Be Aware!, San Francisco
The Exploratorium is probably really cool if you have kids who like science. But we really wanted to try out the "Tactile Dome" we had read about; it is some kind of maze that you go through entirely in the dark. Unfortunately, when we got there (pretty early) it was already sold out for the rest of the day. If that is what you are going for, just be aware.
Unique Suggestions: Call and reserve a time for the Tactile Dome far in advance.
Fun Alternatives: Have a picnic at the Palace of Fine Arts, it is right next door to the Exploratorium if you are in that area.
Some of you may be afraid of the homeless people that are on every other corner of San Francisco, especially near fishermans warf where all the tourist hang out. For the most part, I just ignored them and they never bothered me. i gave change to a bunch of them that actually were quite entertaining. I found most of them to be quite harmless, but everyone has a different opinion and some people just do not like homeless people.
The main area of San Fran to stay away from for family's would be the "Castro" district. this area is definately an adult part of town and I was a little uneasy about some of the people. I was offered heroin a few times, I'm not sure if this is an everday thing in the Castro district or if I was there at the wrong time of year, and the wrong time of day.
Unique Suggestions: If you must go, then do it during the day, where the sun light will be your guarding angel :)
Fun Alternatives: The only alternative is to walk FASTER.....each district in San Francisco is not that big, so within 5 minutes of walking you will be clear of the area.
Many tourist from overseas think that it is cheaper to buy personal electronics in the US. There are rip-off stores that sell PAL European video cameras and photo cameras to tourists. They are not cheaper then any other store in Europe, infact it's much cheaper to buy European Video cameras in the Duty Free at the airports in Europe.
You will see these stores in San Francisco, New York, and L.A. They fill their windows with neon signs, personal electronics, video cameras and digital/photo cameras. They do "low ball" advertising in the storefronts. Meaning that they have a video camera in the window for $199, PAL system, and when you go into the shop and ask to see it... bait and switch! They will ring up you credit card and then go on and tell you that the camera you just bought; is no good and that you should buy the better model. It all starts from there. They will end up selling you a cheap camera, overly priced, that has no warranty. If you demand to have the same camera in the window they will tell you that they have no more and to come back tomorrow. If you tell them that you want their display model they will say it's not for sale.
If you go into those shops you will not get a deal no matter what. And never fall for their wide angle lenses that are supposed to be able to take pictures in the dark. That's B.S. They will tell you to try the lens on and connect your camera to their TV. They adjust the picture quality on the camera to make it look bad, then they screw the lens on and turn the controls to normal and you see. It's a trick. They sell the lens for 200-1000 dollars. It costs them $30. Believe it or not if you buy, you get screwed.
There are good places to purchase digital and film cameras in the US. Try Good Guys, Frys, Circut City, Target, etc. These are big, well known stores. PAL system is recommended to buy here, if you find one it will not have a warranty in your country.
DON'T BUY EVEN FILM THERE! It's usually bad.
Unique Suggestions: Pay with credit. If there is a problem you can get your money back. Any statements that they make; warranties, features, etc. have them write it on the recipt.
As I'm sure most of you know, food in touristy areas are extremely expensive. In San Francisco, this is the case especially for Union Square. In San Francisco, the best restaurants and food are usually in the less-busy neighborhoods (ie, for the best Asian food, go to the Sunset neighborhood - a quiet residential neighborhood about 30 minutes away from downtown). Also, when the weather is okay, having a picnic in San Francisco's squares and parks is extremely delightful, as well as cost-effective. Hope this saves someone some money!!
Fun Alternatives: Definitely head out towards the residential neighborhoods for the best as well as the most cost effective food. For example - the Sunset neighborhood for Asian cuisine, the Mission District for Mexican food, etc.
The biggest tourists traps in San Francisco are the attractions themselves. A $20.00 ride in a cable car will not be the most breathtaking experience of your lfe, Pier 39 is way to expensive and has the same stores you probably have at your local mall, and the Coit Tower is cooler from far away with the surrounding scenery than it is up close. Don't waste your money on these touristy things - go see San Francisco that most tourists don't see.
Fun Alternatives: Go see the Sutro Baths or the Dutch Windmills overlooking the Pacific.
I work on Pier 39 at an aquarium (Aquarium of the Bay)- come check it out- tickets are $12.50 for adults, $6.50 for children, and $6.50 for seniors. The ticket is good for the whole day and it's a great place for kids -- especially in the summer time (end of June- end of Aug).
Sure Pier 39 and Fisherman's Wharf are handy touristy area's but please be sure to travel around the rest of San Francisco. Go up to North Beach (the Italian district) from there you can visit China town and Union Square- it's a straight shot up Stockton. A fun bar in North Beach is Kennedy's it's an Irish Pub and Indian Curry House. Golden Gate Park is nice, it's a large park with gardens, and museums -- the conservatory of flowers has reopened and it's amazing...if you like flowers. The Haight-Ashbry is nice too, but is getting more and more touristy everyday, a fun old timers bar is the Golden Cane. There are so many different places and things to see, don't limit yourself to one area.
Just as a warning. Be aware that when you are posing with street performers or the eclectic people along the piers, many of them ask for money for your privilage to photograph yourself with them. I've even seen some advertise "Get your photo taken with a REAL Punker for $1".
If you want, be my guest. But watch out for the person posing with you who waits until after you snap the photo until they start bugging you for $.
We arrived SF on Sat, 6/3. Sunday, 6/4 we walked to find the Visitors Information Center.
Got to vicinity of the VC around 2:45pm. Could not spot the VC, but knew it was there. We must have stood out to the criminal element stationed there.
A black man approached. Said he worked for the VC and could help us? We asked him direction to VC. He said "right over here" and started leading. He insisted on leading us to it (Clue #1). I was located down some stairs in "The Pit". He got in front, and said, "we work on donations here" (Clue #2). I said OK, reached into my pocket, pulled out a fold of bills, found a $1for him.
There were two security guards in the little 40X40 building (Clue #3 - why guards in a place where everything is free?). Shortly, there was an announcement that the VC would close in 5 minutes.
Standing outside to get our bearings, and I noticed out of the corner of my eye a figure was approaching us.
He was a black man, early 20's, round face, thick lips, hair in dreadnots. His right hand extended and his eyes fixed on my left jeans pocket with bills. He got within three feet. I told him "No", and we turned to walk away.
This guy got fighting mad and began to call me every vulgar name while advancing toward us. His eyes were wild, and no doubt he was going to attack us, in my mind. We walked back into the VC, where a guard was about to start locking doors. We said, "we have a problem here". The street criminal was right behind us. The guard stepped in front of him, pushed him out while the guy was still raging at us, and pushed him off to the left of the building. My wife and I left to the right of the building, climbed the stairs out of the pit, and left the area.
If I ever do go back to walk the streets of San Francisco, I can promise you I will be carrying a knife. Only 10 minutes separated us from having that guard there to help us. Otherwise I would have had to fight that guy with only a camera in my hand. Next time, I will have a knife on me.
Be careful in this crime-tolerant town.
The Tenderloin is not a great place to get lost so take cabs to avoid accidentally wandering around here. It borders Union Square on 5th, so its easy to wander the wrong way.
Unique Suggestions: However, if you're feeling adventurous, try Thai Noodle at 901 Larkin. You can get a beer and lunch for under $10 and it rocks.
Fun Alternatives: Or, if you're vegetarian, try Golden Era Vegetarian Restaurant at 572 O'Farrell.
Camera store on Fisherman's Wharf will convince you that the camera you are interested in is a total bargain compared to the price you pay back home. They will 'throw' lots of items in with it 'for free' to show you what a great deal you are getting from them. If you're really gullible you will fall for this & buy the camera. Later, on passing other stores, you will discover that you could have bought the camera for a third of the price several times over. You will return to the original 'rip off' shop to be told that, if you walk with him to the shops that told you those low prices, he will willingly put things right as he wants to make his customers happy. On arriving at the said shops, the assistants will tell you that they have never seen you before & don't know what you are talking about OR that you got it wrong & it's only the camera for sale at that price; no leads, batteries, etc. They will even have scraped off the tell-tale price label if there was one. They will look you in the face; have no qualms. They will lie unashamedly. You will get nowhere no matter how hard you try because the phone call / walkie-talkie / messaging system [whatever it is] works well throughout the whole network of shops up and down the Wharf. The receipt states No Refund and there is nothing you can do but bite the bullet. Our particular store was 2800 Leavenworth St. but it really doesn't matter which one you choose since they're all the same and all in league with each other!
One trader admitted to us that the lying takes place, adding that they're 'not bad men. It's just that they don't want to get involved as the tourist goes home while they have to live & work together'. As far as I am concerned, they become involved the moment they coldly lie for each other to innocent tourists. Agreed, we are idiots for succumbing in the first place. The camera's great! However, despicable doesn't begin to describe the rip-off merchants that sold it to us at a hugely exhorbitant price then lied through their teeth.
Stay well clear!
Everything in San Francisco is a tourist trap. All of the restaurants are extremely overpriced. The parking meters give you 7 minutes for 25 cents. Fisherman's Wharf is a bunch of garbage Times Square-Like junk shops along a waterfront where you can sell Fried Clams for $48.00 a plate. Haight-Ashbury is a bunch of overpriced coffee shops and natural food restaurants and headshops and cd stores trying to exploit people who are interested in seeing a little bit about our sixites music history. The trolley costs 5 dollars to go in one direction, which is usually up one hill. Then you need to get off and pay five dollars to go back down. I didn't see one place in this whole city that isn't a trap, except maybe the Tenderloin.
Unique Suggestions: Think twice before you ever decide to visit San Francisco.
Fun Alternatives: Go to New York
It's not that the hotels themselves aren't nice... it's well, wikipedia says it best:
The name Theater District is actually only used by those attempting to attract customers into the area – most notably real estate agencies and hotels – and tourists.
Just search these travel tips for "tenderloin".
oh fyi -- so i'm too chicken to ask a real tenderloin crackhead if i can take his picture for the sole purpose of posting a VT tip -- so here's some homeless clipart instead
Great to read the previous reviews, it was as if you had written about my exact experience!!
I wanted a particular lens for my Canon nothing more just the lens. I started at the first store (you will notice none of them have a particular store name but all have the same promotional signage and price stickers - their staff even look the same!). When it is obvious that they will not be successful in upsetting with filters, macro attachments etc.. they start to look anxious and suddenly the lens is no longer available at the original stated price. Don't question this unprofessional and unethical behaviour as before long you will be abused, sworn at and even have the threat of the police being called. Customer service at its best? The filter that they tried to sell me was a polarising filter shown from a Hoya brochure (Hoya being a very reputable brand - retailing for $149) however the filter they produced cost $380 and was a "no name" brand probably made from disused beer bottles. I make my living from my photography so was not quickly fooled by their techniques but was entertained by their abusive antics.
All I can say is do not part with your money to encourage these modern day shysters they should be locked up in a place akin to Alcatraz for doing the American tourist trade a disservice.
This particular store - again no store name displayed but it is located opposite the Canary but it is very obvious that they all 'operate' as a collective group to ensure there is not competitive bargaining power for the consumer. This s the biggest scam I have encountered in my travels.
Unique Suggestions: San Francisco is a city with personality plus - the buskers, the atmosphere, the helpful locals, entertaining cable car operators...all make for a fantastic experience...love this city.
Fun Alternatives: My tip is you wont be allowed to get a good deal on the specific photographic equipment you wish to purchase. Unless you are prepared to line these sleazy characters pockets with the proceeds of dodgy upsell items you will not be able to purchase the item you thought was a bargain.
SF is a city with lots of slopes. If you shot pictures near a slope, please make sure to hold your camera properly. Otherwise, you will get a photo of SF after earthquake. See the sample of my photos.
When I'm at home and I see someone begging on the street, i prefer to give them a cup of coffee and a sandwich rather than giving them money, as I know that they can often use the money for drink and drugs. No exception for me in SF.
The first morning we were looking for Sears to have breakfast- we had amap and knew where it was but of course as soon as we were spotted looking at the street signs, we were approached by a guy who was very friendly and chatty and asked us did we need a hand finding where we were going. We, being Irish, were delighted to chat with someone and we had a short converstaion about going for breakfast and that we knew where we were going, he recommended another place (which we did try during the week and it was very good) and when we were leaving he hit us with the "would you have some spare change" bit. He was quite a well dressed/presented man, and it didnt even occur to me that he was homeless, so i was a bit shocked. We did give him some money but felt a bit conned into it.
Later on that day we were approached down at Fishermans Wharf by a guy who looked very official, he lad a badge on and was wearing a name badge also, he stopped us and accused us of something (I can't remember what it was), then when he'd gotten our attention he started smiling and said that he was only joking and that he was really looking to raise funds for the homeless of the city. I was still a bit gobsmacked with what he had accused us of in the first place, and wasnt quite with it, my husband in the meantime wrote down the money he was going to donate on his clipboard, it was handed to me next and I went to just put my name down, when I noticed my husband giving over twice the amount of money that he had written down. It was only when we were "let go" that he said that he had thought I was writing the same amount down as him. We earned 2 stickers form the guy for our efforts but they were very expensive stickers, and I warned my husband that if anyone else approached us, I was going to be doing the talking- NO!