What do you know about San Francisco

16 things you need to know before traveling to San Francisco

Travel tips San Francisco

For us, San Francisco is a symbol of one of the most European cities in the USA. You feel good here.

Popular and known for its fantastic location on the Pacific Ocean in the Bay of San Francisco. Your entrance is spanned by one of the most photographed bridges in the world: the Golden Gate Bridge.

The venerable ones are indispensable in the cityscape Cable carsdriving up and down the steep streets. The city is famous for Alcatraz, impressive architecture with wonderful victorian cottage and one living art and Music scene.

Of course, the city is also known for the fogthat is somehow always there. Especially when you want to cross the Golden Gate Bridge, right?

Here we have written down 16 things you need to know before visiting San Francisco!

Have fun reading our San Francisco tips!

More useful tips for San Francisco:

General information and brief facts

The city has 850,000 inhabitants and is the 4th largest city in California. San Francisco is located on the northern tip of the San Francisco Peninsula and is nicknamed "City by the Bay".

More than 35% of the population are immigrants who were not born in the United States.

The steepest section of a street is Prentiss Street between Chapman and Powhattan Street with a 37% incline. The generally steepest street in the world is Filbert Street at the corner of Leavenworth and Hyde St.

The big city seems like a small one New York City. But one that is easy to explore on foot. Except that there are a lot more hills here. Good footwear is an absolute must here!

San Francisco is the only "city-like" city on the west coast. What do we mean by that? You don't need a car here and you can use public transport very well. Regardless of whether Muni Metro, bus or cable car.

With Haight Ashbury was in San Francisco the origin of the Hippie movement in the 1960s. Likewise in the 1975s the quarter Castro, the cosmopolitan and colorful home the Gays and Lesbians.

The dark side of the city: there is over 10,000 homeless in San Francisco. A frightening number that has completely changed the image of the city in many corners compared to my last visit over 17 years ago.

If you had to avoid a neighborhood, it would be tenderloin, a social hotspot. There are many homeless people, drug addicts and alcoholics here, especially at night. If possible, avoid this corner.

However, you really shouldn't worry about security: nothing happens. The homeless are peaceful. Locals also confirmed this to us.

Another San Francisco vice is this traffic. Getting through is often difficult. Traffic jams are the rule. Leave the car and walk. Especially at rush hour in the morning and evening.

The latest size earthquake was 1989 and had a 6.9 on the Richter scale. Due to the location on Andreas-Graben, a major quake can occur at any time

The famous sports teams are the 49ers (NFL, American Football), the Giants (MLB) and Golden State Warriors (NBA, basketball).

Climate and Weather in San Francisco

The second thing you need to know before you get to San Francisco is the weather. It is the City of Fog. Of course it's not always foggy, but you have to expect it at all times. Not only that you can then no longer see the Golden Gate Bridge. It also gets cooler quickly when a fog front pulls in.

It can be warm at one end. But where the fog is coming it is noticeably cooler. The Mission District is reputedly the sunniest neighborhood in the city.

Mark Twain once aptly said of the city: "The coldest winter I spent was summer in San Francisco". So dress in layers. Onion look is announced; is 'in'; is hip; is trendy. Sun and fog come and go. No matter what time of year.

Food in San Francisco

San Francisco is one "Foodie City". But what is San Francisco especially known for? Be Sourdough Bread. You can get the best in town at the Boudin Bakerythat has several branches.

The most beautiful of them is on Fisherman's Wharf. The mussel soup (clam chowder) in a sourdough bread bowl is particularly recommended. Alternatively, a Flagship Sandwich Classic “Grab Cake” with shrimp and cheese. With a beer the Anchor Brewing Company. Delicious.

Why should you visit the flagship store of Boudin Bakery? It includes a museum and tells you the story of sourdough bread. And of course you can test bread for free.

If you've never been to California, you have to only in’n’out burger shop in San Francisco visit. The menu only offers the three classic burgers (hamburger, cheeseburger, double double) and french fries. But the burgers are freshly prepared and are all the better.

I can remember my first visit to California. In Los Angeles we were often in one of the branches. An inexpensive meal for everyone who doesn't want to break the bank.

Tip: There are special Fisherman’s Wharf T-shirts in In-n-Out San Francisco. Hit if you are a fan.

The Mecca for Italian food is available in North Beach neighborhood. You can recognize it by the Italian flags attached to the street lamps.

In Chinatown you absolutely have to Dim Sum try. At Golden Saba Sea Food these are supposedly the best. For a mixture of everything you have to China Live. You can see how the Fortune Cookies are made in the Golden Gate Fortune Cookies Company observe.

You can find all of our tips for the best restaurants & cafes in San Francisco in ours San Francisco Food Guide.

Hotels in San Francisco

Many business travelers and the tech boom are driving hotel prices up. Airbnb and Pinterest are headquartered in San Francisco, while Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter and Tesla are based in nearby Silicon Valley.

That’s why Overnight stays very expensive. So the best time to visit is on the weekend. The overnight prices are then a little cheaper. Make sure to check in advance whether a big trade fair is taking place at this time, something like that can also drive up prices and most hotels are then fully booked.

Is this your first time in San Francisco? Then the best location for accommodation is around the Union Square. It's in the heart of the city. A Best Western and a Marriott Hotel are directly adjacent. The BART airport train, cable cars and trolleybus also stop here.

Embacerdero or Financial District are more tips for affordable hotels with a good and central location.

Fisherman’s Wharf, on the other hand, is too touristy. Hotels not so nice and overpriced. Better look for a hotel a little further away.

We have in Japantown lived in the Hotel Kabuki. We love Japan and Japanese food. The location is a bit away from the Mission District or Chinatown, but within reach thanks to UBER and Lyft.

You can find cheap accommodation at Airbnb or booking.com (sort by price).

Airport and airport transfer

San Francisco has three major airports, the options for getting here could be good and cheap for you too.

San Francisco International Airport

The largest and closest airport to the city center is San Francisco International Airport (SFO). This is where most of the tourists arrive. The airport is only 15 miles outside and therefore really close.

This is where the international flights arrive. But there are often delays due to fog on the San Francisco Bay. The good thing about the airport is that Beard trainthat will bring you to the center in 45 minutes.

The You can calculate the price for the ticket here. With us, a ticket to Montgomery costs $ 9.65. The onward journey with MUNI to our hotel costs 2 $.

Oakland International Airport

Not many people realize that the second largest airport, Oakland International Airport, is quite close to downtown San Francisco. Across the bay and only 20 miles from your accommodation. If you're already in the US and booking a domestic flight, Southwest is a good option.

It's also a great option if you're not in the mood for delays due to the fog in the San Francisco Bay. Because here these occur extremely rarely.

If you want to travel to Napa or Sonoma Valley, this airport has an ideal location.

San Jose International Airport

60 miles south of San Francisco, this airport is ideally located for trips to Silicon Valley, Monterey or Carmel by the Sea. This airport is mainly served by Southwest but also increasingly by international airlines.

The transfer from the airport depends on several factors:

  • Do you have a rental car? Drive yourself, but watch out for the many one-way streets.
  • When do you arrive?
  • How many people are traveling together?

Checks open jaw flights

If you are going on a road trip around San Francisco, renting and dropping off the rental car at different airports could be worthwhile. All three airports have "common" terminals. There is therefore no one-way fee for rental cars.

From the airport to the center

Private transfer

If you are traveling with several, one is also worthwhile private transfer. We like to use UBER and Lyft. These are usually cheaper and more reliable than public taxis.

Always the simplest and most convenient variant. The journey takes 15-20 minutes with little traffic. Often twice as long at rush hour.

Option two is the BART train (Bay Area Rapid Transit)

Trains run to downtown every 15 minutes and cost less than $ 10 each way. Depending on the time of day, the fastest way to get to the center.

Option no. 3 is with your own rental car.

Are you starting a road trip on Highway 1 to Los Angeles or San Diego? Then this is the most convenient option. We checked what the rental car would cost more for the days in San Francisco. It was only 40 euros. That's why we didn't think about it for long and booked the rental car immediately upon arrival.

So you can drive over the Oakland Bay Bridge or Golden Gate Bridge on your own and don't have to rely on UBER and Lyft.

Public transportation in San Francisco

Most of the sights can be easily reached on foot or by bike (eBike). Nevertheless, don't be fooled by the fact that it is always steep uphill and downhill. After all, the city has over 40 hills to conquer.
It makes it harder and tiring in the long run!

So our tip, if you don't want to “climb” everything on foot: Take a cable car or bus.

Cable car

The classic way to get from A to B in San Francisco is of course the cable cars. Since 1873 the carriages, which are indispensable in the cityscape, have been driving up and down the steep streets.

If you want to ride cable cars, you have to stand outside. Only this way of driving creates the ultimate cable car experience. The cable cars run from 6 a.m. to midnight, seven days a week. If you want to avoid the long queues, you should come early. There are currently only three cable car lines left.

A one-way cable car ride is $ 7 and a day ticket is $ 21.

Historic trams

You should take one of the historic trams. The F-Line with 32 stops is particularly worthwhile for tourists. She drives from District Castro on Market Street, passes the Financial District and then to Fisherman's Wharf.

Most of these historic trams are of Italian origin and date from the 1950s.

An adult ticket costs $ 2.75 (as of November 2019)

MUNI Metro

The MUNI Metro comprises six lines. You pay per trip and not according to the number of stations. One ride is $ 2.75.

Depending on the location of your accommodation, a good way to get to the center.

Load the MUNI Mobile app onto your cell phone and register. Thanks to the app and credit card, you can buy bus tickets on your mobile phone. When driving, you activate the ticket when boarding.

BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit)

The BART is not only great for getting from the airport to the city center. In the center itself there are five stops that tourists often pass around Union Square and Market Street.

Locals claim that it drives too seldom and when it does, it is too late.

The tickets cost depending on the distance. The cheapest is $ 2, the most expensive is $ 15. The BART is also ideal for getting to Oakland on the other side of the bridge.

On foot

San Francisco is a city that you can ideally explore on foot. The center is quite clear. The most important places and sights can be reached on foot.

However, you should not rely on the information from Google Maps. Because the inclines are not included here. And some of them are extreme. On many inclines, the sidewalks have been replaced by stairs.

POPOs (privately owned public open spaces)

POPOS are private open spaces (mostly in inner or back yards) that are open to the public. These are not well signposted.

The most beautiful is right next to the Apple Store with tables and a pleasant atmosphere (WIFI is also free).

Another is that Transamerica Redwood Forest. A small park with gigantic redwood trees in the middle of the center. However, it closes at 5.30 p.m.

You can find one at SPUR free map to downloadto find all the POPOs.

Tickets for tours

You should buy tickets for tours in San Francisco in the reserve in advance. Alcatraz is very popular, especially the night tours. We were late with 2 months before departure. The last departure of the day (4:30 p.m.) was perfect for watching the sunset with the Golden Gate Bridge.

Haunted tours are also popular because it always spits somewhere in America. This was also fully booked during our visit. Helicopter flights are also rare. That's why we booked this ticket in good time.

That too Museum of Ice Cream in San Francisco we booked more than 2 months in advance of the trip.

Do you want to basketball or American football? Even then, you will only get the affordable tickets well in advance of the trip.

We are watching more and more for special tours Airbnb Experiences (Companies) on their website. Because here you will find really great experiences that you can book.

Otherwise we watch Get your guide to reserve tickets for popular attractions in advance and print them out or download them to your smartphone. So we don't have to worry about queuing during the trip.

Are you interested in our tours and city tours? Then you should definitely check out our article on the 5 best tours for sightseeing in San Francisco read.

Chinatown

You can find it in San Francisco oldest Chinatown in North America, the largest outside of Asia. The area encloses 24 blocks. About 100,000 people live in the most densely populated area west of Manhattan (New York). Hard to imagine if you walk through the quarter.

Chinatown is one City within the city San Francisco. It has its own culture, a different language is spoken, the signs are in Chinese and there are even two hospitals of their own.

Did you know that there are more people coming to Chinatown than the Golden Gate Bridge? That fact surprised even us.

Definitely try Dim Sum, visits the Teahouses and in Ross Alley the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory. Fortune cookies have been produced here since 1962. A visit is actually a must. Because here the cookies are available in different colors and even with names on them.

Did you know that? Bruce Lee was born in one of the Chinatown hospitals.

Fisherman's Wharf

Fisherman's Wharf is the most touristic place in San Francisco. In the former center of the fishermen you can still find a few fishing boats. But tourists have a firm grip on this place.

We like the flair. Come here in the evening before sunset to avoid the tourist crowds.

You can eat well anywhere but comparably expensive. The famous Ghirardelli chocolate factory is also located here. Inside you can taste chocolate for free. Make sure to try a hot fudge sundae ice cream. Allegedly one of the best in San Francisco.

This is also less known to tourists at Fisherman's Wharf Mechanique Museum. One of the world's largest collections of mechanical musical instruments and antique arcade machines. You can even play, so pack the coins and get rid of your coins!

Update: The museum was also damaged in the fire at Fisherman's Wharf in May 2020. It is currently closed.

The Mecca at Seafood is in the Fisherman's Wharf. The slogan at the entrance says “If it swims, we sell it”. Here you can find crabs, lobsters and much more. It doesn't get any fresher!

The Buena Vista is the place where Irish Coffee was invented. Not ours at all, so let's ignore this place.

The most popular with tourists pier bears the number 39. You can find the famous ones here Sea lions. You cannot ignore them. 1,700 different sea lions have been sighted here. Wow. Otherwise there are many (souvenir) shops, (overpriced) restaurants and the bench with shoes from Forest Gump at the Bubba Gump Shrimp Restaurant.

Alcatraz

The small offshore island nicknamed "The Rock" is the most famous prison in the United States. There is only one way to get to Alcatraz: Alcatraz Cruises.

Other providers advertise Alcatraz and the "view", but do not go ashore so that you can visit the former prison island.

You have to book tickets well in advance, as this attraction is one of the most popular in the USA.

We found the visit with audio guide (included) really interesting and wonder why we haven't been here on a previous visit to the city.

day trips

If you are in San Francisco for a longer time, day trips are suitable Napa, Sonoma, Monterey, Santa Cruz or Silicon Valley.

Are you wondering how long to stay in San Francisco? We advise you at least 2-3 days plan for exploring the city. For trips still 1-2 days more.

Drive a car & rental car

In general, driving in California is less hectic and aggressive than in Europe. Distances and speeds are measured in miles. One mile is approximately 1.609 km.

Most motorways have a speed limit of 65 mph (miles per hour, which is about 104–121 km / h). In built-up areas 25-35 miles / hour.

In places, make sure that the traffic lights are always on the opposite side of the street. That irritates one or the other at the beginning of the journey.

You have to go to the supplement at stop signs "4-way-stop" respect, think highly of. Then the first to go is the one who reached the intersection first. There is no right to left.

To do this, you can turn right at a red traffic light if no car is coming from the other side (or pedestrians are crossing the street). It is only prohibited if there is an explicit prohibition sign (“No turn on red”).

Pay attention to the colored markings on the curb. If this is red you shouldn't park here. You risk being towed away.

Note: A valid German driver's license is sufficient to rent a rental car. We still always pack our international driver's license. If you have any problems, this will help.

To rent a car in the US, you must be at least 21 years old. A higher fee applies to those under the age of 25 or additional insurance must be taken out.

It makes sense to book the rental car in Germany before you travel. In the event of damage, you can make phone calls in German and have a contract in your native language. We keep doing it again and again good experience With Sunny Cars. Before this trip I compared again with Cheaper rental cars, Alamo and National.

Entry and ESTA

Before traveling to San Francisco, you need to take care of your ESTA. ESTA is the abbreviation for the English term "Electronic System for Travel Authorization" and is the electronic system for travel authorization. It is your electronic entry permit for the USA.

Here we have written a step by step guide for your ESTA visa.

Money and credit cards in USA

If you are wondering how and if you should take cash with you to the US, we have the answer: Not at all. There are credit cards like the one we used Visa Card from the DKB Bank, thanks to which you can withdraw cash in local currency without having to pay any fees.

We never change money before traveling, because the exchange rates are much worse, the fees at banks are added and cause additional costs.

Generally in the US you pay for everything by credit card. You very, very rarely need cash. Sometimes in Chinatown or smaller restaurants or cafes or on public transport.

On to my tips for credit cards for travel

Best guide

Our recommendation for the best travel guide for San Francisco is the Dumont directly San Francisco. Small and compact, but with all the important information you need to know for the trip. Very current and modern. Our buying tip.

We always buy the (if available) 500 Hidden Secrets of "San Francisco". Great assortment from the best cafes, bakeries or shops. We found most of our food tips in this travel guide.

Do you have any other tips for San Francisco?

We look forward to your comment!

Other useful tips for California and San Francisco:

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