Planning a solo trip to San Francisco? Here’s everything you need to know for your visit:
- One of the most densely populated cities in the U.S. (876,000 people packed into just 47 square miles!)
- Unofficial capital of Silicon Valley, the startup and tech center of the world
- Known worldwide as a hotbed for liberal values, good food, counter-culture – and the gold rush!
- Nicknames: SF, The City by the Bay, Frisco, Fog City.
- Pro tip: only tourists call it “San Fran”
- Currency: US Dollar (USD)
- Spoken languages: predominantly English
- Best time to visit: from March to November (Mediterranean climate)
- Arriving via airport: public transport (BART) is $8.25, taxi is $50
- Uber and/or Lyft are often 30-40% cheaper than a taxi, and are very popular with locals.
WHERE TO STAY
- Best hostel for solo travelers in San Francisco: Green Tortoise. Located on a hill in the historic North Beach neighbourhood, the Tortoise is a comfortable and clean base from which to explore. Plenty of activities for guests, and a daily free breakfast (important for all the walking you’ll do in SF). Book way ahead to make sure you get a spot – if there’s a conference in town, accommodation practically sells out.
- The area around Union Square is ideal for all-around convenience (just make sure you steer clear of the “Tenderloin” area – it can get a bit dangerous there at night).
- Chinatown and North Beach are more affordable, while still close to the main sights.
- Market Street and SOMA (South of Market) are more upscale (newer buildings, where most of the tech company offices are, etc.)
- Accommodation prices can spike suddenly if there’s a big tech conference in town – and there are multiple every year. Book early!
- The systems for getting around town include Muni (light rail, buses, streetcars, cable cars) and BART (subway). Muni rides are $2.50 one-way, and transfers are available. While Muni will get you around town, BART can quickly get you to other points of interests in the Bay Area, such as Oakland and Berkeley. BART fares are calculated based on distance. You can buy a “Clipper” added-value card at most BART stations that will work on most of the transportation in SF.
- Taxis can be called at 415-333-3333 (Yellow Cab) or 415-282-4141 (Luxor Cab). Fares start at around $3.50, with an additional $2.5 for every mile. Many locals prefer Uber or Lyft.
- If you plan to travel out of the city (e.g. for a day trip out to Napa Valley), considering renting a Zipcar.
SAN FRANCISCO NIGHTLIFE
- Drinking age is 21, last call is 1:30 AM.
- Hipster scene: bars in the Mission (16th Street, between Hoff and Guerrero)
- Night clubs to check out: Halcyon SF (house), Audio Nightclub (house), Underground SF (techno), Monarch. Check out the trusty 19.hz calendar for up-to-date events.
- A mix of tourists and locals: bars in North Beach (walking directions). Make sure you get a gelato if you’re in the area! Check out Comstock Saloon and The Devil’s Acre.
- Local crowd: bars along Polk Street (between Sutter and Pacific). Check out Harper & Rye.
- Great bars that locals love: Local Edition ($$ – cocktails), Rickhouse (Kearny St.), Bourbon and Branch, 15 Romolo, Stookey’s Club Moderne, and Trick Dog.
UNIQUE LANDMARKS TO VISIT
- The Golden Gate Bridge is a world-famous suspension bridge that opens up the San Francisco Bay to the Pacific Ocean. Great to walk or bike across.
- The historic Ferry Building is an active ferry terminal that doubles as a farmer’s market in the mornings.
- Built in the 1930s, Coit Tower is a great vantage point for cityscape viewing.
- Take a ferry to Alcatraz Island for a tour of what used to be one of America’s highest security prisons. Tickets sell out fast, so book a few days in advance.
- Spend a day in Golden Gate Park. Recommended spots include the de Young Museum, Japanese Tea Garden, the SF Botanical Garden and the California Academy of Sciences.
- Other notable museums include: Asian Art Museum, SFMOMA, and the Exploratorium (Science).
- Walk along the waterfront from the Ferry Building to Fort Mason Green
- Check out Valencia, Guerrero, Dolores streets in the Mission District. Be sure to check out the street murals on Clarion Alley.
- Grand tour: Union Square, Chinatown, and North Beach/Telegraph Hill.
- Walk along Hayes Street to Alamo Square Park, and then to Japantown
- San Francisco is one of the food capitals of North America. Try out some great meals while you’re in town – there’s something from every major world cuisine. Get the Yelp app for restaurant reviews and opening hours.
- SF is crazy about street festivals and concerts. Popular events include: Bay to Breakers, the Folsom Street Fair, and Hardly Strictly Bluegrass. Check local listings to see what’s going on.
- San Francisco is often referred to as “America’s most beautiful city.” Each neighborhood offers a unique flair, and the year-round mild Mediterranean climate makes walking tours a pleasant experience.
- Bring a light jacket (it can get windy in the evenings). Don’t forget to pack a pair of comfortable walking shoes – hills in SF can get very steep.
- Weirdness and diversity are embraced in SF. The city is best enjoyed with an open mind.
- If you want to check out the cable cars, try the (east-west) California Street Line. You won’t have to wait in line nearly as long. Rides are $6 one way ($12 round-trip).
- Great restaurants in San Francisco that locals love (this place is foodie heaven): El Aji Peruvian ($$), Freekeh (Middle Eastern), An | Japanese ($$$), Moku Yakitori-Ya, Wolfe’s Lunch ($), Chome (Japanese), China North Dumpling ($), Lupa Trattoria ($$), Sotto Mare ($$), Tawan’s Thai Food, Merchant Roots ($$), Hoi An 1608, Aaha Indian Cuisine, Doma Sushi, Betty Lou’s Seafood and Grill, Hon’s Wun-Tun House ($), Itria (Italian).
- Where to find good cheap eats: all over town! Use Yelp to check out what’s near you. For cheap (authentic) Chinese food, try Jackson St. (between Kearny and Grant) in Chinatown. If you’re craving Mexican food, head to the Mission District and get an authentic burrito – you can’t go wrong with Taqueria Cancun, El Farolito, or El Rancho Grande (multiple locations).
- Dangerous areas: SF is generally very safe. Areas to avoid at night: the Tenderloin (bordered roughly by Geary, Van Ness and Market), and parts of SOMA (South of Market, between 6th and 9th).
Recommended trip duration: 3-4 days