Most of the tourists that visit California either visit Los Angeles or San Francisco. This itinerary is for anyone travelling to San Francisco or Bay Area or Silicon Valley for just 3-4 days and want to travel without hassle at relaxed pace.
I took a 8 days off last month in April to visit Mexico. There was no way i could ask for another major leave in May. So i just took Friday and Monday off and utilized 2 weekends for 4 day trip to California. Also it was a good opportunity to spend some time with my family back in California. This trip was easy as i did not plan anything. By brother and sister-in-law , who are locals , planned everything to make best out of the days i had. I am sharing this 3 day itinerary with you all because i had such fun and adventurous experience in such a short amount of time.
You can switch the places listed on different days based on weather and other preferences you have. For example, you don’t want to go to San Francisco or Yosemite when it’s windy or rainy. However, rainy or gloomy day is fine for wine county, Napa. Another example, if you had a drunk night a day before and end up waking up at 12 noon , it will be too late for Yosemite as its almost 3 hours away from San Francisco (SF). For Yosemite, you must leave home early morning , reach before noon and do some hike under the sun.
I have listed all important links from Yosemite entrance fee to Wine county trail , from parking details to guided tours, at bottom of this page. Check it out and let me know in comments if you find it useful to plan you trip. Check out my instagram page highlights under “US West Coast” for all the videos of places described below. You know what they say “Picture Speaks Louder Than Words”.
Day 1: San Francisco
Assuming you are planning to travel on same day you arrive and staying near San Francisco, this might be the best option.
Estimated Time : If you plan to cover all spots below, its within 1 hour drive. However, even if all these spots are close to each other, you will end up spending 30 minutes to 1 hour in each spot. So around 4 to 6 hours at relaxed pace.
Car: If you are driving , first let’s start with parking. The most convenient place to park is near Pier 39, so that you can cover most of the attractions below by walking. There is a parking right across the street from the Entrance. For more options and parking fee click here .
Muni Metro’s Bus and Light Trail or Cable Car: If you are not driving , take a full day Cable Car or Muni pass that will stop at most of the popular spots below. For more details on schedule, mobile app and fee , read through this site .
Walking followed by Uber/Lyft back to parking or your train back home: If you hate following public transport schedules like me, walking is the best option. We parked at Pier 39 and walked across Fisher man’s Wharf which is just 4-5 minutes part. Then walked for 30 minutes along this beautiful city to reach Chinatown. We then took uber back to Pier 39 to get our car. Since it’s less miles, we paid just 10$. We had my brothers toddler in a stroller and walking was still feasible and fun.
Booking tours with agencies
Pro tip: If you have problem climbing uphill or going downhill , walking to Chinatown from Pier 39 / 33 or Fisherman wharf may not be on your comfort zone and you will have to explore other options mentioned above.
Visiting PIER 39 is the most popular activity in San Fransico mostly for its stunning views of San Francisco Bay including the Golden Gate Bridge, Bay Bridge and Alcatraz Jail, as well as the world famous sea lions.
My favorite thing whenever I visit Pier 39 is watching Sea Lions soaking under the sun out in PIER’s West Marina. They produce all this weird but amazing sound, jump around in the water and if you are lucky you may even see them catching a fish.
Right when you enter Pier 39, you will get that California vibe with tons of performances from Street Performers and Musicians at smartwater Stage! Performance include magicians, tricksters, jugglers, comedians , dancers , painters , etc. Check out this daily schedule of performance here.
Another must try activity if you have time is ferry ride. Most people take it to watch sunset by the Golden Gate bridge. But its fun at anytime of the day. Cruises are usually it 1 hour long and it sails past the sea lions at PIER 39, then underneath the supreme Golden Gate Bridge and around mysterious Alcatraz Island . Blue & Gold Fleet offer fully narrated cruises in different language . For more details on reservation click here.
Fisherman’s Wharf starts around Pier 33 where boats to Alcatraz leave and continues all the way west to the famous Ghirardelli Square. So Pier 39 is part of Fisherman’s Wharf.
Other touristy thing to try is eating a Clam Chowder . Clam Chowder is a soup containing clams, diced potatoes, salt pork, and onions and served in Sourdough Bread Bowl. You can eat the entire bread the soup is served in. Eating Clam Chowder is super touristy but totally worth the hype. There are tons of restaurants at fisherman wharf to explore sea food . But there are only handful of restaurants specifically famous for Clam chowders like Boudin Sourdough Bakery & Cafe where we tried this soup.
You can take a cable car from Pier 33 to Chinatown or Lombard street.
You will find Chinatown in many cities around the world. But chinatown in San Fransciso is one of the oldest and most established outside Asian continent. Visiting chinatown is must for anyone who like to explore local food , art , culture , hustling and bustling of lively city.
From Michelin star restaurants to street food, there is something for everyone with any budget.
If you are coming from Fisherman’s Wharf or Union Square , take Powell-Hyde or Powell Mason Cable car line and get off at Bush & Jackson, walk downhill for block and head towards Stockton Street. We did not take cable car but just walked 25 minutes from Fisherman’s Wharf enjoying the city views and its aesthetic neighborhood.
Lombard street is famous for its steep altitude with snake like extreme turns. For best experience travel inside a car instead of walking. Make sure you drive really slow and enjoy beautiful houses and gardens outside . It just for few blocks and will be over in 2 minutes or less. If you want to take pictures, there is free street parking right after you finish driving along the curves. If you can’t find a spot , just wait for someone to pull out as people hardly take 5 to 10 minutes.
Golden Gate Bridge Vista Point:
After Lombard street, continue driving towards Golden Gate Bridge Vista Point. Its 14 minutes drive by car and there is plenty of free parking at the site. It is one of the best location for photo of Golden gate bridge along with city’s skyline.
If you have time and want to have a closer look at the bridge, walk onto the east sidewalk directly from parking lot, or access the west sidewalk via the passageway under the Bridge.
Pro Tip: It can get very loud inside the passageway under the Bridge due to vehicles. If you have sensitive ears you may want to cover it with earplugs.
Sausalito looks like a scene out of a movie. Sausalito with its hillside waterfront victorian houses and yachts gives you a vibe of small costal town in Spain or Italy.
Stroll in a broad-walk and enjoy the breeze from the ocean. There are plenty of coastal cafes and restaurants offering endless food options to choose from. You can also take a ferry from SF Pier 41. For tickets , you can book in advance online or infront of vending machine in Golden Gate Ferry Building. A one-way fare is about $12.50 for adult and ferry is free for children below 5 years of age.
Other Popular Activities:
- For adults , Cannabis smoking in legal stores right at heart of San Francisco.
- For families with kids, Ghirardelli Square Chocolate factory , Aquarium of the Bay, San Francisco Carousel with 1,800 twinkling LED lights and 30+ animals to ride.
- Afternoon hike to Eagle’s Point trailhead and end the day with a relaxing view of the sunset from Lands End.
- Food from street Vendors
- Hop on Hop Off bus
- Alcatraz with Muir Woods and-Sausalito-Tour
Day 2: Yosemite National Park Village:
Estimated Time : It take around 4 hours to reach the park from SF on car , plus you will end up spending at-least 3 hours exploring the park by hiking, taking photos/ videos, and another 4 hours to head back home. Also add 1 more hour on traffic and food / bathroom / vehicle fuel break. All this adds up to 12 to 14 hours.
1 day is really not enough for Yosemite but you can still enjoy every hour you spend here. I am planning to come here next year and spend at-least 5 days exploring , hiking , camping, swimming , fishing and cycling. If you love ski , Yosemite is winter wonderland.
Pro Tip: Make sure you book any activity in Yosemite, at-least 6 months to a year in advance.
If you reach Yosemite early morning , you can do a 6 mile hike to top of waterfalls. If you reach around noon and have kids ,pets or elderly along with you, the Lower Falls is best option. You can park across the street , walk for 5 minutes and reach this beautiful natural wonder easily.
Best thing about Yosemite is the journey . While you are driving towards Yosemite, you will see amazing winding roads , cattle grazing in green grasslands, hills covered with beautiful little house and wild flowers. After Yosemite entrance, the road is even more beautiful, with huge rocky mountains and dozens of waterfalls. When you step out of your vehicle and looks around, you will feel as if you are in another planet. The beauty of nature you see in Yosemite can’t be described in words or YouTube Videos or insta post. You have to be there to feel this magic.
Day 3: Napa / Sonoma Wine County
Estimated Time: Napa is 1 hour 30 minutes drive from San Francisco. Depending upon how many wineries you visit along with slow drive around scenic trail, you can estimate around 6-8 hours
If you are ready for a mini road trip adventure then pack some snacks, grab a drink , grab a cooler and hop in your car . You have not visited Napa unless you have explored the scenic roads of Napa County. Enjoy small hills covered with endless vineyards and castle-like historic wineries even without getting out from the car.
Our first stop was , the famous Napa sign called “Welcome to World Famous Wine Growing Region – Napa Valley”. Then we headed towards one of the 400 wineries called Castello di Amorosa.
Wineries here in Napa are not some industrial size building, but they are small family owned, historic castles. Castello di Amorosa with its 13th century Tuscan architecture is a castle like winery. Its huge and features almost 90 rooms which are devoted to winemaking and wine storage. A number of guided tours and tastings are available with fees staring from $40. For more details click here. This is why it is one of the top 3 wineries in Napa.
Other Popular Activities:
Driving 47 mile scenic wine trail
Napa Train Ride
PRO TIP: Advance reservations are required if you want to wine taste, specially on weekends. Make sure to call ahead if you plan to taste at popular wineries.
Day 4: Sunset From Berkley Hills
Estimated Time: Berkely Hills is 25 minutes from San Francisco. You can estimate less than 3 hours for this activity.
After travelling back to back for 3 days, you can use 1 day to just relax , maybe grab some good brunch or dinner and just enjoy a sunset. Berkely Hills have several vista points for sunset. The one we checked out was Grizzly peak with steep 2000 feet of vertical height gain. The winding road takes you up into the heights of San Francisco offering spectacular view of city.
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