It doesn't have to be that way, and when you finish reading this, you'll be such a smart San Francisco tourist that you'll enjoy your trip more and spend less of your hard-earned money doing it, using these simple tips:
10 Ways to be a Smart San Francisco Tourist
- Know the Weather: Many a San Francisco tourist doesn't realize how cold it can get here in summer, and dozens of sweatshirt shops thrive on their ignorance. Our guide to weather and what to expect can help you bring the right stuff and you get even more seasonal info in this month-by-month guide.
- Stay in the Right Place: People sometimes ask about hotels along Van Ness and Lombard Streets, but they're inconvenient and noisy. The most convenient areas in the city for a tourist are Union Square and Fisherman's Wharf. Use this guide to find out about each areas, its pros and cons.
- Spend Smart: Discover 8 surprising ways to save money. If you're willing to invest some time, you can easily get a room at rock-bottom, cheap-o hotel rates and yet stay in some of San Francisco's best hotels. Follow these step-by-step tips for getting the lowest price.
- Go Car-Free: It's not just an environmental statement, it's a smart choice. San Francisco is small, and most tourist sights are close together, so you don't need one. Some hotels charge more than the price of a nice lunch just for parking, and snagging a spot on the street is impossible. Pick a hotel in a convenient area (Union Square or Fisherman's Wharf), use public transportation or taxis, and rent a car for just one day if you want to take a side trip.
- Make Reservations for Alcatraz Island: At least two weeks ahead. Alcatraz tours fill up fast. Reserve ahead online, use your concierge if the hotel has one or go to the ticket office your first day to avoid disappointment.
- Pick a Good Tour Guide: If you're inclined to take guided tours, avoid the obvious choices. Their tours are canned, restrictive and sometimes their guides are just plain wrong. Instead, take a free walking tour with City Guides or engage a small, local company to take you on a private tour. We recommend our friends Rick at Blue Heron Tours or Jesse at A Friend in Town
- Eat Great Food: You're in a city full of restaurants rated among the world's best, and not all are fancy and expensive. Don't be a typical San Francisco tourist who settles for the tired, mediocre Fisherman's Wharf restaurants or the even tireder garlic-laden dishes at Stinking Rose. Research online, ask your hotel for suggestions or see what others you meet have to say.
- Get on the Cable Car Faster: Don't stand in the endless line going up Hyde from just below Ghirardelli Square. Instead, head over to Mason and Bay Streets, where lines are much shorter. You'll end up at Union Square on either line. If you just want to ride for the fun of it, get on the California line where California Street intersects Market near the Ferry Building and get off at the top of the hill in Chinatown.
- Go Behind the Facade: Don't just stand there looking at the boats in Fisherman's Wharf. Walk toward the water anywhere you can find an opening and see what the wharf is really like. In Chinatown, resist the urge to shuffle down Grant Street and branch off onto the side streets and into the alleys. See if you can find the fortune cookie factory or the Tien Hou Temple.
- Walk on the Golden Gate Bridge: Stopping at the parking lot overlook and not walking on the bridge is like looking at an ice cream sundae and not eating it. To get the true feel of this iconic landmark, stroll the sidewalk, even if you only go out a little way. If you decide to drive instead, you'll need to get prepared to pay your tolls because the human toll-takers have been replaced with an electronic system. The Golden Gate Bridge Tolls Guide has all the ways you can do it.