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The 3-Day “Best of San Francisco Tour”

Wide-angle photo of the ferry buliding with the bay bridge visible across the water.
The San Francisco Ferry Building Marketplace. Photo © Sean Davis, licensed Creative Commons Attribution No-Derivatives.

Map of San Francisco, California
San Francisco
San Francisco may only be roughly seven miles long and seven miles wide, but it packs in historic neighborhoods, one of the West Coast’s most iconic landmarks, and dozens of stomach-dropping inclines within its small area. Exploring all its hills and valleys takes some planning.

Day 1

Start your day at the Ferry Building. Graze from the many vendors, including Blue Bottle Café, Cowgirl Creamery, and Acme Bread Company.

After touring the gourmet shops, catch the Muni F line (Steuart St. and Market St., $2) to Jefferson Street and take a stroll along Fisherman’s Wharf. Be sure to stop into the Musée Mécanique to play a few coin-operated antique arcade games. Near Pier 39, buy tickets for the ferry to Alcatraz or opt for a ride to Angel Island at Pier 41. Alcatraz will fill your mind with amazing stories from the legendary island prison, while hiking around Angel Island will clear your mind and offer up scenic views of the Bay.

After you escape from Alcatraz or return from Angel Island, make your way back to the foot of Beach and Hyde Streets and board the Powell-Hyde cable car ($6). Watch for gorgeous Bay views as the cable car crests Russian Hill around Filbert Street. Hop off at Sutter Street and walk three blocks east past Union Square to lunch at Café Claude, a classic French brasserie. After lunch, windowshop around Union Square, meandering down to the Powell Street Muni station at Market Street.

Take the N Judah line ($2) to 9th Avenue and Irving Street, then follow 9th Avenue north into Golden Gate Park. The fabulous de Young Museum is directly across from the California Academy of Sciences. Art lovers and science geeks can part ways here — or squeeze in a trip to enjoy both!

Leave Golden Gate Park by walking east along John F. Kennedy Drive to the Haight, the hippie enclave made famous in the 1960s. Enjoy the finely crafted cocktails and nibbles at Alembic. Or catch a cab to the Tadich Grill, where the tasty cocktails and extensive seafood menu will be a perfect ending to your day. Consider starting the night with a martini at the swank Top of the Mark, with its view of the SF skyline.

Day 2

Head to North Beach for brunch at Mama’s on Washington Square, whose specialty “m’omelettes” have made this joint a local favorite for decades. Then explore the neighborhood. Be sure to stop in City Lights, the legendary Beat Generation bookstore, and then head across the street to check out the The Beat Museum. Then further your tour of Beat haunts with a cappuccino at Caffé Trieste or a cocktail at Vesuvio. You might also want to climb to the top of Coit Tower to catch a great view of the city skyline — look west to find crooked Lombard Street.

Drive or take a cab to the Mission district for the afternoon. If you’re hungry, enjoy an authentic Mission burrito at Papalote Mexican Grill. For something sweeter, try Tartine Bakery or Bi-Rite Creamery & Bakeshop. History buffs will want to visit 18th-century Mission Dolores. Or check out the quirky Mission stores 826 Valencia and its neighbor Paxton Gate.

Then head out to see some live music at one of San Francisco’s great music venues like The Fillmore, the Great American Music Hall, or Yoshi’s.

Day 3

Start your day with dim sum at Great Eastern before exploring Chinatown. If you’d rather get an early start, try breakfast at Dottie’s True Blue Café.

Then head north out of the city to experience some of the Bay Area’s impressive outdoors. Travel on U.S. 101 over the Golden Gate Bridge to explore Marin, including Muir Woods, Mount Tamalpais, and Muir Beach. Stay the night at the English countryside inspired Pelican Inn (or the luxurious Cavallo Point Lodge).

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