Every city and town around the world has its own little quirks and characteristics that make it interesting, and the reason we travel is to experience these differences and take a little piece of them with us when we move on to the next destination. When you stay at our HI San Francisco hostels, you’re getting a chance to experience the City by the Bay in a way that will leave you with a deeper understanding of the people, the places, and the micro-cultures that make up the colorful mosaic of this corner of the world. And because we know it can seem overwhelming and intimidating to navigate the crooked streets and steep hills, we’d like to equip you with a short guide of how to “do” San Francisco and make the most of it, whether you’re staying for one day or one week.
San Francisco Travel Tips
How to: Pack for the summer
Fun fact: summer in San Francisco doesn’t quite feel like the quintessential shorts and shades California summer you may have been dreaming about. While the days might be mild, there’s also a tendency for Karl the Fog to roll in and nights do cool down, so add a pair of long pants and a sweater or two to your bag to make sure you’re comfortable. The secret is layers, so you can adjust however you need to during the four-seasons-in-one summer.
Extra tip: If packing in general is not your forte, these extra-helpful packing tips may change your life.
How to: Take public transport
Part of the adventure of travelling can be getting lost and discovering something unexpected, but sometimes, you’d rather know where you’re going. San Francisco has a decent public transport system (and you can also get by pretty well on foot) and it’s not too complicated to figure out.
Muni: The muni buses and historic streetcars cost $2.25 per trip. Be sure to have the exact amount as you don’t get change. Day passes are also available if you plan on making multiple trips, but a single pass is good for a couple of hours. The knowledgeable front desk staff at any of our SF hostels (or Google maps) can point you to the nearest stop. Pay the fare as you board, and find a seat. Exit at the back door as people will be entering at the front.
BART: The fare for BART depends on how far you travel, so when you buy your ticket at any of the underground stations in San Francisco, check to see the fare from your location to the station you want to go to. Be sure to stand on the correct side of the platform so you don’t go in the opposite direction (there’s usually a sign indicating the line to the East Bay). Wait for the passengers to get off first before you get on, and keep an eye on the map on the inside of the train so you don’t miss your stop!
How to: Make friends
The first step is staying at a HI USA hostel, so you’re already half way there! The next is to hang out in one of the common spaces – kitchens and lounges – and you’re bound to strike up a conversation with a fellow traveler. It does take a bit of bravery if you’re not used to talking to people you don’t know, but the beauty of hostels is that people who stay at them tend to be open to new experiences and making new friends. Join in on the hostel activities, like the pub crawls, city walking tours and in-house theme nights, which are excellent ice-breakers and a great way to know the city while you’re at it. Lastly, be flexible with your plans and go on adventures with others – you never know what you may discover, or the lifelong friends you can make!
Extra tip: Food is a universal language and sharing a meal is a good way to get to know new people. Try these hostel-friendly recipes by HI USA guest and blogger Anne Larue and impress your new friends!
How to: Ride your bike in the city
How do San Franciscans get away with biking in one of the hilliest cities in the world? Well, they either stick to the relatively flat Market Street, or they use a route known as the “Wiggle” a mile-long zig-zaggy course that weaves its way east to west through several neighborhoods, including Downtown, the Mission, Haight and The Castro, using the path of least resistance (read: “wiggling” around the hills). Cyclists should follow the basic rules of the road and always be aware of the traffic around them, using their arms to signal turns. Be sure to wear a helmet and reflective clothing or have a light if you’re riding at night. You can always go on the Bike the Bay tour, where you’ll have a group of hostel friends with you and our hostel leaders to guide you through the streets.
Extra tip: If you’re not keen to cycle, you can also take on the hills of San Francisco on this volunteer-led walking tour.