San Francisco is located on a small seven-by-seven mile (11x11km) square of land at the tip of a peninsula between San Francisco Bay and the Pacific coast. It has a population of almost 800,000, but is the center of a metropolitan area of millions. San Francisco is just one of the cities which makes-up the entire San Francisco Bay Area. San Francisco's neighbors, cities and towns to the east of the Bay Bridge, north of the Golden Gate Bridge, and south of it are all in separate counties, each with their own city government and local public transportation systems.
This map is predominantly based on the 11 official governmental districts of San Francisco, but it has been adapted to suit the purposes of this guide. Some districts have been merged together and others have been broken up into popular neighborhood groupings.
Prior to European settlement in the area, the peninsula that now contains San Francisco was home to the Yelamu tribe, who were part of the larger Ohlone language group which stretched south from the Bay Area to the Big Sur of California. Due to San Francisco's characteristic foggy weather, the earliest European explorers completely bypassed the Golden Gate and the San Francisco Bay.
The first Europeans settlement in the area was founded by the Spaniards in 1776 as a mission community surrounding the Mission San Francisco de Asís, in what is today called the Mission Dolores in the Mission District. In addition to the mission, a military fort was built near the Golden Gate: the Presidio.
Upon gaining independence from Spain in 1821, the area became part of Mexico, but otherwise little changed in San Francisco. In 1835, an Englishman named William Richardson founded the town of Yerba Buena, the first significant settlement on the peninsula outside of the Mission Dolores area. As the new settlement gradually grew, Yerba Buena developed a street plan and became attractive to settlers.
In 1846, the United States claimed California and in July of that year, the U.S. Navy arrived to raise the America flag above Yerba Buena. Over the next couple of years, California officially became part of the United States following the Mexican-American War and the name of the town was changed from Yerba Buena to San Francisco.
With the California Gold Rush of 1848, San Francisco began to explode in population. Waves of immigrants came to the city to seek their fortunes, including large amounts of Chinese immigrants who would create one of the largest populations of Chinese outside of Asia. During this time, many major businesses were created and flourished in San Francisco and famous (and infamous) personalities settled in the city. Of course, with all this success came many problems: the rapid growth of the city outstripped any efforts at city planning, meaning proper sanitation and infrastructure were largely undeveloped, which lead to a cholera outbreak in 1855. Violence and corruption were evident, and anti-immigrant violence resulted in many race riots. For a good book on the tumultuous early history of San Francisco, read Herbert Asbury's Barbary Coast.
In the 1890's, there was a large campaign to modernize and beautify the city, leading some officials to proudly call San Francisco the "Paris of the West". But in 1906, a devastating earthquake shook the city and a resulting fire leveled much of the city. Nevertheless, officials at the time immediately set out on a plan to rebuild the city, with new parks, boulevards, the current civic center complex, and landmarks such as the Coit Tower atop Telegraph Hill. In 1915, San Francisco hosted the Panama-Pacific Exposition, to showcase the completely rebuilt city. Today, the Palace of Fine Arts complex is the only remnant of the exposition.
In the wake of the Great Depression of the 1930's, San Francisco remained largely unscathed. In fact, it was during this time that the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay Bridge were conceived and built. It was also during this time that the Federal Government established a prison on Alcatraz Island, which would hold some of the most notorious criminals of the era.
After World War II, San Francisco continued to grow in population. Urban planning projects at the time led to more highrises downtown (including the Transamerican Pyramid) and the destruction of neighborhoods to build freeways (many of which were later torn down after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake). In the same period, San Francisco became a center of counterculture and the hippie movement, contributing to San Francisco's liberal outlook. San Francisco also became a center for homosexuals during this time, leading to the development of gay neighborhoods like the Castro.
More recently, San Francisco has experienced a boom in business. Despite falling victim to the dot-com bubble burst in the 1990s, the city's economy largely recovered and gentrification of neighborhoods like SoMa continues on.
Today San Francisco is known for its liberal outlook and remains one of America's top tourist destinations, which is the city's largest industry.
San Francisco has a mild climate, with wet, mild winters and dry summers. In most months, you can expect the temperature be in the 60s or 70s degrees Fahrenheit (between 15 and 25 degrees Celsius). Be prepared for cool humid weather, even in the summer (except September), when persistent fog often envelops the city.
San Francisco's sharp topography has created a series of microclimates. For instance, there is more fog on the western side of the city, closer to the ocean. There can also be large variances in rainfall between different parts of the city thanks to the tall hills in the center of the peninsula (generally with more rain taking place on the western side, while the eastern side experiences more sunlight).
San Francisco's visitor information centers offer maps, brochures and other information for tourists.
English is the dominant language spoken in San Francisco. Mandarin and Cantonese Chinese is also widely spoken by San Francisco's large Chinese population. Spanish is also commonly spoken in San Francisco, but not as much as it is in the rest of California, because San Francisco has a smaller than California average Hispanic population. Spanish is more widely spoken in many San Francisco suburbs, however.
There are three airports in the San Francisco Bay Area:
San Francisco and Oakland Airports are connected to downtown SF by the BART Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system (Oakland Airport indirectly through a non-free shuttle bus), which costs about $5 one-way. Taxis are considerably more expensive: a taxi from SFO to the city can easily cost upwards of $40, and over $60 from OAK. Shared vans will cost around $14. If you plan to drive from a car rental area near the SFO airport to downtown San Francisco, you can take the 101 freeway.
Note that taxi and van prices from San Jose to San Francisco are significantly higher.
Passengers arriving in SFO can walk (5 minutes from United's terminal) or take a free airport shuttle (AirTrain) to the BART station (which is next to international terminal G). From Oakland Airport, BART operates a regular shuttle to the nearest station. The cost of this bus is $3 for adults ($1 for seniors/children), and it takes 10-15 minutes. Trains from there run directly to San Francisco, with a 5-20 minute frequency and cost about $3.00-$4.00. BART trains head directly to downtown San Francisco and the Mission District, from where taxis and the MUNIMUNI can take travelers anywhere in the city.
The San Jose airport is served by a free shuttle to both VTA Light Rail and Caltrain Caltrain. Passengers arriving in San Jose can use Caltrain to reach San Francisco directly (this costs $7.50 one-way). Caltrain also links with the BART system at the Millbrae intermodal station. Be aware that public transportation within the South bay is not as developed as around San Francisco.
Private pilots should consider Oakland (ICAO: KOAK) rather than SFO, as the separate general aviation field there is more accommodating to light aircraft.
Amtrak, +1 800 872-7245,  serves the Bay Area with long-distance and intercity trains. San Francisco’s long distance station is across the bay, outside city limits. Passengers arrive in Emeryville in the East Bay and may take an Amtrak California  Thruway bus over the Bay Bridge to San Francisco's Amtrak stop at 101 The Embarcadero (near the Ferry Building) and usually several other downtown destinations. Travelers on some shorter distance Amtrak routes can also transfer to BART trains at the Richmond or Oakland Coliseum stations (see below). Alternatively, riders approaching the Bay Area from the south may transfer to Caltrain  at San Jose's Diridon Station for a direct ride to Fourth and King Streets in San Francisco.
Amtrak routes serving the Bay Area are:
Caltrain, +1 510 817-1717,  operates a regional rail service from San Jose to its San Francisco terminal at Fourth and King. The service also runs between San Jose and Gilroy during rush hour. Caltrain is very useful for travel between San Francisco and cities of the Peninsula, Silicon Valley or South Bay. On weekdays Caltrain provides two trains per hour for most of the day but run more during commute hours, including "Baby Bullet" limited services that cruise between San Francisco and San Jose in 57 minutes; on weekends and public holidays trains run hourly, except that after 10PM only one train runs, leaving at midnight. The 4th & King terminal is served by Muni Metro (see 'Get around' below) giving connections to the rest of the city. Fares vary depending on how far you go. Tickets must be purchased before boarding the train from ticket vending machines at all stations or from ticket clerks at staffed stations. Tickets are checked on the trains and anyone found without a ticket is liable to a substantial fine. Cyclists should use the designated car at the northern end of the train, and be aware that bike space is often limited during commute hours.
Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), +1 415 989-2278,  provides a regional frequent rail service connecting much of the East Bay and Contra Costa County with San Francisco and the San Francisco Airport through the Transbay Tube, a tunnel underneath San Francisco Bay. BART operates five routes, of which four reach San Francisco; there are three or four trains per hour on each route. In the East Bay and outer parts of San Francisco BART runs mostly on elevated track; in downtown San Francisco it runs in a subway under Market Street, and several underground stations provide easy access to downtown areas and simple transfers to the Muni Metro subway. BART also meets Caltrain at Millbrae. Bicycles are allowed on BART except between stations designated in the schedule brochure during commute hours. Fares vary depending with distance traveled, and start at $1.40 for trips within the city. You will need to insert your ticket into barriers when entering and exiting the system. Tickets hold a balance, deducting the appropriate price for each trip, so someone who plans to use the system several times can buy a $10 or $20 ticket and not worry about fares until the card is used up.
Several regional bus systems serve San Francisco from the immediate suburbs:
In many ways a boat is the ideal way to approach San Francisco. The city's spectacular skyline is best appreciated from the water, and from the deck of a boat the bay and its bridges and islands can be viewed as a whole. Cruise ships and private yachts are regular visitors to San Francisco, and passenger ferries regularly link other Bay Area cities to San Francisco.
Ferries run to San Francisco from Larkspur, Sausalito and Tiburon in Marin County, from Vallejo in Solano County and from Alameda and Oakland in the East Bay. In San Francisco, the ferries dock at one or both of the city’s two piers at Fisherman's Wharf and the Ferry Building. For more information:
There are four major highway approaches to San Francisco. US 101 comes up the eastern side of the SF peninsula and is the most direct route from the south, although it often backs up with traffic. Interstate 280 is a more scenic route into the city from the same direction, but with poorer connections than 101. Interstate 80 approaches the city from the east over the San Francisco Bay Bridge. From the north, US 101 takes you over the Golden Gate Bridge.
Walking can be an enticing option to get from one neighborhood to another, so long as you are aware of where you are and keep your street smarts-- San Francisco is a city of friendly neighborhoods, but it is also "big city" --be aware of your surroundings and keep in mind the dangers that commonly accompany a city of San Francisco's size. Streets which often go straight up and down hills may make driving difficult, but make for breathtaking views (as well as good exercise) for the pedestrian. There are many stairway walks scattered throughout the city when the streets are too steep. You can find maps that include hiking trails, bikeways, and the grade pitch of all streets marked in varying colors by how steep each segment is, that can help you orient to city walks suitable to your ability and temperament, such as the downloadable map issued by the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition . Note that locals rarely use the designations "street" or "avenue," even when differentiating the numbered streets and avenues. Numbered roads designated "Street" are located south of Market in Downtown, Castro, Noe Valley, and Mission. Numbered roads designated "Avenue" put you in the Richmond and Sunset districts.
Highlight walks include:
By public transit
Transport services within San Francisco are provided by several bodies; they are separate organisations and although they have many interchange stations, tickets are not normally transferable across the systems (except for monthly or longer period passes). The major transit systems are:
San Francisco's Municipal Railway or Muni, +1 415 673-6864,  runs a network of local transport that covers most areas of touristic interest well. An all day Muni passport good on all Muni vehicles, including Cable Cars costs $11. Other passports and passes are available for longer periods: a 3-day pass costs $18, while a 7 day pass costs $24. The passports come in the form of scratch cards; be sure to scratch off the appropriate dates before using.
Passports, as well as maps of the public transport system, can be purchased from the information booths at San Francisco airport, the Cable Car ticket booth at Market and Powell, and many other locations. Monthly “FastPasses” can be a good investment, especially for those under 18. They are $10 for youth and $45 for adults and offer unlimited rides on the entire system.
A portable wallet-sized map of San Francisco, called PocketBay, and all its public transit (MUNI, BART, Caltrain) is also available at stores around the city or through their website online . Nearly all of the city’s bus stops also have posted copies of this map with the location of the stop marked, a godsend for lost pedestrians.
90 minutes of travel on the Muni system (Metro, F-line, Buses) costs $1.50; be sure to get and keep a transfer ticket when you pay for your first ride; Muni inspectors may demand it at any time as proof of payment. Cable Cars are not included in these transfers and cost $5 per ride (one way, no transfers), or $11 per day. Before 7AM and after 9PM, seniors and disabled pay $1 for cable car rides. Muni Passports and FastPasses greatly reduce this cost, including cable cars in the regular daily, weekly or monthly fares. Payment must be made using exact fare - at Muni Metro stations, insert coins into the barriers to enter. Note that many Muni stations do not have change machines, and some change machines only issue $5 bills instead of the coins required for travel. Muni station staff do not give change.
Muni consists of:
Other public transportation options include:
If you have strong legs and can tolerate traffic with intermittent bike lanes, bicycles can be a convenient form of transportation in San Francisco. The City is fairly small -- about 7 miles on each side (11 km) -- and it's fairly quick to get from one end to the other. But much of the terrain is hilly and hard to pedal up. Do not be misled by maps depicting the city's strict, regular street grid, as even the straightest of San Francisco's streets might include steep hills or even staircases instead of a roadway. A classic and relatively easy ride is from the tip of Golden Gate Park’s narrow Panhandle in the Haight, along paths and JFK drive through the park to Ocean Beach. JFK drive is lightly trafficked, and closed to cars on Sundays.
Downtown, SoMa, and the Sunset and Richmond districts are relatively flat. There are a number of bike paths and bike routes on city streets; the San Francisco Bike Coalition  keeps a lot of information about them. There are a number of bike rental companies of town, including Bay City Bike , Bike and Roll  and Blazing Saddles Bike Rentals  with locations in Fisherman's Wharf, and the Bike Hut  and Pacific Bicycle  in SoMa.
Taxis in San Francisco are, for a large city, surprisingly inefficient and expensive, starting at $3.10 just for getting in the door. You can get an idea of how much particular taxi trips cost in San Francisco using an online taxi cost calculator online taxi cost calculator or see the official taxicab rates of fare on SF.govSan Francisco Taxicab Commission's webpage.
Except for taxi stations at or near downtown business hotels, or cruising just a few major arteries, taxis can be hard to find and hail -- and calling for a cab can mean a 30-45 minute wait, if the cab shows up at all. Now, if you're anywhere near Union Square and are holding shopping bags, just by standing on the curb and hailing passing cabs will usually get you one quite quickly. It is significantly easier to catch a taxi on weekdays, not including Friday night.
If you are heading to the airport, your best bet is to call ahead with a specific pickup time to one of the many taxi companies (Yellow by far has the most cabs and they all accept credit card).
Perpetually-clogged traffic, steep hills, a confusing system of one-way streets downtown, expensive parking, and a fleet of parking control officers who enforce parking laws with zeal can make driving in downtown extremely frustrating; visitors to the city should seriously consider alternatives to automobiles when possible. In addition, traffic from the Golden Gate Bridge uses surface streets either along CA-1, 19th Avenue or US-101 on Lombard and Van Ness. The greatest hazard of driving is on Lombard Street between Hyde and Leavenworth, where a stretch known as "The Crookedest Street in the World" runs one-way down a steep hill making eight hairpin turns. Oversized vehicles such as pickup trucks, sport utility vehicles, and recreational vehicles should NOT attempt to pass through the winding stretch of Lombard Street.
The most difficult problem with your car in San Francisco will be parking. Parking throughout the city is scarce. Garages, where they are available, are quite expensive ($20-30/day downtown). San Francisco has some of the strictest parking laws and enforcement in the country. For day trips into the city, consider a park-and-ride at a Peninsula Caltrain station, at a Peninsula BART station, or at an East Bay BART station.
When parking on a hill (and there are many of them in San Francisco), remember to always apply that parking brake and turn your wheels so that the tires are against the curb (Facing uphill, the front wheels should be turned out until the tires are resting against the curb. Facing downhill, the front wheels should be turned in so that they are set against the curb). Failure to park properly doesn't just run the risk of having your car roll downhill, but it is also against the law and you may be ticketed.
Finding your way around
Cross streets. As San Francisco streets are numbered (100 per block) from the beginning of the street, and even and odd numbers are always on opposite sides. It is best when asking directions to ask for a cross street or neighborhood name. For instance, if you are at the intersection of Haight Street and Clayton Street, and you ask the driver of the 33 Stanyan bus "Does this bus go to Market Street?" it will get you a yes, but the bus won't get you downtown, it will get you south from that intersection to Market and 18th in the Castro district.
Numbered streets and avenues. San Francisco has both numbered streets, in the Mission, the Castro, Noe Valley, and SoMa, and numbered avenues in the largely residential Sunset and Richmond districts. Mixing numbered streets and avenues when asking directions may leave you miles from your destination. This can be confusing, as San Franciscans will not say "Street" or "Avenue" unless it is required to avoid ambiguity. Thus, "I live on Fifth Avenue" but "I live near Fifth and Geary." Street signs generally don't have "Street" or "Avenue" either; they just say "GEARY" or "MASONIC".
San Francisco has much to see - these are just the most significant sights. For more detail see the individual district sections, often linked from this entry.
A couple of passes are available which offer discounts to many interesting attractions.
When the morning is foggy, you may want to spend a few hours in one of the city's many world-class museums. Golden Gate Park is home to the copper-clad M.H. de Young Memorial Museum, which houses an impressive collection of contemporary and indigenous art. The de Young Museum's former Asian collection is now permanently housed in the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, located in the Civic Center. Across from the de Young Museum stands the California Academy of Sciences, which is scheduled to re-open in September 2008 after extensive renovations.
The California Palace of the Legion of Honor is in Lincoln Park in the northwest corner of the Richmond district. In Nob Hill, the Cable Car Museum offers exhibits on the famous moving landmarks of San Francisco. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Moscone Center, the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Zeum, the Cartoon Art Museum, the Museum of the African Diaspora and the Museum of Craft and Folk Art are all located in SoMa, south of Union Square. The Contemporary Jewish Museum, which was designed by Daniel Liebeskind and opened in June 2008, is the latest major addition to San Francisco's museum scene.
At the Hyde Street Pier in Fisherman's Wharf you can go on board several historical ships, including the 1886 Balclutha clipper ship, a walking-beam ferry, a steam tug, and a coastal schooner. At Pier 45 just to the east, the World War II submarine USS Pampanito and the World War II Liberty Ship SS Jeremiah O'Brien can be visited. Nearby on Pier 39 is the excellent Aquarium of the Bay.
The Exploratorium at the Palace of Fine Arts in the Marina will keep you busy for an entire day with their science and perception exhibits. Also in the Marina district is Fort Mason, home to a few cultural museums.
One of the best ways to see San Francisco is from the waters of San Francisco Bay. There are many companies offering San Francisco harbor tours of varying durations and prices but they all provide marvelous views of the bay, the bridges, the island of Alcatraz and the city.
Only specific island tours are allowed to land at Alcatraz, but the typical harbor tour will circle the island at a slow crawl, giving you plenty of opportunity to photograph the now-inactive prison from the water.
Most tours leave from docks between Fisherman's Wharf and adjacent Pier 39. Tickets can be purchased at kiosks along the waterfront walk. Buy tickets a day or two in advance during the summer high season.
Boats usually leave roughly hourly starting around 10AM and ending around 5PM. Multi-lingual guides are available on some tours. Prices range from $20-$40, more for sunset, dinner, or whale watching tours.
Companies offering harbor tours include:
LGBT community events
San Francisco is famous for its exuberant and visible gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) community.
The University of California, San Francisco is one of the city's largest employers and is dedicated solely to the education of health and the biomedical sciences. Also in the University of California system is the Hastings College of the Law, a major law school located in downtown San Francisco. The San Francisco State University is another major public university that offers a broader range of studies than the UC colleges in the city. Rounding off the city's public colleges is the City College of San Francisco, a two-year community college.
San Francisco also has numerous private colleges and universities, each with a different focus: the arts, design, law, business, religion, you name it.
Being the world-class tourist attraction that it is, San Francisco's economy is mostly centered on tourism. Its frequent portrayal in music, films, literature and popular culture has helped make the city and its landmarks known throughout the world. San Francisco has developed a large tourist infrastructure with numerous hotels, restaurants, and top-notch convention facilities.
While its been a long time since people considered Montgomery Street in the Financial District to be the "Wall Street of the West", San Francisco remains one of the principal banking and finance centers of the west coast of the United States. Many major financial institutions and banks are based in the city or have set up regional headquarters here.
San Francisco's proximity to Silicon Valley has made the city increasingly attractive for high-tech companies. In recent years, San Francisco has also been making itself a center of biotechnology.
See the Districts articles for more listings.
San Francisco has a wide range of small and locally-owned businesses throughout the neighborhoods of the city. In fact, San Francisco has for the most part repelled the development of large chain retailers and big box stores that are common across America.
Fisherman's Wharf has all your typical touristy souvenir shops and a few small shopping centers. Union Square has many national retailers and fancy boutique stores, as well as a few shopping centers thrown in to the mix.
See the Districts articles for more listings.
San Francisco is a sensual, epicurean city with a vast array of restaurants. The price range is huge, and you can spend anywhere from a small fortune to a couple bucks for every type of cuisine. Vegetarians and vegans will find SF a paradise. Sushi is a local obsession, and though you can find a sushi bar on almost every street corner, the Richmond district has more than its fair share of excellent sushi chefs. San Francisco also has the largest Chinatown in North America, as well as one of the largest Chinese communities in the West, and many exceptional restaurants serving dim sum and other Chinese delicacies are found throughout The City. This localized Chinese cuisine has its feet in Hong Kong and America, and is different from what many visitors are accustomed to. Fisherman's Wharf serves fresh seafood, especially clam chowder and crabs cooked to order. North Beach is the place to go for Italian food, and the Mission for Mexican restaurants (and Latin American cuisine of all sorts). San Francisco restaurants are also very corkage friendly. Average corkage fee appears to be in the $15 range, with some of the more pricey places charging $25-35.
See the Districts articles for more listings.
The best way to find a good bar or club is to ask the advice of a local; but barring that a copy of The SF Bay Guardian or the SF Weekly will help you find something suited to your personal taste. Review website Yelp is based in San Francisco, and therefore offers very thorough coverage of San Francisco's night life.
San Francisco is very much of a "scene" town. Head to the Marina for mid-20s to mid-30s professionals (and those visiting from Los Angeles). Haight-Ashbury, famous for the “Summer of Love” and hippies, is still a place for alternative lifestyle, now has many neo-punks and hipsters in the mix. South of Market (SoMa) and the Mission District have left-over dot-commers and hipsters hanging out on every corner. The Castro primarily serves San Francisco's gays. With a large Irish population, San Francisco has a number of very good Irish pubs extending out into the Sunset neighborhood. North Beach is home to several dance clubs and strip clubs.
If you like soccer (football) and all things English, you should stop into the Kezar Pub, at the edge of the Haight-Ashbury District, or Lower Haight's Mad Dog In the Fog. The pub quiz and bar food are good. Swill some pints and stay in the dark. Good for an entire day's worth of drinking. It is also central to other "dive" bars on Haight, including the beer mecca Toronado.
San Francisco, despite being much smaller than New York City, sports more microbreweries. Anchor Brewing Company (makers of Anchor Steam, found throughout the US) is brewed on Potrero Hill, though it is generally not open to the public (tours are available Friday afternoons by reservation). Similarly, Speakeasy Ales & Lagers opens its doors on Friday evenings, though its location in Hunter's Point makes it hard to reach without a car. The other microbreweries are housed in brewpubs:
Other destinations for beer drinkers include North Beach's Rogue Ales Public House, the Embarcadero's Gordon Biersch's alehouse, the City Beer Store and Tasting Bar on Folsom St, the Mission's Monk's Kettle, and the famous Toronado Pub on lower Haight Street, which specializes in Belgians ales.
Alameda and Marin Counties also host many microbreweries worth trying. And although Santa Rosa is 45 minutes north of San Francisco, no beer lovers should skip the renowned Russian River Brewing Company in downtown Santa Rosa.
See the Districts articles for more listings.
San Francisco offers a wide range of accommodations, from a healthy supply of hostels and budget hotels to the lavish, luxurious hotels in the city center, as well as just about everything in-between. The majority of accommodations are in the northeastern portion of the city, in and around the popular areas of Downtown, Chinatown, and Fisherman's Wharf. As one moves into the mostly residential neighborhoods to the west, the sleeping options filter down to small inns and bed and breakfasts.
Decide if you want to be in walking distance of your destinations, or are up to driving and parking (which can be quite an undertaking in some of the busier areas of San Francisco) or taking public transit. If you have a specific destination in mind, look also in the Districts sections.
If you'd rather stay closer to the San Francisco International Airport, there are plenty of standard airport accommodations in the cities surrounding the airport - Burlingame, Millbrae, San Bruno and South San Francisco. From there, one can drive or take the BART or Caltrain into San Francisco.
The area code for San Francisco is 415. You need to only dial the seven digit phone number for calls within the city. For calls within the US or Canada, dial 1+area code+number, and for international calls, use the prefix 00. Pay phones are relatively common, but only take coins and phone cards with a dial-to-use number. Local calls start at $.50.
To get online, internet cafes are available at a sprinkling of city center locations. Many coffee houses and cafes also offer wireless connection for free or a small fee. Free access is available in Union Square. For a more scenic email check try the Apple Store on Stockton at Ellis near Market in Union Square or any of the many public libraries, especially the main branch on Market near Civic Center station.
Blue mailboxes for mail such as letters and postcards are on many street corners. USPS post offices sell stamps and ship packages, and several private companies provide additional services.
As with many other major cities in the world, San Francisco has its share of problems. The areas that one should be most cautious are in the neighborhoods of Bayview-Hunters Point, Visitacion Valley, Sunnydale, Western Addition, Ingleside, Tenderloin, the area around 6th and Market, and parts of the Mission and Potrero Hill. San Francisco is at the peak of a 3-year surge in violent crime, and most of these murders occur in the southeast of the City. Two Hispanic gangs have been known to shoot or stab people for wearing the wrong color, so it is recommended to keep red or blue articles of clothing to a minimum while walking through the Mission District, especially around 16th and Mission and 24th and Mission. The South of Market (SoMa) district used to be somewhat dangerous; however, recent gentrification (something that has become fairly common and a social issue in SF) has transformed it into a rather hip and much safer neighborhood with plenty of art galleries and clubs. However, it is best to be careful even now.
San Francisco also has the largest homeless population per capita in the United States. If someone begs from you, you may either politely say that you do not have any change or just keep walking, and he or she will generally leave you alone. The main homeless area is around 6th and Market, heading towards City Hall, and in the Tenderloin. Haight Ashbury also has lots of panhandlers, and the area near Golden Gate Park at the end of Haight Street near McDonald's is notorious for junkies and should be avoided at night.
Pickpocketing can be expected, as with any other large city. Be especially cautious on crowded MUNI buses and during the busy holiday shopping season.
When parking in Bay Area parking lots, be wary of anyone strange demanding payment for the space. Scam artists may patrol lots where there is no attendant and tell motorists to pay them directly in cash, making sure they don't notice the payment machine. This can result in your car being towed.
Be careful to check for ticks after hiking in fields in the bay area. There is a high rate of lyme disease transmission in the Bay Area. If a bulls' eye rash develops at the tick bite site, immediately seek medical help and treatment with antibiotics.
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints:
It is important to remember that San Francisco is one of the most open-minded and progressive big cities in the country. With this open-mindedness comes a variety of languages, skin tones, sexual orientations, and hair colors; it is all a part of the joy of San Francisco, and as a visitor it is something that you have to learn to accept and welcome.
Smokers beware: as in the rest of California, smoking is illegal in bars, restaurants, and other public places. Bay Area people can be particularly vocal about your personal habits. Be aware of nonsmoking areas, and try to be courteous about smoking in other places. They will probably not bother you about standing and smoking outside a restaurant or bar.
On the other hand, smoking marijuana is remarkably well-tolerated. If you are visiting from elsewhere in the U.S., you may be very surprised to find that marijuana is not considered to be a problem by San Franciscans, and even by The City's police. While still illegal under federal law, a law was passed in 2006 officially making marijuana the lowest priority for the SFPD. This does not mean that you should smoke marijuana just anywhere -- as with cigarettes, it is considered improper etiquette to smoke marijuana in crowded areas.
For laid-back, involved-with-your-fellow-travelers kind of travel (cooking is shared, the sleeper busload camps ensemble), check out the Green Tortoise. GT runs buses up to Seattle and down to Baja California; to Black Rock City, Yosemite National Park, a National Parks loop including the Tetons, Yellowstone and more, and to New York.
Bikes can be rented from around the northern waterfront (Pier 41/Fisherman's Wharf/Aquarium Park area) or near Golden Gate Park for trips to Marin County via the Golden Gate Bridge. Stanyan near Haight at the end of the park has several good shops. Golden Gate Transit also sporadically serves the North Bay from San Francisco, and has bike racks on most buses.
Nearby destinations suitable for day trips include: