Areas to Avoid, San Francisco
I have noticed that many VT members have commented on how unsafe certain areas of San Francisco are. As a lifelong resident of San Francisco, I generally feel very safe in the city. Yes, there are areas to avoid, especially if you're a woman alone and at night (Tenderloin, Hunter's Point - but tourists wouldn't end up in Hunter's Point anyway, sometimes SoMa at night, Mission district at night). But, to be honest, I feel that as long as you are street smart and know how to handle beggars and sketchy folks, you will be just fine. For instance, in the downtown area, you will undoubtedly come into contact with beggars. How I deal is just say "Sorry," and walk on confidently. I also do not make eye contact and make purposeful strides forward. I feel much safer in San Francisco than I do in other cities. If you are street smart and don't go wandering off into dangerous neighborhoods to explore, you will be fine. Almost all touristy areas are considered safe in San Francisco.
Coming from a large city like Chicago, I am aware that large US cities have pockets of gritty neighborhoods that are wise to avoid, even in the central areas, especially late at night. While I didn't happen to wander into any neighborhoods on this trip that made me feel uncomfortable, my guidebook warned of several neighborhoods that I was close to including the Tenderloin which was just to the west of my hotel in Union Square and parts of Golden Gate Park, some locals also advised that parts of the Mission District were a little rough. Here's a list from Fodors that a traveler might find useful to stay safe.
San Francisco also has a large population of homeless people which tend to hang out in the tourist friendly areas, if you think about it, I guess it makes sense as San Francisco has fairly consistent weather throughout the year and doesn't have the weather challenges that large cities like Chicago and New York City have plus the street kids show up in the summer. We saw a lot of them when we emerged from the BART station at Powell Street, none of them were agressive or rude, some even ask you if you want help finding your hotel, but they do ask for money. We saw a lot of them in Haight Ashbury, mostly with signs pleading their case or sleeping on the sidewalks.
Especially if you are alone do not go to the Mission, Hunter's Point or SOMA areas during the evening hours. Always travel in pairs within these three areas. I find if you are in these areas walk with confidence and you'll be okay.
Despite the popular concensus that the tenderloin should be avoided, I really don't find that to be true. There are some good restaurants near or around that area and I've never had a problem.
Please stay away from the Tenderloin area...which is in downtown around eddy, ellis between market and around larkin. But if you are there, you'll know it...lots of shady people hanging around the streets and there are tons of cheap Vietnamese restaurants, shops. Stick around if you want to see some drug dealers and prostitutes.
It's known to be a bad neighborhood in SF, but there are still some good clubs and bars that are located there, such as Suite181 and Edinburgh Castle. Just watch where you are.
Like with any other major city in the States there are some neighborhoods that are better (or worse) than others. What different about SF is its geographical limitations. Located on a peninsula, there is no room for new money to expand letting ghettos fill the void of the businesses or residents that would have relocated. In SF you can walk for 6 block and hit two “high rent” hoods and two ghettos. (a little exaggeration but you get the idea)
The neighborhoods that have a worse reputation are The Tenderloin, The Mission and SOMA. (I would rank them in this order as well – from bad to not as bad) There are a few others, but these 3 areas do have nightclubs and bars that attract the nightlife. The only precautions would be 1) be aware where you park if you have a car and 2) don’t walk around these places at night SOLO. The safest bet is to take a taxi from where you are staying to your destination, and you will have no probblem.
I had originally booked a hotel stay online at the Renoir hotel in the Tenderloin district. I only did my research (mainly reading reviews from other travelers) on the discount travel site. This was very stupid of me. The site must post fake reviews. The price for one week seemed to good to be true. After booking the trip I realized I had booked a stay at one of the trashiest hotels in California. After reading countless horrible/scary and some quite funny reviews on tripadvisor I called and canceled the stay. I was not about to stay in the "red light district" full of prostitutes, strip clubs and crack dealers. We were out $800 and had to book a second hotel in Union Square. By the way, this was not my first trip to San Francisco but I had formerly stayed years before with a boyfriend's family member near Golden Gate park which is a very different area.
The hotel in Union Square was nice and clean but was only a couple of blocks from the Tenderloin. We accidentally walked towards that area one evening and I was scared and turned right back. I had a homeless man scream at me for a couple of minutes outside a liquor store while waiting for my husband. This happened after being in San Francisco for less than 1 hour. There is great shopping and restaurants in the area in the daytime but should be avoided at night if female and not familiar with the area.
Wow! These people are paranoid. Perhaps they have been victims of crime, and I am sorry for that; however, I am a woman and I have lived in San Francisco since 1972. I have been to Potrero Hill, all over the Mission, in the Civic Center area, etc. day and night. I have never experienced anything other than some bad smells and alot of panhandling. As a tourist you might want to be very careful of where you go, and I certainly understand that. If there's a restaurant or a club or bar you want to go to and it's in a neighborhood you've been warned about and if you scare easily, don't go. However, if it really sounds like a great place, apply your street smarts and go. Although I am Hispanic, I don't look it, so I have never experienced a problem with wearing blue or red, but usually I wear black anyway so I don't run into that problem. I don't go to Hunter's Point much, but I have been there a few times, and it was very quiet, with mostly people going about their business. It is a largely black neighborhood, and the few times I've been there, the people were very nice.
Besides, most crime is usually within the context of a community. Black crime is mostly restricted to black people, Hispanic crime occurs among Hispanic people, etc.
Also, some of these people were scared of some unusual-looking people. Well, get used to it. Most of them are just scary looking but they are harmless. Not everywhere you go is going to be full of nicely dressed people with polite manners. If you want that, go to Montana.
Perhaps it's because I am originally from New York. Now that was a place to be afraid of.
A native New Yorker, who is well-traveled in the United States and world, I lived in San Francisco for a few months in 2008. It was my first time going to San Francisco. I traveled there for a job and wanted to try out San Francisco to see if I would like living on the West Coast. Having lived in New York my entire life, I had never been so afraid for my safety before. My father traveled to San Francisco with me initially - he too also lived in New York since the early 1970s and as a former Marine, he too also felt unsafe in San Francisco. I was working in the Tenderloin so I had to commute there everyday and would sometimes venture out for lunch. Fortunately, the area of Golden Gate Avenue I worked near was not terrible because it was a business area in the day, but I would recommend do NOT venture further east into the TL on Golden Gate Avenue past Van Ness INCLUDING during the daytime. In the TL, you will see the same crackheads daily asking for money, I saw a pregnant prostitute on the corner near the KFC soliciting for men, you see people shooting up drugs in broad daylight and the poverty is on another level. One day I missed my bus stop on my way to work in the morning, and ended up deep in the heart of the tenderloin. The bus let me off not to far from the Glade Memorial Church (featured in Pursuit of Happyness) and there a lot of people and homeless milling the streets in the morning looking for trouble. My father one day after leaving me near my work office walked the "wrong way" and saw a line of black men (we are also black) staring at him in a menacing way, wondering why he was new to their hood. He quickly and frighteningly walked out of that area. The area near the Macy's on Market Street is also very sketchy and if waiting by anyone near the Macy's or the mall (Civic Center/TL/SOMA), just be aware of your surroundings and try not to wait too close to Golden Gate Avenue. At night in the Tenderloin, you will see and hear police sirens, prostitutes screaming, broken bottles and other noisy activity.
When I initially moved to San Francisco, it was to stay with family in the Bayview's/Hunter's Point Area. Like I said earlier, this was my first time venturing out into SF. Bayview was the worst neighborhood I had been in my entire life. There were bullet holes in the Bus station glass, blood stains from murders on storefront sidewalks, crackheads and drug addicts galore, and it is not safe as a young woman to walk Anywhere alone - not even to Walgreens, to a store, restaurant, nor barely even to catch the city train. Believe me when I say after a few days, I moved right out of that area and into Inner Richmond which is a more expensive area, but I rather be safe than fear for my life every morning when going to work or trying to enjoy myself as a young person in a new city. Cars are broken into as a normal occurrence; radios are stolen; and car parts. I would also avoid the Western Addition and Fillmore areas which while I was staying here had murders frequently on certain blocks and you would not want to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. In the Financial District one night, I saw a homeless man yell at two tourists who were retrieving money from an ATM machine because they would not give him any money. The tourists were shocked and did not seem to know it was a bad idea to take money out (even in a "good area" of San Francisco) after dark. I don't know if they eventually gave him some or all of their money.
Some SF residents are in denial about how unsafe their city is compared with other major cities in the USA. New York City is like Disneyland in terms of how safe you feel on a day to day basis as compared with San Francisco. I guess in NYC you have more options as to which areas you frequent and larger portions are the city are very safe with a small minority of neighborhoods in the extreme, but in SF, the crime is block-by-block and unsuspecting tourists or newcomers have no idea what they are in for. Needless to say, I decided San Francisco was not the city for me.
This is the place to go to if you want to smoke second hand crack (or if you want to buy it for yourself). It isn't exactly a scary neighborhood (I didn't really feel threatened), but it has a lot of drug addicts, prostitutes and a lot of people offering you drugs. Still it is probably better to avoid it late at night. If you have a specific place you need to go, it is better to take a cab than to walk through this area at night.
On the bright side, there are some pretty good (and cheap) Vietnamese restaurants here. Check out the link for some places of interest in this neighborhood.
North of Market St. and between Franklin and Taylor St.
Disticts in SF can change at night. During the day, there probably isn't too many places you would go that aren't totally safe. At night though, some seedy people crawl out from the rocks in certain areas. Although you probably could be fine, these places can either be danegrous, or just undesirable.
Tenderloin: If you have a club or something to go to, take a cab.
Haight: Some seedy people
Golden Gate Park: Homeless take shelter here. You could be robbed or harrassed or run into some mentally unstable person with no one else around.
There are other places to avoid too, where many homeless and shady people congregate in their own mini communities.
I would stick to places like Northbeach, Russian Hill, some of SoMA, Financial, because they are good places to go at night and no worries.
For such a small city, San Francisco has a large homeless population. I was told that this is due to a combination of weather and politics. Whatever, the reason, you'll find homeless people practically everywhere in the city. Its quite sad, actually.
The area known as the Tenderloin District is known as the bad area of town. I can't tell you exactly where it is, but I managed to wander through it by accident. Its located along Hyde Street and near the civic center area, so get good directions if you're planning a walking tour near here.
Its a pretty sketchy area and definitely the rougher side of town. Most homeless people are harmless and I'm pretty used to big cities, but when a guy approached me at a crosswalk and asked for my watch, I was pretty shaken. Needless to say, I got out of there as fast as I could.
Another good reason to avoid this area is because there is nothing to do here. There are far better places in SF to spend your time, so I wouldn't recommend this as a place to visit.
I've been reading a lot of stuff on here about the Tenderloin area of SF and I feel I need to defend it a little.
Ok, I'm from Manchester UK, and despite being from a somewhat middle-class background, I'm used to seeing the homeless/street crime just like in any major city.
The area is not exactly a tourist's dream in a sense of yes it has a sizeable homeless population and a quirky subculture of drinkers, drug addicts and prostitutes. However, I think that made the area more enjoyable in some sense, I mean it was pretty amusing listening to some conversations and watching elderly women asking for single condoms in liquor stores. At first I was a little taken aback but the homeless don't bother you except to ask for money and if you give a polite 'sorry' with eye contact avoidance there's no problem.
Basically, this area is like any less affluent area if a major city. Just use common sense! 9 times out of 10 if you don't bother them, they aren't interested in you. I think a lot of these comments are due to ignorance or lack of familiarity with big city life. Here's some things to consider - mental illness is not associated with violence nor does it make people dangerous (drug/alcohol abuse does however). Most of these problems are associated with poverty.
Basically, with common sense in tow, the area is fine and offers a quirky insight into the real downtown SF, not the disneyland SF that rich politicians would like you to see. The only real bummer was the $20 a day parking (please do park in a lot not on the street).
If you want to experience the world and live then you have to brave the real world. If you stick to places like Union Square then you end up spending thousands just visiting what is basically the same city, just in different places all over the world.
In conclusion, if you want a cheap, clean room surrounded by quirk in an expensive city and aren't a total snob, tenderloin is A OK. If you're rich and living off a trust fund and only want to see Saks and Tiffany's . . . avoid.
My husband parked the car at the parking lot closet to Alcatraz and a man motioned for him where to park and collected the fee. My husband assumed it was the parking lot attendant. Later on after we had left and had returned to re-park we notice that you are supposed to pay a machine and the parking pass the man gave my husband was for a different lot further away. We were not towed so we didn't feel too bad about getting ripped off, and we found free street parking.
In my guide book these were noted as "bad areas" (particularly Market between 4th and 6th). There were definitely more homeless people in those areas, but that does not mean you need to avoid them completely. Our hotel (the Dakota) was located in the Tenderloin, and no one tried to harass or rob us. We did not witness any violence. There are quite a few great little restaurants in the area actually (such as A La Turka). That does not mean I (a girl) would want to walk through there by myself at night! I am just saying, during the day it was walkable.
My wife and I got off the trolley and walked a few blocks apparently in the wrong direction to see a particular hotel. We knew we were only within a few blocks of Market St and probably 4 blocks from our hotel. The neighborhood changed literally within a block. It was broad daylight out, around 4pm and a man walking towards us threw a bottle of booze at us and it almost hit my wife and smashed on the ground near us. I obviously was shocked and I looked at the guy with a "wtf" look on my face and he immediately stopped and started cursing at me. He still had another bottle in his hand and I quickly looked around and realized if I retaliated, there was a good chance I wasn't getting out of there in good shape, considering we were the only 2 white people on the street, and the apparently the only two people with any money. So I decided against trying to beat up the guy who just threw a bottle towards my pregnant wife and we tried to cross the street but he followed us, yelling and cursing and calling me a punk and telling us to get off his street. We got across the street with him breathing down my neck and he finally stopped and starting walking up a different street, still yelling at me. The nerve of me looking at him after he threw a bottle at us.
Other than that incident, we've been here for 3 days and have not had any other issues. There are a lot of homeless around and many of them asking for money, but none of them have been threatening at all. I'm from Philly so I'm used to homeless but I didn't know about that neighborhood or where it was. I should've checked this site sooner. So definitely avoid that area, we were basically at Taylor and Eddy Street. But Fisherman's Wharf and Noth Beach seem to be very safe. We're going to a Giants game tonight and taking a cab just to be safe, that kind of shook us up a bit.