We think it’s safe to assume that those heading to San Francisco for the first time aren’t exactly going in blind; the city is just too iconic for that. As such, we’re sure you’ve already got your boat trip to Alcatraz booked. You’ve checked the plausibility of walking the Golden Gate Bridge, a cup of chowder at Fisherman’s Wharf tops the foodie itinerary and your inner hippy is already sparking up at the prospect of Haight Ashbury.
Don’t make the mistake of following the crowd. Because in the spirit of the city, the non-conformists come out on top. Let’s get under the skin of the place instead, banish those cliches and do things differently. Here are 5 IDEAL travel tips for San Francisco first timers.
AIRPORTS & ACCESSIBILITY
If only it were as easy as landing in the city and getting amongst it. Instead, San Francisco has one major airport and then three more covering the Bay Area at large. Confusingly, it might sometimes make more sense to touch down on a runway further from the city to best suit your needs. That’s if you even get to touch down on time; San Francisco International Airport is notorious for its fog and subsequent delays. Do all you can to limit delays once in the airport if you want to get going with anything nearing haste. Should you submit your ESTA before arrival, online, then the risk of subsequent further delays is reduced. Make sure you familiarise yourself with potential extra ESTA questions before you arrive, so you’re prepared for possible interrogation.
If you have plans which extend beyond the Golden City, then perhaps another airport might be a better bet. Oakland International is only 8 miles further out of downtown than SF Airport itself (12 miles from the fun). And should you be planning on a quick bounce to Yosemite National Park to clear your lungs and mind, then this is a far less troublesome check in. What’s more, flights tend to be way cheaper (budget airlines fly here) and the infamous fog doesn’t affect them. If neither suit your needs there are even more options; San Jose airport is around 60 miles away and super close to Silicon Valley, if that’s your thing.
Though the world’s most ‘crooked street’ and the famous highs and lows of the city’s roads make for an agreeable tourist attraction, a fun drive they do not. Unless, of course, you’re a glutton for punishment. But in this great city, there’s so much else to do than being stuck in your car.
And stuck you’ll be; parking is a nightmare. It’s a painful experience trying to find a space and garages, valets and the rest are prohibitively expensive. Even hotel parking comes at a premium; the price you pay for a green, forward thinking city. Though Uber also costs, particularly during peak hours, it’s still a wiser option. As are the city’s famous trams, ferries and other public transport options. Or you could walk. Despite the famously hilly refrains, San Francisco is consistently voted as the US’ most walkable city.
A UNIQUE WEATHER
California; sun, surf, sand, blond locks, tanned skin…you know the stereotypes. But nope, not here in San Francisco. The City by the Bay has other ideas about that, offering a unique, rebellious micro-climate fitting of the city’s non-conformist reputation. Generally speaking, the months which see the finest (relatively speaking) weather are from September to November, with warmer temperatures and less wind. The same rules apply to spring.
Damned be those making the perfectly acceptable assumption that summer is a sensible time to soak up the sun here; the temperatures, wind and rain are totally erratic and unpredictable. There’s even a term for it, so watch out for that ‘June gloom’. As a general rule, pack for all the seasons, any season.
DO THE ART SCENE DIFFERENTLY
San Francisco is a great city for art lovers. It has an eclectic collection of art galleries and the SF Museum of Modern Art is just one of the many attractions available to the cultured, sophisticated crowd who flock to this city each year. But scratch the surface just a little, veer off the well-trodden path of big hitter galleries, and discover something way more interesting. Indeed, if fancy something a bit more eccentric, immerse yourself in San Francisco graffiti culture and history by taking yourself on a tour of some of the city’s most famous murals; Clarion and Balmy Alley, Coit Tower and Zam Zam to name but a few.
Also make time for the city’s most influential art collective space, over at Southern Exposure, Alabama Street. Experimental, risk-taking work run totally not-for-profit; what’s not to love?
HOW NOT TO INGRATIATE YOURSELF
Though San Francisco is a tolerant, progressive city with its arms wide open to visitors, there are a few things guaranteed to mark you out as a tourist and elicit frowns from hip locals. Firstly, let’s deal with nicknames; ‘Frisco’ might roll off the tongue with all the grace of a phrase free of two extra syllable, but it’s a big no-no here. People are also uncharacteristically intolerant of ‘San Fran’, so steer clear.
Semantics aside and on a more serious note, smoking in public is pretty much banned everywhere; restaurants, bars, parks, markets…you name it. Err on the side of caution and find designated smoking rooms to avoid getting off on the wrong foot with locals. The city also reserves particular ire for those in thrall to Google; don’t admire, or god forbid, board, the eyesore Google buses around the city, and certainly don’t don those ridiculous glasses. In fact, if you ‘work in tech’, best keep that to yourself.