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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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!