7 Things You Should Pack/Bring When You Travel To San Francisco

categories: Northern California

San Francisco

Automatic Transmission

Back before Bill Cosby became a dirty word, he had a comedy routine about driving in San Francisco that should be required listening for every driver who wants to drive in San Francisco. They should have a kiosk at the airport with his album “Why is there Air?” playing and then you should have to sign an affidavit that you have listened to it before they let you rent a car. There should also be large billboards at the outskirts of town that simply prohibit driving in San Francisco with a manual transmission.

Sweatshirt or Jacket

You see a lot of tourists around San Francisco wearing sweatshirts they just bought on Fisherman’s Wharf. Many of them did not pack a sweatshirt because it was summer and they were heading to California. Clearly they don’t recall that Mark Twain quote that the coldest winter he ever spent was that summer he spent in San Francisco. While in the summer it can easily be over one hundred degrees in Sacramento or 90 degrees in San Jose, it might not get out of the 50s or 60s in San Francisco during many days. The best weather in San Francisco is often September. TravelSavyMom recommends a cashmere sweater instead, but my guess is that she dresses better than me. Long pants are also recommended.

Walking Shoes

San Francisco is built on hills but for someone in decent shape I still think that the best way to experience San Francisco is to get out and walk. While it is fun to drive down the “crookedest street in the world” Lombard street (and more than a little scary to drive up to it), you get a better view of Lombard street as a pedestrian. My mother-in-law broke a set of heels trying to do just a little walking in San Francisco. This is not a city for heels. This is a city for sensible shoes. So bring some good walking shoes and then walk out on the Golden Gate bridge to get great views of the city (don’t forget that sweatshirt).

The Amateur Traveler has done 3 episodes on San Francisco and all three advised a fair amount of walking:

A Camera

This city is a wonderful place for photographers no matter what the weather. There is no photo that cannot be improved by a cable car riding by. Besides, taking a picture gives you an excuse to stop walking so that people don’t know you are really out of breath from walking the hills.

Map of great photography spots in the San Francisco Bay area

Blue Jeans

This is the home of Levi Strauss and in many local businesses (high tech not banking) what the east coast thinks is business casual here is considered as dressing up. You can dress nicer for dinner or the theatre but do it because you want to not because you think it is expected.

A Roll of Quarters

San Francisco is a great city to ride public transportation. If all the cars in San Francisco were to stop and try and find parking at the same time there would not be enough places to park. The system only works at all because some people are driving at any time. So kellieparker recommends “a roll of quarters for exact change on the bus (fare is $1.50)”. Cable car fares are $5.00 one way for adults and youth.

Allergy medications

MikeTRose says “Allergy medications. For some reason, East Coasters like me get the sniffles in SF.” It is quite possible that Mike has an allergy to mold or mildew. San Francisco gets wrapped in a blanket of fog most nights and so it can stay pretty damp which can be refreshing or vexing, depending on your expectations. But it is a paradise for molds and people with allergies should take note.

Chris Christensen

by Chris Christensen

Chris Christensen is the creator of the Amateur Traveler blog and podcast. He has been a travel creator since 2005 and has won numerous awards including being named the "Best Independent Travel Journalist" by Travel+Leisure Magazine. He move to California in 1964.

7 Responses to “7 Things You Should Pack/Bring When You Travel To San Francisco”



Prior to buying my first car, I hired a driving school so that I could learn to drive standard. In San Francisco. My fourth lesson, I was caught in a traffic jam going up Nob Hill. I didn’t stall once. I thanked my teacher for doing such a good job of teaching, bought an automatic transmission and have never driven a stick again.

When we went back for a visit in September, we spent the first week just doing mass transit while staying on Potrero Hill. We went all over town as well as the east bay, and only once (around 10pm) did we spend more than about 10 minutes waiting for a bus/lightrail/BART. And if no bus was in evidence yet, we just walked to the next stop. We bought a one-week MUNI pass, which is even better than packing quarters (but you still need those for BART).



I applaud anyone who can master the hills with a manual transmission.



Laughing out loud at your first point. I grew up in the Bay Area, and before I was allowed to take the car out on my own, my dad made me demonstrate that I could stop & start in the middle of a SF hill without stalling.

No automatic transmission for me ๐Ÿ˜‰

Travel Agents India


That was a really interesting post.

Thanks for sharing.



I love having a manual transmission in the city because I feel much more secure in my ability to not smoke out my brakes on the steep down hills – and shifting gears is better for your car in the long run. Besides I feel like a billy goat climbing up and down hills in a stick! Yee-haw.



And good points on what to pack – you might also add Purell for your bag. Especially if you plan to take public transportation. Otherwise bring gloves.



Purell is a good add. I just travel with a friend who always remembers it. ๐Ÿ™‚

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