We have lived in San Francisco for over 6 years and we are still enchanted by this city. There is so much to see and do in less than 49 square miles. Beyond Alcatraz and Pier 39, San Francisco has wonderful art, culture and cuisine. Use this guide to navigate your way though the city and enjoy it like a local!
Disclaimer: The City’s Homeless Population & General Safety
Before we start, it is necessary to address homelessness in the city. Recent data shows that San Francisco has the second highest homeless population in the nation. Combine that with the small size of the city and the result is a staggering number of people on the street. This can be very unsettling for visitors.
Do not take pictures of these people unless they invite you to, (some hold funny signs just for that purpose, but they may ask you for money in return). Others may beg for change but you are not obligated to give anyone anything. We often box up our leftover food from restaurants and give it to people in place of cash, but if you would rather avoid contact altogether, that is okay too. Most importantly, remember that homeless people are citizens of San Francisco. A little compassion goes a long way.
SAFETY TIP: Although there are dangers in any place you visit, San Francisco is a safe city with a lower rate of violent crime than other tourist destinations like Las Vegas or even Orlando. The most prevalent crime here is car break ins, so be sure to take everything with you after you park!
What to Pack
San Francisco has temperate weather, usually ranging between 50 to 60 degrees. The summertime is the foggiest season, but the sun shines through in the afternoon, so it is always best to pack layers that you can add or remove throughout the day.
The warmest months are usually September-October, but the fog still rolls through, so a scarf and jacket are necessary any time of the year.
Unlike New York or LA, San Francisco is a casually dressed city. You won’t be out of place walking around in jeans and a sweatshirt. Want to look like a local? Most women create their outfits around a favorite pair of boots and a scarf, while men can often be found in a simple button up and windbreaker.
Both major airports (OAK and SFO), are located outside of San Francisco proper, to the east and south, respectively. BART, or “Bay Area Rapid Transit” is an easy and inexpensive way to get from the airport into the city center. Follow the signs to the train and purchase a BART ticket at the kiosk.
Where BART ends, Muni begins. Muni is the nickname for our municipal buses. Muni’s “Nextbus” app combined with Google Maps will help you get anywhere you need to go.
Unfortunately, public transportation in the city is in need of some upgrades. Buses require exact change when you board, and BART ticket machines limit debit card transactions to one per day. For this reason, if you plan to use public transit throughout your trip, we recommend purchasing a Clipper Card. The Clipper Card is a hassle free way to use both BART and Muni. The best place to get one is at a local Walgreens Pharmacy. Simply ask the cashier for a Clipper Card and tell them how much money you would like to load onto it. This blue plastic card can also be used on San Francisco’s famous cable cars. No need to buy an expensive ticket from a third-party tour site. The Clipper does it all!
If you would rather avoid public transit all together, you won’t have trouble flagging down a ride-share. Uber and Lyft cars dominate the streets of SF. Feel free to message us for a promotional code to get credit on your first ride!
Or, if you want to feel truly San Franciscan, pack comfortable shoes and explore the city by foot. San Francisco is one of the most walkable cities in the U.S. Just remember there are a ton of hills, so don’t feel bad about going slow or stopping to take in the views.
San Francisco is a very small city, but all of the neighborhoods have unique characteristics. Some notable ones include:
The Castro – a famous LGBTQ community with bustling bars and restaurants
Chinatown – the most densely populated area west of Manhattan, rich with Asian American history
North Beach – Italian-American neighborhood that borders the FiDi (Financial District)
Fisherman’s Wharf – picturesque piers and tourist attractions
Hayes Valley – a trendy area with botique shopping and restaurants
Richmond/Sunset – subrban areas west of the city center with great neighborhood dining and beach access
The Mission – predominately hispanic neighborhood that is becoming inceasingly gentrified
The Haight – edgy, artsy neighorhood, most famous as epicenter of the hippie movement at Haight-Ashbury
The Marina – upscale neighborhood with trendy shops and plenty of places for a boozy brunch
Nob Hill – historically expensive area with swanky hotels and private clubs
SoMA – “South of Market Area” home to tech start ups and new high rises
The Tenderloin – named after the expensive cut of steak bribed police offers can afford, this low income neighborhood is infamous for drugs and homelessness but full history
Things To Do
Visit AT&T Park
If you are a baseball fan, foodie or just looking for a fun time, head over to root for the home team. We love that the ballpark offers you a sampler platter of the city. There are three levels of concession stands that sell food representing all of our famous neighborhoods. Crab sandwiches and clam chowder are a fan favorite, but you can also get some famous Gilroy garlic fries or fresh veggies grown in the ballparks private garden.
Didn’t get a chance to take a picture on the cable car? The ballpark has a prop trolley parked near McCovey Cove for your enjoyment. There are also sweeping views of the bay from parts of AT&T Park. If you catch a night game, you’ll be able to see the Bay Bridge light show as well.
Head to the Ocean
As early as the 1840’s San Franciscans wanted more space, so they started filling in the bay with land fill. This means much of the area around the Embarcadero and piers is actually man-made. In contrast, the ocean side of the peninsula is a rocky, windswept shoreline full of indigenous flora and fauna that are worth seeing.
Instead of packing a swimsuit to visit the beach, it is best to dress in warm layers with comfortable walking shoes. The Lands End trails provide you with breathtaking views of the Golden Gate bridge.
Hit up a Tiki Bar
San Franciscan’s have been enamored by the South Pacific since the 1930s. In fact, the Mai Tai was created at Oakland’s own Trader Vic’s bar. Although the original location is gone, you can still visit Trader Vic’s in Emeryville.
Looking to grab a cocktail in town? The Tonga Room and Hurricane Bar in the Fairmont hotel is iconic (and was a favorite of Anthony Bourdain). We also enjoy the ambiance at Smugglers Cove, The Zombie Village and Pagan Idol.
Explore North Beach and China Town
These adjoining immigrant neighborhoods are a picturesque attraction in San Francisco. All three cable car lines pass through China Town, but it is best to explore on foot. Although Grant Street is famous for its red lantern lined streets, we recommend venturing off the beaten path. Check out the alleyway produce markets in between major roads. Ross Alley, between Stockton and Grant street, appeared in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Its authentic old world feel is far superior to the touristy parts.
While wandering, don’t forget to stop in at City Lights. This famous bookstore and publisher was a center for the Beatnik community in the 1950’s.
From fine dining in SoMa to street style tacos in the Mission, there is something for everyone in San Francisco. With so many different cultures living together there is bound to be a cuisine you have never tried before. Our favorites include Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese, Burmese, Russian and Southern Comfort.
Whatever you eat, drink or do, just be sure to have a great time!
In the words of Anthony Bourdain, “Anyone who doesn’t have a great time in San Francisco is pretty much dead to me. You go there as a snarky New Yorker thinking it’s politically correct, it’s crunchy granola, it’s vegetarian, and it surprises you every time. It’s a two-fisted drinking town, a carnivorous meat-eating town, it’s dirty and nasty and wonderful.”