Check out our new editable packing checklist template --> GET YOUR COPY NOW

10 Tips for Making Your San Fran Trip More Enjoyable

San Franscisco Trolly

*This post may contain affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, we will receive a small commission if you make a purchase.

San Francisco has so many great things to see during your visit. From the eeriness of Alcatraz to the iconic Golden Gate Bridge to the hip eateries of the Mission, it’s easy to fall in love with the city. But there are a few extra pieces of advice that can prevent you from mishaps.

Here are a few of our tips to help make your trip to San Francisco more enjoyable!

San Francisco Bay
San Francisco Bay

1. Wear Layers, Every Single Day

Microclimates in San Francisco are a real thing. You might be warm in the Mission, but as soon as you get to Oakland, you might need a jacket and scarf. When you go out for the day, bring a number of items so that you can take them on and off as needed.

One of the biggest mistakes I made on a previous trip to San Fran was thinking that June in California meant I could wear dresses. This is not the case! I bundled up in every item of clothing I bought, cursing myself for not checking the weather.

2. Comfortable Shoes Are Key

The cute wedges might go with your outfit, but if you’re sightseeing, pick comfort instead. The hills are no joke, so three pairs should be ideal. I usually bring one pair of athletic shoes, one pair of flats and one cute pair of boots or sandals, depending on the season. You don’t want blisters to ruin your trip to San Francisco!

3. Bring More Money Than You Think You Need

This piece of advice is applied to nearly everywhere, but especially San Francisco. A meal that might cost $10 in your home city is $15-20 here. ATMs are found everywhere, but if you’re coming from overseas, you might prefer to bring cash instead of dealing with transaction fees or cards that don’t work.

4. Bring a Smartphone

As the Bay Area is known for its startup companies, download some apps onto your smartphone that will help your stay. I used Lyft constantly during my time there to get around and San Francisco Transport Map to give me the schedules for MUNI and BART.

I recommend Scoutmob for deals on eating out and OpenTable for restaurant recommendations and reservations. SFGate.com will give you up-to-date information on what’s going on in the city.

San Francisco with Alcatraz in the distance.
San Francisco with Alcatraz in the distance.

5. Take Public Transit

Parts of town are walkable, especially around the tourist attractions, but you’ll want to take take public transportation to get to and from the airport. BART runs from SFO to the city, with stops in the Mission, Embarcadero and later into Oakland. I did this route multiple times after a cancelled flight meant an extra night in town.

MUNI is a downtown system, operating buses, light rail, historic streetcars and the cable cars. Caltrain runs from Silicon Valley into town and ferries also service the area. If you’re staying for a month or more, purchase a Clipper pass, which works on all transportation systems.

6. Carry a Reusable Shopping Bag

Many stores here are phasing out plastic bags, so it’s a good idea to bring a reusable shopping bag that folds up. As of 2012, you can be charged 10 cents per plastic bag from grocery stores and clothing stores.

Skip the drama and save the environment by using a bag from Chico Bag or Sea to Summit.

7. Get Outside of the Town

There’s so much more to the Bay Area than Fisherman’s Wharf, so don’t hesitate to rent a car and explore. Berkeley, Muir Woods, Carmel and Sausalito all make for great day trips. It’s such a stark contrast from the skyscrapers and modernity of the city.

Anchor Brewery Tour
Book in early for the Anchor Brewery Tour!

8. Book Some Activities Early

If you want to visit Alcatraz or tour the iconic Anchor Brewery during high season, make sure you plan in advance. For Alcatraz, there are only so many ferries you can get on and people book months in advance and wait hours in line to board. People also book early to the brewery tour, which is both cheap and tasty.

9. Know Where You’re Staying

Just because it’s cheap doesn’t mean that it’s in a neighborhood you’ll want to stay in. On one trip, I stayed near the Civic Center and while it was close to the streetcar and BART, it got a bit seedy at night.

Do your research in regards to what’s nearby before booking a place to stay. Check out San Fran accommodation options on booking.com. AirBnB properties are a good bet in San Francisco as well.

San Francisco Chinatown
San Francisco Chinatown

10. Mix with the Locals

Find out what events are happening around town to spend time with San Francisco residents, not just other tourists. Activities like the Off the Grid food truck events, Giants baseball games and street festivals are the best examples. Read the local newspapers and websites like SF Weekly and SFGate.com to see what’s going on.

Written by Caroline

Caroline Eubanks is a native of Atlanta, Georgia, but has also called Charleston, South Carolina and Sydney, Australia home. After college graduation and a series of useless part-time jobs, she went to Australia for a working holiday. In that time, she worked as a bartender, bungee jumped, scuba dived, pet kangaroos, held koalas and drank hundreds of cups of tea. You can find Caroline at Caroline in the City.

Add your voice & leave a comment!

Gear We Use

Organization

Packing Cubes – Organize your luggage with the lightweight, durable and compressible Eagle Creek Pack-It Specter Compression Cubes.


Backpacks + Daypacks

Pacsafe – Since they come with extra theft-resisting features, Pacsafe bags make you a more confident traveler. We especially love this bag.

Sea to Summit – Of all the Sea to Summit products, our most recommended is the fits-in-your-palm, super packable Ultra-Sil Daypack.


Personal Care

Nalgene Toiletry Bottles – These leak-free toiletry bottles and tubs come in all sizes – even super tiny, helping minimalists pack it all without bulk.

Turkish Towels – They’re thinner than most travel towels, and they actually cover your body! We can’t get enough of Turkish towels for travel.


Clothing

Speakeasy Supply Co. – They make the awesome hidden pocket infinity scarves that are perfect for stashing secret cash, lip balms, and passports.

Anatomie – Anatomie travel pants come with luxury prices, but they offer many benefits for travelers. See our review of the famous Skyler pants.

Travel Resources

Booking Airfare

Dollar Flight Club – Get flight deal alerts for your preferred departure airport. There is both a free and premium version (recommended for more sweet deals). Members save on average $500 USD per flight!

Skyscanner – Skyscanner is our preferred site for searching flights. They offer unbiased search results and are free from hidden fees. You can also book your hotels and rental cars.


Accommodation

Airbnb – Airbnb is the best place to book out apartments around the world. Sign up using this link to get $37 USD off your first stay booking + $14 USD towards an experience booking!

Booking.com – Search for hotels, hostels, and apartments using this one resource. Use it for flights, car rentals, and airport taxis as well.

Hostelworld – For hostels, Hostelworld remains our number one source for booking stays. Choose from straight up hostels, budget hotels and bed and breakfasts.

Trusted Housesitters – Save money on travel accommodation by becoming a housesitter. Housesitters often have extra duties, like caring for pets and gardens.

Reader Interactions

Comments

  1. Lady Light Travel says

    One thing I’d recommend buying is a Clipper Card. This is a an RFID card that fits in your wallet. You can load it up with money and it works on all of the public transit for the Bay Area. Just flash the card before the scanner and it automatically deducts the right amount for the trip. You can buy them at a lot of places – Walgreens Drugs, Whole Foods Markets, You can recharge them via the Add Value machines at most public transit centers.
    If you have access to a smartphone and data you may want to use the Google Maps app. It has a setting for public transit that will tell you all of the right buses, trains, etc. for getting around.
    If you don’t have access to data I would recommend getting the MetrO app and downloading the public transportation schedules ahead of time. Metro also tells you the right busses and trains although it doesn’t give walking directions like Google Maps.

    • Lady Light Travel says

      I forgot to add that you don’t need to buy a monthly pass for the Clipper Card. You could load it up with $10-20 and start using it right away. All you need is a credit card and apply at a Clipper retailer.

  2. Jessica Lippe says

    Thanks for the post! I’m a traveler who’s based at the Oregon-California border, yet San Fran seems to be the one place I haven’t been to. I’ll eventually get around to going there, and I’ll be sure to use this article when I do!

  3. Anna Frazier says

    The shoes you recommended are exactly what I’m planning to bring. Do you have specific recommendations for cute boots that are also comfy enough to walk all day in?? And ballet flats? Thanks so much!

Leave A Reply