Ten Hot Tips for a First-Time San Francisco Tourist
You are going to step in shit if you don’t watch where you’re walking. Most of it comes from pets (reasonable people pick up after their animals), the rest from birds and humans. The city is notorious for it (I once walked out of my building and in on a woman taking a dump on the front bumper of a Honda Accord). San Francisco residents learn to develop Poop Vision, a sixth sense for detecting fecal matter in your lower line of sight and stepping around it. Your host may extend this power to include your path, but your best lookout is yourself.
Don’t walk around with your phone in-hand. Everyone here has a story of a time they’ve seen somebody get their fancy new iPhone yoinked from their hands by a faster passer-by. Wait until you’re in a store or at a café—not in the middle of downtown or on MUNI (doubly true if you’re sitting near an exit).
Homelessness is indeed rampant and everyone has an opinion about it. Women, queer people, and people of color are disproportionately most affected. It’s so pervasive, it becomes difficult to recognize as the symptom of greater economic unwellness that it is. Until we have a government willing to help all of its people and not just a privileged few, we help as much as our respective individual capacities allow. Wherever your views lie, just know that your leftovers are always politicized.
Never turn left in and around downtown. You’ll find yourself passing your destination with no legal way to turn around for several more blocks. Remember to turn your wheels when you park on an incline—if you manage to find an acceptable spot. Failing to do so can earn you a hefty fine. Also, never leave your shit in the car unless you’re cool with losing it and replacing the window someone busted to get it.
You know what? Don’t even drive in the city. Leave the driving to a MUNI operator, or a cabbie if you dare.
When it’s foggy, wear layers. This is not San Diego. Bay Area weather varies greatly depending on your location. Do your research; Google the forecast for your specific zipcode. If it’s eighty and sunny in Alameda, it could be sixty and foggy on SF’s Ocean Beach. If you have sensitive ears and you find yourself in the windy western half of San Francisco, bring a hat to avoid an earache. A naïve Missouri transplant, I wore shorts and a t-shirt on my first flight to San Francisco in mid-March 2011. It was fifty-five degrees and pouring rain when I landed. I spent too much on an ill-fitting jacket.
When it’s sunny, wear sunscreen. Seems obvious, but hear me out. Long spells of gloomy weather make San Franciscans really appreciate the sun, so expect a busier atmosphere if you visit when the fog lifts. However, the near-constant seabreeze and temperatures hovering in the mid-sixties can fool you, whisking the excess warmth from your skin as it quietly burns in the California sun. Before you know it, you’re red as a Dungeness crab.
If you’re dead-set on doing something touristy, ride a cable car and visit the museum. Unlike a hike across the Golden Gate Bridge or a frigid trip to Alcatraz, it’s something everyone secretly wants to do, and a privilege few other cities still offer. During lockdown, the double-tracked streets of downtown weren’t just empty. They were silent, their cars laid up and cables dormant. When their iconic whir rumbled back to life, residents including myself were surprised at how grateful we were to hear it.
Yes, that is weed you’re smelling. As more states decriminalize cannabis, the weed spectacle takes fewer people by surprise, but it’s the sheer amount of it that freaks out some newcomers. The pungent aroma of pot will waft into your nostrils in every corner of the city, anytime, day and night. Joints are more welcome than cigarettes nowadays. We’re all used to it, and that can be surprising too. For the uninitiated, a good dispensary is still “like a candy store,” and if you don’t usually partake, you will certainly get the chance.
We’re still in a pandemic. That’s true wherever you go, but I bring it up here because for the most part, we still take it seriously. We wear masks where ventilation is poor, when we speak to our customers, when we’re on the bus or BART (9.5: Speaking of BART, when using the escalators, you stand on the right or walk on the left. Never block traffic). It’s a gesture of respect for San Franciscans and tourists alike, because one can never know who is more susceptible to COVID-19 just by looking at them. Not sure where to wear your mask? Read the room.
Earthquakes are nowhere near as common as the movies make it seem. While they technically happen all the time, only two or three a year become strong enough to break a dinner plate somewhere in the state, and the ground-rippling disasters from which only the Rock can save us are even rarer, but when it does happen, be sure to dive under a desk with the rest of us Californians. We will make room.
Sense something missing from the list? Let’s build another one! Email your Broke-Ass tourist tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.