Visiting San Francisco: Tips and Tricks

I repeat a little white lie when I’m abroad: “I’m from San Francisco. I tell myself it’s because no one’s ever heard of San Anselmo, my tiny hometown 20 minutes north of the city. But perhaps the truth is that I’m dying to be a born-and-bred city kid. I’m green with San Francisco envy.

I’ll do a deeper psychoanalysis at a later date, but first let me share with you a few tips I’ve gleaned about a visit to San Francisco, from obsessing over the city from my suburb for the past 23 years.

Research the Neighborhoods

Luckily, San Francisco is a small place, so you can see a good chunk of it in a short visit. However, you should research the neighborhoods to know where you want to stay. The Mission, once a primarily Mexican neighborhood, is now known as the hipster hangout. The Haight was (and still sort of is) the homeland of hippies. Downtown (also known as the Financial District) may sound nice and central, but doesn’t have much going on during nights and weekends.

The infamous Tenderloin district is not the best place to be at night, but it’s pretty central and will have some of the cheapest hotels in San Francisco if you’re trying to cut costs. Plus, the city’s gentrification knows no limits, and even once seedy neighborhoods are getting cleaned up at lightning pace.

Visiting San Francisco Mission street art

Street art in the Mission District of San Francisco

Bring a Jacket, Especially in Summer

Mark Twain wrote, “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” The fog rolls in, and you suddenly find yourself bundled in a peacoat and mittens at your Fourth of July barbecue.

Because of ocean currents, summer is peak time for fog (unfortunately for the hoards of tourists). If you plan on visiting then, make room in your luggage for a jacket and boots.

Get Out of the City

As wonderful as San Francisco is, do yourself a favor and go beyond the city limits. The gorgeous Marin Headlands, a nationally protected open space with nearly limitless options for hiking and mountain biking, lie just across the Golden Gate Bridge. Check out Muir Woods, 554 protected acres which include old growth Coastal Redwood forests. Oakland and Berkeley, in the East Bay, are San Francisco’s answers to Brooklyn. If you can stand the cold water, there are some great beaches north of San Francisco, such as Stinson. Some of the smaller cities in Marin, like Sausalito, Tiburon, and Mill Valley, have charming downtowns, great dining, and beautiful waterfronts.

tennessee valley

The hills at Tennessee Valley, a hike through Mill Valley in Marin

Study Up on your Tech Terms

When you’re at a bar, chances are high you’ll meet someone who works at Google, Facebook, or any Silicon Valley heavy hitter. To succeed in bar banter, know what a hashtag is, and better yet, have three active Instagram accounts. Live tweeting while sipping cocktails may score you extra points. At the very least, read Steve Job’s biography and reference it whenever conversation hits a lull.

Follow these tips, and it’s likely your next visit to San Francisco will turn into a permanent move. There’s something about that place that most of us just can’t get enough of.

Have you ever been to San Francisco? Are you as in love with it as I am?

This post was written by me as part of’s #HipmunkCityLove campaign.

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  • Haha yes, I wish that I had read this post before going to SanFran two summers ago (which felt more like the winter).

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  • lindsaypunk

    I’m really digging your #CITYLOVE posts – you’ve done a nice job integrating them into your blog! :)

    Also I’d be ALL OVER the bar banter. Like, for the first time in my life I might actually NOT be an awkward, unhappy turtle at a bar, because the boys would be pretty and slightly nerdy. I hope. SF, I’m coming for you someday! :D

    • Thanks Lindsay!! That’s great to hear, it’s really important for me to keep the integrity of the site, and to integrate this campaign really smoothly in the posts.
      Also, ya, you’d KILL it in SF :D

  • Thank you! Pinned this for future reference. San Fran is on our short list. :-)

  • I haven’t been to San Francisco yet, but I remember when my parents went a few years ago (in April) they said it was colder than they expected. Being from Canada I think we can kind of assume anywhere south of us will be warm 24/7 (at least that’s what we hope).

    • Hahah I’m sure a bit of light fog is nothing compared to Canada. But yes, it always shocks tourists when they need to bundle up in summer!

  • Believe it or not, I have a friend from San Anselmo! Well, she’s from Ohio but calls San Anselmo home (just like I’m from “Chicago.”)