Accessible Travel

All Bay Area transit companies offer wheelchair-accessible service and travel discounts for travelers with disabilities. Major car-rental companies can usually supply hand-controlled vehicles with one or two days' notice. For people with visual impairment, major intersections emit a chirping signal to indicate when it is safe to cross the street.

San Francisco Bay Area Regional Transit Guide (https://511.org/transit/accessibility/overview) Covers accessibility for people with disabilities.

Muni's Street & Transit (www.sfmta.com/accessibility) Details wheelchair-friendly bus routes and streetcar stops.

Independent Living Resource Center of San Francisco Provides information about wheelchair accessibility on Bay Area public transit and in hotels and other local facilities.

Environmental Traveling Companions Leads excellent outdoor trips in California – white-water rafting, kayaking and cross-country skiing – for kids with disabilities.

Download Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel guides from http://lptravel.to/AccessibleTravel.

Dangers & Annoyances

Keep your city smarts and wits about you, especially at night in the Tenderloin, South of Market (SoMa), the Upper Haight and the Mission. If you're alone in these areas at night, consider ride-share or a taxi instead of waiting for a bus.

  • Avoid using your smartphone unnecessarily on the street – phone-snatching does happen.
  • The Bayview–Hunters Point neighborhood (south of Potrero Hill, along the water) isn't suitable for wandering tourists, due to policing and crime issues.
  • After dark, Mission Dolores Park, Buena Vista Park and the entry to Golden Gate Park at Haight and Stanyan Sts are used for drug deals and casual sex hookups. If you're there at night, you may get propositioned.

Discount Cards

Some green-minded venues, such as the de Young Museum, the California Academy of Sciences and the Legion of Honor, also offer discounts to ticket-bearing Muni riders.

City Pass (www.citypass.com; adult/child $94/74) Covers three days of cable cars and Muni, plus entry to four attractions, including the California Academy of Sciences, Blue & Gold Fleet Bay Cruise, the Aquarium of the Bay and either the Exploratorium or SFMOMA.

Go Card (www.smartdestinations.com; adult/child one day $74/54, two days $109/89, three days $139/124) Provides access to the city's major attractions, including the California Academy of Sciences, the de Young Museum, the Aquarium of the Bay, SFMOMA, USS Pampanito, the Beat Museum and Exploratorium, plus discounts on packaged tours and waterfront restaurants and cafes.

Electricity

Electric current in the USA is 110 to 115 volts, 60Hz AC. Outlets may be suited for flat two-prong or three-prong plugs. If your appliance is made for another electrical system, get a transformer or adapter at Walgreens.

Emergency & Important Numbers

Emergency911
Non-emergency311
San Francisco city/area code415
US country code1

Entry & Exit Formalities

Customs Regulations

Each person over 21 years old is allowed to bring 1L of liquor and 200 cigarettes duty-free into the USA. Non-US citizens are allowed to bring $100 worth of duty-free gifts. If you're carrying over $10,000 in US and foreign cash, traveler's checks or money orders, you must declare the excess amount – undeclared sums in excess of $10,000 may be subject to confiscation.

Visas

Canadians

Canadian citizens currently only need proof of identity and citizenship to enter the US – but check the US Department of State for updates, as requirements may change.

Visa Waiver Program

USA Visa Waiver Program (VWP) allows nationals from 38 countries to enter the US without a visa, provided they are carrying a machine-readable e-passport (with an embedded chip). For the updated list of countries included in the program and current requirements, see the US Customs & Border Protection (https://www.cbp.gov/travel/international-visitors) website.

Citizens of VWP countries need to register with the US Department of Homeland Security (https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta) three days before their visit. There is a $14 fee for registration application.

Visas Required

You must obtain a visa from a US embassy or consulate in your home country if any of the following apply to you:

  • You do not currently hold a passport from a VWP country.
  • You are from a VWP country but don't have a machine-readable passport, aka an e-passport.
  • You plan to stay longer than 90 days.
  • You intend to work or study in the US.

Work Visas

Foreign visitors are not legally allowed to work in the USA without the appropriate working visa. The most common, the H visa, can be difficult to obtain. It usually requires a sponsoring organization, such as the company you will be working for in the US. The company will need to demonstrate why you, rather than a US citizen, are most qualified for the job.

The type of work visa you need depends on your work:

H visa For temporary workers.

L visa For employees in intracompany transfers.

O visa For workers with extraordinary abilities.

P visa For athletes and entertainers.

Q visa For international cultural-exchange visitors.

Etiquette

  • Formality: San Franciscans are extremely informal. There are no special formalities travelers must be aware of, and jeans can be worn almost anywhere – they were invented here.
  • Greeting: Instead of handshakes, kisses on one or both cheeks are an acceptable alternative and very common. Hugging is also common among friends, but ask acquaintances and coworkers first to avoid catching them by surprise.

LGBT Travelers

It doesn’t matter where you’re from, who you love or who’s your daddy: if you’re here and queer, welcome home. San Francisco is America’s pinkest city, and though New York Marys may call it the retirement home of the young – the sidewalks roll up early here – there’s nowhere easier to be out and proud.

LGBT Scene

In San Francisco, you don't need to trawl the urban underworld for a gay scene. The intersection of 18th and Castro is the historic center of the gay world, but dancing queens and trans club kids head to SoMa to mix it up at thump-thump clubs. Drag shows have been a nightlife staple here since the 1800s, though you'll never need a professional reason to blur gender lines here – next to baseball, gender-bending is SF's favorite sport.

Where are all the women into women? They're busy sunning on the patio at Wild Side West or El Rio, screening documentaries at the Roxie Cinema, hitting happy hour at Jolene's, inventing new technologies at SF women's/nonbinary hackerspaces, working it out on the dance floor at Rickshaw Stop or The Cafe, and raising kids in Noe Valley and Bernal Heights. The Mission remains the preferred 'hood of womxn, femmes, bois, dykes on bikes, trans female-to-males (FTMs) and nonbinary folx right across the rainbow spectrum. Gender need not apply in SF, where the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) officially acknowledges trans-queer identities.

Party Planning

On Sundays in the 1950s, SF bars held gay old times euphemistically called 'tea dances' – and Sunday afternoons remain a happening time to go out, most notably at the Eagle Tavern – but most parties happen Thursday through Sunday nights. Comfort & Joy (http://playajoy.org), the queer Burning Man collective, lists happening dance parties and creative community events.

Marriage equality in San Francisco

San Francisco was the first city to authorize same-sex marriages, back in 2004 – but some 4036 honeymoons ended abruptly when their marriages were legally invalidated by the state. Court battles ensued, and California voters narrowly passed a measure to legally define marriage as between a man and a woman.

But for star-crossed San Francisco couples, there was a happy ending. Countersuits were initiated and, in 2013, the US Supreme Court upheld California courts' ruling in favor of state civil rights protections, setting a nationwide precedent. Upon further appeal, the Supreme Court declared laws prohibiting same-sex marriage unconstitutional nationwide in 2015. The day of the decision, many longtime partners got hitched at City Hall – some for the second or third time, to the same person.

Getting Married in SF

If you decide you want to get hitched in San Francisco, first of all: congratulations! The city is duly honored. The process is simple. Make an appointment to get your marriage license at City Hall, bring federal ID or a birth certificate, and be prepared to spend around $200 in fees. You do not have to be a California resident or US citizen, and you and your spouse can be any gender. Once you have your license, you can get married the same day. Yes, really!

San Francisco City Hall is a marriage equality landmark, and also a romantic, highly photogenic place for a wedding – the Rotunda is filled with light and has double staircases for bonus drama. You can choose a civil ceremony performed by a city official, or officiated by any person who's a registered justice of the peace. In California, anyone can get ordained online at www.themonastery.org/ordination.

For the complete requirements and details on getting married in San Francisco, check out the city's official wedding website: https://sfgov.org/countyclerk/marriage. May you live a long and happy life together, and return often to San Francisco.

LGBT by Neighborhood

  • Downtown, Civic Center & SoMa Raging dance clubs, leather bars, drag shows and men's sex clubs in SoMa; bars, trans venues and queer cabaret in the Tenderloin.
  • The Mission, Dogpatch & Potrero Hill Women's and trans-queer bars, arts venues and community spaces in the Mission.
  • The Castro Gay history, activism, men's cruising bars, drag nights and queer clubbing.

Need to Know

News & Events

San Francisco has two gay newspapers, plus a glossy nightlife rag.

  • The Bay Area Reporter (www.ebar.com) Released every Wednesday since 1971; news and events.
  • San Francisco Bay Times (http://sfbaytimes.com) News and calendar listings.
  • Gloss Magazine (www.glossmagazine.net) Nightlife and parties.

Women's Community Venues

  • Women's Building Mural-graced landmark housing nine women's organizations.
  • Lyon-Martin Women's Health Services (http://lyon-martin.org) For health and support.
  • Brava Theater For arts.

Support & Activism

Best Lists

Dance Floors

  • Aunt Charlie's Lounge Knock-down, drag-out winner for gender-bending shows and dance-floor freakiness in a tiny space.
  • El Rio Mix it up with world music, salsa, house, live bands and SF's flirtiest patio.
  • Stud Shows and DJs nightly, plus the tantalizing aroma of bourbon, cologne and testosterone.
  • Powerhouse DJs most nights, gogo dancers and strong drinks at the classic SoMa cruise bar.
  • EndUp Hit your groove Saturday night and work it until Monday.

For Women

  • Jolene's Women on the dance floor, at the bar, all over the wallpaper, right at home.
  • Wild Side West Cheers to queers and beers in the herstory-making sculpture garden.
  • Rickshaw Stop All-ages parties and extra estrogen at semi-monthly Cockblock.
  • QBar '13 Licks' lures lesbians out on Wednesday.
  • Women's Building Glorious murals crown this community institution.
  • Brava Theater Original shows by, for and about women, queer and trans folx.

Daytime Scene

  • Dolores Park Sun and cityscapes on hillside 'Gay Beach,' plus political protests.
  • Baker Beach Only Baker Beach regulars know you can get goose bumps there.
  • Cafe Flore Fab gay scene-watching: blind dates, LGBTQ+ parents with kids, occasional dogs in drag.
  • El Rio Sunday's Daytime Realness brings back-patio drag fabulousness.
  • Eagle Tavern At Sunday-afternoon beer busts, leather daddies drink alongside gay scenesters.

Places to Stay

For Gay Old Times with Straight Friends

LGBT Trailblazers

  • Pride The most extravagant celebration on the planet culminates in the Dyke March, Pink Party and an exhilarating 1.2-million-strong Pride Parade.
  • Human Rights Campaign Action Center Been there, signed the petition, bought the T-shirt supporting civil rights at Harvey Milk's camera storefront.
  • Castro Theatre Frameline LGBTQ Film Festival premieres, singalong movie nights and drag recreations of cult classics.
  • Rainbow Honor Walk Get to know LGBT icons as you walk through the Castro.
  • Oasis SF's dedicated drag venue, hostessed by SF drag icons Heklinka and D'Arcy Drollinger.
  • GLBT History Museum Proud moments and historic challenges, captured for posterity.

Trans & Nonbinary

Insurance

Worldwide travel insurance is available at www.lonelyplanet.com/travel-insurance. You can buy, extend and claim online anytime – even if you’re already on the road.

Checking insurance quotes…

Internet Access

SF has free wi-fi hot spots citywide including in some parks and public spaces. Connect for free at most cafes and hotel lobbies. See Free Wifi Near Me (https://wifispc.com/articles/free-wi-fi-near-me.html) and San Francisco WiFi (http://sfgov.org/sfc/sanfranciscowifi) wi-fi hot spots.

Media

San Francisco has plenty of print information sources:

San Francisco Chronicle (www.sfgate.com) City's main daily newspaper.

SF Weekly (www.sfweekly.com) Free weekly with local gossip and entertainment.

San Francisco Examiner (www.sfexaminer.com) Free daily with news, events, opinions and culture.

For local listening in San Francisco and online via podcasts and/or streaming audio, check out these stations:

KQED (8.5 FM; www.kqed.org) National Public Radio (NPR) and Public Broadcasting (PBS) affiliate offering podcasts and streaming audio.

KALW (91.7 FM; www.kalw.org) Local NPR affiliate: news, talk, music, original programming.

KPOO (89.5 FM; www.kpoo.com) Community nonprofit radio with jazz, R&B, blues and reggae.

KPFA (94.1 FM; www.kpfa.org) Alternative news and music.

Money

ATMs are widely available; credit cards are accepted at most hotels, stores and restaurants. Many farmers-market stalls and food trucks and some bars are cash only. Keep small bills for cafes, bars and hotel service, where cash tips are appreciated.

ATMs

Most banks have 24-hour ATMs, except in areas where street crime is a problem (such as near the BART stop at 16th and Mission Sts). You can withdraw cash from an ATM using a credit card (service charge applies); check with your bank about fees and immediately applied interest.

Changing Money

Though there are exchange bureaus at airports, the best rates are generally in town. You can change money downtown at Currency Exchange International and Bank of America.

Exchange Rates

AustraliaA$1$0.70
CanadaC$1$0.74
Europe€1$1.12
Japan¥100$0.89
New ZealandNZ$1$0.68
UKUK£1$1.31

For current exchange rates, visit www.xe.com.

Traveler's Checks

In the US, traveler's checks in US dollars are virtually as good as cash; you don't necessarily have to go to a bank to cash them, as some establishments – particularly hotels – will accept them like cash. Fair warning, though: more SF venues accept Apple Pay than traveler's checks.

Tipping

Tipping is essential, as most workers in service-industry jobs make only the minimum wage and rely almost entirely on tips for their income. However, if service is truly terrible, tip less than 15% – or else reduce the following standard amounts:

Bartenders $1 to $2 per drink, or 15% of the bill. Note: good tippers get stronger drinks.

Bellhops and airport skycaps $2 per bag, plus $5 to $10 extra for special service.

Concierges Nothing for simple information (like directions); $2 to $20 for securing restaurant reservations or concert tickets, or for providing exceptional service.

Housekeeping staff $2 to $5 daily, left on the pillow each day; more if you're messy.

Parking valets $2; extra for special service.

Restaurant servers 15% to 20% of the pretax bill.

Taxis and ride-shares 10% to 15% of the metered fare.

Opening Hours

Typical opening hours in San Francisco:

Banks 9am–4:30pm or 5pm Monday to Friday, plus occasionally 9am–noon Saturday

Offices 8:30am–5:30pm Monday to Friday

Restaurants Breakfast 8am–10am; lunch 11:30am–2:30pm; dinner 5:30pm, with last service 9pm–9:30pm weekdays or 10pm weekends; Saturday and Sunday brunch 10am–2:30pm

Shops 10am–6pm or 7pm Monday to Saturday, though hours may run 11am–8pm Saturday and 11am–6pm Sunday

Post

US Postal service remains reliable, though hours are limited, especially on weekends. Check www.usps.com for post-office locations throughout San Francisco.

Public Holidays

Most shops remain open on public holidays (with the exception of Independence Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Year's Day), but banks, schools and offices are usually closed. Holidays that may affect business hours and transit schedules include the following:

New Year's Day January 1

Martin Luther King Jr Day Third Monday in January

Presidents' Day Third Monday in February

Easter Sunday (and Good Friday and Easter Monday) in March or April

Memorial Day Last Monday in May

Independence Day July 4

Labor Day First Monday in September

Columbus Day Second Monday in October

Veterans Day November 11

Thanksgiving Fourth Thursday in November

Christmas Day December 25

Smoking

  • Smoking Prohibited almost everywhere. Some hotels have smoking rooms, but most are entirely nonsmoking. Bars with outdoor patios allow smoking in these areas; otherwise, you must go outside to the sidewalk and stay away from the doorways of open businesses. Smoking marijuana in private is legal for adults 18 and over, but only in designated smoking areas – and watch out for smoke alarms.

Taxes & Refunds

SF's 8.75% sales tax is added to virtually everything, including meals, shopping and car rentals; the hotel-room tax is 14%, plus 1% to 1.5% tourism district assessment. Groceries are about the only items not taxed. Unlike the value-added tax (VAT) in the EU, sales tax is not refundable.

In response to city laws mandating health-care benefits for restaurant workers, some restaurants pass those costs on to diners by tacking an additional 3% to 5% 'Healthy SF' charge onto the bill – it's usually mentioned in the menu's fine print.

Telephone

The US country code is 1. San Francisco's city/area code is 415. When calling local numbers in San Francisco you must dial the area code; thus, all local numbers begin with 1-415.

To place an international call, dial 011 + country code + city code + number (make sure to drop the 0 that precedes foreign city codes or your call won't go through). When calling Canada, there's no need to dial the international access code (011). When dialing from a landline, you must precede any area code by 1 for direct dialing, 0 for collect calls and operator assistance (both expensive); from cell phones, dial only the area code and number.

Area Codes in the Bay Area

East Bay 510

Marin County 415

Peninsula 650

San Francisco 415

San Jose 408

Santa Cruz 831

Wine Country 707

Toll-free numbers start with 800, 855, 866, 877 or 888; phone numbers beginning with 900 usually incur high fees.

Mobile Phones

Most US cell (mobile) phones besides the iPhone operate on CDMA, not the European standard GSM – check compatibility with your phone-service provider. North American travelers can use their cell phones in San Francisco and the Bay Area, but should check with their carriers about roaming and data-use charges.

Operator Services

International operator 00

Local directory 411

Long-distance directory information 1 + area code + 555-1212

Operator 0

Toll-free number information 800-555-1212

Time

San Francisco is on Pacific Standard Time (PST), three hours behind the East Coast's Eastern Standard Time (EST) and eight hours behind Greenwich Mean Time (GMT/UTC). March through October is daylight-saving time in the US.

Toilets

Many toilets in public or shared spaces in San Francisco are designated for use by all genders, denoted by a triangle. All-gender toilets usually have stalls instead of open urinals.

Citywide Self-cleaning, coin-operated outdoor kiosk commodes cost 25¢ or require a free token to enter; there are 28 citywide, mostly in North Beach, Fisherman's Wharf, the Financial District and the Tenderloin. Toilet paper isn't always available, and there's a 20-minute time limit. Public library branches and some city parks also have restrooms.

Downtown Most hotel lobbies have restrooms. Clean toilets and baby-changing tables can be found at Westfield San Francisco Centre and Macy's.

Civic Center San Francisco Main Library has restrooms.

Haight-Ashbury & Mission District Woefully lacking in public toilets; you may have to buy coffee, beer or food to gain access to locked customer-only bathrooms.

Tourist Information

SF Visitor Information Center (www.sanfrancisco.travel/visitor-information-center) Muni Passports, activities deals, culture and event calendars.

More Information

For further tourist information, visit:

SFGate (www.sfgate.com)

SFist (www.sfist.com)

48 Hills (https://48hills.org)

Travel with Children

San Francisco has the fewest kids per capita of any US city and, according to SPCA data, 5000 to 35,000 more dogs than children live here. Yet many locals make a living entertaining kids – from Pixar animators to video-game designers – and this town is full of attractions for young people.

Need to Know

Change facilities Best public facilities are at Westfield San Francisco Centre and San Francisco Main Library. Availability and cleanliness vary elsewhere.

Emergency care San Francisco General Hospital.

Strollers and car seats Bring your own or hire from a rental agency like Cloud of Goods.

Kiddie menus Mostly in cafes and downtown diners; call ahead about dietary restrictions. Most San Francisco kids eat from the same menu as their parents.

Alcatraz & the Piers

Prison tours of Alcatraz fascinate children, while older kids enjoy the spooky evening tours. Hit the award-winning, hands-on exhibits at the Exploratorium to investigate the science of skateboarding and glow-in-the-dark animals, then free the world from Space Invaders at Musée Mécanique. Don't be shy: bark back at the sea lions at Pier 39, and ride a unicorn on the pier's vintage San Francisco carousel.

Freebies

See SF history in motion at the free Cable Car Museum, and take free mechanical pony rides and peek inside vintage stagecoaches at the Wells Fargo History Museum. Cool kids head to 24th St to see Balmy Alley murals and hang with skaters at Potrero del Sol/La Raza Skatepark. The free Randall Junior Museum introduces kids to urban wildlife, earth science and the fascinating Golden Gate model railroad. Daredevils can conquer the concrete Seward Street slides in the Castro, hillside concrete slides at the Golden Gate Park kids playground, and the Winfield Street slides in Bernal Heights. Lunchtime concerts are free at Old St Mary's and, in summer, at Yerba Buena Gardens and Justin Herman Plaza. Kids can graze on free samples at the Ferry Building, and score free toys in exchange for a bartered song, drawing or poem at 826 Valencia.

Nature Lovers

Penguins, buffalo and an albino alligator call Golden Gate Park home. Chase butterflies through the rainforest dome, pet starfish in the petting zoo and squeal in the Eel Forest at the California Academy of Sciences. Get a whiff of insect breath from carnivorous flowers at the Conservatory of Flowers – pee-eeww! – and brave the shark tunnel at Aquarium of the Bay. San Francisco Zoo is out of the way but worth the trip for monkeys, lemurs and giraffes.

Cable Cars & Boats

When junior gearheads demand to know how cable cars work, the Cable Car Museum lets them glimpse the inner workings for themselves. Take a joyride on the Powell-Hyde cable car to Fisherman's Wharf, where you can enter submarine stealth mode aboard the USS Pampanito and climb aboard schooners and steamships at the Maritime National Historical Park. Future sea captains will enjoy model-boat weekend regattas at Spreckels Lake in Golden Gate Park.

Warm Days

On sunny Sundays when Golden Gate Park is mostly closed to traffic, rent paddleboats at Stow Lake or strap on some rentals at Golden Gate Park Bike & Skate. Crissy Field and the southern end of Baker Beach are better bets for kid-friendly beaches than Ocean Beach, where fog and strong currents swiftly end sandcastle-building sessions; drownings happen at Ocean, and swimming and even wading is considered a risk; heed the signs and watch your children carefully. Hit Chinatown for teen-led Chinatown Alleyway Tours, and cookies at Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Company.

Museums & Interactive Activities

The Children's Creativity Museum allows future tech moguls to design their own video games and animations, while the Exploratorium has interactive displays that let kids send fog signals and figure out optical illusions for themselves. At the Walt Disney Family Museum, kids can get to know their favorite characters better – and find out about the animators who brought them to life. Kids are strongly encouraged to explore art in San Francisco, with free admission for those aged 12 and under at the Asian Art Museum, SFMOMA, Legion of Honor, de Young Museum, Museum of the African Diaspora and Contemporary Jewish Museum. To make your own hands-on fun, hit Paxton Gate kids' store for shadow puppets and organic play dough.

Playgrounds

Golden Gate Park Swings, monkey bars, play castles with slides, hillside slides and a vintage carousel.

Dolores Park Jungle gym, Mayan pyramid and picnic tables.

Yerba Buena Gardens Grassy downtown playground surrounded by museums, cinemas and kid-friendly dining.

Huntington Park Top-end playground in ritzy hilltop park.

Portsmouth Square Chinatown's outdoor playroom.

Old St Mary's Square Skateboarders and play equipment.

Volunteering

Volunteer opportunities abound at Bay Area nonprofits, depending on your skill set, time availability and flexibility.

  • VolunteerMatch (www.volunteermatch.org) Matches your interests, talents and availability with a local nonprofit where you could donate your time, even if only for a few hours.
  • Craigslist (http://sfbay.craigslist.org/vol) Lists opportunities to support the Bay Area community, from nonprofit fashion-show fundraisers to teaching English to new arrivals.

Women & Nonbinary Travellers

SF is excellent for solo women and nonbinary travelers: you can eat, stay, dine and go out alone without anyone making presumptions about your availability, interests, sexual orientation or gender identification. That said, women and nonbinary travelers should apply their street smarts here as in any other US city. US crime rates are higher than the global average, and crime disproportionately affects women and nonbinary people in the US – even in historically progressive San Francisco.

The Women's Building has a Community Resource Room offering information on health care, domestic violence, childcare, harassment, legal issues, employment and housing.