San Francisco Travel Tips
We love San Francisco and we’d wager that you will too! We’ve put together some newbie San Francisco travel tips for folks making their first trip.
Don’t bring your car to San Francisco
No, really. Just don’t. When I was a kid, we had family in the Bay Area, and we drove into SF many times. I still have fond memories of my mom cursing while trying to find a parking spot. There is absolutely no point in bringing a car. We tried driving here, and it was terrible! Plus, you’ll be paying over $40/night to park at your hotel.
I repeat: You don’t need it.
Traffic in San Francisco is insane. Hills, one-way streets, aggressive cab drivers, pedestrians and bikes everywhere. It’s faster, cheaper, and easier to consider other options.
If you need a car in San Francisco, rent for a day.
If you do decide to take a venture up or down the coast, there are several car rental companies that are super easy to use and will cost much less in the long term. The one we frequented was the car share program Relay Rides, now called Turo. We have used this on multiple occasions with great success. We’ve always chosen with a nicer car, like an Audi or Lexus. The cost for these types of vehicles are surprisingly low. The application process with Turo takes a day or two, so get approved to rent before you actually need the car.
There are a multitude of transportation options in the city. For the traveler who has a forgiving budget: Uber and Lyft. On a tighter budget, there’s the public transportation system: BART and Muni. And, if you’re like us, you’ll end up walking so much that you burn off the calories you ate at one of the thousands of outstanding restaurants in the area. If you get tired of all the walking, just pull out your phone and grab an Uber or plop down and enjoy the sights while you wait at the nearest bus stop.
San Francisco was made for walking
Drawing from our last point, you’ll do a fair bit of walking in this city if you want to discover everything it has to offer. On our first trip, I planned my outfits to look more “cute” and less “utility.” This means I brought my “cute” tennis shoes, which hardly passed for tennis shoes at all. I also brought some stylish flats that look awesome with a dress but prove terrible for long distances. I knew we would be by the ocean so I also brought flip-flops. And, of course, I brought several “cute” outfits to match my shoe choices!
This terrible packing decision resulted in us detouring to the nearest Walgreens to buy shoe inserts as my feet were covered in blisters. I ended up wearing the same pair of jeans nearly the whole trip because, as it turns out, it’s hard to walk everywhere in short dresses. Pack so you can get around and explore during the day, and save the “cute” outfits for a night out.
I’m a huge supporter of blister band-aids. Stick one over a blister and they act like a second layer of skin. If we hadn’t used these, we probably wouldn’t have discovered much of the city. Also another reason never to leave home without packing a basic travel first aid kit!
If you’re in shape, bike SF
San Francisco is super bike-friendly. You’ll see bike rental places all over the city. You’ll also see lots of people biking. If you’re in shape and can handle the steep hills, consider biking. We especially suggest renting a bike to explore Golden Gate Park, or doing the tourist thing and riding one over the bridge to Sausalito. The fresh ocean air is truly exhilarating while taking in the sights, and you’ll get from point A to point B a bit faster than on foot.
Use Google Maps to get around San Francisco
During our trip, I found that Google Maps was, by far, the best way to get directions and plan travel time. It even had a great option for navigating transit, both Muni and BART. There’s a plethora of apps for getting around the city, but trusty Google had our backs consistently.
Pay attention to city events
On our first voyage, we made a big itinerary with a list of things to do. One evening, we figured we could go from Haight Street to our hotel in the Financial District with an Uber, change clothes, and make it to another event that evening. We didn’t even consider that our route would take us through Chinatown in the middle of the Chinese New Year. Traffic was so delayed that we ended up getting out of the car and walking the rest of the way. We missed our evening plans because we were too exhausted from the long walk to the hotel. This sounds like common sense, but we made the mistake, and I’m willing to bet other people did too. If it’s a huge holiday, a conference, the San Francisco 2020 Superbowl, or some other large local event, do your research! Give yourself some extra time! Streets here are narrow, traffic is awful, and being early never hurt anyone.
Planning a trip to San Francisco soon? We have tons of great travel tips for The City by the Bay!