5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Traveling to SF

I recently packed my bags and flew out west to visit the TravelBank office in San Francisco. There was plenty of travel hacking my way towards beating my budget, some good touristy fun and a few business-related “meetings” along the way. I didn’t have a ton of time to prepare my plans and inevitably learned some key lessons about the locale as I went. Here’s what I wish I knew before traveling to San Francisco so you can navigate the city like a pro.

a view of the top of the golden gate bridge.

Catch an Uber from the departure level at SFO – and that being said, UberPOOL means you will be carpooling.

I arrived in San Francisco around midnight and sleepily dragged my suitcase off the plane, down an escalator, past baggage claim and out to the arrivals area where I requested an UberPOOL. I was asked to input my location and I scrolled to select “Door 4” as I brushed the sleep from my eyes. A few minutes later my car had arrived, but it was nowhere in sight. After an angry call from my driver I realized I had specified Door 4 of the departures level. Oops. I later learned this wasn’t entirely a sleep-induced error; Uber drivers are only allowed to pick up from the departures level at SFO.

When I got upstairs, I was surprised to see I was indeed sharing my UberPOOL because I had requested about 10 UberPOOLs in Atlanta a few weeks before and rode alone in every single one. Due to popularity of the app in San Francisco, UberPOOL means you really will be carpooling – but it’s worth it to beat your budget! And with that, may I formally apologize to the other passenger who had to wait for me to drag my suitcase upstairs to the departures level and thank my driver for his patience, albeit his annoyance.

a red food truck parked in a parking lot.

There’s a service for everything.

San Francisco is spread out (trust me, you don’t want to just stick to Union Square and the Fisherman’s Wharf) but it’s also a very drivable city. And while UberPOOL makes it affordable to cab all over the city, there are other services like GetAround that literally put the keys to the car in your hand. GetAround even reserves parking spots throughout the city, so you may get lucky and not have to find your own space. And if you don’t find a reserved spot, just call Luxe for on-demand parking and they’ll do it for you. On the other hand, if you don’t want to get out of bed at all, but are hungry for breakfast, there’s an app for that too.

a group of people sitting next to each other on a boat.

When the locals tell you to layer, they mean it.

The weather in San Francisco has a reputation for being pleasant and temperate year round. Winter days rarely dip below freezing and summer days don’t get too hot. But there are lots of fluctuations throughout the day, and the city. You can comfortably wander around in a dress on one side of the city while needing a jacket and scarf in another part of town.

On the first evening of my visit, TravelBank hosted a bourbon and cigars party on their rooftop patio. Work wound down, laptops got powered off and we basked in the warm afternoon sun to celebrate the latest release. By the evening I was bundled up in a TravelBank hoodie with my hands over the fire pit to keep warm. The next day, after learning my lesson, I wore many layers.

the golden gate bridge over looking the water.

Wear workout clothes to bike the Golden Gate Bridge – it’s going to be a workout.

A great way to relax on a business trip is to pick just one touristy thing to do. It infuses the trip with some fun without adding too much more to your already busy schedule. My “one thing” for this trip was biking the Golden Gate Bridge. While I had the layering down by this point, I neglected the fact that biking is a workout and biking uphill, well, that will make you sweat no matter how pleasant the weather.

Although it is work, I cannot recommend this bike ride enough. The views are stunning from both sides and atop the bridge, and once you make it across it is all downhill to Sausalito. Afterwards, reward yourself with a pizza from Bar Bocce while you take in this beautiful town across the bay.

a trolley car is traveling down the street.

Take the California Street line instead of the Powell Street cable car.

“I love waiting in lines,” said no one ever. With a few hours to spare before my flight, we decided to ride the cable car. I felt a bit touristy getting in line for the half hour wait, but it was such a fun way to see the city, even during the part where we were squished behind another group of tourists. Fortunately there’s a better way to do it.

If riding a cable car is on your list, do yourself a favor a skip the popular Powell Street cable car route for the lesser-known California Street line. It starts at the intersection of California and Drumm, just a few blocks from the Ferry Building, and ends at Van Ness. Grab some Blue Bottle coffee and snacks in the Ferry Building before riding, and at the end of the line you can picnic in Lafayette Park. It’ll also be a huge win when you aren’t crammed against other tourists while snagging your iconic cable car shot for Instagram.

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