“I left my heart in San Francisco” ~ Tony Bennett.

Ever wondered what the secret is to having the most enjoyable trip possible? Welcome to my “Be Invisible” series – your ultimate guide for how to not look like a tourist on your next adventure and guaranteed to boost your entire travel experience.

Bursting with helpful tips and tricks, I’ve asked locals from particular cities around the world to share their insider knowledge on the best ways travellers can become “invisible” when visiting their city and enjoy it like a local. If you’re ready to challenge travel stereotypes, overcome language barriers and embrace what I like to call invisible tourism, you’ve come to the right place!

These San Francisco insider tips were written by Constance from The Adventures of Panda Bear. I’m yet to visit this amazing city myself so I am very excited to share her top San Francisco tourist tips. Discover how you can make the most of your travel time and experience San Francisco like a local, written by a local!

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Do's and Don'ts in San Francisco to Not Look Like a Tourist | The Invisible Tourist
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Here’s 10 San Francisco insider tips from a local

San Francisco is best known for its Dungeness crabs, the Golden Gate Bridge, and lantern lined streets of Chinatown. It’s where Burning Man first began on Baker Beach and home to the birthplace of the 1960s counterculture movement (Haight Ashbury). The city is full of culture, eats, and architecture.

When it’s not foggy, San Francisco is one of the most picturesque cities, we have a beach, a forest, skyscrapers, and even bison all within 49 square miles. Even when it is foggy, San Francisco is full of character with unique neighbourhoods throughout the city.

We love to hate our public transportation and complaining about our weather. But we’re also grateful that we actually have a functional transit system unlike some other parts of the U.S. As much as Karl the fog (yes, the fog has a name) grinds our gears, it also creates for some interesting microclimates. It can be sunny in downtown San Francisco, but overcast near Ocean Beach.

This guide will teach you more about are amazing city while helping you blend in a little more while visiting our beautiful city of San Francisco.

Do use “San Francisco,” “SF,” or “The City”

First things first, it’s not “San Fran” or “Frisco.” Us locals only call it “San Francisco” or “SF” for short. It’s also the most important city to us and is hence known as “The City,” even though it’s not the largest city in Northern California.

Bonus: It’s “California” not “Cali.” Contrary to pop culture, no one in California actually calls it “Cali.”

Do Skip the Clam Chowder (in Bread Bowl) and Grab a Cioppino

Clam Chowder is from New England, Cioppino is not. In case you haven’t heard of it, cioppino is a San Francisco tradition created by Italian immigrants in the North Beach neighbourhood.

The “today’s special” type of soup is tomato-based and was created with leftovers of the day’s fresh catch, typically a mixture of crab, shrimp, mussels, and fish combined with onions, garlic, tomatoes, fresh herbs, olive oil, and wine.

Be sure to try cioppino

Do Leave the T-Shirts, Shorts, & Sandals at Home

A lot of visitors tend to think that all of California is warm, sunny, and full of palm trees. They’re in for a rude awakening since San Francisco is NOT Los Angeles nor is it anywhere close to Southern California.

Weather wise, it is definitely far from it! T-shirts, shorts, & sandals are not recommended most days, even during the summer. The wind is seriously no joke!

The smartest thing to do is to layer up, wear your t-shirt underneath a windbreaker or a hoodie. The wind and fog definitely keeps SF weather on the chilly side!

Karl visiting the Golden Gate Bridge

Don’t Leave Valuables in Your Car

Tourists to San Francisco sometimes also think it’s okay to leave valuables in their car, especially in plain sight. I am now officially warning you, it is NOT okay! Especially if you don’t want it going missing and/or having to pay for a broken window.

Don’t leave anything in the car that could potentially tempt someone to break into your car. Us locals also try to avoid leaving things in our cars so it’s not just you.

Don’t Visit Fisherman’s Wharf & Pier 39

The area is just about the most tourist trappy place in all of San Francisco. There are clam chowder stalls along the street and you can pay to see attractions like the aquarium or go to an arcade.

It’s nothing to write about and you can definitely skip it, but if you must visit, the only cool thing there is the colony of sea lions that have made their home on wooden platforms behind Pier 39.

Don’t Walk Down Lombard Street

While we’re on the subject of skipping, you don’t really need to go to Lombard Street. It’s not the crookedest street in the world nor is it even the crookedest street in San Francisco. That honour goes to Vermont Street between 20th & 22nd Streets in a residential neighbourhood.

However if you insist of sitting through traffic just to drive through Lombard, then be my guest!

Do Explore the Unique Offbeat Neighbourhoods of San Francisco

Each neighbourhood has its own flair, from the North Beach to Chinatown, Japantown, the Mission, and the Castro. Many of the districts in SF have been coloured and shaped by the communities who have resided and currently live there.

The Mission is known for its vibrant Hispanic community, North Beach has amazing Italian Food, and the Castro is known for inclusion, love, and rainbows. Japantown is the largest, San Francisco Chinatown has been around since the 1840s and is the oldest Chinatown in the United States.

Though Chinatown isn’t necessarily the area where the best Chinese food is at anymore, it’s still the best place for recent Chinese immigrants to get their footing.

Credit: skeeze via Pixabay

Do use Lyft or Uber Over Public Transit

Public transit in San Francisco runs on the Muni and BART systems. The Muni includes buses and streetcars while BART includes the subway. BART doesn’t have stops to get where you need to go and Muni can sometimes be delayed up to an hour with no updates.

You, literally, just see the counter go from 20 minutes to 5 minutes and then run back to 20 minutes again, frustrating huh?

Fun Fact: Both Lyft & Uber are headquartered in San Francisco.

If you’re in a rush or time crunch, don’t hesitate taking Lyft or Uber, especially the Lyft Shared Ride or Uber Pool for a budget-friendly fare. Plus if you take Lyft or Uber, you won’t have to worry about the outrageous parking fees in the city!

Credit: nuefal54 via Pixabay

Do Set Aside Time to Find All of the “Hearts in San Francisco”

Exploring street art is one of the most fun things to do in San Francisco with kids (and for adults alike)!

The “Hearts in San Francisco” are an art installation inspired by the Tony Bennett song, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” There are 131 Hearts placed throughout the city, each with a unique decoration and design.

Many of the hearts are located in typical touristy spots, such as Pier 39, Union Square, and AT&T Park. Others are more hidden in locally trafficked spaces like Lyon Street Steps and San Francisco General Hospital. There is also one at Terminal 2 in the San Francisco International Airport!

BONUS: For more love-inspired art, check out “Cupid’s Span,” by married artists Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen located along The Embarcadero.

Hearts in San Francisco

Do See the Golden Gate Bridge from a Different Perspective

Don’t see it from the super popular lookout, but check it out from other vantage points, such as Baker Beach, Land’s End, Crissy Field, or the Presidio.

There are so many areas in the city you can get an amazing view of the Golden Gate Bridge, there is no need to go to the lookout. If you’re athletically inclined, you can even bike across the bridge!

San Francisco is a beautiful city with lots to offer, but visiting only the touristy sights will barely allow you to scratch the surface (and history) of this amazing city.

One of the best San Francisco tips is to head to Baker Beach
For more local recommendations from The Adventures of Panda Bear, check out Constance’s first timer’s guide to a weekend in San Francisco, or follow her adventures on Facebook and Instagram!

Ready to “be invisible” in San Fransisco?

Now you’ve uncovered the best San Francisco tips from a local, perhaps you’re ready to make the trip! Why not compare hotel prices here? If you’d like to learn learn my strategies for how to not look like a tourist ANYWHERE, take a look at my  book – it was a #1 Amazon New Release!

Do you have any San Francisco travel tips to add to this list? Let me know in the comments below!
I hope you enjoyed this instalment of my Be Invisible series! If you found this helpful, please share it or follow me on Facebook, Pinterest, TikTok or Instagram for more!

Until next time, 

The Invisible Tourist

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Featured image and pin credit: Pixabay
Second pin image credit: Pixabay
All photography copyright to Constance at The Adventures of Panda Bear.
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  1. In San Francisco the Asian Art Museum is a must-see. I have lived in the SF Bay Area for more than 30 years and love going to it regularly. It has special exhibits and its regular collection is huge. It’s only a block or two from the Civic Center BART station.

    1. I would love to see the Asian Art Museum! That would be so fascinating. It’s great that you still enjoy visiting even after 30 years! Thanks so much for your comment, Allyce 😃

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