If, as the song says, you're going to San Francisco, you probably want more than just a few flowers in your hair. You might also want to acquaint yourself with some basic information about the city. From population to the weather, it's always best to get to know a place before you meet those "gentle people there". (Apologies to Scott McKenzie.)
Want to know whether to pack the rain poncho or a bikini? Should you rent a car? Do you tip taxi drivers? These questions and others are answered here, in our guide to the vital San Francisco information for visitors.
If your goal is to avoid crowds and bustling streets, San Francisco just might not be your ideal vacation destination. With a population of over 800,000, San Francisco is a big city. And Frisco, as it's sometimes been called, is the second most densely populated city in America, behind parts of New York City. Another interesting fact about San Francisco is that it has the second-highest percentage of residents with a university degree, just behind Seattle.
On the streets of San Francisco you'll not just find a lot of (gentle) people but also a diverse collection of people. San Francisco is a minority-majority city, which means that white people make up less than half the population. This diversity can be seen in the many colorful neighborhoods such as Chinatown or the Mission and other places you find ethnic enclaves and (more importantly to us, at least) great ethnic food. As you may already expect from the city's famous Chinatown, the largest minority group in San Francisco is the Chinese community, who make up a full fifth of the population.
San Francisco itself is the focal point of a wider region known as the San Francisco Bay Area. When you take into account the entire San Francisco Bay Area, the region has over 8.6 million people. This tally includes the greater areas of San Jose and Oakland in the census. Trust us when we say, this region is thronging with people.
Known for comprising a seven-by-seven mile square, the city of San Francisco is actually quite small in area compared to other North American cities, especially some of those Southern California cities like Los Angeles and San Diego. However, when you include water surface area, San Francisco covers 232 square miles. Located on the north end of the San Francisco Peninsula, the city of San Francisco also includes vast amounts of the Pacific Ocean and the San Francisco Bay in its bounds. Adding to its land size, San Francisco also stakes claim to several islands, including Alcatraz and Angel Island.
We've all seen photographs of the iconic Lombard Street, called the crookedest road in America. San Franciscans need roads like this to be able to drive up some of the hills in the city. That reminds us, don't forget to pack your walking shoes because, within the city, there are more than 50 hills, of various heights. Well-known Nob Hill and Russian Hill are just a couple of neighborhoods named after the geographic mounds they sit on.
Mark Twain famously said that the coldest winter he ever spent was a summer in San Francisco. This is because this city can be foggy and rainy pretty much year-round. Among major cities in the US, San Francisco has the coolest daily temperatures for the summer months. Perhaps not what you'd expect in what's supposed to be sunny California! You'll always need to pack your raincoat when you head out to San Francisco. You never know when the fog will turn into rain.
Being surrounded by the Pacific Ocean and the San Francisco Bay temper the climate and make the weather about the same year-round. So, while it rarely gets above 80° in summer, it also never dips below 20° in winter. You'd be hard pressed to find snow in San Francisco. At the same time, San Francisco's hills create a variety of microclimates, which means you can sometimes pass from cold and rainy to hot and sunny just moving from neighborhood to neighborhood. You'll need to practice the art of layering while in San Francisco and always pack an umbrella!
If you know anything about San Francisco history, you'll know that from time to time earthquakes threaten the city. Minor earthquakes happen regularly, so don't freak out if the ground starts shaking. Usually when an earthquake happens, you'll not even notice it, or it will feel like a large truck has just passed you by. Due to the constant fear of earthquakes, most buildings are built to the highest engineering standards, so no need to worry.
As we've seen, San Francisco is a small, densely populated city, so driving a car around is not really necessary, especially if you're a visitor. Having a rental car is a pain and finding parking can be an extreme hassle. As a visitor, it makes more sense to take public transportation. And to walk!
San Francisco residents commonly use public transportation in their commute to work. In fact, it's ranked first on the West Coast in terms of ridership per population. The MUNI public transportation system offers light rail, trolleys, streetcars, and a large bus network that connect all of the city together. For fun, you can also take the iconic cable cars; although it's not really the most efficient means of transportation, it is perhaps the most fun.
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San Francisco often makes headlines for its expensive real estate. So it makes sense that the cost of visiting is also influenced by the local cost of living. If you want to create a memorable vacation here (and that's really what it's all about, isn't it?), you should budget $500 to $700 a day for a nice hotel, great meals, fun activities, and Union Square shopping.
ATMs are widely available and credit cards are accepted nearly everywhere. If you want to have a classic San Francisco experience and hit a farmers market or food truck, you might need to pay in cash. A Muni passport runs you about $20. It's the USA, so tipping is expected for services — from taxi drivers to waitstaff. 15% to 20% is common.
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• San Francisco Airport Info…
• Map of San Francisco…
• SF Public Transportation…
• San Francisco Weather…
• SF Information For Visitors…
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