Despite its relatively small size (under 50 square miles) in comparison to the vast expanse of New York City (over 300 square miles!), San Francisco manages to pack a punch with its multitude of attractions. If you’re a first-time visitor, prepare to be enthralled. You’ll find everything from hiking and biking trails to trendy bars and eateries. And let’s not forget its claim to fame – some of the finest burritos nationwide. As the most liberal city in America, San Francisco embraces individuality, so feel free to express yourself without reservation.

If you want a smooth trip, you can rent an RV from Travellers Autobarn. This way, you can plan your trip however you like, and have the freedom to explore all that San Francisco has to offer at your own pace.

Insider Local Tips Worth Noting

  • Avoid referring to San Francisco as ‘Frisco’ or ‘San Fran’. Doing so could label you as an outsider before you even arrive and potentially draw unwanted attention.
  • Despite its compact size, navigation around the city can be challenging, especially for newcomers. The most convenient mode of transportation for first-time visitors is Uber. Given San Francisco’s small layout, the rates aren’t typically exorbitant. However, stay alert for fare surges during certain periods, which will be clearly indicated in the app.
  •  San Francisco, with its iconic steep hills, is not the place to debut your latest high-heeled purchase. Understanding this terrain, it’s vital to prioritize comfort over fashion. Opt for sneakers or well-worn in shoes that can withstand the ups and downs of the city’s landscape. This way, you can wander the streets all day without discomfort.
  • Weather-wise, it’s wise to carry a jacket with you at all times, even during summer. With the famous San Francisco fog (affectionately dubbed ‘Karl’) sneaking in, layered clothing is your best defence.
  • As for safety, San Francisco is generally secure, but as in any city, common sense is key. Use your intuition, particularly in areas such as The Tenderloin, and be vigilant against potential pickpockets. The golden rule: stay attentive, remain oriented, and you’ll have a safe and enjoyable visit.

Essential Experiences for First-Time Visitors in San Francisco

Below are the experiences you should not miss on your first visit to San Francisco:

Marvel at the Panoramic Views from Twin Peaks

Twin Peaks offers one of the most spectacular views across the Bay Area, an experience not to be missed. It’s recommended to visit on a cloud-free day as San Francisco’s notorious fog can obscure the breathtaking vistas. Timing the visit to coincide with sunset can reward visitors with a mesmerizing light show over the city. However, it’s essential to come prepared with a jacket or layered clothing as the wind often picks up at this elevated lookout.

Although it can become crowded, particularly during the city’s warmer late-summer nights, there’s something undeniably soothing about sitting down, closing your eyes for a moment, and then opening them to take in the awe-inspiring view. For those seeking a charming, semi-romantic spot, Twin Peaks certainly ticks the box.

Experience the Famous Zigzag Drive Down Lombard Street

Lombard Street is often dubbed as the world’s most crooked street, and for a good reason! The eight serpentine turns that shape this particular stretch of the road are indeed a visual spectacle. Interestingly, the title for the most crooked street technically goes to Vermont Street in San Francisco, which, despite its seven turns, is less favoured due to its concrete paving rather than Lombard’s picturesque red brick.

Visitors should plan to arrive early, especially on weekends, to avoid the afternoon rush, as it’s a popular tourist spot. A recommended approach is to park on a nearby side street, soak in the beautiful views, then descend the stair-stepped path (a separate walkway that’s hard to miss). After exploring the area, brace the uphill trek back up.

A warning though – San Francisco’s hills are notorious for giving your calf muscles a good workout! Lombard Street is a one-way road going downhill and remember that this winding part is just a small section of the long Lombard Street that spans across the city. Therefore, one shouldn’t be too quick to park at the first sight of ‘Lombard St’ sign. The winding section might still be a bit of a journey away.

Explore the Historic Alcatraz Island

The former prison, renowned for housing infamous criminals like Al Capone, has been transformed into a museum, offering an immersive audio tour experience. A brief ferry ride transports visitors to the island, nestled in the heart of San Francisco Bay, just over a mile off the mainland shore. It’s advisable to dress warmly for the potentially brisk ferry ride.

Some find the night-time tours eerie, while others argue that the daytime views are unparalleled. The mystique is intensified on foggy, rain-soaked nights, enhancing the overall experience. Both day and night tours have their unique charms, so the choice depends on personal preference.

Since tours tend to be fully booked fast, it’s recommended to reserve spots about two weeks prior. Alternatively, considering a city tour could guarantee a visit to plenty of tourist hotspots. And for those who prefer cycling, get ready for an adventure!


San Francisco remains a must-visit destination. With its diverse culture, iconic landmarks, and historical significance, the city is sure to impress first-time visitors. Armed with these insider tips and essential experiences, you’re now ready to embark on your exciting journey and discover all that San Francisco has to offer! So pack your bags, rent an RV, and get ready for a memorable trip to the City by the Bay.

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