Area Codes -- The area code for San Francisco is 415; for Oakland, Berkeley, and much of the East Bay, 510; for the peninsula, generally 650. Napa and Sonoma are 707. Most phone numbers in this book are in San Francisco’s 415 area code, but there’s no need to dial it if you’re within the city limits.
ATMs -- In the land of shopping malls and immediate gratification, there’s an ATM on almost every block—often droves of them. In fact, finding a place to withdraw cash is one of the easiest tasks you’ll partake in while visiting San Francisco.
Nationwide, the easiest and best way to get cash away from home is from an ATM (automated teller machine), sometimes referred to as a “cash machine” or “cashpoint.” The Cirrus (tel. 800/424-7787; www.mastercard.com) and PLUS (tel. 800/847-2911; www.visa.com) networks span the country; you can find them even in remote regions. Go to your bank card’s website to find ATM locations at your destination. Be sure you know your daily withdrawal limit before you depart.
Note: Many banks impose a fee every time you use a card at another bank’s ATM, and that fee is often higher for international transactions (up to $5 or more) than for domestic ones (where they’re rarely more than $3). In addition, the bank from which you withdraw cash may charge its own fee. To compare banks’ ATM fees within the U.S., use www.bankrate.com. Visitors from outside the U.S. should also find out whether their bank assesses a 1% to 3% fee on charges incurred abroad.
Tip: One way around these fees is to ask for cash back at grocery, drug, and convenience stores that accept ATM cards and don’t charge usage fees (be sure to ask). Of course, you’ll have to purchase something first.
Business Hours -- Most banks are open Monday through Friday from 9am to 5pm as well as Saturday mornings. Many banks also have ATMs for 24-hour banking. Most stores are open Monday through Saturday from 10 or 11am to at least 6pm, with shorter hours on Sunday. But there are exceptions: Stores in Chinatown, Ghirardelli Square, and Pier 39 stay open much later during the tourist season, and large department stores, including Macy’s and Nordstrom, keep late hours. Most restaurants serve lunch from about 11:30am to 2:30pm and dinner from about 5:30 to 10pm. They sometimes serve later on weekends. Nightclubs and bars are usually open daily until 2am, when they are legally bound to stop serving alcohol.
Credit & Debit Cards -- Most establishments in San Francisco accept Visa (Barclaycard in Britain), MasterCard (Eurocard in Europe, Access in Britain, Chargex in Canada), American Express, and Discover. These cards provide a convenient record of all your expenses and offer relatively good exchange rates. You can withdraw cash advances from your credit cards at banks or ATMs, but high fees make credit card cash advances a pricey way to get cash. ATM cards with major credit card backing—are now a commonly acceptable form of payment in most stores and restaurants. Debit cards draw money directly from your checking account. Some stores will also let you receive cash back on your debit card purchases. Don’t rely on being able to use a debit car to rent a car, however; call ahead to ask if your rental car company accepts debit cards. Even if they do, they may require you to have a very large dollar amount available for them to “hold” until you return the vehicle in perfect shape.
Discounts -- For local discounts on attractions and restaurants, visit groupon.com and baycityguide.com/coupons.html. With Groupon, you purchase the deal ahead of time—deals than can be up to 40% off of a variety of attractions. Make sure to read the fine print for any restrictions before you purchase a Groupon or use a coupon.
Doctors -- See “Hospitals” below.
Drinking Laws -- The legal age for purchase and consumption of alcoholic beverages is 21; proof of age is required and often requested at bars, nightclubs, and restaurants, so it’s always a good idea to bring ID when you go out. Supermarkets and convenience stores in California sell beer, wine, and liquor. Most restaurants serve alcohol, but some serve only beer and wine. By law, all bars, clubs, restaurants, and stores cannot sell or serve alcohol after 2am, and “last call” tends to start at 1:30am. Do not carry open containers of alcohol in your car or any public area that isn’t zoned for alcohol consumption. The police can fine you on the spot. And nothing will ruin your trip faster than getting a citation for DUI (driving under the influence).
Electricity -- Like Canada, the United States uses 110 to 120 volts AC (60 cycles), compared to 220 to 240 volts AC (50 cycles) in most of Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. Downward converters that change 220–240 volts to 110–120 volts are difficult to find in the United States, so bring one with you.
Embassies & Consulates -- All embassies are in the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C., but San Francisco is home to nearly 70 foreign consulates. For a complete list of consulates in San Francisco, with contact information, visit www.embassypages.com/city/sanfrancisco or call for directory information in Washington, D.C. ([tel] 202/555-1212). The embassy of Australia is at 1601 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20036 (tel. 202/797-3000; www.usa.embassy.gov.au). Consulates are in New York, Honolulu, Houston, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.
The embassy of Canada is at 501 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20001 (tel. 202/682-1740; www.canadianembassy.org). Canadian consulates are in Buffalo (New York), Detroit, Los Angeles, New York City, and Seattle.
The embassy of Ireland is at 2234 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202/462-3939; www.embassyofireland.org). Irish consulates are in Boston, Chicago, New York, San Francisco, and other cities. See the website for a complete listing.
The embassy of New Zealand is at 37 Observatory Circle NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202/328-4800; www.nzembassy.com/usa). New Zealand consulates are in Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, and Seattle.
The embassy of the United Kingdom is at 3100 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202/588-6500; http://ukinusa.fco.gov.uk/en). British consulates are in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and Seattle.
Emergencies -- Call tel. 911 to report a fire, call the police, or get an ambulance anywhere in the United States. This is a toll-free call. (No coins are required at public telephones.)
Health Insurance -- If you worry about getting sick away from home, you may want to consider medical travel insurance. To get the low-down on travel insurance offerings, visit frommers.com and click on “Health & Travel Insurance” from the ”Tips & News” drop-down menu. In most cases, if you’re a U.S. resident, your existing health plan will provide the coverage you need (be sure to carry your insurance ID), but foreign visitors may have to pay medical costs upfront and be reimbursed later.
Hospitals -- Saint Francis Memorial Hospital, 900 Hyde St., between Bush and Pine streets on Nob Hill (tel. 866/240-2087 or 415/353-6000; www.saintfrancismemorial.org), provides emergency service 24 hours a day; no appointment is necessary. The hospital also operates a physician-referral service (tel. 800/333-1355 or 415/353-6566).
Legal Aid -- While driving, if you are pulled over for a minor infraction (such as speeding), never attempt to pay the fine directly to a police officer; this could be construed as attempted bribery, a much more serious crime. Pay fines by mail, or directly into the hands of the clerk of the court. If accused of a more serious offense, say and do nothing before consulting a lawyer. In the U.S., the burden is on the state to prove a person’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and everyone has the right to remain silent, whether he or she is suspected of a crime or actually arrested. Once arrested, a person can make one telephone call to a party of his or her choice. The international visitor should call his or her embassy or consulate.
Mail -- At press time, domestic postage rates were 34¢ for a regular postcard, 49¢ for a large postcard or a regular letter. Always include zip codes when mailing items in the U.S. If you don’t know your zip code, visit www.usps.com/zip4. For international mail, a postcard costs $1.10. Look at www.usps.com to determine the price to send a letter.
If you aren’t sure what your address will be in the United States, mail can be sent to you, in your name, c/o General Delivery at the main post office of the city or region where you expect to be. The addressee must pick up mail in person and must produce proof of identity (driver’s license, passport). Most post offices will hold mail for up to 1 month, and are open Monday to Friday from 8am to 6pm, and Saturday from 9am to 3pm.
Newspapers & Magazines -- The city’s main daily is the “San Francisco Chronicle” (www.sfgate.com), which is distributed throughout the city. Check out the Chronicle’s Sunday edition, which includes a pink “Datebook” section—a preview of the week’s upcoming events. The free “San Francisco Examiner” (www.sfexaminer.com) is published Monday through Friday with a weekend edition. The free weekly “San Francisco Bay Guardian” (www.sfbg.com) and “SF Weekly” (www.sfweekly.com), tabloids of news and listings, are indispensable for nightlife information; they’re widely distributed through street-corner kiosks and at city cafes and restaurants.
Of the many free tourist-oriented publications, the most widely read are “San Francisco Guide” (www.sfguide.com), a handbook-size weekly containing maps and information on current events, and “Where San Francisco” (www.wheremagazine.com), a glossy regular format monthly magazine. You can find them in most hotels, shops, and restaurants in the major tourist areas.
Packing -- Dress warm, even in the summer. As the saying goes in San Francisco, if you don’t like the weather, wait 5 minutes. Because of offshore breezes, microclimates, and the prevalence of fog in the summer, the temperature changes constantly in San Francisco, particularly if you’re on the move. Even if it’s sunny and warm at noon, bring a sweater or light jacket just in case—when the fog rolls in, it gets chilly fast.For more helpful information on packing for your trip, head to Frommers.com and click on the Tools section, which contains packing tips and information.
Police -- In an emergency, dial tel. 911. For nonemergency police matters, call tel. 415/553-0123.
Smoking -- If San Francisco is California’s most European city in looks and style, the comparison stops when it comes to smoking in public. Each year, smoking laws in the city become stricter. Ergo, heavy smokers are in for a tough time in San Francisco. Smoking is illegal inside most buildings, at entryways, bus stops, public parks, beaches, and at any outdoor public events. Hotels are also increasingly going nonsmoking, though some still offer smoking rooms. You can’t even smoke in California bars unless drinks are served solely by the owner (though you will find that a few neighborhood bars turn a blind eye and pass you an ashtray). San Francisco International Airport no longer has hazy, indoor smoking rooms; there are a few designated areas outside, pre-security.
Safety: For a big city, San Francisco is relatively safe, but you should still take common sense precautions (for example, don’t leave your purse or phone on the seat of your parked car). In a few neighborhoods, such as Lower Haight, the Mission, the Tenderloin (a few blocks west of Union Square), and Fisherman’s Wharf (at night especially), we advise exercising extra caution. Avoid carrying valuables with you on the street, and don’t display expensive cameras or electronic equipment. Hold on to purses and bags, and place your wallet in an inside pocket. In theaters, restaurants, and other public places, keep your possessions in sight. Remember also that hotels are open to the public, and in a large hotel, security may not be able to screen everyone entering. Always lock your room door.
Driving safety is another factor. We don’t recommend driving with San Francisco if you can avoid it, but if you must, try to arrive and depart during daylight hours. Use a GPS application on your smartphone, or ask for written directions to your destination or a map with the route clearly marked. If you drive off a highway into a doubtful neighborhood, leave the area as quickly as possible. Always try to park in well-lit and well-traveled areas.
If you have an accident, even on the highway, stay in your car with the doors locked until you assess the situation or until the police arrive. If you’re bumped from behind on the street or are involved in a minor accident with no injuries, and the situation seems suspicious to you, motion to the other driver to follow you. Never get out of your car in such situations. Go directly to the nearest police precinct, well-lit service station, or 24-hour store.
If someone attempts to rob you or steal your car, don’t resist the thief or carjacker. Report the incident to the police department immediately by calling tel. 911. This is a free call.
Smoking -- Each year, smoking laws in the city become stricter. Smoking is illegal inside most buildings, at entryways, bus stops, public parks, beaches, and at any outdoor public events. Hotels are also increasingly going nonsmoking, though some still offer smoking rooms. You can’t even smoke in California bars unless drinks are served solely by the owner. San Francisco International Airport no longer has hazy, indoor smoking rooms; there are a few designated areas outside, pre-security.
Taxes -- The United States has no value-added tax (VAT) or other indirect tax at the national level. Every state, county, and city may levy its own local tax on all purchases, including hotel and restaurant checks and airline tickets. These taxes will not appear on price tags. Sales tax in San Francisco is 8.5% (not included in price tags). Hotel room taxes range from 12% to 17% around Northern California.
Time -- The continental United States is divided into four time zones: Eastern Standard Time (EST), Central Standard Time (CST), Mountain Standard Time (MST), and Pacific Standard Time (PST). Alaska and Hawaii have their own zones. For example, when it’s 9am in San Francisco (PST), it’s 10am in Denver (MST), 11am in Chicago (CST), noon in New York City (EST), 5pm in London (GMT), and 2am the next day in Sydney.
Daylight saving time is in effect from 1am on the second Sunday in March to 1am on the first Sunday in November, except in Arizona, Hawaii, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. Daylight saving time moves the clock 1 hour ahead of standard time.
For help with time translations, and more, download our convenient Travel Tools app for your mobile device. Go to www.frommers.com/go/mobile and tap on the Travel Tools icon.
Tipping -- In hotels, tip bellhops at least $1 per bag ($2–$3 if you have a lot of luggage) and tip the chamber staff $1 to $2 per day (more if you’ve left a big mess for him or her to clean up). Tip the doorman or concierge only if he or she has provided you with some specific service (for example, calling a cab for you or obtaining difficult-to-get theater tickets). Tip the valet-parking attendant $1 every time you get your car.
In restaurants, bars, and nightclubs, tip service staff and bartenders 15% to 20% of the check, tip checkroom attendants $1 per garment, and tip valet-parking attendants $1 per vehicle.
As for other service personnel, tip cabdrivers 15% of the fare, tip skycaps at airports at least $1 per bag ($2–$3 if you have a lot of luggage), and tip hairdressers and barbers 15% to 20%.
The important thing is not to stiff those who depend on tips. Waiters are taxed based on the assumption you've given a tip, whether or not you actually have.
Toilets -- Those weird, oval-shaped, olive-green kiosks on the sidewalks throughout San Francisco are high-tech self-cleaning public toilets. They’ve been placed on high-volume streets to provide relief for pedestrians. French potty-maker JCDecaux gave them to the city for free—advertising covers the cost. It costs 25¢ to enter, with no time limit, but we don’t recommend using the ones in the sketchier neighborhoods such as the Mission because they’re mostly used by crackheads and prostitutes. Toilets can also be found in hotel lobbies, bars, restaurants, museums, department stores, railway and bus stations, and service stations. Large hotels and fast-food restaurants are often the best bet for clean facilities. Restaurants and bars in resorts or heavily visited areas may reserve their restrooms for patrons. For a list of “bathrooms for everyone,” check out www.safe2pee.org.
VAT -- See “Taxes,” above.
Visitor Information -- The San Francisco Visitor Information Center, on the lower level of Hallidie Plaza, 900 Market St., at Powell Street (tel. 415/391-2000; www.sanfranciscotravel.com), is the best source of specialized information about the city. Even if you don’t have a specific question, you might want to request the free “Visitors Planning Guide” and the “San Francisco Visitors” kit, which includes a 6-month calendar of events; a city history; shopping and dining information; several good, clear maps; plus lodging information.
To view or download a free state guide and travel planner, log onto the California Tourism website at www.visitcalifornia.com. U.S. and Canadian residents can receive free travel planning information by mail by calling tel. 800/CALIFORNIA (225-4367). Most cities and towns also have a tourist bureau or chamber of commerce that distributes information on the area.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.