One of the most visitor friendly cities in the world, San Francisco welcomes just about everyone with open arms and open minds. But every city has its idiosyncratic aspects: the San Francisco lifestyle can be very different then the rest of America, more like Europe in many ways. So check out my list of no-no's before you go-go, and save yourself the headaches.
1. Don't Leave Your Hotel Without a Jacket or Sweater
I don't care how beautiful it is at 10am or noon, the fog can wash over the city in a matter of minutes and turn a day of glorious city sightseeing into a miserable cross town scramble for shelter and warmth. Major outdoor sights like the Golden Gate Bridge and Golden Gate Park are especially notorious for this. Those that don't heed this advice usually learn the hard way, and come home with a collection of cheesy Alcatraz and Chinatown sweatshirts that they had to buy on the fly. I guess they make great gifts.....
2. Don't Rent a Car Unless You are Going out of Town (And Even Then its a Maybe)
Not only is San Francisco one of the most walking friendly cities in the world, it is very expensive to park in and incredibly hectic to drive in. On top of that it has a top-notch public transportation system, which includes the famous cable cars and the historic streetcars. Taxis are also plentiful and cheap as distances in the city are short. Beyond that there are multiple tour companies that offer very eclectic and fun guided tours for those who want them. Even if you plan on visiting places outside the city on your trip, you will find that a ferry, train or tour usually goes there cheaper and easier than by automobile.
3. Don't Be a Homophobe (Or a Racist)
As the gay and lesbian capital of the United States, San Francisco is not the place to be spurting off homophobic ignorance. You may see same sex couples holding hands or kissing in public, especially in places like the Castro District or if you come during Gay Pride. The quickest way to be the uncoolest person in San Francisco is to be offensive: homophobic, racist, sexist......you get the picture. Even subtle jokes, innuendos and teasing are often taken seriously in San Francisco and can result in public denouncement or ridicule. The the only thing the city of tolerance doesn't tolerate is intolerance..
4. Don't Ask For a Starbucks
Yes, there are a number of Starbucks and other chain cafes in San Francisco, mostly clustered around the Union Square and downtown area. But many of San Francisco's residential neighborhoods, including both the Haight-Ashbury and North Beach have actively fought to keep chain cafes (and other corporate businesses) out. The upside is that both of those areas as well as every other part of the city are well stocked with local, independently-run cafes, including authentic Italian roasters and fully organic coffee shops. Check out the city's impressive coffee scene, you will be hooked.
5. Don't Expect a Tropical Beach Vacation
Although San Francisco does have some amazingly scenic beaches right within city limits, the city is not a beach culture the way LA and San Diego are. Part of this is due to the weather, which confines beach activities to hiking in wind and rain gear most of the year, and part is due to the very urban lifestyle of the city itself. There are just too many museums, culutural events, parks and neighborhoods to explore that most people don't really think about the beach much. Until the Indian Summer comes along that is, and then you may find even more than you are looking for at places like Baker Beach.
6. Don't Be Afraid to Do Some Independent Exploration
Not only is San Francisco an extremely safe city for its size, but it is very hard to get lost due to all the hills that serve as natural landmarks. Exploring the real San Francisco is a rewarding activity that will bring you up close to a myriad of different ethnic and bohemian neighborhoods, many of them teeming with off-the-beaten path attractions, from grandiose churches to friendly dive bars. The deeper you dig, the more you will uncover - San Francisco is veritable treasure chest of hidden gems.