72 Hours in San Francisco
So you’ve just arrived in the city by the bay. You’ve picked up your Fox rental car at the San Francisco Airport (SFO) and you’re out on the road. The only problem is that you’re only in town for three days, so you need to pack as much as you can in your 72 hours as possible. What to do?
San Francisco is full of history, so you’ll have no problem finding something to do no matter where you sleep…though you may want to cut some of that short to experience the night life scene. San Francisco has so many restaurant and night club options of all types that you won’t have to go far to find an authentic seafood meal and good entertainment.
For daytime activities, here are some of the things you’ll want to do, grouped by location. Drive one place, park the car and walk. Don’t forget to experience the trolley system at least once!
Alcatraz: the ferry leaves from right next to Pier 39, but book your tickets in advance if possible. Tours do sell out. For an added bit of education and fun, purchase the guided tour headphone package. You can walk at your pace, turning the recording on and off so there’s no rush as you wander. There are so many stories about Alcatraz inmates and employees that you’ll come away with a new appreciation for why it’s called the Rock and is featured in so many movies. Bring a light coat, the breeze on the water can be a bit of a surprise.
Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf, in the San Francisco historic waterfront district: the sea life here has to be seen to be fully appreciated. Sea lions are in abundance, so don’t plan a quiet phone call when standing on the shoreline. They will be audible even on a slow day!
After you’ve taken your pictures, smelled the ocean and witnessed the wildlife at the wharf, board a boat to take a cruise around the bay, and when you’re done, hop onto a big bus for a driving tour around the city that will show you at least 20 of the most amazing sites in San Francisco. You can easily spend a full day between tours and meals, so get up early, wear comfortable shoes and plan to do at least a little of your eating while on the go.
Lombard Street is a popular tourist destination, and it can be reached while on one of the driving tours or a walking tour. It’s also pretty at night, when you’re on your way back to the hotel after a long day, but the view isn’t the same. It’s a lot of steep walking, so keep that in mind.
The Aquarium of the Bay is another must-see attraction. It houses approximately 20,000 animals that rely on the special care that this beautiful marine sanctuary provides. With the acrylic underwater tunnels, you’ll get a view like no other. Package deals can be purchased that include Alcatraz tickets and other venues, so do some research and you’ll likely save some money.
Ghirardelli Square: a shopping center along the bay, the square houses some big name boutiques and shopping. For the chocolate alone, it’s worth at least a couple of hours of your time, and you’ll find the mother lode of souvenirs.
No trip to San Francisco is complete without driving across the Golden Gate Bridge. Even if you have to get a rental car just for that portion of your getaway, you’ll be so glad you took the time! While you’re on the road, upon your return to the city, head over to Golden Gate Park. You’ll recognize it from many movies and television show inclusions and it’s a great place to eat a picnic lunch.
Last but not least, Chinatown is infamous. Take a couple of hours to wander through the neighborhood. Try some unique foods and finish your shopping. If you have any time left, the Japanese Tea Garden, Coit Tower and Presidio are sites that make a top ten for many visitors. While you’ll need to get out of the car to explore the garden, you can see the Presidio and tower sufficiently from the road.
That’s it! If you’re adventurous and plan it, you’ll have gotten a full vacation’s worth of experiences in only 72 hours in San Francisco. For easy viewing on your mobile device, we've even put together a 72 Hours in San Francisco Pinterest board. Check it out here!