The Golden Gate Bridge. The Painted Ladies. The most crooked street in the world. These are some of the landmarks that San Francisco is probably most famous for. The truth however, is that there is so much more to this city in the bay. So, here’s the good, the bad and the ugly about San Francisco… By Tamsyn Cornelius

San Francisco is really a mixed bag – a lucky packet if you would – of interesting people, complex social and climactic issues and unique sites. There truly is something for everyone here, so it’s easy to understand why people flock to this coastal city for business, pleasure, residence and more. However, there are a few ‘secrets’ and interesting facts you may not have realised about this city.

I decided to share some insight after spending a weekend in SF and here’s what I wish I’d known before I left…

  1. It’s cold – all year-round

When you first envision summer in California, you may hope for sunny skies, Californian beaches packed with surfers, and long hot summer days… Even though many Californian cities and towns may be experiencing your typically hot and iconic US summer, the weather in San Francisco is something of an anomaly with icy winds and misty skies throughout the year.

In fact, it was Mark Twain who said, ” The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.”

The reason for this is that the city is located in a bay, and often draws in fog and wind from up north where things are a lot icier. This cold wind and mystical fog appears almost year-round in SF, but especially so in summer when the cold air meets the warmer inland coastline.

We learnt this the hard way after doing the touristy thing and heading out over the Golden Gate Bridge seated on the top level of an open bus tour. We experienced what can only be described as an Arctic breeze! As you can see, we chose to wear hoodies throughout this bus trip – it was that or freeze!

” The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.”

Mark Twain

2. The Cost of Living In San Francisco Is Crazy High

Property in San Francisco will set you back a pretty penny. The average one-bedroom apartment will cost you over $3000 per month rental. That is over R40 000 in rental costs every single month. Yikes!

If you’re looking to buy your own home, then you may need to take some anti-stress medication before you make an offer because the average home in San Francisco goes for around $1 million. If you have access to that kind of money, my advice would be to stay in SA and buy your dream home in Camps Bay or the like, because well, better weather (see point #1 above).

But it’s not just the price of housing that often shocks visitors to the area. The actual cost of living in this city is around 60% higher than the US average. That means that transport, food, taxes, medical expenses and more are significantly higher if you’re planning to settle in SF.

Travelling from South Africa, we did notice that the basic necessities cost a lot more than we were hoping to spend while in San Francisco. A coffee and a baked treat (such as a croissant or wrap) at your local coffee shop could easily set you back the equivalent of around R180.

3. San Francisco has over 4000 restaurants

Things may be costly but SF is still home to a crazy amount of restaurants. Let’s put it this way… If you were to eat one meal a day at a different restaurant in San Francisco every single day, you would not eat at the same place twice for almost 10 years! How crazy is that?

In fact, in a past census, San Francisco beat every other city in the USA for the most restaurants in the country. There is a restaurant for every 100 people in the city, and SF has won various awards as one of the top foodie destinations for tourists. A recent survey also revealed that ‘eating out’ at restaurants in SF was among the top reasons tourists flock to the city, above shopping or sightseeing.

Over 50 of the 4000+ restaurants located in the city also boast Michelin stars! So if you’re looking for variety and superior quality meals, SF will surely meet your needs and more! Just don’t forget your wallet at home (refer to cost of living in #2 above).

4. The locals bike around

Step outside in the city during peak hour and you’ll see a number of locals cycling to their offices. Public transport is huge in SF and better known options include the iconic tram, bus, train and more.

Cycling, however, has become a big deal in SF with many new interventions created to help promote the concept within the city. Improved infrastructure, special events and even bike sharing are helping to create awareness and increase the number of cyclists on the roads each day.

Photo by Timea Kadar on

San Francisco even launched a Bike to Work Day, held in May of each year, which aims to encourage commuters to try bicycling as a healthy alternative means of getting to work. Here new bicycle commuters are paired with more experienced “Bike Buddies” for the day and there are even free snacks and coffee at “Energizer Stations” to be found along the popular routes.

The idea of bike sharing also continues to promote cycling in the city. Bike share provides station-to-station trips around SF to make it as convenient as possible to integrate biking into the daily life of those living in SF. The idea is that you can then use a Clipper Card or smartphone to unlock bikes at stations around the city for trips up to 45 minutes long.

How cool is that! Now if only I knew how to ride a bike…

5. SF is the home of tech in the USA

If you didn’t know if before, then now you do. San Francisco is home to the world’s leading tech giants. Think SalesForce, Adobe, Eventbrite and other global corporations like Twitter, Uber, Airbnb and more.

Look closely. I took this while having coffee on the opposite side of the road from @Twitter.

With so many great pioneering companies located in the bay area, SF continues to attract a younger workforce with yuppies and more making their way into the city in search of top jobs at these innovative companies.

6. Alcatraz is TINY

Alcatraz Island has featured in many movies and in its former life, was considered THE prison of all prisons in the USA. However, as a Capetonian in SF, I quickly realised just how small this island actually is. It is 0,09km2 in size, making our own Robben Island off the coast of Cape Town more than five times its size.

Alcatraz Island.

Today Alcatraz Island is a tourist destination and can be reached via Ferry but be warned that you can actually see the entire island, in its totality, from various angles in the bay itself. You can also do a ‘Bay to Bay’ tour where a ferry will take you around the island, without stopping off.

7. Drugs and homelessness are HUGE problems in San Francisco

With so many great things happening in the city, there is a down side….

Within our first few minutes in the city centre, we were exposed to just how bad SF’s drug problem really is. During the short walk from the train station to our hotel (about 300 metres) we witnessed people openly smoking crack on the streets; some so high that they can be heard talking to billboards, shouting profanities in the air or walking around half naked. Many are homeless and wandering the streets, day and night.

In a controversial move by the Department of Health, various initiatives have been started to help create ‘safe zones’ for drug users in the city. They distribute around 4.45 million needles each year to the city’s 22,000 intravenous drug users. This is done in an effort to create ‘harm reduction’ and also prevent the spread of disease via non-sterile needles.

As an outsider looking in, the situation is quite unsettling and I would never advise tourists to walk the city streets of SF alone, especially at night. Certain areas seem to be a lot safer and quieter, but the problems related to drug use and homelessness cannot be ignored in the heart of the city!

8. So many firsts for San Francisco

A huge number of firsts have taken place in San Fran, with many new inventions being birthed in the city, including, the TV, denim jeans, the first jukebox, the first slot machine and so much more.

Some accidental discoveries were also made in the city. An example of this was the humble popsicle, accidentally created when a young boy forgot his drink, with stirrer, outside overnight in SF’s freezing weather, only to discover that the concoction could still be enjoyed as a popsicle. The rest, as they say, is history…

Over the years, the city has piloted a number of innovative projects and as a result, the world can be thankful that many new feats have been accomplished in the bay area.

Misty days in the bay are the norm here.

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