I’m not a San Francisco local, but I’m a California native. I’ve been to San Francisco a few times, and each visit I’ve learned a lot about the city. This last time I went, I felt like it was the most informative experience I’ve ever had there. We chatted with a lot of locals, and got the real low-down on the city. So, I’ve taken their advice, and created a list of ten tips for traveling to San Francisco to help you plan your trip, and have the best time, while you are there!
1.Book dinner reservations well in advance
Every night at dinner we managed to be seated right next to the door. I can’t tell you how many people we watched walk in, without reservations. Every single time they were told there would be at least a one hour wait, or they were turned away, because there were no possible openings. San Francisco is a busy city. Not only are there a lot of tourists, but there are also people working in the city that need to eat dinner, before making their trek back home. If you want to have a good, sit-down dinner at a reasonable time, you have to plan. Google or download OpenTable to easily make dinner reservations!
2. Don’t drive
With unfavorable air quality, large populations, and the push to be more eco-friendly, California, in general, offers a lot of public transportation. San Francisco is one of those cities that you don’t need to rent a car, and can find a ton of means of transportation. Download the Limebike app and the Uber app, walk, take MUNI buses or the BART. This way you won’t waste money on a car rental and parking, and you’ll get to experience the city like a real San Franciscan.
3.Buy tickets for Alcatraz when you book your stay
Alcatraz is a San Francisco staple. It is a must-see, but it sells out fast and days in advance. We found out the hard way, when we had our visit. We went down to the Wharf to buy tickets, only to be told that they were sold out until 4 days later. We were actually told that they are usually sold out for a month in advance, but it was a fluke week. Who knew that visiting a prison was so popular? I know it may be hard to predict what the weather will be like when you visit, but I would go ahead and buy tickets for Alcatraz when you book your hotel or AirBNB.
4. Don’t limit yourself to Fishermans Wharf
By all means, check out the sea lions, and visit Alcatraz. There may be a lot to check out and do around Fishermans Wharf, but don’t spend all your time there. There’s a lot more to see all around San Francisco- come back next week to read my San Francisco must-do list.
5. Head to breakfast early
Are you seeing a common theme here? San Francisco is a big tourist attraction, and everyone reads about the most popular places to eat in the area. This results in long lines, and long waits. Head to breakfast before or at opening, in order to keep from waiting forever. This will also ensure you get a good meal, before you start your day!
6. Book your stay in a central location
San Francisco can be a little difficult to navigate with a car. It can be even more difficult to navigate as a first time visitor, especially with all the hills and traffic, so you want to stay where you can easily walk. We stayed at the Hilton in the Financial District, also known as FiDi. I would highly recommend booking a hotel or AirBNB in this area. Not only is the Financial District located by Chinatown, it’s right near all the best food!
7. Dress in layers
The morning starts off cool. As the day progresses, it starts to warm up. Depending on whether you are in the marina or if you are in South of Market (SOMA), you may find that the temperature could be drastically different. Wear layers, so if the wind picks up, you can put a coat on or if it warm up, you can easily peel your coat off.
8. Don’t eat at restaurant chains
I’m a creature of habit. I stick with what is familiar, sometimes. I highly recommend that you don’t eat at chain restaurants in San Francisco. San Francisco has so many different types of food- Italian, Chinese, Thai, Mexican, the best SUSHI, and so on. Get out of your comfort zone, and try different things while you are there. If you must, get your In-N-Out fix, but try to find a new restaurant. Explore what San Fran has to offer!
9. Be aware of tourist traps
Like any major city, there are tourist traps. These are restaurants, people and attractions that overcharge for goods, services or entertainment. A lot of the restaurants around Pier 39 fall into this category, because they are right near the source of attraction. There are also a lot of bike rentals and clothing shops around this area, and for what they offer, they aren’t really worth it.
10. Bring comfortable shoes
Hills and hiking leads to aching feet. If you are going to walk in San Francisco, make sure you pack comfortable shoes. The first day in San Fran, we walked 10 miles without even realizing it. I learned from our visit to New York to always bring comfortable shoes on vacation!
Here are a few items that you may find helpful for your trip to San Francisco:
What are your tips for visiting San Francisco?