San Francisco is one of the most unique cities in the world – a blended culture of high-flying city life, start-up scrappiness, hipster grunge, and adventurous daredevils aiming to test the limits of virtually every outdoor sport imaginable. The city always delivers a good time, whether you are looking to surf the Pacific, ride the cable car from Chinatown to Union Square, bike through Golden Gate Park or see the Victorian houses in Alamo Square. You may even get to experience a small earthquake, if you’re ‘lucky’!
No matter which neighbourhood you visit, you can stumble upon a few hidden gems, many of which even locals are unaware of. Like the Lyon steps in Pacific Heights that offers a breath-taking view of yachts dotting the Marina. The Moraga mural steps in the Sunset which lead up to a birds-eye view of the Pacific coastline or the Lands End trail nestled behind Sea Cliff, arguably the best way to take in the rocky coastline of Golden Gate Bridge and the northern peninsula.
Because of the tech boom that has moved a lot of ethnicities and cultures into the San Francisco Bay Area, our foodie culture is absolutely phenomenal, representing culinary inspirations from virtually every corner of the world. Cantonese barbecue pork buns. Check. Ethiopian injera. Check. Brazilian feijoada. Check. Hungarian goulash. Check. No matter how many times you visit the city, or truthfully, how many years you live here, you will continue to discover new and exciting hole-in-the-wall delicacies with a Californian twist. These days, trending in food cart form!
TRAVEL AND TRANSPORT
Public transportation is very convenient in the city, with MUNI bus lines and light rails that crisscross the city. Passes can be bought for daily unlimited rides. For direct transport options, taxicabs are, of course, a good option. However, San Francisco is the personal driver capital of the US. Thus, Uber, Lyft and Sidecar all have a strong presence. Uber offers a multitude of options catering to professionals—from black cars to limos. Do keep in mind ‘surge pricing’ which may increase fares during high demand hours by 1.5-4x. If you are planning to spend time outside of the city centre, a good option is to rent a car. Do keep in mind that meters are enforced 7 days a week so read all signs within 500 feet of your parked car carefully.
To venture out of the city, you have several options. For the East Bay, including Berkeley, Oakland Fremont, take BART (Bay Area Rapid Transport) from downtown San Francisco, which has four main stations: Embarcadero, Montgomery, Powell, and Civic Center. For the Peninsula and Silicon Valley, including San Mateo, Redwood City, Palo Alto, Sunnyvale, Santa Clara and San Jose, take Caltrains from its main station at 4th and Brannan. Note that Caltrains offers bullet trains directly to Silicon Valley during commute hours so make sure you know which stops your train services.
SAFETY And emergency services
San Francisco is very safe as long as you bear in mind you’re in a city. Keep your belongings in sight and pay attention in crowded areas. There is 4G service everywhere, including on underground transportation, so getting lost is highly unlikely if you have your smartphone in hand and most people are happy to point you in the right direction. The few neighbourhoods to avoid at night: Bayview-Hunters Point, Tenderloin, the lower Haight. There is not much foot traffic at those hours so best to err on the side of caution.
Credit cards are accepted pretty much everywhere, with most mom-and-pop shops taking advantage of Square’s offerings on their home turf. I personally keep $60 in cash just in case of emergencies but rarely ever need to use it. For street artists plying their trade in the more touristy areas, keep a few one’s or five’s in an easily accessible pocket.
We have a small population of beggars and panhandlers so please exercise your best judgement if you feel inclined to help them out. I favour providing them with food versus offering them cash, particularly in the above-mentioned neighbourhoods.
Standard tipping in San Francisco is 18% for lunch and 20+% for dinner
ABOUT MICHELE LI
Originally from Hong Kong, I came to San Francisco to study and decided to stay for awhile. A
business development and employment branding consultant for a Silicon Valley-based management consulting firm, I work primarily with start-up and pre-IPO companies in assessing their people strategies. I also co-chair a benefit for the San Francisco Bay Area chap
ter of Room to Read, a global education non-profit which supports literacy and girls education programs in Africa and Asia. A nomad and foodie, I travel extensively for both work and fun, and, in the past few years, have been lucky enough to experience many new places and cultures, my fondest memories of which include Bosnia, Tanzania, Tibet, Sri Lanka, Austria, Hungary, and Sweden. Yet I always choose to come back to this city, which combines all the best things about each and every one of these countries!
On my solo journeys, I have found that the most difficult challenge is figuring out what to do, where to eat, and who to go to for advice. Luckily, I have encountered phenomenal people in the Middle East, Africa, South Asia, Eastern Europe, and the Americas who have been able to point me in the right direction. I’m really excited to be able to do the same for travellers to San Francisco. I love helping people find hole-in-the-wall places to eat and hidden neighbourhood gems to explore. Feel free to email me directly with any questions.
Networking: See who is networking in San Francisco now
Read the doing business in USA guide.