How to Have a Perfect Long Weekend in San Francisco

Dive into the soul of the Golden City during a long weekend
Dive into the soul of the Golden City during a long weekend | © Melissa Milis Photography / Stocksy

If you find yourself in San Francisco for the first time with just three days to explore, follow this itinerary to make the most of its street art, park life, history and food.

San Francisco is a city of extremes, contrasts and flux. From the counterculture of the ’60s to the innovative tech hub of today, the City by the Bay has always been rich with real life. Get a taste in just three days, starting in one of the foremost LGBTQ districts in the US, the Castro, and stopping by one of the greatest engineering wonders of the modern world, the iconic Golden Gate Bridge.

Day 1

Morning

Stroll through the Castro

Architectural Landmark
Castro District Rainbow Crosswalk Intersection, San Francisco, California
© Rosangela Lima / Alamy Stock Photo
Dive into the very soul of San Francisco and head to the Castro, quite possibly the most famous LGBTQ neighbourhood in the US. It’s been at the forefront of the LGBTQ-rights movement since the ’60s and ’70s. It’s walkable, so spend the morning spotting all the double entendre store names and rummaging through the thrift stores as you stroll its rainbow flag-lined streets. A great route to follow is the Rainbow Honor Walk with plaques celebrating LGBTQ heroes.

Afternoon

Lunch at Kitchen Story

Restaurant, American, Asian, $$$
For a late brunch, Kitchen Story on 16th Street serves the tastiest bacon in San Francisco. Thick slabs of free-range pork are slow-cooked in sugar, cayenne and black and red pepper, and can be ordered with eggs Benedict, a burger, French toast or simply on its own. Then it’s park time, first at the hidden-away Seward Mini Park with its steep concrete slides (yes they’re great for grown ups), then in Dolores Park for anything-goes fun – expect dancing and games.

Evening

Dance at Toad Hall

Bar, LGBTQ Bar, Cocktails, Beer
Nightlife in the Castro can be wild and goes on late. Kick things off at Eiji, a Japanese restaurant near Dolores Park famed for its homemade tofu, before grabbing a table at the indoor beer garden in Willkommen and ending the night dancing at Toad Hall.

Day 2

Morning

Browse Ferry Plaza Farmers Market

Building, Market
Food stall with fresh vegetables at Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, San Francisco
© Ian Shaw / Alamy Stock Photo
Start the day with a walk around Ferry Plaza Farmers Market on the waterfront at Embarcadero. It’s worth getting up early for – it opens at 8am every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday – and is full of fresh food stalls from local farmers as well as restaurants and artisan stores. Pick up a bite for breakfast, grab a coffee and enjoy the views over the bay or head inside and enjoy local produce at the permanent stalls inside the Ferry Building.

Afternoon

Count the houseboats of Sausalito

Architectural Landmark
View of houseboats in Sausalito near San Francisco, California, USA, America
© Image Professionals GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo
Next up is a ride on the Golden Gate Ferry (from the neighbouring pier) to Sausalito in Marin County, to the north of San Francisco. This 30-minute journey across the bay is a budget-friendly way to see the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz. Sausalito is a leisurely waterfront town with a ton of art galleries, beach walks and houseboats. You might think houseboats aren’t that big a deal, but Sausalito is home to about 500 – if you’re lucky, one or two of them will be open for tours.

Cross the Golden Gate Bridge

Architectural Landmark
Person in front of the Golden Gate Bridge looking towards the San Francisco city skyline at sunset
© Jesse Morrow / Stocksy
The added bonus of visiting Sausalito is that it’s only a 10-minute Uber from Vista Point, at the north of the Golden Gate Bridge, from where the walk back over the crossing to the city is a must. The walk takes about an hour and is worth doing from north to south for the views of the San Francisco skyline.

Kick back on Baker Beach in the Presidio

Park
View of the Golden Gate Bridge from Baker Beach
© Lukas Korynta / Stocksy
On the south side of the Golden Gate Bridge is the Presidio, a former military post that’s been converted into a huge park, covering more than 2sqmi (6sqkm). It’s got viewpoints (Crissy Field is where to go for the best picture of the bridge), 24mi (39km) of trails and even beaches, including sandy Baker Beach and the more rugged Marshall’s Beach.

Evening

Get your five-a-day at Greens

Restaurant, Bar, European, Vegan, Vegetarian, $$$
Round off the day with dinner at a San Francisco institution – Greens, a pioneering vegetarian restaurant that opened way back in 1979. Further along the waterfront by Fort Mason, it also has fabulous views of the bay and the bridge to round the day off nicely.

Day 3

Morning

Wander the trails in Golden Gate Park

Cafe, Coffee
Trees and grass in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco
© Sinibomb Images / Alamy Stock Photo
It’s hard to beat a Sunday morning spent in Golden Gate Park. Larger than NYC’s Central Park, this 3mi-long (5km) urban oasis attracts art lovers, music fans, hikers and bikers – and science enthusiasts love to visit the California Academy of Sciences located here, too. Food options within the park aren’t that great, so pick up a breakfast coffee and waffle from Rise & Grind Coffee and Tea on the north side before heading in.

Get your fine-arts fix at the de Young Museum

Building, Museum, Park
The floor-to-ceiling glass windows of the de Young Museum in San Francisco, with views onto Golden Gate Park
© Hemis / Alamy Stock Photo
One of the first attractions you’ll come across inside the park is the de Young Museum, which, despite its name, is San Francisco’s oldest fine arts institution and houses a diverse collection in a beautiful copper-plated building. Close by is Strawberry Hill, an unexpected island in the middle of a lake with a man-made waterfall, and in the other direction the Conservatory of Flowers, a Victorian-era greenhouse full of exotic plants and flowers.

Afternoon

Soak up the historic hippie vibe in Haight-Ashbury

Building
Market in the Haight-Ashbury District of San Francisco
© Richard Cummins / Alamy Stock Photo
It’s easy to spend all day in Golden Gate Park, but from here you’ll be right next to Haight-Ashbury, the district that was home to 1967’s Summer of Love. The hippies may have moved on but the area maintains a bohemian vibe and its boutiques, cafes and bars are more than enough to explore for a weekend.

Grab the best burrito in town in the Mission District

Architectural Landmark
Mural in the Mission District of San Francisco
© Bob Kreisel / Alamy Stock Photo
If you’ve got time for one more thing, sign up for a street art tour through the Mission District. Just a couple of miles from the Haight, through Castro (jump on a Bay Wheels or Lyft hire bike and do the journey in 15 minutes), the Mission District is the oldest neighbourhood in the city and the centre of the gentrification debate. Vibrant murals and graffiti line the streets, and each piece has a story to tell. Fuel your tour with a Mission burrito – the best are at La Taqueria.

Find out more and start planning your trip now by visiting sftravel.com

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