After spending a week as a tourist in San Francisco, I’ve learned a few things. If you ever go, keep these in mind:
1. Just because the day starts out gloomy and cloudy doesn’t mean you don’t need sunscreen.
2. The phrase “sunny California” does not, in fact, apply to San Francisco. Bring a jacket. Even in the summer. As they falsely attribute to Mark Twain: “the coldest winter I ever spent was the summer in San Francisco.” He might not have actually said that, but it’s accurate.
3. Just because the wind is so cold that you can’t feel your face doesn’t mean you don’t need sunscreen.
4. The beach is purely for looks, as that water is too cold to actually touch.
5. Food is more expensive than it is in Hawaii. Triple your food budget and you’ll come close to what you need.
6. Just because you put on three layers of sunscreen doesn’t mean you don’t need more sunscreen.
7. The club level seats at AT&T park are completely worth the money. The seats are bigger, with more leg room, and the club room food is fantastic. Strawberry shortcake anyone?
8. Cable Cars are for show only. Do not, under any circumstances, wait at the end of the line (either end) to board the car. You’ll be there for hours, for no apparent reason. It’s $6, crowded, ridiculously slow, and not worth it. Trust me on this. Walking is better. Take a picture, and if you must ride once to say you’ve been there, done that, then hop on somewhere mid-way, preferably on one of the less populated streets. You’ll actually be able to get on board without tossing someone else off.
9. Just because you are in the shade or on a street car doesn’t mean you don’t need more sunscreen.
10. Every restaurant has the best clam chowder. Every. Single. One. And at every restaurant, clam chowder is by far the best dish on the menu. Skip the expensive fish and get a giant bowl of chowder and maybe an appetizer. Maybe.
11. Know exactly where you want to go and find out exactly how to get there, preferably by three different people. If taking public transportation, verify the directions with the driver. The 30-Stockton bus does not always go to Stockton. Ask, ask, ask.
12. A hat is incredibly handy for keeping your scalp from getting sunburned. Just make sure there is a way to tie it on your head. The wind down by the water just loves to steal hats.
13. Alcatraz is extremely popular. If you want to see it, buy the tickets online, in advance. The sooner, the better. If you want to tour it at night, you’ll need to purchase them months ahead of time. By June 3, the night tickets were sold out through the end of the summer and into fall. Day tickets are cheapest from the government website, rather than another tour company. Yes, it’s worth the effort.
14. Some of the San Francisco hills will kill you. Bring good walking shoes, and possibly another set of legs. If it looks steep…it is. That’s why so many people are on those street cars.
15. Marina Boulevard is a very nice place to walk/run/jog. You can’t take a bus or tour there, but you can rent a bicycle and sometimes a Segway. It’s wonderfully flat and quite beautiful, and the wide trail is designed for bikes. You can take it from Crissy Field all the way to Fisherman’s Wharf. I know because I got lost and ended up walking the entire thing. Halfway to the Wharf there is a fantastic view of the bay, Alcatraz, and the Golden Gate Bridge. You wont see it if you don’t take this walk, because you can’t drive there.
16. Public transportation is overcrowded and uncomfortable. If you’re spending just a day or two, rent a car. You’ll thank yourself later.
17. Just because you’re driving around doesn’t mean you don’t need sunscreen.
18. It pays a lot of money to be a romance novelist with the name Danielle Steele, whose house is the largest in the city with the most land. I saw the gates, so I’m practically family.
19. Do not, under any circumstances, eat a meal in the hotel restaurant. Just outside the door there’s probably 20 restaurants in a one block radius from where you’re standing. Go try one. Not to mention the city is conveniently split up into districts, which makes it easy to find whatever your palate demands. Craving Italian? Head over to North Beach. Asian? Chinatown, or Japan Town. Seafood? Everywhere. Seriously. Every street has seafood. Need coffee? There’s 150 Starbucks in the downtown area, not to mention the local coffee shops and Peats scattered around. Be adventurous, step outside the door, and walk a block. I promise you’ll find what you’re looking for. Unless, of course, you’re over in some neighborhood like Pacific Heights.
20. On Pier 39 there are the cutest sea lions just hanging out. Be sure to find them and take pictures.