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A Guide to San Francisco: 6 Insider Tips from Locals

Scenic San Francisco

One of the reasons we choose to stay at hostels is that we are looking for experiences that are off the beaten path. Sure, when visiting a city like San Francisco, it’s basically mandatory to see as many of the major sights as you can, but as any traveler will tell you, we often make our best memories by interacting with the locals and becoming one -- even for just a little while. 

If you’re staying at one of our three SF hostels, you’re already on track, since the helpful locals staffing the front desk are always on hand to point you in the right direction. We got a few of these experts to divulge some of their insider's secrets so you can jump right into the local scene on your next visit.   

Bring a jacket (even when you think you won’t need one) 
The thing about San Francisco is that it’s not quite the cliché California coastal city that most people are expecting. And while there are some seriously delicious sunny days, even these tend to cool down when the fog rolls in and the sun goes down. Don’t forget a sweater or jacket when you go exploring so that any goosebumps and shivers you get will only be for all the right reasons. 

If you’re using the MUNI buses, don’t buy the day pass
It might seem like a good idea to get the day pass if you plan on using the city’s buses, but if you’ve only got a single destination in mind, like the Mission District, it’s just not worth it. Instead, use the SF Municipal Transport Agency’s website to plan your route and figure out the best options. 

Go for a drink at Zeitgeist 
Speaking of the Mission, if you’re looking for a morning-after-the-night-before remedy, Zeitgeist is the spot for the all-American cure: the Bloody Mary. This spot boasts an impressive collection of beers and an even more impressive outdoor area that’s perfect for a mid-afternoon beverage break. Grab a thirsty group from the hostel, park yourselves on one of the rows of picnic tables, and get talking to one of the many locals who call this dive bar their local.  

Hit up (and shoot down) the Seward Street Slides 
Those in the market for cheap thrills should not leave the city without donning their sturdiest pants, grabbing  a piece of cardboard and shooting down the breathtakingly steep Seward Street Slides. What are they?  Basically, two double-story, concrete tube-like slides that are situated at the top of a great hill surrounded by  a California native plant garden. The chutes were designed by a 14-year old named Kim Clark back in 1973  and are now frequented by adrenaline junkies and brave souls with nothing to lose. Just be sure to get there before sunset because nearby residents don’t like the noise after dark.

Do Taco Tuesday 
Taco Tuesday is pretty much a local institution, and since the whole concept is Mexican fare at happy hour prices, it’s a no-brainer for budget travelers. Naturally, San Francisco has many options, but a couple come highly recommended. There’s Eastside West on Fillmore Street, which has $2 tacos and Modelo (Mexican beer) from 4:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m., plus weekly guest DJs if you’re in the mood to jam. La Urbana Garage Urbano dishes up their tacos in a cool, laid-back atmosphere on Divisadero – they’re also two bucks apiece – and this spot is known for an impressive collection of mezcal and a tasty sangria. Their Taco Tuesday specials start at 11:30 a.m. and run until close, so you can park here all day and feast if you choose. 

                                                                              SF Taco Tuesday

Understand (and help) the homeless
There’s no denying that San Francisco has a large number of people living on its streets, and newcomers can sometimes find it a bit shocking. But open-minded travelers can do more to help out these less fortunate San Franciscans than you might think. Consider giving people food (never money) if you happen to have some leftovers from eating out or some spare fruit, and always try to practice the same humility you would with your fellow hostellers. If you are in the Bay Area for a little bit longer, you can also give back to your host community by volunteering with one of the many programs that help out the less fortunate. Check out Volunteermatch.org and the GLIDE website for more information (guests at HI SF City Center can also contact Anthony.jones@hiusa.org in advance of their visit for information on volunteering with Glide).

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HI USA tip: If helping out while traveling is your thing, consider applying for HI USA’s Great Hostel Give Back program, which offers groups free overnight in exchange for volunteer hours in the communities across the country where our hostels reside.