*Note: This post contains affiliate links, which means if you purchase any of these super cute items I will get a teeny tiny commission. All opinions are my own. Photography by Richard Park and Jenn Alexander.
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If you’ve read practically any post on my blog, you know that I’m a proud San Francisco native, and also a proud Bostonian (two amazing cities, but that’s a post for another time). These pictures were snapped on my recent visit to SF over the holidays, where it was mostly rainy and foggy with one miraculous day that was in the 60’s and sunny – and even more miraculous that it was the one day we had scheduled to take pictures!
There are a lot of misconceptions about the city by the bay, so I thought I’d put together a quick local’s guide to San Francisco. This isn’t meant to be a comprehensive list, just some advice off the top of my head that I usually give to those heading there permanently or on vacation.
#1 – Don’t Call it San Fran
I am practically writing this entire post for this point alone, that’s how important it is! No one from the city calls it Frisco or San Fran – these are nicknames from people who are not familiar with the city on a local level, and it’s a red flag to locals that you are from far, far away. It’s kind of like a weird uncle or family friend who shows up every few years with a new nickname for you, and you’re like “um no one who knows me calls me that, and you haven’t visited in forever!” Acceptable names include San Francisco, SF, and the city.
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#2 – It’s Not A Beach Town
Some people think of SF as a sunny beach town since it’s in California, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. That’s more like SoCal (southern California), and SF is in NorCal (northern California). SoCal is what most of the world thinks of when they think of California – LA, Hollywood, San Diego, Laguna Beach, etc. There it’s warm 90% of the year, with sunshine, beach communities, and flip flops. SF can be sunny on random days, but it’s usually more like 40/50/60 degrees year-round and often foggy depending on the neighborhood (more on that later). Don’t get me wrong though, between the views, architecture, and the surrounding water it’s one of the most beautiful cities in the world (especially on those rare sunny days)!
#3 – Each Neighborhood Has Its Own Micro-Climate
It’s important to dress in layers at all times because you never know when you’ll need to adjust to changing temperatures throughout the day, depending on the neighborhood you’re in. Here are a few examples of the usual micro-climates in SF neighborhoods:
Sunny & warm: The Mission, Lower Haight, Castro, Marina, Noe Valley, Mission Bay
Foggy & chilly: The Sunset, Richmond, Presidio, Upper Haight, Twin Peaks, Downtown
(Disclaimer: the weather in SF does not adhere to any rules; these are just general guidelines.)
#4 – Go Where the Locals Go
So many people know SF for its tourist attractions: Alamo Square (the Full House houses), Pier 39, Alcatraz, fancy restaurants downtown, etc. These are all fun experiences, but there’s so much more to see in the local neighborhoods. Some examples are below:
- Indoor Trampoline Park (including dodgeball) at House of Air in the Presidio – I used to work here and I can vouch that it’s a great workout, very fun, and the staff is amazing. Just remember – no double bouncing!
- Mexican Food – San Francisco (and California in general) has really amazing Mexican food. Try El Faralito, Nopalito, Nick’s Crispy Tacos, or Tacolicious to start.
- Clarion Alley – SF’s alley of epic murals in the charming heart of the Mission district (tons of great local restaurants around here too).
- Dolores Park – Especially on a sunny day, this park is filled with locals and great views of the city.
- Corona Heights – near Twin Peaks, with great views of the Bay.
- Take the N Judah all the way to Ocean Beach, and eat / sip at Java Beach Cafe (it’s still a great beach even if it’s a foggy day).
- Academy of Sciences Nightlife – see the museum after hours!
Also be sure to dine at new restaurants, explore AT&T park, get educated at museums, and enjoy the scenery while urban-hiking the hills of various neighborhoods (but research which neighborhoods to avoid, see #5 below).
#5 – Be Safe
Just like there are micro-climates in different neighborhoods, there are some places you want to avoid (like the Tenderloin, Bayview / Hunter’s Point, and Western Addition), as they are less safe. There are also a lot of homeless people in the city. They are harmless for the most part, but a general rule of thumb is to keep your distance and avoid eye contact when possible. Do your research so you know which spots to avoid, and don’t walk around alone with your phone out, especially at night.
#6 – Rules of the Road
There is no jaywalking in San Francisco, or the West Coast in general as far as I know. Here you will see people patiently waiting for the light to change even if you can see all the way down to Ocean Beach with no cars in sight. This was the biggest thing I had to get used to when moving to Boston. It felt so weird to just walk against the light, but now when I go back to SF it feels so weird to wait for the light if there are no cars around! I’ve had friends get tickets for hundreds of dollars for a single jaywalking ticket downtown.
#7 – The Bay and Beyond
There’s a lot of magic outside city limits, too. Head across the Golden Gate Bridge to the Muir Woods Redwoods Park, swim at Stinson Beach, visit UC Berkeley across the Bay Bridge, and go hiking in the sunny East Bay.
Hope you enjoyed this quick local’s guide to San Francisco. Feel free to leave me any questions in the comments below!
Comment Challenge: Do you have any questions for me about travelling to San Francisco?
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