The Do’s and Don’ts of a Visit to San Francisco

Golden Gate Bridge visiting San Francisco

Plan on visiting the best city in the U.S.? (No bias here or anything.) I may not be a tried-and-true San Franciscan (I grew up in the hills 20 minutes north), but I know a thing or two about the City by the Bay. We’ve talked about tips and tricks to make the most of your trip. But what about some things you just plain shouldn’t do? Here are the Do’s and Don’ts when visiting San Francisco:

Don’t: Just eat sourdough bread, clam chowder and Ghiradelli chocolate. 

Do: Expand your culinary horizons. 

I enjoy a good chowder and bread bowl as much as the rest of them. But the hoards of tourists and tacky souvenirs around Fisherman’s Wharf have me running in the other direction. San Francisco has incredible food throughout, even if it’s those pesky clams that scored all the fame.

Whether it’s taquerías in the Mission, Napolese crust in Little Italy, or a bowl of pho on Clement, save your appetite for a less touristy area. And if you’re in the Marina on a Friday night, skip Fisherman’s Wharf in favor of Fort Mason. There, you can dine at Off the Grid, a collection of 32 food trucks serving some of the best eats in the city, at tin truck prices.

caricature fisherman's wharf

Another reason to avoid Fisherman’s Wharf: The god-awful caricatures. My friend got this done while she was visiting me (and we HAD to do the obligatory Fisherman’s Wharf stop, per her request). But I’m pretty sure she doesn’t have six fingers in real life.

Don’t: Take a tour bus across the Golden Gate Bridge.
Do: Use your legs.

Soak in the famous landmark by walking the 1.7 miles to the other side. You’ll get better pictures and a real “on the ground” experience. You can also rent a bike, though trying to keep your sanity while weaving through the crowds could be a tall order. (The west side of the bridge is designated for bicyclists, though it’s often closed for construction.)

Don’t: Be afraid of the hills.
Do: Embrace the exercise.

It’s the hills that add to San Francisco’s beauty and also allow for such stunning views. Climb to the top of any number of peaks in Russian or Telegraph Hill for a sweeping panorama of the bay and beyond. Exploring the city on foot also means you’ll discover small boutiques and restaurants you’d otherwise miss. Due to its compact size, San Francisco is fairly walkable. (And, ahem, its less-than-stellar public transport leaves little choice.)

coit tower visiting san francisco

Coit Tower on top of Telegraph Hill. One of my favorite places in the whole city, and well worth the beads of sweat you’ll inevitably have at the top.

Don’t: Spend your life savings in one of the most expensive cities in the world. 
Do: Take advantage of the freebies.

Transport yourself to the tropics by hanging out with wild parrots on Telegraph Hill. Take in the 360-degree views from the top of Twin Peaks. Relax or enjoy pop-up concerts at any number of the city’s open spaces: Golden Gate Park, Crissy Field, Dolores Park, the list goes on. Learn more about the emblematic cable cars at the free Cable Car Museum. Take a tour of City Hall in all its ornate splendor. Score wallet-friendly or discounted tours and excursions throughout the city. On the first Tuesday of the month, enter most museums without paying admission. And while it may be free to ride the glass elevators to the top of the Westin St. Francis hotel in Union Square, for the love of God look up some cheaper places to stay in San Francisco.

Don’t: Call it Frisco or San Fran.
Do: Learn the proper terms.

You may not be from there, but do us all a favor and refer to it correctly. Use its full name, “San Francisco.” Say “SF” if you need to cut syllables. Call it “The City” if you’d rather forget that other metropolises exist.

Just don’t say Frisco, I’m begging you.

Have you ever visited San Francisco? Any other do’s and don’ts to share?

This post was written by me for a partnership with