SF Like a Local – 5 Tips for Your First Trip

IMG_2764This is the first in what is surely be a long series of posts about my current home, San Francisco. My husband and I have lived all over the US, and we get way more visitors here than anywhere else. It’s a popular spot both for work trips and vacations.

Last year we had a nonstop streak of visitors every week from April to November. About half of them stayed with us (on the Aerobed in the living room of our tiny apartment). A few times, the visits overlapped. One week we had three different groups visiting. A turnstile of tourists!

We take all this in stride. We love seeing friends and family, and it allows us to play the tourist for awhile. I am constantly asked about things to do, places to go, where to eat. I’m no expert, but I do like to help people have a great time during their visit.

So let’s get to it, starting with the basics. Here are five quick tips on how to do SF like a local:

IMG_20951. Don’t call it “San Fran.” I’m not sure why, but this is considered uncool and will certainly peg you as a non-local. Those in the know call it “SF” or simply “The City” (as in there’s no other city on Earth they’d rather be). Once you see the fog roll in over the Golden Gate from high on a hill, you’ll likely agree.

2. Bring a jacket. And gloves. And a scarf. And a hat. This is especially true if you’re coming in the summer. SF residents love to complain about the weather here. Everybody thinks California is perpetually sunny and warm. No no, that’s LA. Here in SF, the wind is king. So if you look at the forecast before packing and you see temps in the 50s-60s, resist the notion to say “that sounds nice.” You’ll end up as one of those poor tourists buying a SF fleece pullover at Fisherman’s Wharf. The key to this city is layers. Layers are your friend.

3. Do NOT follow the herd and end up waiting in line for hours in the freezing wind to get on the cable car. This happens in two places: Fisherman’s Wharf and Union Square. Truly a waste of your precious SF time. There are many other spots to jump on the cable car with no lines or waiting. Get a map and check out the routes. There are stops all along the way. If you get on at Van Ness and California (a terminus with no crowds), it will take you up to the top of Nob Hill (Grace Cathedral, Fairmont Hotel) and then all the way down to the Ferry Building. Note that the $6 fare is only a one-time, one-way trip. You may want to buy an all-day pass instead; for $15 you can ride all cable cars, street cars, buses.

4. If you want to see Alcatraz, book months in advance. Otherwise you’ll just be seeing it from afar, staring at that lonely rock out in the bay. The tour is well worth it, day or night. Prepare to be cold, damp and dazzled by the grim sights and stories on the audio tour.

IMG_44125. Muir Woods: yes. Muir Woods around noon on a weekend: an emphatic no. Parking is a nightmare if you don’t arrive super early, even during the week. There are two tiny lots, and the remaining poor souls have to park down the side of a never-ending, narrow-winding road. Pick a week day, get there by 9 am, and enjoy the beautiful redwoods stress-free, the way nature intended.

Ok, that’s all for now. More to come on favorite eats, hikes, views….

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