowing really where to start.
If you get in early, I would recommend that you go for the all-you-need free tour with Wild SF which is everyday at 10 am. It is a great introduction to the city and CBD with some really valuable information on how to get around, the history and why there are so many homeless people in San Francisco (more on that at the end of this blog post).
After that, continue your CBD exploration around Union Square, Chinatown and the streets around.
Because I was staying in Russian Hill, I then spent my afternoon exploring around the hill as well as having a look at the very famous and crookedest street in the world!
Day 2 - Walk by the water to the Golden Gate Bridge
Start from Fort Mason for a very long but nice walk around the Marina up until the Golden Gate Bridge. You’ll go through Crissy Field, few beaches with an amazing view and until the bridge. You can also do this by hiring a bike, very easy!
Walking on the bridge is a must-do. Many people stop in the middle but I would recommend that you go as far as possible to get the whole experience and it will be a lot less crowded the further you go. Also, you’ll have another amazing viewpoint at the end of the bridge: Vista Point. The perfect place for photograph opportunities.
So I’m a bit crazy because, after the bridge, I walked all the way to Sausalito. Which is really fun but a bit long. I would totally recommend that you continue the whole way but either by bike or by Uber or Lyft. I would recommend the second option because Sausalito can be quite busy and if you’d like to take the ferry back, the crowds can be huge. Sausalito is super cute and very nice to hang out for a few hours. Definitely take the ferry back for about $11 US dollars with amazing views of the city and Alcatraz!
Since you’ll be arriving at the main ferry terminal, maybe head around for dinner!
Day 3 - Museum and Haight-Ashbury
Oh, rainy rainy day in San Francisco… I got lucky so far but Day 3 was just pouring and super super cold. San Francisco weather can change quickly at all seasons! Therefore my strategy when the weather isn’t helping is to go to the museum! San Francisco has a few museums and because I had time to do only one on that day, it was hard to choose where to go. It also was Easter Sunday so possibly many places were closed.
I finally set my eyes on the California Academy of Sciences for the morning and it was a very very fun visit there. You’ll have many things to look at and do in this museum for at least two to three hours. Don’t miss the planetarium which is fantastic, the aquarium and finally the living roof! Incredible view up there as well.
Since the Academy was in the Golden Gate Park and not far from Haight-Ashbury neighbourhood, I then walked from there to another Wild SF tour - the free love movement. For about an hour and a half to two hours, you’ll discover the fascinating history of the hippie times in San Francisco, all of the major artists and musicians who contributed it and all of this with original songs from the time played by Wilf SF founder, Wes. This is a really nice way to discover Haight-Ashbury because its history is so important. I think the main street isn’t the most interesting part but be sure to wander around the area and look at the beautiful houses.
At an about 20-minute walk from there are the very famous painted ladies next to Alamo Square. I would recommend you take the walk and check those as they are quite interesting and with an amazing view. It’s best on a sunny day but still nice to see anytime.
Day 4 - Alcatraz
Today you can dedicate your day to being near the sea! I booked about a month and a half in advance my Alcatraz tour (very busy so make sure to book far in advance) for that day as well as a short cruise going under the bridge.
The day was very moody and cloudy but quite in the mood to visit Alcatraz. The visit is quite stunning and the included audio tour is surreal. I really enjoyed learning about Alcatraz’s history and what it has become now. The views and gardens from the island are also incredible. Make sure to lock at least a full half of your day as there is so much to see there and you’ll easily spend 3-4 hours on the island.
If you have time during the day, go check Fisherman’s wharf although this is a very very touristy area. I wouldn’t spend too long there but if you do, go at least to Pier 39 and see the sea lions lazily lounging around the wharf or the Musee Mecanique which is quite quirky.
Day 5 - Cable Car & Bike around San Francisco
Don’t leave San Francisco without trying to hop on a cable car at least once! They are super fun and typical although super touristy too. Avoid getting them from the super crowded area like at Powell and Market or the Fisherman’s Wharf. Get them in the middle of the streets and you’ll likely get some space. Stand on the side for the full experience and hang on when the next hill is approaching! It’s a bit pricey (USD$7) but so worth it!
I took the cable car from Russian Hill to Fisherman’s Wharf where I got to finally hire a bike. Another trick here, don’t let people yell at you in the street to get their deals and go biking. Instead install the Groupon app on your phone first and check for any deals. I got an amazing deal of 16 dollars for the whole day of biking instead of what the full price would be (32 dollars in that case.) It’s really not worth paying the full price so check before.
I would recommend for you to bike around the Marina area, discover the stunning Palace of Fine Arts, look at more viewpoints of the golden gate bridge, look at the very luxurious houses of the Presidio heights and Richmond. Then bike up to Ocean Beach with the Sutro baths and the massive beach after. From there you’ll be able to go back to the Golden Gate Park for a fun ride and discover more green places. Finally, go back through the city to drop off your bike.
Allow the full day if you’d like to do many spots and take pictures. But it is really not that hard apart for a few hills. It was definitely one of my best day in San Francisco!
Day 6 - Noe Valley, Mission and Castro
Towards the end of my trip, I was lucky enough to stay with a friend in the super cute Noe Valley neighbourhood. The perfect start point to explore the surrounding neighbourhoods such as The Mission and The Castro.
Noe Valley has quite a dolce vita feeling with all those beautiful houses and shops. I’d really recommend to just walk around and from Church St to the 24th St to look at the houses, the colours and the views. On your way, you’ll also find the stunning Dolores Mission Park. This is a must-see for the view! All the locals enjoy having a break and looking at the beautiful horizon.
The Mission is also very cultural and interesting to explore. Of strong Spanish influence, you can discover amazing murals, shops and places to eat. Finally, the Castro is the gay neighbourhood of San Francisco and a really fun one to discover too. I loved the rainbow colours everywhere and quirky shops. It’s a good place to have a drink at night as well.
Day 7 - Up to you
Like the first day, if this is your last day it can be tricky on knowing what you have time to do. Depending on your timing, I would recommend that you just take the time to do something you really loved, or discover another neighbourhood, a new museum or even take a day trip out of San Francisco.
Here are some thoughts for a day trip out of San Francisco for you:
- Oakland across the Bay Bridge. I’ve heard it is a super cute city which is booming a lot too!
- Berkeley and the university of course.
- Muir Woods up north of the Golden Gate Bridge
- Santa Cruz for the ocean, surf and relaxed vibes
- Silicon Valley if you love tech and want to discover where all the big tech companies are.
Whether solo, as a couple, with friends or in family, San Francisco is an amazing place to discover and explore. It is also quite safe to go around and there are many options for what kind of travelling you like. Enjoy your time in San Francisco and let me know if you have discovered anything amazing!
Other things to know about San Francisco:
- In any season, San Francisco weather can be quite chilly so pack different clothes and layers. As Mark Twain said: “The coldest winter I ever saw was the summer I spent in San Francisco”
- SF being one of the most expensive cities to live in the world, It is quite pricey to travel there. Accommodation and eating out are the highest budget spends there. Make sure to book in advance or look for good deals. San Francisco Airbnbs are pretty good and leave you the option to leave the local life. But if you really are on a budget, hostels are always an option.
- Use Uber or Lyft to get around super easily and cheaply if you use the carpooling option. It was so helpful to get around the city and mostly from San Francisco Airport to the city.
- San Francisco has one of the biggest homeless populations in the USA. Be prepared to see lots of them roaming the streets, especially in the city centre. There are quite inoffensive and will probably ask you for some coins, but politely say “have a good day” or give what you would like to them and it will be all fine. I would just avoid walking the Tenderloin area late at night just in case. During the day, it’s mostly fine but still be careful.
- Book Alcatraz as much in advance as possible! It gets very very busy but you wouldn’t want to miss it.
Don't forget to check all of my pictures here!