How to Not Look Like A Tourist in San Francisco

California's Highway 1 Road Trip Travel Guide

Often when I travel, I try to avoid the typical tourist look. Not only does it help me to enjoy the city more as a local when I travel, but it helps to keep those who may prey on tourists away as well. I find that usually when I visit the more popular places in San Francisco there are some definite things that make people stick out as a tourist. I’ve consulted with a bunch of my local friends about how to blend in, and today I’m sharing a few of those tips with you.

  1. Dress for Fall in the Summer. The real Summer shows up around October when there is less fog.
  2. If you’re on a Blazing Saddles rental bike, you’re probably a tourist.
  3. No one local takes the Powell cable car regularly, but it’s fun if you have littles anyway.
  4. Don’t call it “San Fran”. People who live here call it “the city” or SF.
  5. Bring a jacket everywhere, even during the Summer.
  6. If you are wearing a San Francisco souvenir fleece, you’re likely a tourist.
  7. Very, very, very rarely are shorts appropriate in San Francisco.
  8. Wear layers! The city is full of micro-climates and the weather can change within a few blocks of walking.
  9. Don’t call it Frisco either. Shudder!
  10. Flip flops are a no-no. Nooooooo. Your feet will thank you later.
  11. Bring a reusable bag for shopping, plastic is illegal and you will pay for paper.
  12. Don’t stop in the middle of the sidewalk, stand along the edge so you’re not blocking the flow of people walking.
  13. If you’ve never driven in a large city before, don’t bother.
  14. Parking is a nightmare if you choose to drive, but the Luxe app is a lifesaver. Get $20 off with the code “JESSICA149”.
  15. Back away from the selfie stick, this goes for everywhere.
  16. The fog’s name is Karl, and you can see @karlthefog on instagram!
  17. The yellow go cars are a dead giveaway that you are a tourist too.
  18. Bart will get you around some parts of the city, but taking Uber or walking is the best way to get around.
  19. If you only stay around the touristy areas, you will likely look like a tourist.
  20. There are a plethora of apps that work in San Francisco, look some up to make your life easier!

I hope this post doesn’t come across as negative, San Francisco is a great city, but those visiting might expect it to be like the sunnier version of California year-round and it’s not. For what it’s worth, here is my current SF Bay Area Bucket List and my San Francisco City Guide.

Do you have any tips for blending in with the locals in San Francisco?

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Responses to “How to Not Look Like A Tourist in San Francisco”

  1. Shorts inappropriate? What? Your telling me it’s that uppity

    1. Nope, it’s that COLD! You will be sorry 99.9% of the time if you wear shorts there.

  2. Tammy- Ha, this is one of the most casual big cities around, shorts are inappropriate because it’s always cold!

    Overall great list, but speaking as a local who’s done the GoCar rental, I recommend it to visitors because it’s just fun 🙂 And I second the always carry a light jacket recommendation! Even on the rare 80+ degree day (usually in May or October) the temp drops quickly after 4pm!

    1. Haha. I’ve considered the GoCar rental because it does look fun, but I’m sure a local driving one is much different than a tourist holding a giant iPad over their head. 🙂

  3. Jennifer

    Respectfully, this reads kind of negative. Perhaps you could offer readers some suggestions of what to do away from the tourist hordes? For example, hiking into Baker Beach or picnicking at Crissy Field might satisfy those, “I <3 SF" urges.

    1. Thanks for a different perspective and suggestion. I’ve already written quite a few posts about things to do in SF, will edit to add links in for them to make the connection. 🙂

  4. Courtney

    I’ve only visited SF once and would love to return! I’ll definitely keep these tips in mind when I do!


  5. These made me laugh and are so true!

  6. I learned most of this the hard way – went in July and was FREEZING!! I know now;)

  7. Jessica

    This post is awesome – if only someone told me this before I went there for my first time years ago. It was May and I FROZE. 70 degrees in SF and 70 degrees in my Georgia hometown feel very different!
    I would LOVE to see more posts like this for other major cities and other countries as well. These tips are so valuable.

  8. OMG, this post is hilarious! I love it because when I head downtown here in Atlanta during the summer, I always play “spot the tourist”. LOL

  9. I really loved this post. A: looking for tourists in your home town is fun. B: looking like a tourist is NOT fun. Thanks!

  10. OMG, this is TOO funny! You can always spot a tourist in any city, because they/we all do the same thing. I try really hard not to stop in the middle of a crowd, though.

  11. These are great tips!!! I love visiting new cities but at the same time it’s hard not to appear to be a tourist while you are exploring the city!

  12. I’ve never been up to San Francisco but have always wanted to go. I didn’t realize it was that chilly up there. I will definitely keep that in mind when I do make a visit up there. I love all your points are that made me laugh.

  13. Such a thought provoking post. I always want to blend in when I visit a place, but then again it makes me wonder what’s so wrong with being a tourist? I always tend to help those who are lost and navigating Chicago just so they stay out of trouble!

  14. Funny post. I have never been to San Francisco, but we have plans of going there later this year.

  15. Ann Bacciaglia

    I loved the time I got to spend in San Francisco. I am looking forward to going back and spending more time there. I like to just go and explore and stay away from all the touristy spots.

  16. I would love to visit California someday. That sounds like a fun time!

  17. I have always wanted to spend some time on the West coast. I love your tips and suggestions on keeping the tourist or traveler off the radar. I tend to take tennis shoes everywhere including the beach. They are comfy.

  18. I will be visiting San Fransisco this weekend. Parking is always awful and expensive, I once paid $65 just to park my car in a hotel parking lot.

  19. My niece lives in San Francisco. I haven’t been up to visit her recently, but I would love to get back. Hopefully with your tips and her guidance, I’ll not get tagged for my tourist status.

  20. Great info! San Fran is definitely on my travel list – pinning this post!

  21. The first time I went to SF it was for a dancing competition in July and the day that we went sightseeing around the Golden Gate Bridge I was wearing a fleece hoodie and jeans!! Thank goodness I pack for all kinds of weather. The weather there changes so quickly that layers are definitely a must! My friends weren’t as lucky. They only brought shorts and sandals and they are their parents had to buy all new stuff. They hadn’t even brought socks with them! 🙂

  22. Some of these are funny. Like who the heck would wear sandals around a city when you are walking around all day? Ha. San Francisco is on my list of places to visit!

  23. We only wear flip flops here in Florida so it is crazy that they are not welcome in California! 😉 I guess the hills make it harder to walk in them!

    1. Well, mostly only San Francisco! Growing up here I’ve worn them lots of other places in California.

  24. Haha, these are great. I’ve really only explored San Fransisco one time a couple of years ago and I’m SURE I looked touristy. lol Just say no to the selfie stick. Priceless.

  25. Love this post so much! Whenever I go places I try to do my research beforehand so I don’t stick out like sore thumb. I like to blend in and not look touristy as well.

  26. I grew up in the capital of CA (Sacramento), and yet SF is always “the city.” XD

    My number one tip would just be to be prepared to walk up and down steep hills. Choose footwear accordingly.

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