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Someone once said that “the coldest summer I ever spent was in San Francisco.” I was born and raised in the glorious city by the bay and will agree wholeheartedly with that sentiment. During my childhood I didn’t spend my summers running around the city in shorts. As a matter of fact, I never knew that people had summer and winter wardrobes until I moved to the east coast. What would be considered summer clothes were only worn to summer camp in the mountains or on summer vacations down south. And when I say down south I don’t just mean the southern part of the United States, I’m including southern California.
Here’s a fun fact about San Francisco, it is made up of microclimates. It can be cold and foggy in the morning, then warm up once the sun comes out and the fog burns off. Suddenly, it will be cold and damp again. But that’s not all. There are pockets of the city that are in a sunbelt and other parts that are notorious for being in the fog belt. I obviously grew up in an area that is in the fog belt. Most people think that all of California is warm and sunny, but San Francisco is sassy and independent. She does what she wants, when she wants. To help first time visitors navigate my hometown, I’ve come up with 5 tips for people visiting San Francisco for the first time.
Tip #1: Dress in layers. You will want to bring a jacket or a light weight coat to wear at night when temperatures can drop 30 or more degrees. Hoodies are good to wear during the day with a short sleeve shirt underneath. Bring a few long sleeve shirts, a scarf, gloves, and a hat for that chilly ferry ride over to Alcatraz. Wearing clothing that can be layered is key. Most people dress casually so jeans and slacks are a good idea. I would not bring shorts because it’s usually too chilly unless you are going outside of the city.
Tip #2: Don’t drive. Parking and traffic in San Francisco and the Bay Area is atrocious! Unless you are staying outside of the city I wouldn’t suggest getting a car to drive around the city. Have you ever tried to parallel park on one of those jaw dropping hills in a tight space at night? Right. Instead, I recommend that you ride BART, MUNI, or catch an UBER or Lyft. San Francisco is a relatively small city and it can be quite walkable, but just be warned that those hills might take you out.
Tip #3: Eat your way through the city. Food is amazing in San Francisco and you will find delicious food from around the world all over the city. Great Chinese food is not only in found in Chinatown but some of the best food is found in the Richmond and Sunset districts. Mexican food, especially burritos are hearty and flavorful in the Mission district. Italian food can still be found in North Beach. If seafood is your thing then you can get amazing fresh out of the water fish and shellfish at Fisherman’s Wharf. One of my favorites things to do on a chilly San Francisco day is to get a bowl of clam chowder served inside of a San Francisco sourdough bowl.
Tip #4: Satisfy your need for culture by visiting local museums. The MoAD Museum is within walking distance of several other museums in the Yerba Buena Arts District. If you’ve got a sweet tooth then you don’t want to miss the Museum of Ice Cream. Stroll through gorgeous Golden Gate Park which will lead you to the California Academy of Sciences and the de Young Museum. While you’re there, stop and enjoy a cup of tea in the adorable Japanese Tea Garden. Visit nearby Fort Mason or The Presidio. When I was a child one of my favorite places to visit was the Exploratorium . Back then it was located at the Palace of Fine Arts but it has since moved to Pier 15 near the Embarcadero. While you are over there be sure to check out the beautifully restored Ferry Building. Other interesting activities include walking through the very colorful Castro neighborhood to learn the history of the LGBTQ movement in San Francisco. There are so many touristy things to do and you should feel free to partake in as many of them as you can.
Tip #5: Venture outside of the city. While I love my hometown I will admit that the surrounding cities and towns can give it a run for its money. There is the vibrant culture and history found in nearby Oakland and Berkeley. Visit the Oakland Museum and Lake Merritt. Head across the other bridge and you can enjoy the juicy flavors of a wide variety of wines produced in Napa and Sonoma. Ride a ferry over to Sausalito for lunch and a bit of window shopping, or if you are brave enough try to walk or bike across the blustery Golden Gate Bridge. Whatever you decide to do I’m pretty sure you will have an amazing time.
Perhaps I’m biased but I believe that San Francisco is one of the most beautiful cities in America. I leave you with my top 5 must dos for people visiting San Francisco for the first time. Jaunt over to Fisherman’s Wharf, / Pier 39 for Dungeness Crab. Take a trip to Chinatown to eat dim sum. Hang off of a cable car as it clangs its way up and down the rolling hills. Jaunt across the Golden Gate Bridge to sip wine and watch the sun set over the glistening bay. Finally, gaze down on the city from Twin Peaks while eating a two handed burrito.
ETA: Some people have been asking about places to stay in San Francisco. I would suggest staying in an Airbnb rather than a hotel but if you decide to stay in a hotel check out my travel deals page for great money saving discounts.
Have you visited San Francisco? What tips would you offer a first time visitor? Share them in the comments section. Be sure to like, share, and subscribe!