Like any major city, San Francisco definitely has some rough edges and neighborhoods to avoid.  Some of the city's homeless population panhandle throughout major areas of the city including areas frequented by tourists such as Union Square.  The Civic Center has a high concentration as well. Panhandlers are, as a group, not dangerous but many of them are mentally ill.  It is the safest and wisest not to give them any money or engage them in any way.  Some areas where you might encounter panhandlers or should exercise caution:

  • The “Tenderloin,” primarily in the nighttime hours. While many incorrectly assume that this was a former meatpacking district, its name reflects the fact that, during the 19th century, policemen who walked this dangerous beat here were given extra pay and, therefore, were able to afford better cuts of meat.  This area begins roughly north of the Civic Center and stretches from Van Ness Ave over to Mason St. by Union Square.  If you're living by Union Square, the doorman should be able to help point out the direction to the Tenderloin.
  • The Mission District, while perfectly safe during the day, can be an intimidating location at night, particularly around 16th Street and east of Valencia. Ask your hotel to highlight these areas on a map for you.

Violent crime is not common or prevalent in San Francisco except in certain neighborhoods that are unlikely to be seen by tourists.  However, as is true for most major cities, one should take all of common-sense safety precautions one would anywhere else.  Carry a good street map, and perhaps a cell phone so that you can call your hotel if you get lost.  Do not carry large amounts of cash or display expensive jewelry. 

If you've rented a car, observe a few simple urban rules to keep you and your things safe: Do not leave bags, boxes or valuable items in plain sight inside a parked car. Even innocuous items such as an old bag with nothing of obvious value can be sufficient lure for someone to "smash and grab." After all, it costs nothing to see if there is something of value buried in that old gym bag. Place items in the trunk BEFORE you arrive in your destination and park; people can observe you too easily.  If the neighborhood feels uncomfortable to you, follow your instincts and don't park there.  Avoid street parking overnight in the SOMA and Tenderloin areas, particularly in alleys.  The money you spend on a garage or valet may be well spent.

Personal Safety

Crimes against tourists are often crimes of opportunity.  Do not give thieves the opportunity to ruin your holiday.

Here are a few tips:

  • When riding public transportation or in crowded areas, do not have your backpack or purse over your shoulder.  Keep them in front of you at all times.
  • Do not hang your purse or backpack on the back of a chair or put it under your chair in restaurants, bars, etc.
  • Do not leave your possessions unattended at a restaurant table while you go to a buffet line, restroom, etc.
  • Most valuables, lap tops, etc. are carried in the small bags.  Those bags are often left on top of the other bags and easily grabbed.  Strap small bags to the larger ones and do not turn your back on them for one second.
  • Stay on streets where others are walking.
  • Trust your instincts -- if it doesn't look safe, don't go there.
  • If you carry a purse or other bag or backpack, keep stuff you could afford to lose in your bag and money, credit cards, etc. on your person (e.g., money belt, secure inner coat pocket).
  • Walk with a purpose, make eye contact and maintain strong posture
  • Do not carry more money than you need at a time.  Do not flash money, wallets or valuables.
  • When shopping and such, do not overload yourself.  Always keep one arm free.
  • When in your hotel room, always use your peep hole before opening the door.
  • Do not open the door for ANYONE, including hotel employees, unless you are expecting them.  If an "employee" comes to your door that you are not expecting, call the front desk to verify their purpose and identity.

In terms of pedestrian safety while walking and taking pictures of the views of the cable cars, any hilltop view of the bay, the Golden Gate Bridge, Chinatown area, please be mindful and careful of the traffic.  Drivers in any large city may be downright rude and run red lights, turn in front of you as you are trying to walk across the street on a green light and may not see you as you step off the street to take that one picture.  Large trucks or transit buses turning can cause serious injury or death.  Please watch the traffic, look for a good and safe spot to take your pictures and enjoy your stay.

Scam Warning:

There is a scam where people call hotels and ask to be connected to a room.  They often ask for a common name like Smith, Jones, Wilson, etc.  However, if someone calls a hotel and just asks for a room by the number, they are often connected without any screening procedures by the hotel.  When the guest answers the phone in the room, the caller claims to be the hotel manager and says there is a problem with the credit card information at the front desk.  The caller then asks the guest to repeat their credit card number and address.  Some people have fallen for the scam and found thousands of dollars charged to their cards within minutes.  Again, do not give out your credit card number to anyone who calls you.  If the hotel management needs to verify your credit card information, tell them that you will go down to the front desk to do so.

ATM Caution

Be careful using outside ATMs. People sometimes lurk just close enough to get your PIN (personal id number), and if you happen to leave your ATM card in the machine, your account could be accessed. Travelers have lost hundreds of dollars in minutes this way! It's worse if it's a debit card; since purchases can be made all over town with the same PIN.