Top 10 Tips for First-Time San Francisco Visitors

Ferry Building
Ferry Building | © JaGa/WikiCommons
Devon Delfino

For the first-time visitor in San Francisco, it’s important to remember three things: never judge a neighborhood by its cover, always root for the Giants (never the A’s), and for those who are open to new experiences, there are always surprising discoveries to be made. Beyond those, here are the top ten tips for first-time visitors to the city.

Fort Funston

Always dress in layers

San Francisco is famous for its microclimates, and if you want to get the most out of your visit, you’re going to want to bundle up (and be prepared to shed the layers throughout the day). The fog and sea breeze can quickly lower the temperature by ten degrees, and the sun can make its debut at any moment. Light layers will ensure that you are able to stay comfortable as you make your way through the city’s neighborhoods.

Know your hashtags

Try using #hiddensf, #onlyinsf, #sfbrunch (the people of San Francisco love their brunch), or #igersSF to find awesome hidden spots in the city that only those who are truly ‘in the know’ about San Francisco have access to. You could discover places like Fort Funston (perfect for a long walk and extremely dog-friendly), or Mr. Holmes Bakehouse (famous for both the cruffin and the ‘I got baked in San Francisco’ neon sign), or, if you’re lucky enough to be there on the first Sunday of the month, Pug Sunday at Alta Plaza Park.
Fort Funston, San Francisco, CA, USA, +1 415 561 4700
Mr. Holmes Bakehouse, 1042 Larkin St., San Francisco, CA, USA, +1 415 829 7700
Alta Plaza Park, San Francisco, CA, USA, +1 415 831 5500

Pier 39 is, of course, a tourist trap (and that includes the sea lions)

But that doesn’t mean that it’s not worth checking out — create your own coastal walking tour by taking a long stroll along the Embarcadero, starting at the sculpture known as Cupid’s Span in the Financial District, quickly stopping by Pier 39, and ending at the Palace of Fine Arts. You’ll be able to cross a few sights off your bucket list including the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island, and Ghirardelli Square (if you’re willing to make the trek down all the way to Marina Greens).
Pier 39, Beach St. and The Embarcadero, San Francisco, CA, USA, +1 415 705 5500
The Palace of Fine Arts, 3301 Lyon St., San Francisco, CA, USA, +1 415 563 6504
Ghirardelli Square, 900 North Point St., San Francisco, CA, USA, +1 415 775 5500

Ferry Building

Definitely check out the Ferry Building Marketplace

It’s not widely known in other parts of the world, but the Ferry Building Marketplace has some awesome opportunities, including wine tasting and walking tours, for first-time visitors to the city, and its prime location allows visitors access to tons of hot spots, like Pier 39 and AT&T Park (occasionally still referred to as PacBell Park by die-hard Giants fans). The Ferry Building Marketplace is the perfect place to relax after a jam-packed day of exploring the vibrant and bustling city.
One Ferry Building, San Francisco, CA, USA, +1 415 983 8030
AT&T Park, 24 Willie Mays Plaza, San Francisco, CA, USA, +1 415 972 2000

Lombard Street

Skip Lombard St.

Unless you’re really excited about ‘the most crooked street in the world,’ it’s essentially just a slow and boring parade down a hill (although the flowers lining it are gorgeous). Plus, the most crooked street in the world is actually Vermont St., located in the city’s Potrero Hill neighborhood, according to calculations by the Travel Channel’s Jayms Ramirez who took it upon himself to finally settle the debate in an episode of Fact or Fiction. Bottom line: Lombard is not worth the hassle.

Wear extremely comfortable shoes

Even though public transportation is easy enough, San Francisco is a city for walkers, and you’re going to be doing a lot of hill climbing — it’s unavoidable, so you might as well embrace it. Side note: sunglasses are also highly suggested if you plan on walking through the streets — not because it’s California and everyone always wear them (although that’s somewhat true), but because, as awesome a city as it is, S.F. is also home to quite a bit of debris and grit that gets kicked up into the air.

Muir Woods is more than worth the drive (and difficulty finding parking)

If you’re looking to get in a bit of nature on your first trip to S.F., Muir Woods is a great option. It’s home to the ancient redwoods that Northern California is famous for, and you can check out the quaint town of Mill Valley or stop by Stinson Beach afterwards. For a less crowded hike, try Redwood Regional Park in Oakland; it’s just as beautiful, far less well known and gives you the opportunity to grab some gorgeous shots of the city from across the bay.
Muir Woods, 1 Muir Woods Rd., Mill Valley, CA, USA, +1 415 388 2595
Redwood Regional Park, 7867 Redwood Rd., Oakland, CA, USA, +1 888 327 2757

A beautiful foggy road

The fog is beautiful — when viewed from afar

If you didn’t grow up in it, the fog is a truly beautiful facet of the San Francisco lifestyle. If you did, however, it’s a slight annoyance. Seeing it come creeping over the hills of San Francisco is best viewed from afar, where it’s still warm, or at least less dreary. The novelty will probably wear off within the first three days, so if you find yourself feeling particularly depressed by the fog, either head to Noe Valley (the best microclimate in the city) or across the Bay Bridge to Berkeley.

Twin Peaks

1. Twin Peaks offers gorgeous panoramic views of the city

Park, Bridge, Hill Station

Twin Peaks
© Travis Wise/Flickr
Twin Peaks is a must-see for first-time visitors to San Francisco. On a clear day, you can see 180-degree views of the Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge and beyond — you might even catch a glimpse of the Farallon Islands if you happen to have incredible vision. It’ll also help you get a feel for the city’s layout and situate yourself in it. Just be aware that it gets quite windy up there and a jacket is highly encouraged.

2. Walk up the hill to Coit Tower

Building, University, Bridge, Park

It may look daunting, but the hike up to Coit Tower will probably take you about as long as the drive — only you won’t have to circle for 20 minutes as you wait for an available parking space. Plus, a bit of exercise is a great way to beat jet lag and other forms of travel-related fatigue. When you make it back down, you can reward yourself by exploring the other awesome sites in North Beach and grabbing a slice of pizza.

By Devon Delfino
Devon is a Bay Area native and freelance journalist who recently graduated from Boston University. When she’s not writing, she can be found exploring the city, paddle boarding or obsessively retweeting travel articles. Follow her on Twitter: @devondelfino

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