Safe and Dangerous Places in San Francisco
Here are the five safest and the five most dangerous areas in San Francisco, from a local resident to help you get the best out of your time in the "City by the Bay."
Union Square is center of the "downtown" area, surrounded by shops, restaurants, and hotels catering to tourists. The Powell street cable-car line runs from Market Street all the way to Fisherman's Wharf. This area has a lot of people, so violent crimes are rare. Park inside a public garage (the rates can be high) and you should have no problem other than encountering pickpockets. It's just a bit... touristy, and it is right next to Tenderloin, one of the seediest parts of town. Don't go past Taylor Street, and don't veer off Geary / O'Farrell streets, and you should be fine.
Fisherman's Wharf is crowded enough well into dusk to be safe enough to walk about, and there are plenty of public transit and shops and whatnot to keep you busy. It also has attractions like museums, rides, and the famous Bay Cruise and ferries to Alcatraz. However, it also attracts pickpockets and occasional auto break-ins. Lock up the GPS in the glove box (and wipe the suction-cup marks off the windshield).
Chinatown / North Beach / Nob Hill / Financial District: These areas are all so close together that I count them together. North Beach is little Italy, which is right next to Chinatown. Nob Hill was the richest part of town on top of the hill next to Chinatown, and the Financial District is all the office buildings "below" Chinatown, including the famous Transamerica Pyramid. This area is always busy during the day, and very safe. Barbary Coast, which is right next to Chinatown / North Beach, may be an exception, as it is full of clubs and some adult entertainment.
The Richmond neighborhood (Geary and Clement streets), basically anything north of Golden Gate Park, is mostly residential, but some streets are known for commercial stuff as well. There are a few big-box stores, but mostly smaller restaurants. Geary Street from Arguello toward the west has restaurants in almost every block until you are near Ocean Beach. One block to the north, Clement Street from Third Avenue on is known as "Second Chinatown." It is a bit out of the way, but also very busy and safe, full of locals.
Japantown is a bit out of the way for most tourists, but is easily reached via Geary Street from downtown (take the 38 bus) west of downtown. The Peace Plaza and the Kinokuniya mall (with its collection of Japanese and Korean restaurants, shops, curios, and more) are a welcome change of pace from the VERY touristy spots of San Francisco. Or walk north a bit to California Street and see the residential side of San Francisco.
Areas to avoid
The Tenderloin is named because the police who were assigned to patrol this area gets an extra stipend, allowing them to buy better meat (tenderloin) for their meals. It is one of the seediest parts of town, mere blocks from the downtown Union Square area. Consider the Hilton Hotel on O'Farrell as the western boundary; do not go past Taylor Street. The area is relatively harmless during the day, but gets downright scary at night.
South of Market is very quiet, especially at night, except around certain bars and clubs Friday and Saturday nights. There have been occasional shootings outside clubs. You probably won't want to be in this area if you are drunk, especially when you can't remember a number to call for taxi (415-333-3333 for Yellow Cab). During the day, you can find some factory outlet stores in the area, and they are worth visiting if you don't want to go far out of town for bargains.
Market Street is a major thoroughfare, but the area between Fifth and 10th streets is much seedier than the downtown section (Embarcadero to Fifth Street). There are quite a few closed shops (full of graffiti), adult movie places, and more. Also, United Nations Plaza and some nooks and crannies around the area are full of homeless folks who may be panhandling (begging) for spare change. Most are harmless, but some may be more aggressive / persistent. This area is somewhat intimidating for tourists during the day, and downright scary at night due to bad lighting. You might definitely want to avoid this area in San Francisco.
Golden Gate Park is very dark at night, and visitors are NOT welcome. There is nothing to see at night anyway. Golden Gate Park is also known for some renegade homeless campers, and is one of the few San Francisco crime hotspots. Visit during the day. You'll see much more, such as the California Academy of Science and the Conservatory of Flowers. If you search a bit, you'll also find Queen Wilhelmina's Tulip Garden, and some genuine Dutch windmills.
The Mission District is fine during the day. However, at night the character of the place changes. Certain northern parts of northern Mission are known for, uh... solicitations. Also, most shops close at night and nobody walks the streets except near some nightclubs. Recently a man was mugged and stabbed while walking in Dolores Park in the early morning. Avoid when it's too quiet.
Final tips from a resident
There is no "San Francisco Style." People here wear just about anything, from T-shirts to dress shirts. Just don't look TOO much like a tourist... gawking and camera around your neck or hung from a strap to your hand. Try not to wear one of those waist wallets either. It screams "tourist."
Simply ignore all panhandlers and walk past them. Most will not continue to bother you. Some will pretend they are selling a newspaper.
Get the Muni passport, so you can take public transit around the city. Parking is very difficult in the city. Buses are generally very safe, though somewhat slow, and can be crowded during commute hours on certain lines. Buy a "transit map" or "transit guide" at the Visitor's Center at Market and Powell streets and plan your routes.
Enjoy your stay in San Francisco.
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