San Francisco is an awesome city for so many reasons. Not only does the city offer unique opportunities such as riding on cable cars and walking across the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, there are plenty of nearby places you can visit in a day trip. We spent several days in San Francisco during a California road trip and loved every minute of it. Here are some suggestions for all ages if you have 3 days to spend in the San Francisco area.
Day One Highlights: Breakfast at a Local Favorite, Cable Car Rides, Alcatraz Tour
Start the day with breakfast at one of the oldest restaurants in the city, Sears Fine Foods. It’s been around since 1938, and kids will love ordering the 18 Swedish Pancakes. Then head on over to the ferry terminal to visit Alcatraz Island, part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Plan to spend at least half a day, including the ferry ride. All the day tours include the Cellhouse Audio Tour, which is definitely the best way to tour the facility. Kids stay engaged and everyone can move at their own pace. Pick up or download the Junior Ranger activity book as well. As a bonus, the views of San Francisco from the ferry and island are pretty photo worthy. When you return, take a ride on a cable car. This was something that was definitely on my bucket list! Try the California line if you want to experience a really steep hill, plus it is usually less crowded so you have more of a chance of getting an outside seat!
Consider buying a San Francisco CityPASS if you think you are going to visit several of the offered attractions. The pass is valid for 9 days, and includes attractions (see below for list) along with a 7 day cable car and bus pass. Just the cost of public transportation alone can be more expensive than you think. Plus if you are heading down the coast, it's a must to see the Monterey Bay Aquarium. As a bonus, there is a way to substitute for the Alcatraz Island Tour in your pass. If you’re still not sure you want to buy the pass, here are some helpful cost comparisons based on spring 2016 transportation pricing.
Day Two: Golden Gate Bridge, Muir Woods and Point Reyes National Seashore, Dinner at the Wharf
My husband was insistent that we walk across the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, and I have to admit, it was a unique experience. Just remember that one of you has to go back to get the car! There is a pedestrian/bike path that spans both sides of the entire 1.2 miles of the bridge, so if you are feeling adventurous you can ride a bike across the bridge (pedestrians are only allowed on the east sidewalk). The southeast end of the bridge has a Visitor Plaza, with some parking. Be aware that the walkway does get crowded during the summer.
Next stop is Muir Woods. This place is a must see for many reasons, but mainly because you can see giant coastal redwood trees, the tallest things in the world. If you’ve never walked through a forest of giant trees, some which are over 200 feet tall, you won’t understand how cool this really is. Within the park there are 6 miles of trails to explore, starting with an easy one half hour loop trail. Kids can search for a treasure box by downloading the Redwood Discovery: A Quest at Muir Woods. The National Park service also has some helpful Ranger’s Tips for Experiencing Muir Woods.
From Muir Woods, head up the coast to Point Reyes National Seashore. There are several visitor centers scattered throughout Point Reyes, and the views are stunning. We especially loved visiting Drake’s Beach, one of many beaches scattered along the 80 miles of shoreline. You’ll find some good tips for keeping safe on the beach while exploring this beautiful national seashore. Be sure you have plenty of gas before you start!
At the end of the day, head back to the city and Boudin Sourdough Bakery at Fisherman’s Wharf, where you can enjoy a San Francisco classic, clam chowder served in a sourdough bread bowl.
Day Three: Drive Down the Crooked Street, Visit the Fortune Cookie Factory, Spend Time at Golden Gate Park
If you are staying near North Beach, head to Pat’s Cafe for breakfast. Then drive down Lombard Street, winding your way on the most crooked street in the world (although some would argue that Vermont Street is the winner). Stroll around Chinatown and find Ross Alley. Step into Golden Gate Fortune Cookie and watch how fortune cookies are assembled. Spend the afternoon at the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park. With a natural history museum, rainforest, aquarium and planetarium, it’s sure to please everyone. Take time to enjoy the grounds and gardens at the park. Or, rent bikes and head out to explore the Presidio. There are plenty of choices to fill your day.
Hotel Tip: We loved our stay at the Columbus Inn in North Beach. It was the perfect hotel for a family of 5, with large rooms, off-street parking, easy access to bus and cable car routes, and walking distance to the wharf.
What other attractions would you add to the list? Feel free to comment below.
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links; however all opinions expressed here are my own.
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