Everything You Need To Know When Traveling To ‘The City’
Locals simply refer to it as “The City.”
As if any other city really matters. Oh, actually one other does, but it’s way on the East Coast and people don’t mind sharing the phrase with New York. This is San Francisco and don’t dare call it “San Fran” or “SF,” for to be singled out as a tourist is, well, oh so NOT San Francisco.
Sure, San Franciscans are a bit snobby when it comes to their town – “nowhere else will you find so many great restaurants and live in a place with so much to do” they boast – but deep down they are still Californians at heart and harbor soft spots to those not fortunate enough in their minds to live in this wonderful place.
And it is a wonderful place. This page will let you get to know “The City” with information on its different neighborhoods, the people, the social atmosphere, transportation and weather.
Arrival and Orientation In San Francisco
San Francisco is served by two airports, SFO (San Francisco International) and Oakland. Many frequent visitors prefer to go in and out of Oakland and use BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) to get to town.
SFO is roughly 20 minutes from downtown by car or taxi and is now also serviced (thankfully) by BART. Oakland is across the bay; this is about 45 minutes from downtown via BART and about a half-hour by car, assuming there’s no traffic on the Bay Bridge.
Once in the city, it’s easy to lose the sense of direction. That’s because there is water on three sides and it’s hard for first-timers to get directional bearings . The water you see only has a one-in-three chance of being adjacent to Fisherman’s Wharf.
Most of the streets are in a grid pattern, which is nice, but some (most notably Columbus) go in a diagonal direction. Without getting too complicated, use these streets as boundaries: Van Ness to the North, Market to the West and The Embarcadero to the South and East (it curves around the land). This will at least keep you centered in the heart of the city.
San Francisco is only seven miles wide, but it can take 45 minutes to get from one side of it to the other because of the traffic.
The Social Scene In San Francisco
San Francisco’s nightlife landscape is cool and laid-back with big-city sophistication.
While it has large dance clubs and trendy spots, San Francisco is really all about its intimate bars and clubs.
These places have either live music or great character and history; there are seemingly hundreds scattered all over town. To really experience the true San Francisco, it’s a must to go to a few of these spots. A couple of examples are the Red Devil Lounge and the Gold Dust.
The people are as extreme as the City’s famous hills. Well-dressed businessmen, expression-filled young adults, gays, tourists, Deadheads and yuppies all make up the social landscape. Rarely do they get out of control, for although San Franciscans know how to have a good time, they are generally far to mellow or social conscious to go overboard. This isn’t exactly Cancun on Spring Break.
Getting Around In San Francisco
See those things at the bottom of your legs? That’s right, your feet. You will be using them a lot.
San Francisco is a great walking city. There are shops to see, tiny bars to duck into and or restaurants to check out. Plus, the streets are alive with action.
Plus, the traffic blows. It’s virtually impossible to progress more than a block a minute in a vehicle. Being a taxi driver or delivery person here must take a heck of a lot of patience. Save the driving for trips across the Golden Gate, to the wine country or down the coast.
Cabs are plentiful and not too expensive. Distances are short, so expect to pay $7-10 for a ride.
The famous cable cars are mostly for show; they really don’t take you anywhere. Still, they are a pretty cool treat. Make your way to Lombard Street to check out the twisty street, then hitch a cable car ride down toward the Hyde Street Pier. At the turnaround sits a historic bar, the Buena Vista, famous for its Irish coffee drinks.
San Franciscans have a love-hate affair with Muni, the bus and rail system. Among their complaints is that it’s unreliable, but still they use it like a crutch. Foot-weary tourists can also find Muni is a blessing.
The buses pretty much go everywhere for a couple of dollars and a new train line along the Embarcadero is convenient for access to downtown, AT&T Park and Fisherman’s Wharf. BART is another mass transit system that serves the city (and actually operates the train to AT&T Park, so it’s necessary to get off MUNI and then onto BART.) Locals are quite helpful in assisting visitors to navigate the public transportation.
Then there is “Critical Mass.” For some reason, on the last Friday of each month every downtown bicycle delivery person in town rides around for two hours at the end of the business day, bringing traffic to a standstill. Why they do so is to question why San Francisco is so tolerant of freedom of expression. If you are trying to get out of town, make a dinner reservation or meet a hot date, be sure to be on your way before 3 o’clock. Otherwise, park it and go to a bar.
The People In San Francisco
Part of San Francisco’s quirkiness is that, despite the fact it is a great tourist city, the locals don’t really enjoy tourists. Rather, they tolerate them. (Okay, they do enjoy laughing at them for wearing shorts and tank tops in the summer). Traditionally, they have been a bit smug about where they live and have been known to quietly look down at people who live elsewhere.
That’s traditionally. Now, with tourism playing such a huge role in the city and many people having moved from different areas, those attitudes are pretty much a thing of the past. To best fit in, act like you belong, say something nice about the city and enjoy the fact you are in one of the most European cities in the States outside of New York.
It, too, is right on the water, has professional sports teams and some ritzy neighborhoods. So, is Oakland worth a visit?
For the answer to that question, we now refer to the words of the legendary Jim Murray, the late, great sportswriter of the Los Angeles Times: “Oakland is this kind of town,” he wrote.”It costs $2 to go from Oakland to San Francisco across the Bay Bridge. Going from San Francisco to Oakland is FREE!”
Actually, Oakland’s waterfront and Jack London Square is now worth a visit, especially the tiny slanted tiki bar with the name that alone makes you want to to in and have a pirate drink, Heinold’s First And Last Chance Saloon
The Weather In San Francisco
There’s a famous line about the weather here (attributed to Mark Twain): “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.”
There’s much truth to the statement (although it’s some matter of local debate whether or not Twain actually should be credited). The weather can be chilly any time of the year or time of day. Even on nice days, when the sun hides behind a cloud the temperature can drop 10 degrees or more. At about 5, the fog often rolls in off the bay interrupting an otherwise lovely, warm day.
It’s always wise to carry a jacket, sweater or sweatshirt. Many a tourist has been caught fighting off sudden chills because they went out wearing only shorts and a t-shirt (or even a tank top. Burr!).
The best weather in San Francisco is in the fall. Temperatures are in the upper 70s and its usually sunny. The late spring is pretty good, too. Outside the city, in Marin County or the wine country, for example, it can be 10-20 degrees warmer.
San Francisco is GMT -8.
When to Go
San Francisco’s weather is best in the fall and late spring. In fact, it’s awesome. The annual Bay to Breakers race is in late May and in the summer there is some kind of street festival/party nearly every other weekend.