How To Experience San Francisco Like You Live There

San Francisco is an awfully amazing city. Everything about it is iconic! Before moving here, we seemed to think that the Golden Gate Bridge would be a permanent backdrop. Maybe we’d live in the Full House house and subsist entirely on sour-dough bread. We may have arrived hoping that The Summer of Love never ended and the Beats never died, but 3 years has taught us a lot.

How To Experience San Francisco Like You Live There

THIS GUEST POST is brought to you by Taylor & Daniel, the guys behind Travel Outlandish! Two dudes living it up in San Fran, we're not sure how often they wear flowers in their hair, but we do know they have a love for adventure and good times which they share on there blog. We wanted to know more about San Fran so we asked them what its like living there, this is there response..

San Francisco is an awfully amazing city.

Everything about it is iconic! Before moving here, we seemed to think that the Golden Gate Bridge would be a permanent backdrop. Maybe we’d live in the Full House house and subsist entirely on sour-dough bread. We may have arrived hoping that The Summer of Love never ended and the Beats never died, but 3 years has taught us a lot.

You see, the city is changing fast. Once defined by artists and immigrants, San Francisco is now home to Twitter. Union Square is full of vanity store-fronts, and Fisherman’s Wharf feels a bit more like Disneyland than a boatman’s reprieve. Money came to a city once defined by counterculture, and popularity amongst tourists and techies has begun to oust the very people that built it. You could say that San Francisco "got cool". But, it’s not all bad! Just beyond the tourist traps, it is still possible to find the experiences where San Francisco’s genuine legacy carries on.

It would take months of expensive cable car rides, boat tours, and winery escapades to ever get a true sense of San Francisco, but an authentic experience doesn't have to cost much at all. Instead, there are plenty of ways to experience San Francisco while uplifting the communities that made it. In fact, we can assuredly say that the more local you go, the better your experience will be! So, if you're ready, we'd like to recommend some almost free and very local things to experience in San Francisco. Let's go!:

1. Eating In The Street

We’re firm believers that San Francisco has one of the world’s most amazing ethnic food scenes. You can wait hours at a trendy restaurant for overpriced bone marrow and salad wreaths (seriously), or you can scale it back for something equally fantastic. Our best finds have been El Farolito for burritos, Hang Ah Tea Room for dim sum, Kevin’s for pho, Duc Loi for bahn mi, and Arizmendi for artisan pizza by the slice. Grabbing food for take away usually comes at half the cost of sitting down, and it will give you a chance to support small businesses and taste the City without spending a small fortune.

dim sum

2. Wandering The Neighbourhoods

San Francisco neighbourhoods are the next best thing to Epcot — each neighbourhood has a visibly distinct character. Rather than overdoing it with scheduled activities, create your own fun and get a sense of the city just by walking the neighbourhoods. Visit the most densely populated area West of Manhattan in San Francisco’s Chinatown, dipping into the Fortune Cookie Factory and Tin How Temple along the way. In the Mission, you can spend hours looking at politically-charged murals in Balmy or Clarion Alley, checking out taxidermy and rare plants at Paxton Gate, or hanging out in Dolores Park.  Check out the Haight for second hand shopping and cheesy homages to the Summer of Love.  Or, make your way to Pacific Heights, for Golden Gate views along with the colourful little houses that make their way into every San Francisco based movie. If you’re open to the adventure, a walk through any neighbourhood will reveal more than any city tour ever could.

chinatown san fran

3. Getting Around

San Francisco is quite small at just 7 miles x 7 miles, but the hills make it tougher to walk across than you’d expect. Public transportation in the USA is notoriously terrible, but San Francisco is quite well connected. The BART will get you to a few major parts of the city, and the MUNI will fill in any gaps. With additional services like ScootGoCar, Lyft, and easy to rent bikes (most of which offer a first-timers discount) just getting around the city can be half the fun. Wear a helmet, and be warned that car doors and trolley tracks have taken plenty of casualties!

scooter san francisco

4. Experiencing San Francisco Park Culture

Perhaps the most unique part of San Francisco is the park culture. Sure, there are bars, festivals, and street fairs, but if you’re really looking for a free and year-around alternative, head to the nearest park! San Francisco parks are great for hanging out, people watching, and taking a break from the week’s hustle. With lax nudity laws and an affinity for personal expression, it won’t be your average family picnic. At Dolores, Alamo Square, or Golden Gate Park you can bring your own snacks, a frisbee, and a 6-pack for a whole day of activity.In our opinion, heading to the park is the very best way to get a sense of the local San Francisco without spending a dime.

dolores park

5. Seeking Out Free Days

San Francisco’s museums are a huge part of its character, and many are just as unique as the city itself. The SFMOMAthe Cal Academy of Sciences, and the De Young offers rotating exhibits that are totally worth your time. In the interest of promoting the arts, almost all San Francisco museums offer a free day once a month. Most of the free days fall on Tuesday or the first weekend of the month, but it’s always worth checking for other promotions. If your schedule doesn't line up, there are plenty of small galleries and quirky museums worth exploring.


6. Hitting Up The Festivals & Street Fairs

San Francisco has a pretty epic line-up of events, festivals, and street fairs, particularly during the summer months. Come to town for Hardly Strictly Bluegrass or the Stern Grove Festival for free live music, the Spray Can Art Fest for street art in the making, and Bay to Breakers or Pride for complete and utter chaos. Just about any time of year, you can find a neighbourhood festival, free film screening, or other offbeat event listing that will give you a more personalized sense of San Francisco. 

Can't find any events of interest? Check out other upcoming events on


7. Getting Outside

The West Coast has some of the most stunning scenery you’ve ever seen. Between the massive redwoods, a jagged coastline, and an abundance of national parks, it would be a shame to visit San Francisco without heading outside for a hike. If you’re renting a car, escape the city for a Southerly drive along the Pacific Coast Highway or head north to Muir Woods. Just further afield is Lake Tahoe or Yosemite National Park where you can hike, bike, camp, and see just what the outdoor culture movement is all about. If you’re without a car, these parks are wildly popular for weekend trips. Look into ride-sharing or bus routes to meet new friends and to get there for just a fraction of the cost.


8. Staying Affordably In San Francisco

Housing in San Francisco is infamously expensive. With rent on one bedrooms going for around $3,000/month, accommodation is one area where you may have to break your budget. That being said, there are a few options to consider:

  • San Francisco has a thriving sharing economy. If you're able to find a willing Couchsurfing host, this will always be your most affordable option!
  • Hostels haven’t taken off in the US like they have in other parts of the world, but San Francisco does have a few — you can find a dorm bed for around $30/night. 
  • Stay outside of the touristic neighbourhoods in an Airbnb. While the cost of accommodation might be the same, you'll be able to save a lot on food and activities.
  • San Francisco runs on Craigslist! If you’re staying in the city for 1+ week, scan the short term rentals section. As rent is so expensive, people will often be desperate to sublet their rooms while they’re out of town to make up some of the difference. Applying is horribly competitive, but apply widely and hopefully you’ll hear back!
san fran houses

Thanks a lot for reading, guys! Have you ever been to San Francisco? What tips would you share for avoiding the tourist traps and experiencing local San Francisco? If you're coming into town for a visit, contact us for tips and recommendations!

Want more info on what to do in San Fran?! Check out this top 25 list of things to do!

travel outlandish

BIO: Hey there! We’re Taylor + Daniel. We created Travel Outlandish to showcase the offbeat, immersive, faraway travel experiences that even our 5-year-old selves would be into. We cover street art, street food, adventure travel, festival travel, local experience, and our personal favorite, the “what the hell is…” series. Learn more about us here

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