When I told my friends (and even some colleagues) that I was headed to San Francisco for a few days – the response was pretty much the same. And it wasn’t good. I was told to be extra careful, to look out for people whacked out on drugs, keep my car doors locked – and on and on. I’ll admit, after awhile I started to question whether a return visit to the city by the bay was a good idea. But more importantly I wondered – is San Francisco really all that bad?
I’ll start with the obvious. San Francisco, like many large U.S. cities, has seen a rise in crime and issues with mental health, drug addiction, and homeless in recent years. Like you, I’ve seen the news stories about people stepping over syringes on the sidewalk, stores having to close due to rampant shoplifting, and homeless camps overtaking public parks. San Francisco is not perfect and has many issues that need to be addressed.
I spent three days exploring San Francisco for the first time since I was a kid. I spent time downtown; in the iconic Fisherman’s Wharf area; near Oracle Park – home stadium of the Giants baseball team; in several “suburban” parks; and all around the Golden Gate Bridge and its overlooks and the beaches around it.
Believe me when I tell you the following: I was absolutely stunned that I loved every minute of my time in San Francisco. (Okay, maybe not the time I couldn’t find street parking near my AirBNB – but all of the other minutes.)
I had only been in town for about 15 minutes when a young woman approached me near the iconic Painted Ladies (think “Full House”) and asked if she could take a picture for me. It was obvious I was struggling with my tripod that I normally use and she jumped into action. She was there with her parents who were visiting and had experience taking pictures of tourists. She didn’t want anything – just wanted to extend some kindness and hospitality.
The next day I was walking from Chinatown down to Fisherman’s Wharf and couldn’t figure out what street I was on. I started looking at my phone for directions when an older man walking by said “Do you need some help?” I’m sure I looked a little startled but said that I did in fact need a bit of guidance. He kindly smiled and pointed at the street that I needed to be on and wished me a great day.
I was most nervous about leaving my car unattended. I found a parking garage next to a police station and never had any issues. To be completely honest, I never once felt unsafe walking around and believe me when I tell you that I walked all over the place! (I’m way too cheap to pay $50 to park my car in prime locations.)
Traffic was pretty horrible. But again, I found that most drivers were more patient than you’d find in southern California, for example. At least half a dozen times, fellow drivers kindly waved me through intersections or gave me a break if I needed turn around or I missed a sign.
In the three days I was exploring San Francisco, I saw maybe five people that were obviously homeless or had mental struggles. I did drive by some areas that had tents but no one bothered me. I wasn’t approached by anyone asking for money either. Maybe because travel writers look broke? Either way – it was not the experience I was anticipating.
Everything I wanted to experience – I was able to do safely and enjoyed each one immensely. I spent a day photographing the Golden Gate Bridge from as many places as I could find. (And met a lot of great photographers from all over the world doing the same!) I went to Alcatraz, the Disney Family Museum, enjoyed a sourdough sandwich at Boudin in Fisherman’s Wharf, watched a woman make fortune cookies. I even spotted the house from the movie Mrs. Doubtfire.
Overall, I am so thankful that I ignored the negative and decided to visit San Francisco. I can’t promise you’ll find exactly the same set of circumstances that I found — but I can promise you that San Francisco really is not all that bad.
In fact, it’s pretty great.
Visiting San Francisco on an upcoming road trip? Be sure to check out my article: My Top Five Favorite San Francisco Experiences”.