1. Tailor your trip to your interests.
Like NYC, San Francisco is a city with a lot going on in terms of events and nightlife. You could do a trip in which you did the tourist basics like taking a cable car ride and walking over the Golden Gate bridge. Alternatively, you could look up meetup groups that fit with your interests. This is especially the case if you’re a tech nerd and would like to hang out with some of your own kind.
There are lots of SF-based blogs where the bloggers mention nightspots, coffee shops and restaurants they like. Ask your favorite SF bloggers where they like to go.
If you like comedy and are visiting San Francisco over winter, SF Sketchfest is a popular annual comedy event that will be held January 23 – February 9, 2014.
If you like Broadway type shows, you can see touring productions at the Curran Theater. I’ve seen shows there a few times. The theater is conveniently located downtown.
2. Prepare for it to be cold – even in summer.
San Francisco has lots of great attributes. The weather is not one of them. Even in summer there can be fog and there is almost always a cold wind that makes it necessary to wear more than a t-shirt outside. Get your warmth fix elsewhere.
If you like warmer temperatures you can head elsewhere nearby. For example, wine country to the north or the tech towns to the south, such Mountain View, where Google HQ is located. These places don’t get the fog and bitter wind that affects San Francisco itself.
3. Visit a Farmers market.
The fresh produce in California is delicious, especially the strawberries. If you’re a foodie, make sure you include a visit to one of SF’s Farmers Markets during your trip. The most convenient large one is probably the one at the Ferry Building. It’s open Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.
4. Get an unlimited metro card.
The metro in San Francisco is pretty good. A 7 day pass is $28 and allows you unlimited rides on the metro (called Muni) and busses. There’s metro service to both SFO and Oakland airports (flights in/out of Oakland may be cheaper than SFO). It’s easy peasy. You can buy your pass from a machine as you’re leaving the airport and you’re all set. There are also 1 day and 3 day passes available, and monthly passes. The unlimited metro card even includes riding the cable cars.
5. Prepare to indulge in great food.
San Francisco is one of those cities I’d prefer to eat and drink my way around rather than see any specific attractions. The shopping is not particularly awesome in San Francisco. If you’re going to other cities in the US (e.g., Vegas or NYC) save your shopping for those destinations and spend your San Francisco budget on leisurely meals and nightlife.
Burritos are one of the cheap eats options that SF is most famous for. They are so giant they’ll keep you going all day. The Mission District is where to go for the most choices.
6. Accommodation is expensive.
Hotels in San Francisco and super overpriced for what you get. For example, there are very few even 4-5* hotels in SF that have swimming pools. Save your cash and book at one of the good hostels. We always go private room, no more dorms for us. I generally prefer to stay at HI hostels in the US as they’re predicable quality and good for non-party-people such as us!
If you buy an H.I. membership there’s a coupon for stay 1 night, get 1 night free in the membership packet (inside the brochure so don’t biff it!). It’s only good for dorm stays and you can’t use it at the same location where you buy your membership. If you’re planning to stay at the NYC HI hostel it makes sense to use the coupon for that stay, since hostels beds are pretty much most-expensive there. The membership easily pays for itself. You automatically get it if you stay 6 nights (across any of their hostels). If you don’t plan to use the coupon, pass it on to a fellow hosteler! It’s also a nice gesture if you give away your metro card at the airport if you still have a few days left on it. It’s easy to forget to do these things while traveling and wonder later why you didn’t think of it.