Below is what I’ve passed onto a few friends who have asked about getting around San Francisco. repeated here in the hope it may be useful.
- Get a clipper card
- Wear sensible shoes, because it’s hilly as fuck. Also, because the floor is lava.
- One Beer, One Dollar Tip.
Getting around and finding your way.
No-one uses street numbers, because the streets are ridiculously long, the numbers don’t match up on parallel streets, and everyone uses the address of the nearest cross-street. So you’ll hear “Folsom and 12th” and not “1582 Folsom”. Learn the cross street of your accomodation.
SF is mostly based on the grid system, with the notable exception of market (Dividing the centre into South of Market (soma) + North of Market), but many of the roads are so long that they curve.
It is very, very unlikely that you will go into sunset, presidio, noe valley, as the further you get away from market, the more suburban things get.
There are a fuck ton of hills. No matter which way you walk, you will be going uphill and downhill, and uphill again.
Traffic intersections work differently to the UK
Unsignalled crossroads work like zebra crossings. Cars will generally yield to pedestrians
Signalled crossroads work very differently, you get to cross when the traffic is going in the same direction as you,
Crossings alternate between left-right traffic and north-south traffic.
Cars can turn right through a red light, and not every crossroad has pedestrian signalling either.
You will eternally be confused by things being on the wrong side of the road.
If you plan to get on busses or trams, get a clipper card. It’s very similar to oyster.
There is MUNI and Bart. Bart is really only useful for getting to oakland and SFO airport, Muni is limited to SF.
MUNI is a $2 flat fare. You only have to touch in, not touch out. You have to step down to open the rear bus doors.
MUNI runs on its own idea of time. It will always be late. It will always be slow. It will often be smelly. The K and the T line are currently the same line.
Bus stops don’t always have signposts, signage, or timetables. Often bus stops are just poles with a small yellow strip indicating which routes stop there.
There is also the cable-cars, and the vintage F route if you want to travel on vintage trams and cars. If you want to go on the cable cars, get a day pass. Expect to queue for them (americans call this a line), and always try and stand on the edges - it’s way more fun.
Always look down before you sit down
Taxis have their roof light on when they are working, so you have no idea if you can hail them or not. There is a smaller, impossible to see light to know if you can hail them.
Taxis are cheap, and Uber/Lyft is ubiquitous. The ridesharing apps are usually much faster and quicker.
Food & Drink
US Coke tastes different. Mexican Coke tastes like it does in the UK.
SF is excellent for Pho, Burritos, but terrible for curry.
Get a burrito in the mission (between 14-24th). Preferably during the day.
Tip is normally between 15 and 20%. Tips is how people pay for healthcare, and to earn a living wage. Tip generously.
Beer, Bars, Dive Bars
There is no weights and measures act. Spirits are free-pour.
Pretty much every beer is hopped to fuck. Pints are smaller than in the UK, but craft beers generally are stronger on average between 6-12%. There is self-serve water at every bar. Use it. It is really, really, really easy to get drunk. It’s quite common to see people far more drunk than you would do in the UK.
The difference between a bar and a dive bar, is that you really don’t want to use the toilets in a dive bar. Some of the best bars, and usually all the dive bars are cash only.
Always Tip: Rule is one beer, one dollar. You will usually be given change with enough to tip, but having dollars spare will help.
Do yourself a favour, and get brunch with bottomless mimosas. Brunch is a religious thing in SF, and bars will pack out more on a saturday afternoon than a friday night.
Brunch is its own section because I have never encountered a place that takes brunch so seriously.
Cigarettes are cheap as fuck. No-one smokes rollups. You can’t smoke indoors. You must smoke outside, often by the kerb (or curb, as the americans call it), or at least 15 feet away from the exit. They are more anal about cigarette smoke than they are about weed.
Much of SF smells of weed, and people will happily try and sell you it on the street. Bear in mind, medicinal marijuana is state legal here, but not federal legal. It is still a crime, and unless you are carrying a medicinal card, you are taking a bit of a risk, especially as a foreigner.
The weed is incredibly strong, far stronger than it is in the UK and Europe. If you end up smoking in SF I guarantee you it will be too much. The same goes for brownies.
Gentrification, Poverty, and Crime.
If you’re not sure about an area, ask someone.
Like London, watch your stuff. Unlike London, SF is a bizzaro world of poverty and wealth. Imagine the compressing the inequalities of london down to a tiny city, and then ramp it up. You can walk one block along and everything changes. There are microclimates of wealth and poverty.
For example, Valencia is gentrified as fuck and the next block over, Mission, is slowly being gentrified, but still rough around mid-market, and between 16th and 24th. The latter is where the best burritos are. In six months this will have changed, so ask a local.
Similarly to London, poverty ridden areas tend to have higher crime rates. Tenderloin is where all the crack and meth generally are. You may encounter more dodgyness under the freeway, because it’s dry and sheltered from the occasional rainfall. There are countless people on the streets who are there because there isn’t really any healthcare or support for mental health issues. There is even an underclass of people who sort out the recycling and rubbish, and it’s common to see people collecting cans and bottles so they can redeem them for pennies.
The inequality will shock you and continue to shock you. Even if you’re used to London. People who have lived in SF for a while become numb to it, often taking the poverty as a point of pride for the city. “At least they won’t die out on the streets. Unlike other cities, we’re much less heavy handed about using police to clear them out of the city”. The californian liberalism is more of a passive agressive “fuck you, got mine”.