10 Tips for First-Time Visitors to San Francisco

With iconic attractions like the Golden Gate Bridge, unique neighbourhoods, excellent food, and great foods, San Francisco is a visitor magnet for more than 10 million travellers a year. If you plan on joining their ranks and embarking on a San Francisco car hire adventure, avoid making an impression for all the wrong reasons. Here’s some advice for the first-time San Francisco visitor:


1. Don’t expect California weather

Think of California and a vision of endless sunshine probably springs to mind, but a visit to the City by the Bay may dispel that image. During July and August, San Francisco enjoys (?) the lowest average and peak temperatures of any major U.S. City. Don’t give yourself away as a tourist by shivering in shorts and sandals.


sanfran12. Avoid cable car confusion

It’s easy for new arrivals to mix up the various historic cars available on San Francisco’s public transportation system, with newcomers often saying they rode the trolley, when they actually rode the cable car. Confused? Don’t be: If the particular kitschy carriage you’ve alighted from has overhead cables, it is a streetcar (trolley); if not, it is a cable car.

3. Shop outside Union Square

Of course, you should see Union Square – we’re just saying you shouldn’t spend your whole time shopping there. It is a great shopping district, but there are plenty of even better shops within easy reach downtown.


sanfran24. Keep out of the tourist traps

Some people come to San Francisco and spend half the week in Fisherman’s Wharf, which is probably about half a week too long. Unless you love kitschy souvenirs and touristy restaurants, explore the rest of the city instead. And if you are in Fisherman’s Wharf, look beyond the tacky shopfronts to see what really goes on at the busy wharf.

5. The best views are at the bottom of Lombard Street

Many tourists gather at the top of Lombard Street to take pictures, but you will get far superior views from the bottom. Look up to appreciate the crazy crookedness of the street – and to feel sorry for the poor tourists who recognise half-way up that it’s not really worth the bother to climb it.

6. Make sure you book your seat on the ferry to Alcatraz well in advance

If visiting Alcatraz is a priority, remember that it is for most other first-time San Francisco visitors too. The ferry to the infamous prison island fills up weeks in advance, and it’s the only means of getting there, so reserve your seats!


sanfran37. You won’t find a hippie heaven in Haight-Ashbury

Once the epicentre of the 1960s hippie movement, Haight-Ashbury is more gentrified these days. It remains an inviting shopping district, with some traces of its bohemian past in evidence and some charmingly restored “Painted Lady” Victorian houses, but it is no longer a centre for social revolution.


8. Avoid Sixth Street

If you use Sixth Street to get from your SoMa (South of Market) hotel to get to the Civic Center, you are likely to regret it. A kind description would be “gritty,” so tourists are best advised to find safer and more appealing ways to experience local colour.


9. Ask a local

If you are going to use the Muni bus system, you will need to ask for guidance if you want to reach your destination. Don’t be embarrassed to ask a local – everyone knows the Muni is confusing. And while we’re on the subjects of locals and public transport, don’t annoy commuters by standing on the wrong (i.e. left) side of the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) escalator. If you forget to stand on the right, the loud sighs behind you will serve as a reminder.


10. Walk on the Golden Gate Bridgesanfran4

You’ve come all this way to see one of the world’s most famous landmarks, so why just look? To get a real sense of the presence and history of the Golden Gate Bridge, amble along the sidewalk. If you choose to drive your hire car across the bridge, however, you’ll have to pay a toll.

Don’t forget to check out car hire in San Francisco from Nova Car Hire for your trips around California!