Nuts-and-bolts information to plan your trip, plus a checklist of essentials to include when you pack and a list of links to local media
Entry Requirements: International travelers from 27 countries may enter the U.S. without a visa through the Visa Waiver Program; however, you must have a machine-readable passport. Visitors from other countries must obtain a visa from an American embassy or consulate abroad. For more information, visit travel.state.gov.
Time: San Francisco follows U.S. Pacific Standard Time, three hours behind U.S. Eastern Standard Time.
Money: The currency of San Francisco is the U.S. dollar. For current conversion rates go to OANDA Currency Converter: www.oanda.com/convert/classic
Phone Calls: The area code for San Francisco is 415. For phone calls to San Francisco from within the U.S., dial 1 415 seven-digit phone number. For phone calls to San Francisco from outside the U.S., dial your country's international access code 415 seven-digit phone number. In San Francisco, local calls from a pay phone cost 50 cents.
When to Go: The weather in San Francisco's many microclimates can be unpredictable, although temperatures generally range from the mid-40s to the mid-70s°F (5°C to 21°C). Rainfall peaks in the winter, and the city's famous fog invades during the summer, causing unprepared tourists to shiver in their shorts. Locals look forward to the sunny, mild days of spring and autumn.
Getting There: Over 30 major airlines offer service through San Francisco International Airport (SFO), which is located about 13 miles (21 kilometers) south of San Francisco off US 101. Oakland International Airport also serves the San Francisco Bay Area. Public transportation is available between these airports and San Francisco.
Getting Around: Driving San Francisco's steep hills and scavenging for parking can be challenging. Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), an underground train system with stops throughout the city and the Bay Area, offers a convenient alternative. The San Francisco Municipal Railway (Muni) runs the city's buses, streetcars, and famous cable cars. Taxis are relatively easy to find downtown, or ask your hotel or restaurant to call one for you.
Tips: "Pack layers; the weather is highly changeable," says Richard Sterling, author of The Unofficial Guide to San Francisco. "Remember that it can be very cold," adds Ray Riegert, author of Hidden San Francisco & Northern California.
Security: In San Francisco, as in any big city, it's wise to be aware of your surroundings; keep your wallet and shopping bags close; and don't leave valuables in your car. Some areas, such as the Tenderloin District, the Mission, Lower Haight, and Civic Center, require extra caution, especially at night.
Walking Shoes: "It really is a walking city," says Tom Downs, author of Walking San Francisco. The combination of the city's steep hills, busy traffic, and limited parking often make driving impractical. Wear comfortable shoes, but if you don't want to be marked as a tourist, remember: "The white socks and tennis shoes look is a dead giveaway," says Downs.
Sweater or Fleece: "A fleece is light and easy to squeeze into a ball and stuff in your backpack," says Bradley Charbonneau, author of Urban Travel Guide San Francisco. Temperatures can drop into the 40s (°F) in a flash, so always carry a sweater or fleece, even if it's sunny when you walk out the door.
Coat, Cap, and Gloves: Be prepared for frosty weather, especially if you're traveling in the winter. "If you've got a trench coat, bring it," advises Richard Sterling.
Umbrella: San Francisco's average annual rainfall is 21 inches; most of it comes down between November and April. Keep dry with an umbrella or rain jacket.
T-shirts, Shorts or Skirt: "If you're coming in August or September, bring some shorts because it could be hot," says Ray Riegert. Temperatures can climb above 90°F in the summer, so pack for steamy weather, too.
Ear Plugs: "A trash truck is going to rock you out of your bed," warns Bradley Charbonneau. If you hail from a big city, you probably won't be bothered by the city's nighttime noise; otherwise, you may sleep more soundly with ear plugs.
Dress Clothes: "Put a jacket on for dinner. Live it up," says Paula Tevis, author of San Francisco for Dummies. Slacks, a nice shirt, and a jacket for a man or a stylish outfit for a woman will help you fit in with the city's trendy locals, especially when you go out at night.
Bay Area Travel Guide
Transportation in the Bay Area: traffic conditions, public transportation schedules and routes, bicycle route maps, and a trip planner. www.511.org
Citysearch San Francisco
Wide-ranging guide to the San Francisco Bay Area's businesses with editorial reviews, reader comments, and insider tips. sanfrancisco.cityesarch.com
Resource for concert tickets, vacation rentals, ride-sharing, travel advice, and much more; started in San Francisco. www.craigslist.org
Guide to San Francisco's eco-friendly hotels, restaurants, and shopping. www.greenopia.com/sf/
Information on San Francisco's sites, literature, movies, streets, buildings, businesses, and culture from local journalist Hank Donat. www.mistersf.com
San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau
Upcoming events, gay travel, Bay Area activities, hotel reservations, and local activities. www.onlyinsanfrancisco.com
Savory San Francisco
Video footage and links to reviews of some of the Bay Area's best restaurants. www.savorysanfrancisco.com
Extensive listings of events throughout San Francisco, including festivals, dance performances, museum exhibits, film screenings, and live music. www.sfstation.com
The Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco
History of the city organized by subject and year. www.sfmuseum.org
Locals' reviews of all aspects of San Francisco living, including nightlife, shopping, spas, restaurants, and activities. www.yelp.com
San Francisco Chronicle
The city's major daily newspaper, founded in 1865; local, state, national, and international news; editorials, business, sports, travel, food, music, and more; Sunday "pink section" details arts, dining, entertainment, and events. www.sfgate.com
Free daily tabloid; sections include news, politics, entertainment, business, and sports. Find at newsstands in the afternoon or read online. www.examiner.com/san_francisco
San Francisco Bay Guardian
Free weekly alternative newspaper; in-depth features and interviews track Bay Area news and trends; extensive music, movie, theater, and restaurant reviews. www.sfbg.com
Free weekly alternative newspaper offers commentary and coverage of local news and culture; reviews of restaurants, music, movies, and performing arts; good source of information on nightlife and events. www.sfweekly.com
Monthly glossy magazine highlights San Francisco food, fashion, and events; image-rich pages provide best visual coverage of the city's style trends. www.sanfranmag.com
7x7 San Francisco
Monthly glossy magazine covering San Francisco's social scene, entertainment, fashion, shopping, and restaurants. www.7x7sf.com
Travel Photos From Your Shot
Browse Stunning Images of These Natural Marvels
Shop National Geographic
Special Ad Section
Watch as Nat Geo photographers reveal what drives them to create iconic images.