Mistakes Tourists Make When Visiting San Francisco

San Francisco is one of the most popular cities in the United States for tourism, and for good reason. It boasts a world-class food scene, beautiful parks, iconic architecture, and more.

But according to locals, Bay Area tourists tend to go wrong during their visits. We asked San Franciscans to share some of the missteps they saw and enthusiastically embraced.

From wearing the wrong clothes to leaving items on display in a car, here are just a few mistakes tourists often make when visiting San Francisco, and tips to avoid these mistakes on your travels.

Don’t wear capes

“A fashion mistake most tourists make when visiting San Francisco is packing the wrong clothes. Since the weather changes frequently and it’s quite windy and foggy, layer up! Skip the shorts and mini skirt and opt for baggy jeans or pants.” ― Ally Chen, blogger and YouTuber at Fashion by Ally

“A common question I get from family and friends planning to visit SF is, ‘What should I wear?’ No matter the time of year, I always recommend packing a few light layers: the weather can change quickly, so it’s best to be prepared with clothes that can be easily put on and taken off. My favorite combination is a comfortable sweatshirt under a long, modern coat.” ― Kate Ogata, Content Creator and Style Blogger

Leaving exposed items in your car

“A big mistake is leaving stuff in your car while it’s unattended. If you plan to rent a car or drive, please do not leave anything of value in the car, such as your luggage, backpacks, purses, electronic devices, etc. Auto thefts have reached an unprecedented and disturbing level.” ― Ashleigh Reddy, photographer and content creator

“Never leave anything in plain view in your car, not even clothing or a charging cable. It will break. If you want to put things in your trunk, put it before you get to your destination and don’t open your trunk once you get there.” ― Allie Tong, blogger for Allie Eats

Spending all the time at Fisherman’s Wharf

“Tourists flock to Fisherman’s Wharf and Ghirardelli Square, but many miss out on what really makes San Francisco special: the dozens of neighborhoods that make up the city! The differences between them can be very striking and each one has something special to offer. Some of my favorites to explore are Alamo Square for all the colorful houses, Mission for the vibrant food scene and people watching, North Beach for a mini trip to Italy, and Hayes Valley for dining and shopping.” ― Kelly Huibregtse, A Side of Sweet blogger

“Fisherman’s Wharf is San Francisco’s Times Square. Of course, you have to visit it at least once, but a big mistake tourists make is to spend most of their time there and leave without an authentic San Francisco experience. After all, you can find an Applebee’s and IHOP just about anywhere. I would suggest setting aside a couple of hours to visit Fisherman’s Wharf, but when you start to get hungry, leave the tourist area and head to North Beach, the city’s historic Italian neighborhood, where you can find some of the best cioppino and pizza here.” ― Kara Harms, Whimsy Soul Blogger

Waiting for hot summers

“As a San Francisco local, I know that at any moment the fog will come and stay until September. Travelers think of California and imagine hot summer days with sun, palm trees and long sandy beaches, but San Francisco is in Northern California (not Southern) and is famous for its microclimate. June, July and August bring tons of thick fog, which chills the city up to 50 degrees. I always see tourists shivering in shorts and tank tops in the summer and I always laugh when they wear some kind of San Francisco sweater because I know they caved in and bought a Fisherman’s Wharf hoodie to keep warm.” ― damage

Just because you're in California doesn't mean San Francisco is always hot and sunny.

Don White via Getty Images

Just because you’re in California doesn’t mean San Francisco is always hot and sunny.

Assuming restaurants will be open late

“A mistake tourists make is trying to be late for a restaurant. We are a city of early risers, hikers and yogis. We love to sleep and watch the sunrise.” ― Safiya Jihan, fashion designer and style consultant

Calling it ‘San Fran’

“Tourists often call it ‘San Francisco’ or, even worse, ‘Frisco.’ But the locals call it San Francisco, SF or The City.” ― Anna Alexia Basile, photographer

wearing the wrong shoes

“San Francisco is a very walkable city, but not if you’re wearing the wrong shoes! I often see tourists in flip flops or sandals (especially during the ‘summer months’). The first thing to keep in mind is that our summer is usually colder than winter thanks to the heat from the interior that drives the fog into the city. If you wear flip-flops during ‘summer’ be prepared for frostbite toes. Second, because our city is so walkable and there are lots of hills, it’s smart to wear comfortable walking shoes so you can really explore the city on foot. If you visit San Francisco and don’t plan on walking all day, you’re definitely making a mistake.” ― Chandamheer Stacker-Chung, Pancake Stacker Blogger

Don’t be strategic with the cable car.

“Riding a cable car up a steep hill in San Francisco is iconic, but it can also take you literally hours of standing in line just to board a very full car and have a disappointing experience. There is a better way to do it and it will take a bit of strategy, but the payoff is fantastic. First, set your alarms early and aim for a morning cable car ride no later than 9am. having. This stop is further away from the tourist areas and therefore has a fraction of the cyclists who get on here. The last time I rode in the cars, we headed here and had the whole car to ourselves for a few stops, which meant we got the coveted front row seats with all the good views.” ― damage

Golden Gate Park is missing

“Did you know that Golden Gate Park is bigger than Central Park? There are also bison that live there (really), a couple of Dutch windmills, secret public art venues, rose gardens, redwood groves, a flower conservatory, a tea garden, the first playground in the country, and much more. Golden Gate Park is packed with hidden gems and fun things to do outdoors. Unfortunately, tourists never make it to the western half of town, or go to Cal’s science museum and call it a day. I wish more people would take the time to explore the park; It is one of the places that makes San Francisco unique.” ― damage

do not make reservations

“If you’re a foodie, make reservations a month in advance. There are tons of amazing and delicious restaurants in SF. But if you’re like me and want to check out some of the newer or more popular restaurants that have a bit of a buzz (Penny Roma, Good Good Culture Club, Che Fico), make a reservation at Resy or directly through the restaurant. website.” – Aimee Racer, blogger for The Ohio Transplant

“I strongly encourage visitors to research their favorite restaurants and make a reservation to avoid being turned away at the door.” ― Cynthia Cole, Cyn Eats Blogger

Do too many wine stops

“Another mistake I often see tourists make is cramming multiple winery tours into one day. Pace yourself, enjoy the scenery, wine and food by visiting a winery or two during your day trip to Napa or Sonoma from San Francisco.” ― jihan

stay in the center

“A mistake is staying in the financial district instead of our most charming neighborhoods, like Hayes Valley, Bernal Heights, Inner/Outer Sunset or Mission. Although there are great hotels downtown, I would recommend booking an Airbnb in a more walkable neighborhood where you can get a real taste of local life.” ― Tiffany Wang, writer and digital creator

“Union Square is packed with beautiful architecture, fantastic museums, shops and restaurants, but there is so much more beyond that! Some of my favorite parts of the city are outside the downtown area: pies at Tartine in Mission (followed by sunbathing at Dolores Park), hiking Marshall’s Beach (best view of the Golden Gate Bridge in my opinion ) and make a neighborhood at sunset. crawl where you explore all that Irving, Judah and Noriega streets have!” ― runner

Affordable hidden gems are missing

“I would say that the biggest mistake tourists make when traveling to San Francisco is eating at well-known and popular restaurants. Although eating out is unavoidable when traveling, I think it’s important to know that there are many hidden gems in San Francisco. From family diners to little pubs tucked away on Maiden Lane, I think balance is key when dining in San Francisco. That is, of course, if you don’t want to go bankrupt!” ― Chanel Butler, Chanelfiles blogger


“Plan ahead! While you can always “fly” you would map out each area you want to explore to avoid wasting time driving back and forth. For example, if someone is already visiting North Beach, walk a block to Chinatown for some delicious dumplings before making your next stop.” ― Cabbage

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