What should I do over 5 days in San Francisco?

5 days in San Francisco — a giant treat for mind, body, and spirit! To help you get the best out of the city and to take the stress out of your trip, we have put together our ideal 5-day itinerary. The days can be switched around if needed for reasons of weather or opening hours.

Want a more personalized itinerary? Got more or less time? Get in touch with us at Inc Adventures; we’d love to design you the perfect tailored San Francisco break.

Day 1: Find your feet (or wheels!) in San Francisco

Start by getting your bearings in the city. Leave your car behind and choose your ideal method of transportation: bike, segway, GoCar, or bus. These speedy ways around the city will give you a fantastic morning of exploration, help you decide how you want to spend the afternoon, and pick your favorite place for dinner.

For carefully tailored city tours, check out our San Francisco Segway Tour, San Francisco bike tours, GoCar San Francisco, and the San Francisco Hop-on Hop-off bus. Choosing a guided tour will give you a fantastic introduction to the city’s history and culture, as well as showing you hidden spots other tourists don’t get to see.

Or, if you prefer to stay on foot, we recommend starting off with a coffee at the Ferry Building Marketplace, and grabbing some fruit at the farmer’s market if it happens to be a Saturday. Continue up the Embarcadero (waterfront) until you hit Pier 39.

Look out to sea for a sight of the basking California sea lions and harbor seals. Continue to explore Fisherman’s Wharf and Ghiradelli Square, then choose feet or cable car to reach the top of Lombard Street. Navigating Lombard Street is a top San Francisco challenge!

Enjoy the views from Telegraph Hill, and then head to North Beach. Explore the bakeries and fortune cookie factory in the oldest Chinatown in the US, and maybe grab some lunch before finishing your tour in the iconic Union Square.

After this whistle-stop tour, take some downtime to people-watch and relax with the locals. Take a coffee down to the peaceful lagoon near the Palace of Fine Arts, grab an ice cream to chill in Dolores Park, or check out the incredible graffiti in the Mission District.

If retail is your therapy, check out the artisan boutiques around Union Square, browse the city’s many bookstores, or make a beeline for the famous Macy’s. 

Having experienced so much of the city in a day, you’ll be the expert dinner decision-maker. From the San Franciscan clam chowder to authentic sashimi in Japan Town, we know it’s hard to choose. But never fear, it’s only your first night!

Day 2: San Francisco’s Museums

Having got a taste of the city, we recommend spending your second day in San Francisco’s renowned museums for a dose of the history, art, and science that have made the city what it is.

The de Young Museum hosts a rich diversity of American and international art, including painting, sculpture, photography, and textiles. Before you visit, check out San Francisco’s de Young beginners guide, so you can enjoy familiarity with the work before experiencing it.

Another favorite option is San Francisco’s Exploratorium; the genuinely fun science museum located on Pier 15. Enjoy interactive experiences and hands-on creative activities. If you are traveling without children, check out the program of “After Dark” events.

The California Academy of Sciences is an entire day trip in itself. It houses the Steinhart Aquarium, where you can experience aquatic ecosystems from coral reefs to rainforests, the Morrison Planetarium, and the Kimball Natural History Museum.

Day 3: Muir Woods, Sausalito, the Aquarium, and Alcatraz

Today is a big day for exploring outside the city, and one way to really fit in the best of San Francisco’s surrounding attractions is to join our carefully planned and very diverse San Francisco tour to all the above locations.

Take some deep breaths in the ancient redwoods of Muir Woods, only 30 minutes from downtown. Enjoy a short tour of the lovely seaside town of Sausalito, and experience the Golden Gate Bridge from the water on a ferry ride back into the city. 

Next, check out what may have been swimming around your boat at the Aquarium of the Bay, including 8-foot sharks, rays, and jellyfish. Our tour ends with the must-see of Alcatraz — the site of a former maximum security prison that closed in 1963.

Learn about perilous escape attempts, absorb shocking historical insights, and understand the ecological importance of the island. On returning to the city, take in your day over an Irish coffee for a true SF wind-down.

Day 4: Day trips from San Francisco

Today is the day for exploring further afield and, depending on your interests, we recommend either Silicon Valley, Yosemite National Park, or a coastal drive to Monterey.

On our Silicon Valley Tour, find out the secrets behind technology’s most famous giants, learning the origin stories of Apple, Google, Instagram, and IBM. Get a sense of what it’s like to work at the Googleplex and live in the high and mighty neighborhood of Palo Alto.

For a natural rather than technological spectacle, it has to be the Yosemite National Park Day Tour. The park will take your breath away, from the tempestuous waterfalls to the rugged mountains. Look out for the giant sequoias — some of the oldest trees on the planet.

Alternatively, follow in the steps of John Steinbeck on the coastal tour down to Monterey and Carmel by the Sea. Enjoy stunning Pacific Ocean views, streets of galleries, walks along the beach, and a plate of fresh fish tacos to top the day off.

Day 5: Chill out in San Francisco neighborhoods

Your first couple of days in the city are likely to have given you a good sense of your favorite spots to return to on your final day. Leave the tourist guides behind today and enjoy the vibrancy of the city without any agenda or rush.

Neighborhoods you may not yet have explored include Haight-Ashbury, for vintage shops, bookstores, and alternative fashion. Enjoy some people-watching at Buena Vista Park, or check out a workshop at the Red Victorian Bed & Breakfast.

Alongside its street art and galleries, the Mission District is also home to the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts. Enjoy the exhibitions, but why not also take an Aztec or Afro-Peruvian dance class, or try your hand at screen printing or life drawing?

If the weather is in your favor, another lovely way to spend your final day is by wandering Golden Gate Park’s lakes, meadows, and gardens. Don’t miss the beautiful Japanese Tea Garden or the free concerts at the open-air Spekrels Temple of Music. 

On finishing this, we feel sad on your behalf that the five days are up, but we hope that this blog has given you a taste of the joys and curiosities of our city. Get in touch with us for more ideas, tailored advice, or alternative itineraries; we are looking forward to hearing from you!