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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.