I am a long time resident of San Francisco, I have seen and heard almost every story to get spare change out of me. I have even tried helping a couple individuals living on the street thinking I was doing a good deed. The truth was the money I gave to them was really being spent on their drug/alcohol addiction. Now, I don't give spare change at all!
I see tourists come here giving their spare change out of guilt and or fear? Here is my suggestion, never give spare change. If someone asks for money, look them in the eye and say, "I'm sorry" and keep walking. Do not stop. Now, before anyone says I am completely heartless because I am encouraging others not to help the folks on the street, let me just say I have learned to give my money and time to a place I have grown to love called Glide Church www.glide.org . This church has been feeding folks three times a day for years in addition to providing social and medical services to those that can't afford to pay. They are on Ellis @ Taylor in the Tenderloin. They also have a great Gospel choir that performs twice on Sundays during their church services (see my review on things to do).
Another alternative is if you have a "Doggie bag" leftover from your meal, give it to someone on the street, most of the time they will be thankful for the offering.
Another thing you can do is ask if the person asking for change is hungry rather than give them change, buy the food for them.
Thanks for listening.
San Francisco is surrounded on 3 sides by water. Too bad it is ice-cold and unsuitable for swimming. Unless of course, you take the traditional New Years Day plunge in Ocean Beach. But don't go out too far, undertow will pull you under. The most popular waters sports here in the City are sailing, windsurfing, and surfing.
Doesn't the picture speak for itself?
If you're not used to the fact that there are cable cars driving through the city you will be warned by the cable car bells very often! :-)
Be aware where the tracks are and don't just cross them. Look to the left and right before crossing. This might sound silly, but we have seen a lot of tourist jumping left and right to avoid collition with a cable car, because they were not careful enough!
San Francisco has been ranked consistently over the years with fairly low crime rates. However like any other city in the world, never let your guard down in any case. Be aware of Pickpocketers that hang out along Market St. and Fisherman's Wharf, hoping to prey on naive tourists. Also the area of Hunters Point in southeastern San Francisco should be avoided at night, as it can get rough.
Because of the tech boom in the late 1990s, many "dot-commers" moved into the city and immediately rose housing and rent rates, forcing many low-income residents and artists to leave. Some weren't lucky enough and are today sadly homeless. San Francisco does have a good share of homeless--some of the highest rates in the U.S.--and you might encounter them if you're walking down one of the major streets. As a rule, don't give them money; it might likely be used for drugs or alcohol. Instead, if you want to be generous, giving food would be much better.
The infamous California earthquakes have been hyped up by the media so much that you might think the whole state's going to drop in the ocean too. Funny. Take it from a local, but that's not going to happen any time soon. The Bay Area hasn't had a major earthquake since 1989. San Francisco itself hasn't had a direct hit since 1906 when that earthquake destroyed much of the city. But that's highly unlikely that that'll occur again, as the city today doesn't consist entirely of wood. In other words, an earthquake is always possible, but very infrequent or rare. You are more likely to get hit by a tornado in the Midwest than to experience a major California earthquake.
If you have any unlikely emergencies, contact the San Francisco Police Department, the San Francisco Sheriff's Department, or the California Highway Patrol. However, the Police and Sheriff departments might combine into a single force in the near future.
Don't go swimming at Ocean Beach.
That's not what it's there for. It's there to accomodate all the fishies, and to spit up millions upon millions of these little purple jellyfish onto the beach. If you go barefoot, watch your step, because you'll either step in them (major ick factor, but I'm told they don't sting), on the crab shells or broken sea dollars, or on leftover charcoal from a bonfire.
The waters at Ocean Beach are frickin' cold, so I don't know why anyone would want to swim in the first place. If you're not an expert swimmer, your chances of getting caught in a stron riptide are high. There are no lifeguards, from what I've seen.
General consensus is to be extremely careful even just wading.
I sometimes see people out there windsurfing. Braver folk than I am.
All the warnings aside, on a rare sunny day (Ocean Beach is usually foggy and chilly), the ocean is beautiful. So go down to walk along the beach. Just be sure to scrape the jellyfish off your shoes.
The beaches are lovely, but the Pacific waters are cold!! If you've never taken a dip in the world's largest ocean, you may be in for a rude awakening. You should also be careful swimming here, because the rips and currents can be very dangerous.