Avoid these rookie mistakes on your SF trip
With a red-hot restaurant scene, headspinningly beautiful views and major highlights, like the iconic Golden Gate Bridge and notorious Alcatraz, San Francisco is secure in its ranks as one of the top cities to visit in the U.S. From charming Victorian homes on famously hilly streets to its funky counterculture, the city has something for everyone. (Just don’t call it Frisco.) As with anywhere, San Francisco has some particular quirks that visitors should suss out before touching down. Read on for the rookie mistakes to steer clear of in San Francisco.
Renting a car. Most cities in the U.S. require a car in order to properly see its attractions and various neighborhoods. San Francisco is not one of them. We can all but guarantee that you’ll have a better time in San Francisco without a pesky rental to deal with. Overnight parking costs can be exorbitantly expensive. Street parking isn’t a great option, either, as it is hard to find and potentially stomach-dropping if you’re trying to squeeze into a tight spot on a steep hill. Even if you do find a space, street parking is metered seven days a week in the central areas.
Skipping public transit. So you’re forgoing the rental car, but that doesn’t meet you should walk everywhere. Yes, many parts of San Francisco are walkable, but the city is home to a truly remarkable public transit system that should not be missed. In fact, riding one of the city’s iconic cable cars is a real treat for visitors. The cable cars are part of the MUNI system, which runs street cars and buses to many of the city’s major attractions, including Fisherman’s Wharf and Ghirardelli Square. The BART (Bay Area Transit System) is even more extensive.
Packing for sunny weather. San Francisco’s weather is a far cry from the sun and warmth associated with the Golden State. The peninsular city, with San Francisco
Bay on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other, can be cool and cloudy yearround, with pervasive fog earning it the moniker “Fog City.” May and June are the most overcast months of the year, though the cloudy conditions may stretch into the following months. All this is to say: Do as the locals do and master the art of layering. Bring a jacket or hoodie at all times.
Walking is a joy here, but not in bad (or fresh-out-ofthe-box) walking shoes that rub, pinch, slide off or offer zero support. Go into your getaway in tried-and-true walking shoes that can tackle San Francisco’s insane hills and stairs. You’ll thank us when you hit the zigzagging walking paths of Lombard Street, dubbed “the crookedest street in the world.”
Visiting the spine-chillingly fascinating Alcatraz is a must in San Francisco — for you and the thousands of other visitors in town during the same time. Make your reservations to the former federal prison (whose infamous gangster inmates included Al Capone, George “Machine Gun” Kelly and Alvin Karpis, the first-ever Public Enemy No. 1) in advance or risk finding tours all booked up, especially in the spring and summer. The national historic landmark is only accessible by tour; ferries depart daily from Pier 33, near Fisherman’s Wharf. The 15-minute boat ride glides past Golden Gate Bridge and Angel Island. Night tours are extra cool — and creepy — but even more limited.
San Francisco’s food landscape is vast, diverse and delicious — even just a bite from a national chain or subpar place is nothing less than a missed opportunity. Tartine Bakery is not to be missed for its truly superlative breads (get the sourdough), pastries, tarts, salads and sandwiches. While in the North End, take a peek into Caffe Trieste, where Francis Ford Coppola wrote the script for “The Godfather,” and have a drink at the historic saloon Vesuvio, a Beat-era watering hole frequented by Jack Kerouac and Bob Dylan. In Union Square, you can experience one of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants without breaking the bank: The affordable Michelin-starred Thai eatery, Kin Khao, is currently ranked at No. 49.
Staying in town. If your travel time allows it, budget at least a day trip to explore San Francisco’s surrounding areas. Part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (and just 12 miles north of the city), Muir Woods National Monument is a redwood forest that is home to some of the tallest trees in the country. The nearby harbor town of Sausalito has a charming boardwalk with outdoor bistros and the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge. Some of the best wineries and restaurants in the world are found in Sonoma and Napa counties. For sunnier, warmer beaches than those found in San Francisco, drive south to Santa Cruz, the quintessential Cali beach town with a beachfront amusement park on the boardwalk.
San Francisco may be in sunny California, but the city itself is cool and cloudy year-round. Eating at a national chain.
Alcatraz is a huge draw for tourists, so book your visit to the former federal prison in advance. Wearing brand-new shoes. Not booking Alcatraz in advance.