October 21, 2023.
This page is about some San Francisco travel advice that just ain't so.
In other words, don't believe everything you read on travel blogs!
There's a lot of bad advice about visiting San Francisco floating around on the web!
I've been noticing this more and more, and I just had to get this off my chest.
But there are some valuable tips in here if you want to wade into it ;)
To begin at the beginning, there has been an explosion of travel blogs showing up on the internet in the last few years.
It seems to have mushroomed around 2020, maybe because of the pandemic, with people working from home. And that seems to be the key: working from home.
Not visiting or living in San Francisco, in other words.
I’ve discovered there are tons of travel blogs out there, with armies of content writers, who haven’t been to the places they are writing about.
You may have noticed this, too.
Or maybe they just visited it a few times but aren’t overly familiar with all the different areas and attractions.
But some of these websites get a lot of visitors, partly because they have so many articles. So a lot of people are reading this made-up advice.
Where are they getting this stuff??
Often they have pages about places to visit all over the world. Sometimes they have locals write those pages, which is good, but sometimes they use writers who have never been to those places write the content just from researching on the internet.
Now that’s not to say there aren’t blogs where the writer has personally traveled to all those places all over the world that they are writing about; there are lots of those too. And they are mostly helpful and accurate.
But how to tell the difference?
Not so easy, if you aren’t familiar with the location. Sometimes one clue is that they're using all stock photos, with no personal photos. But that’s not always the case either.
I've collected a few of the many instances I've found of made-up advice...for your entertainment, and as a caution!
There are lots more of these, but this will give you a taste.
No, in fact Hayes Valley is right near the Civic Center area, not a safe place at all; lots of homeless and drug addicts hang out in the plaza in front of City Hall, which is a block away from Hayes Street, center of the Hayes Valley neighborhood.
It is a charming area, with Victorian era buildings, and lots of interesting small shops and places to eat.
It’s also one block from the SF Opera House and SF Davies Symphony Hall. It’s generally safe to attend performances there because there are a lot of people around after the events, but you wouldn’t really want to be walking around there after dark otherwise (in my opinion).
Hayes Valley is one of those neighborhoods often described as “coming up”. In the past, it was pretty seedy, but in the last 10 years or so lots of trendy shops and restaurants have moved in there, so it’s definitely improving.
But “the safest area in San Francisco to stay in”? Absolutely not! But not the worst either.
This view spot is supposedly a place the writer never fails to visit on every trip to SF: Golden Gate Park, where the Golden Gate Overlook is...???
The Golden Gate Overlook is nowhere near Golden Gate Park (which doesn’t have a good view of the bridge anyway).
The Overlook does have a great view of the bridge and it's on the San Francisco end of the bridge.
But on that website, the image illustrating this view is from Marin County on the other side of the straight, not from the Overlook in San Francisco.
See my guide for finding all the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge.
This is probably the funniest "oops" (but not if you followed this advice!).
Apparently, there's a great nighttime view of the city from Mile Rock Beach.
Alas, the park where the beach is located is closed after dark and the trail down to beach is very rough, and pitch black at night.
And if you did make it down to the beach in the dark, without scraping your knee, you would be looking across at the Marin Headlands.
The city is around the corner and none of it is visible from the beach.
It's a nice view, but not of San Francisco.
Lands End is a gorgeous natural area at the entrance to San Francisco Bay, with great hiking.
We are also told that parking at Lands End is extremely limited.
So limited that unless you get there before the sun comes up and get one of the very few parking spots, you are out of luck.
Actually there’s a big parking lot at the trailhead, another good-sized lot at another access point nearby, and a third lot across the street.
In fact, it’s one of the easiest attractions to park at in San Francisco!
I’ve never had trouble parking there. There’s also lots of street parking in the area.
Below is the second-largest of the main parking lots for Lands End, on a sunny afternoon.
One blog says Dolores Park is "San Franciscans’ favorite park" (no, that would probably be Golden Gate Park).
And a place where "all San Franciscans like to hang out" (no, it's mostly people who live in the Castro and Mission District neighborhoods on either side).
Should you visit Dolores Park? It's not to say the park isn’t worth a visit. It does have a pretty view of downtown San Francisco, it’s very spacious, and a popular spot for picnics.
The park itself is safe during the day. There are a lot of people there and it’s generally a pleasant place to hang out. There’s a new playground for children which is quite nice.
But it has it’s downsides, as well. It’s next door to the Mission District, one of the highest crime areas in the city. Also, there are some areas in the park that aren’t family-friendly.
Drug dealing at the park. For decades, the area near the pedestrian bridge over the street car tracks, on the eastern edge of the park, has been known for drug dealing.
Even 20 years ago, the neighbors whose apartments looked out on that spot were complaining to the city about the blatant drug dealing (even before this problem was in the national news!). They even took videos of it and presented them to the police, but apparently not much came of it.
There’s also an area near the Castro (eastern) side of the park that has long been a sunbathing and socializing area for gay guys. Lots of cruising happening up there.
My own experiences with the Dolores Park area aren’t the greatest, either. One evening, I was visiting a friend who lived a block from the park. When I went to leave, my car was gone. Stolen.
The police found it the next day, in another neighborhood. Nothing was missing, since my car stereo had already been stolen, lol! There were some odd items left in the car, though, like a sewing kit from the Hilton Hotel. Never did figure that out. (More on crime in San Francisco.)
So while Dolores Park has a nice view, and it’s fine during the day, though perhaps a little sketchy in places, it’s not really a great place to be after dark, and in my opinion, not a must-see.
San Francisco has lots of great views, so I wouldn’t make a special trip to visit the park, but if you're in the area, check out the view.
If you can, check out the better view from Twin Peaks.
Riding the cable cars. How to beat the crowds and long lines for the cable cars? They recommend "arriving right at 7 am, or even a little earlier".
What??! Very strange (and incorrect) advice. Here's my guide on how it actually works: my tips on riding the cable cars.
Chinatown oopsies. Grant Avenue is the main street of Chinatown. But have these writers ever been there? Or even spent 5 minutes doing the research?
"Stroll down Grant Avenue in Chinatown and admire the Asian Art Museum" (located in the Civic Center area, nowhere near Chinatown).
And while you're on Grant Avenue, grab some dim sum at her "personal favorite", the Palette Tea House. Which is a good restaurant, but it's in Ghirardelli Square, a long way from Chinatown!
Check out the real Chinatown.
I also found a page on theme parks in San Francisco; unfortunately, none of the ones listed are in San Francisco.
There aren't any theme parks in the city!
What's wrong with this AI-created image of the Golden Gate Bridge?
There are two major gaffes here; can you spot them? (Answer below.)
So what’s the takeaway? When reading travel advice, take everything with a giant grain of salt, unless it’s clear that the author has some connection with the place they are talking about. And there's often a claim of being a "local" that isn't so.
Maybe check out several sources. I keep finding all sorts of strange fictions about San Francisco floating around out there.
I’m a lot more circumspect now when I'm researching possible travel locations for my own trips.
If this is happening with San Francisco, I'm sure it's happening with lots of other popular destinations!
Mistakes in the above photo: the Golden Gate Bridge only has two towers, not three. Plus Fort Point at the southern end of the bridge is missing.