Solo Female Travel in San Francisco — Is it Safe?

Is it safe for a woman to travel alone in San Francisco? Absolutely! I think San Francisco is one of the best cities for solo female travel in the United States! While many people think that San Francisco is a destination best visited with a partner, or friends, or family, it works just as well as a destination to enjoy solo.

I’ve been traveling to San Francisco since I was a teenager and traveling solo here since I was in my twenties. It’s a city with a lot to offer, it’s constantly changing, and I always have a fantastic time here.

The Golden Gate Bridge rises up from the Sausalito side. It's bright red and extends into the distance, set against green cliffs, above a bright blue ocean, and underneath a streaky blue and white sky. San Francisco is misty in the background.

What’s it like to traveling alone in San Francisco?

San Francisco is a destination that works well for all kinds of solo travelers. No matter what kind of traveler you are, you can find what you’re looking for in San Francisco.

First off, San Francisco is an excellent destination for first-time solo female travelers. It’s easy, there are tons of things to do, it’s safe, and there’s no language barrier. If you’re curious about traveling solo but have never done so, I think a weekend trip to San Francisco is the perfect way to get your feet wet and see how you handle it.

But even experienced solo female travelers can enjoy San Francisco. You’ll probably recoil at touristy Fisherman’s Wharf, but you’ll probably be more willing to explore neighborhoods like the Mission that are a lot of fun but a little overwhelming for newbie tourists.

Are you a hardcore sightseer? San Francisco has the sights, from the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz to museums like the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and Oakland’s Museum of California.

Are you into food? San Francisco has incredibly good food, from low-end to high-end, including some of the best Chinese food in the nation. And if you’re into wine, you’re a stone’s throw from Napa and Sonoma counties.

Do you love the outdoors? San Francisco has easy access to forests, beaches, bike trails, and more.

Are you looking for good Instagram photos? San Francisco is full of iconic spots that will get you likes, from the Painted Ladies houses to curvy, crooked Lombard Street, and of course the famous cable cars.

Are you queer? San Francisco is one of the most queer-friendly cities in the world for people all over the gender and sexuality spectrums.

As for me, I love to spend lots of time walking through interesting neighborhoods, taking photos, and sitting in cool coffeeshops. San Francisco is a great place to do all of those things.

Above all, San Francisco is a city where women live and work — it’s not just for travelers. Being a solo traveler won’t brand you as an outsider here; you’ll just be one of the people in the city. If you’re lucky, you might even be mistaken for a local!

Kate wearing a blue-and-red-striped dress with a leather jacket in front of a mural with a pug wearing a tiny birthday hat and eating a purple frosted cupcake in San Francisco.

Kate’s 10 Favorite Things to Do in San Francisco

I’ve been visiting San Francisco for years and have carved out my little slice of the city. While many of my beloved spots have sadly closed over the years, here are some of my favorite things to do in the city.

Take a food tour through North Beach. North Beach was once home to San Francisco’s Italian-American community, and many Italian spots remain to this day. I had one of the best food tours of my life with Tastes of the City, and tour guide Tom is a character and a half.

Explore the Haight-Ashbury. This colorful neighborhood was historically home to the counterculture movement in the 1960s, as well as home to artists like Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, and the hippie spirit has never left the neighborhood. It’s a great place to explore and there are lots of cool cafes, boutiques, and record shops.

Attend a singalong at the Castro Theatre. Castro was once the epicenter of the gay community in the United States, and it remains a colorful and welcoming destination to all. The theater does all kinds of special events, but if you’re in town during one of their singalongs, like for Grease or Moana or Annie, you don’t want to miss it!

Go for a walk early in the morning. If you’re flying in from the east, you’ll likely be waking up early from jet-lag anyway, so take advantage and go for an early walk while Karl the Fog is rolling in! The city looks so different at this time of day and it’s a lot of fun to photograph.

Visit the Oakland Museum of California. Yep, Oakland is worth a visit — and while I’m not ordinarily a museum person, this is one of my favorite museums in the United States, highlighting so many cultural aspects of California, from the history of the Black Panthers to the ecological environment of the Coachella Valley.

Take the ferry to Alcatraz. I didn’t think I’d be into this infamous prison island, but I had a blast! It’s one of the super-touristy activities in San Francisco that you simply must do. If you’re into cheesy Nicolas Cage movies, I recommend pairing it with a viewing of The Rock.

Dive deep into Chinatown. San Francisco has a long history of Chinese settlers, and today San Francisco’s Chinatown is the largest in America. You can browse the shops and markets, people-watch in Portsmouth Square, go tea tasting at Vital Tea Leaf, check out the Chinese Historical Society, and of course, eat at restaurants from regions all over China.

Check out Sausalito. This town across the Golden Gate Bridge is a gorgeous little spot and so different from San Francisco. You can get there from San Francisco on a ferry, but if you’re up for something more active, join a bike tour!

Eat at In & Out Burger. Granted, this is a west coast thing, not San Francisco-specific, but In & Out is INSANELY good. There’s a reason why your California friends pine for them when they’re away from home. Read up on their “secret” menu here before you go.

Have a margarita with a salt cloud at Calavera in Oakland. Are you used to enjoying a margarita with a salted rim? Calavera makes margaritas with a floating salt cloud on top. I love them a million times more than regular margaritas. Salt clouds are the perfect margarita topping!


READ MORE: Why You Should Travel to Oakland Too


Gray morning in Russian hill, San Francisco, houses descending down steep hills in San Francisco.

Is San Francisco Safe?

San Francisco, generally speaking, is a safe destination for travelers. It’s comparable to most other U.S. cities, but the violent crime rate is much lower than other popular tourist hotspots like New Orleans, Las Vegas, and Washington, DC.

That said, San Francisco is a very touristy city, and any destination full of naive tourists is a target for scammers. You should especially be vigilant in tourist-dense destinations like Fisherman’s Wharf, Union Square, and the ferries to and from Alcatraz. Additionally, the homelessness problem in San Francisco is severe, and it can be jarring if you’re not prepared. Read more on that further down.

Even so, anything can happen anywhere and you should be prepared for the worst with safety tips and travel insurance. Read on for specific safety tips for San Francisco.

Kate wearing a navy-and-burgundy striped Jason Wu dress, holding a camera in her hand and standing in a gray street in San Francisco early in the morning, houses on both sides.

San Francisco Travel and Safety Tips

San Francisco is not the kind of place where you need to take on hyper-specific travel safety tips beyond basic caution and common sense — but there are some things you should know. Here are some tips that will result in a better solo trip to San Francisco for you:

Know the context of gentrification, Big Tech, and spiraling housing prices in San Francisco. The Bay Area is the most expensive place to live in America, and San Francisco’s housing prices are even higher than New York City’s. This is due in part to San Francisco’s limited geography, being surrounded on three sides by water, and exacerbated by the tech industry’s headquarters in nearby Silicon Valley.

At this point, the city is turning into a playground for the rich, with many tech companies providing shuttles from San Francisco to their offices. It’s nearly impossible for a low-wage worker to live in the city unless he or she lives in a rent-controlled apartment with family, commutes long-distance, or lives dorm-style with several roommates. Income inequality in America is severe enough as is, but in San Francisco it’s even more so.

Why is it important to know this? It means you’ll have a deeper understanding of San Francisco and its current issues. But more importantly, you’ll be able to emphasize with the people you’re visiting, particularly those who are serving you coffee, cleaning the sidewalks, or ringing up your order at the drugstore.

San Francisco has a major homelessness problem. If you’re not from a major city, you’ll probably find it jarring, and even as a New Yorker, I’m shocked at the level of homelessness in San Francisco. This has been a major problem for the city for quite some time, and as a tourist, it can be difficult to see so many people in pain.

Other than panhandlers asking for change, homeless people will not approach you. It’s perfectly fine to keep your distance or ignore them; if you want to give them money, that’s your choice, or you could make a donation to the Coalition for the Homeless San Francisco. If you see a confrontation or someone making a commotion, keep your distance. If you witness an emergency situation, call 911.

There is no way to avoid homeless people entirely in San Francisco, but there are some areas where it is particularly dense, like in the Tenderloin neighborhood. I encourage you to view San Francisco’s homeless with compassion rather than feeling inconvenienced by their existence.

San Francisco is very hilly, which makes accessibility a challenge. Quite a few of San Francisco’s hills are extremely steep, which can be challenging if you have difficulties walking. I wore sandals for most of my visit, but there were times when I wished I had sneakers for navigating the steepest hills.

Car break-ins are common in San Francisco. While violent crime in San Francisco is low, car break-ins are a major crime issue. There’s no reason to bring your car to San Francisco — you can get around the city easily without one.

I recommend getting around San Francisco using a combination of public transportation — the BART (subway), streetcars, trams, and buses — and taxis/Uber/Lyft. These will cover the majority of your travels within San Francisco and the area. If you’re interested in doing a day trip by car, just rent a car for that day.

San Francisco’s weather changes constantly and you’ll need to dress for multiple seasons. Most mornings, Karl the fog rolls in, and it’s gray and cool as clouds envelope the city hills. Later that fog might burn off into sunshine, or you might get some rain, or it might just stay overcast all day.

For this reason, San Franciscans dress in layers year-round. I recommend bringing a sweater or light jacket no matter what time of year it is. Bring a small, strong umbrella or you’ll end up having to buy a low-quality umbrella when it rains.

Consider bringing a Speakeasy Travel Supply scarf. These beautiful scarves are designed and sewed by my friend and have a hidden passport pocket in them. I love these scarves (I even designed my own!) and they are so good at keeping your valuables hidden. They’re also extremely chic, enough to work in a fashion-conscious city like San Francisco.

While pickpocketing in general isn’t as common in the US as in Europe, pickpockets operate in the touristy areas of San Francisco. You should always keep your belongings close, but be especially cautious in and around Fisherman’s Wharf, Union Square, the Alcatraz ferries, and on public transportation.

If you carry a purse, hold it close to you. I recommend a crossbody purse, made out of a tough material like leather or fake leather, that zips shut. I recommend many purses in this post. Never let it hang behind you — always keep it in a place where you can see it, and keep your hand on it if you’re in a crowd.

If you carry a wallet without a purse, don’t keep it in your back pocket. This is obvious to thieves and they will grab it and run.

If you use a small backpack, lock it. I use a Pacsafe backpack where you can lock the compartments shut.

Never leave your bags anywhere unattended. Take your belongings with you. If you’re keeping your bag under the table or otherwise out of sight, keep it between your feet or hook the strap around one of the chair legs.

Don’t carry tons of cash around with you. You can use credit cards at most places in San Francisco, and carrying lots of cash leaves you vulnerable to theft. Don’t be the traveler who gets her wallet stolen with 500 dollars in it.

Keep your valuables locked up in your accommodation and only take with you what you need that day. I do this with my Pacsafe Travelsafe and I consider it the most important thing I pack. Keep an extra debit card and at least $100 hidden in obscure parts of your luggage.

If someone robs you, GIVE THEM WHAT THEY WANT. Things can be replaced. Nothing is worth your life.

Only use ATMs at banks if possible. If your card gets eaten, it’s a lot easier to retrieve it from a real bank’s ATM. If you can’t find a bank and it’s at night, use an ATM indoors, in a vestibule or in a shopping mall.

Get a digital guidebook and keep it on your phone. Even today, I always keep a guidebook PDF on my phone — it’s great for calculating approximate time of journeys, knowing what days places are closed, and it lists medical centers you should go to in case of emergency. I’m a big fan of Lonely Planet guidebooks — I recommend Lonely Planet San Francisco or Lonely Planet California if you’re exploring further afield.

Spend extra money on staying safe. If you’re not comfortable walking home at night, spend money on a cab or Uber. If you’re hesitant on spending money on a not-as-nice-looking hostel, pay for a nicer place. It’s worth the peace of mind. Don’t pinch pennies on your safety.

Be careful about your drinking. Drink less in San Francisco than you ordinarily would at home — two drinks is a good limit. Only take drinks from bartenders, never take a drink from a stranger, and always keep it with you and keep an eye on it. If you choose to go wine tasting, it’s acceptable (and encouraged) to only consume a small amount and use the spittoon.

Most importantly, you have no obligation to be nice to anyone. Women often feel the need to be nice and please people at all costs. You don’t have to anywhere — especially so in San Francisco. If anyone is making you feel uncomfortable, just leave. Trust me — you won’t be the rudest person they meet that day. And so what if you were? You’re never going to see them again.


READ MORE:

Top 10 Travel Safety Tips for Women


Two sets of four glasses of wine arranged across from each other at Bottega restaurant in Yountville, California. Each setting has three glasses of red and one glass of white and they are filled generously.

Wine Tasting in San Francisco as a Solo Traveler

If you’re a wine fan in the least, you should take the opportunity to explore wine country outside San Francisco. Napa and Sonoma counties are within a short driving distance of San Francisco and either region is doable as a day trip or multi-day getaway.

However, wine tasting is not often recommended for solo travelers because it’s logistically difficult — most of the time wineries are far apart and you need to drive, and drinking and driving do not mix.

Option 1: Do a wine tasting day trip from San Francisco. This is my top recommendation. You’ll have transportation provided, you won’t have to worry about logistics, and you might make some new friends, too! Here are some options:

Option 2: Spend a night or two in wine country. Book accommodation in Napa. If you’re planning on doing a lot of wine tasting, this is an efficient way to spend your time and minimizing your transportation.

If you do this, be sure to take advantage of the fantastic restaurants in this region. I had one of the best meals of my life at Bottega in Yountville, and if you can manage to get a reservation, The French Laundry is there, too.

Option 3: Go wine tasting without leaving San Francisco. You can taste plenty of local wines without leaving the confines of the city, as several wineries have shops in the city. I recommend Wattle Creek Winery and William Cross Wine Merchants and Wine Bar in San Francisco and Campovida in Oakland.

Whatever you choose to do, be vigilant about your drinking and try not to drink too much. Just because you’re wine tasting, it doesn’t mean you’re supposed to get drunk. It’s perfectly acceptable to only taste the wine and spittoons are always provided.

Kate lounges on a big white bed with a cream-colored headboard at the Fairmont San Francisco. She has long straight brown hair and is wearing a bright red short-sleeved top by Milly and black and white patterned pants by Trina Turk. She is holding her phone in her hand and is posed lying on her stomach with her hand underneath her chin and smiling.

Kate at the Fairmont San Francisco

Where to Stay in San Francisco: Best Accommodation for Solo Female Travelers

There are plenty of safe choices of neighborhoods in San Francisco. I’ve stayed in so many places that I can recommend you an excellent option at every price tier. Here are there of my favorites:

Best San Francisco luxury hotel: Fairmont San Francisco. This is one of the most stunning hotels I’ve ever stayed in, and the luxury level is on point. Service is excellent and it’s in a great location above Nob Hill.

Best San Francisco boutique hotel: Hotel Zelos. This Union Square hotel has chic rooms, giant bathtubs, and a very cool cocktail bar called Dirty Habit.

Best San Francisco budget hotel: The Green Tortoise. Now, don’t get turned off because it’s a hostel — this is my favorite hostel in the United States, and they have a separate building filled with private rooms. The location in North Beach is ideal, the free breakfast is insane, and they have a lot of cool activities taking place throughout the week.

Kate in a red-and-navy-striped dress arm and arm with her friend Paroma, wearing a white button-up shirt, standing in a coffeeshop in San Francisco in front of a display case with a giant Illy coffee cup on top.

How to Meet People in San Francisco

San Franciscans, and Californians in general, are friendly and laid-back. While people tend to be wrapped up in their own lives, you can absolutely meet people just by being open and friendly. Here are some specific ways to make new friends in San Francisco:

Consider staying at a social hostel. If you’re willing to stay at a social at this stage in your life, I highly recommend The Green Tortoise in North Beach. You can get a private room, and I stayed in a private room there (with a shared bath). The Green Hostel fosters community by putting on all kinds of fun activities, like comedy shows, pub crawls, $5 dinners, and live music. They also one of the best free breakfasts I’ve seen in a hostel and you can meet people while enjoying bagels.

Join tours and activities. Tours are a great way to meet new people! Whether you’re doing a day trip to the Muir Woods and wine country or taking a pastry baking class, you’ll meet people excited to explore the local region.

Look for Couchsurfing meetup events in San Francisco. Couchsurfing isn’t just for free accommodation — they also put on meetup events where everyone is welcome. San Francisco puts on regular meetups and they always draw a great crowd.

Join a meetup on Meetup.com. Whether you’re into travel, running, movies, board games, or just want to meet a group of nice people, there’s a Meetup for that.

Put out feelers on social media. Often a friend of yours will have a cousin or friend living in San Francisco who will offer to meet you for coffee, just so you know someone. Take advantage of this if you can. This is what I did — I asked for San Francisco photography advice in one of my blogger groups, and a local girl named Paroma (pictured with me above) offered to meet me and take photos! We had a great morning and it was so nice to make a new friend.

Tinder. If you’re looking to date or hook up, have fun!

Yosemite National Park has huge looming mountains in the background underneath a blue and white streaky sky. There are bright green evergreen trees and water on the ground amongst the brown land.

Yosemite National Park (via Pixabay)

Where to Go After San Francisco

You could just come to San Francisco for the weekend and have a great time — or you could spend months in California and barely scrape the surface.

If you’re staying 3 days or less, I recommend staying in San Francisco. If you’re staying 4-6 days, I recommend adding in a few days trips from San Francisco. If you’re staying a week or longer, I encourage you to flesh out your California trip with some visitors to other areas.

Visit wineries in Napa and Sonoma County. If you want to explore the wine and culinary scene, this is one of the best regions on the planet. You could spend weeks there alone. You can get there within an hour or two of San Francisco.

Go to Yosemite National Park. It’s one of the most famous national parks in the United States, and for good reason — it’s one of the best and most beautiful. Yosemite is three hours from San Francisco.

Check out Monterey. Monterey is a beautiful seaside town and home to an outstanding aquarium. It’s also the setting for Big Little Lies (the HBO version, not the book version). Monterey is two hours from San Francisco.

Road trip down the California coast. Head south toward Los Angeles or San Diego and stop at gorgeous places along the way — or even north and head up toward Oregon!

The San Francisco neighborhoods of Russian Hill and North Beach have square-shaped buildings stacked on top of each other, ascending and descending down the hills with occasional trees. In the background is San Francisco Bay and you can see Oakland through the haze in the distance.

Travel Insurance for San Francisco

Even if you’re visiting San Francisco from within the United States, it’s smart to get travel insurance. You might not be able to find a healthcare provider on your plan here, and travel insurance will often cover you anywhere that is 100+ miles away.

If you get sick or injured on your trip, if you get robbed, or even if you have to be flown home, travel insurance will protect you from financial ruin. And tragically, if you plan a stay at a winery that’s destroyed by a wildfire, which has happened in California in recent years, they will refund you your costs. I use and recommend World Nomads for trips to San Francisco.

Travel insurance is the kind of thing that seems like a waste until the moment you need it desperately. Don’t underestimate its importance — be sure to protect yourself.

View over Chinatown in San Francisco, lots of store signs jutting out at angles, leading to a bridge underneath a blue sky.

San Francisco is waiting for you!

You are about to have one of the best trips of your life! I hope you have an amazing time in San Francisco. Then come back and tell me all about it.


READ NEXT: The Best Things I Ate in San Francisco


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