Hey guys! We spent 6 days in San Francisco last week and had such a blast. It was one of our favorite trips to date and I’m excited to tell you why! I’ve always loved everything revolving around trip planning, but in previous travels I’ve been known to be too stuck to our itinerary which results in unnecessary stress and just plain tiredness after running ourselves ragged. This trip was the perfect mix of sightseeing, spending time in the neighborhoods of San Francisco, and sharing experiences with friends. We stayed with some good friends from college and because of that were able to see San Francisco through the eyes of a local. If you’re looking for a more authentic travel experience for your future excursions, I think the tips below will be helpful for you.
1. Eat where the locals do.
Before we left home, I compiled a google map of all the food suggestions as well as great local spots that we had received from friends who had either lived in San Francisco or spent time there. When you ask friends for suggestions, it’s unlikely that their favorite places to eat are the most touristy spots in town. If you think of your city, I’m betting that your go-to restaurant isn’t somewhere that everybody in the world flocks to. It’s probably the little cafe just down the street from your house or it’s the hole-in-the-wall that you drag your skeptical friends to, but they end up not caring because the food was just that good. Point being, avoid the tourist traps for the majority of your meals. You’re probably going to save money and also get a more authentic experience.
2. Take a break from the city.
We love the city. We’ve lived in the city for the last 6 years, love the hustle and bustle and the option to always have something to do. That being said, sometimes quiet is necessary. Especially after a busy vacation where you find yourself going constantly, a nature day can be so rejuvenating. Plus, although each city has it’s own distinct charm and feel, at the core they all offer a lot of the same things. The scenery around the country is so varied and we love getting out of town to experience it!
3. Spend time with friends.
This isn’t always a possibility when traveling, but if you have friends in a city you’re going to, schedule time to see them! People love showing off their home and city and chances are they’ll be able to take you to places you never would have found on your own. It’s also more fun to travel with friends and great for when your spouse gets tired of you after a couple of days 😉
4. Use public transportation.
Yep, you heard me. Don’t be afraid to use public transportation when you’re traveling. Not only will it save you loads of money, it’s super interesting! You’ll get a feel for the “real” city and will definitely come across some memorable characters. If you’re nervous because you don’t know how the bus or the train works, don’t be afraid to ask someone while waiting at the stop. Everyone was there at one point and 9 times of 10 will be really helpful – you just have to ask! Bikes are a another great option – most cities have shops with bike rentals or even the city-wide bikes that you can rent at one station and drop off at another.
5. Poll friends for ideas before you leave.
I mentioned this briefly at the top, but a few weeks before you head out on your vacation, message your friends for any suggestions they might have. It cuts down on the amount of research and planning you have to do, and it will be coming from a trusted source!
6. Ignore Yelp or other review sites.
Take this one with a grain of salt. Let me explain. We get so caught up in pouring over review sites, making sure we’re going somewhere that has amazing reviews, that it can cause analysis paralysis. This has happened to us even in our home city for date nights. We can spend an hour or more reading reviews of “must-eat” restaurants when we could have just picked a great restaurant that we’ve been wanting to go to for a long time, regardless of what the reviews say. I don’t know about you, but the different between a 4 and 5 star review on Yelp doesn’t mean much to me…
7. Give yourself some tourist time. Hey! Even the locals did at one point.
Don’t be ashamed to give yourself a touristy day. After all, some of the biggest tourist attractions became popular for good reason! If you have flexibility with your schedule though, I recommend visiting the sites you know are going to be the most busy on their off days. Weekends are usually the worst time to see the main tourist attractions, so if you’ll be spending a full week in the city, spend your weekend exploring the neighborhoods and then schedule the tourist activities for the weekdays.
8. Spend time in neighborhoods.
This is our favorite way to experience a city. The city will seem much smaller and more accessible if you have your home base in a neighborhood rather than a busy downtown. You’ll have an easier time discovering the best coffee shops, the cutest local stores, and the market down the street because it will all be right outside your front door!
9. Stay in a house over a hotel.
We were lucky this time to be staying with friends in the Richmond District, but if you’re traveling solo, I recommend staying in an AirBnb in a cozy neighborhood. You’ll start to feel like you belong much sooner than if you’re coming and going from a swanky downtown hotel. Also, I don’t know about you, but after a few days in a hotel I start to feel cramped and miss the comforts of home. If you’re staying in a house, you’ll most likely have amenities that you can take advantage of, like a kitchen/ironing board/umbrella/etc..
10. Dress for the weather.
The most sure-fire way to stick out as a tourist in a crowd is to not be dressed for the weather. In San Francisco specifically, there are two things I noted when out and about. #1. Everyone dresses in layers because the temperature fluctuates dramatically depending on what neighborhood you’re in. #2. No one messes around with wearing uncomfortable shoes. Walking seems to be the most popular mode of transportation in most large cities, so it’s highly unpractical to wear shoes that hurt your feet. If you want to get fancy, save it for a nighttime dinner that you’re taking an Uber to. It’s not worth freezing all day just to wear your Sunday best 😉
There you have it – my tips for enjoying San Francisco or any other city like a local! If they were helpful to you, please don’t forget to share!