Is San Francisco Safe? Essential Tips for Travelers

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Just how safe is it to travel around San Francisco? Find out about areas to avoid, nightlife safety tips and advice for women traveling alone around San Fran.

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco Photo © Edgar Chaparro on Unsplash

On this densely populated peninsula on the west coast of the United States, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the bright lights and big crowds, so try to be mindful of your surroundings at all times. San Francisco is the sum of its many diverse neighborhoods, and with a little precaution there’s no reason travelers should limit their exploration to Union Square and Fisherman’s Wharf.

Local insider Elena Valeriote shares her top tips on staying safe for first-timers visiting San Francisco.

How to stay safe in San Francisco

The Tenderloin has a well-earned reputation as the most sketchy area of San Francisco, specifically near the intersection of the streets Turk and Taylor, where a large population of homeless people have settled. It's pretty close to the Union Square tourist precinct, so be mindful of where you're wandering. You'll encounter pan-handling but mostly it's unlikely you'll experience anything more than some minor harrassment, but as always, be aware that mental illness is common among the homeless (and is often the cause of the homelessness, more's the pity), so be prepared for, and avoid, erratic behaviour.

Union Square is a bustling shopping district located in Downtown San Francisco. During the day, this area can be extremely crowded, and pickpockets the world over love a crowded space. Don’t keep wallets or expensive electronic devices where they can be easily stolen.

Religious fanatics often solicit converts with the aid of microphones near the central mall, but don’t let their loud, sometimes offensive speeches provoke you. A quieter, non-aggressive band of people also tends to linger around Union Square with Free Hugs signs and you’ll meet plenty of enthusiastic activists with clipboards. All of these people may be well intentioned, but if you want to be left alone just avoid eye contact and keep walking.

Safety for women traveling in San Francisco

Safety in San Francisco is about using your common sense, not being fearful. Be aware of your surroundings and your belongings like you would at home and anywhere else.

Like in any city around the world, it's best to take care if traveling alone at night. It's easy enough to grab a taxi or rideshare to get to where you are going.

Nightlife tips for San Francisco

Downtown San Francisco is the hub of city nightlife where you’ll find most of the popular bars and clubs. Just east of the Montgomery BART station, you’ll find plenty of options.

  • The city’s literary history lends itself well to the hip, bookish vibe at Local Edition, a bar decorated with typewriters
  • Just around the block, modern mixology meets Hemingway-chic at Novela Bar
  • Be forewarned, drinks are expensive in San Francisco. If you go in a large group, take advantage of deals like cocktail pitchers
  • The North Beach or Mission neighborhoods are popular alternate nightlife hubs for those that want to venture outside Downtown
  • The gay bars of the Castro district are open to anyone who sets out to paint the town red – or all the colors of the rainbow
  • If you’re hoping to find some cheaper options try visiting the Marina, Richmond or Sunset districts. (In the latter two, you can also find some great Asian food).

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  • D M M said

    Hi! I’m really curious to know about how you came upon the info that it is dangerous for women at night in San Francisco. I am a young female who moved to San Francisco alone when I was 17 for college. I never once felt unsafe or that I needed to use or carry or even purchase pepper spray in my total of 12 years as a resident there. I found San Francisco to be one of the safest cities I’ve ever even visited. It’s a proposterous statement to make about a kind, colorful, city.

  • Phil said

    hey DMM, yea.... a bit OTT. We'll give it another look at it.... make some changes.

  • Phil said

    DMM and others, we've made some changes after talking with our colleagues in the East Bay. We think it's a more reasonable reflection of the reality of visiting San Francisco. Hope you all agree.
    Thanks for flagging it DMM.

  • Christoph Hard said

    I can't speak for whether women are safe in SF or not but with the massive amount of mentally ill people wandering the streets and the violence that happens here can't be a positive thing for female safety. My coworker was just at the Walgreens on Market and a dude literally robbed a dude of all his groceries then beat the hell out of the security guard and went inside and just randomly stole stuff from inside the store while everyone just stared in watched because they were scared to do anything. SF isn't a very safe city but it can be if your are smart and vigilant. Maybe DMM is either vigilant and aware or she lives in a safe area.

  • Jennifer said

    I just came back from a trip to San Francisco, I was traveling solo and I'm a female. I have experience visiting 3rd world countries, and I'm an extremely careful person. The things I saw here are appalling. A mentally ill woman attacked a CVS cashier, they had to close the doors because she wouldn't stop attacking. I was inside when it happened. Then I was on a bus, and another mentally ill lady screamed at everyone cursing and jumping. And I was taking fotos around the Ferry Building, which is supposedly safe, a homeless man came out of no where and chased me down the street, saying I was taking fotos of him, which I wasn't. I was scared for my life, the man was deranged and violent. No one did anything to help me even when I was screaming for help. In my ten years of travel, I've never been somewhere so awful, it's dirty and sketchy with a pretty facade. I'm never going back, and would recommend everyone to think twice about going there, it wasn't worth it.

  • Cheryl said

    Many years ago my mom took my brother and I to San Francisco and Carmel. As tourists, we were amazed at the hilly city with its bridges, Buildings, Fisherman’s wharf and many cultures and restaurants. As I grew up in California I grew less and less empresses with vitiating SF. Last time my husband and I were there, we were waiting at the Buena Vista Cafe to be seated and some kid vomited right on the floor in front of us. The place was crowed and people were unaware as they just brought out a wet dirty ropey mop to clean it up. Not too sanitary, and the city is filthy everywhere.
    We live in NV now. We didn’t leave our heart in San Francisco!

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