Steve and Debra Lampen’s
GUIDE to San Francisco

Last Updated 7/10/2020

Read this guide before you come to San Francisco. There are cool things, like our Alcatraz Tour, that may require a reservation a week or more in advance. So read this first and decide just what you want to do. We’ve given up putting maps at the end. They make the file huge. Besides, there’s Mapquest ( and many other good Internet map sites. Print out maps of the areas you’re interested in. Or just get a city map or Bay Area map at any AAA office before you leave. Or use your iPhone maps. Bring a GPS with you, in your cellphone, PDA or iPhone, or rent one with your rental car. If you’re going out of the city, such as the Wine Country, or Carmel/Monterey, be sure your map or GPS covers that.

Did we miss anything? Heard about some fantastic restaurant not on this list? Read about something in a different Guide Book that we didn’t mention? Looking for something specific? Leave Steve an email at, or Debra at or call Steve or Debra at home 415-440-8424, and we’ll tell you where you might find it and how to get there. If you went somewhere excellent that we don’t mention, tell us and we’ll put it in this guide! This guide is 26 pages long in 10 pt. type. Make the type bigger if you need to.

What to Wear

California is warm but San Francisco is cold. We are surrounded on three sides by water. When it gets really hot in the center of the state, the hot air rises there and pulls the fog in over the city. So it is not uncommon for summer weather to dip into the 50’s (12c). Mark Twain is reputed to have said “The coldest Winter I ever spent was Summer in San Francisco.” In September, when the kids go back to school, and we’re heading into Fall, we have a few weeks of hot weather. So the whole point is come with layers. Absolutely bring a jacket, or a sweater, or sweatshirt. Shorts are probably not a great idea.

At the San Francisco Airport

Don’t take a cab ride ($60) into The City. Just go outside baggage claim and look for the blue vans (“Super Shuttle”). They will take you directly to any destination in the City for $17 per passenger plus tip. ($10 for each additional passenger to the same place.) If you do the math, once you pass three passengers on Super Shuttle, it’s a wash to take a cab instead which is faster and more direct (although four in regular cab is tight). If you’re an Uber or Lift fan, that’s a lot cheaper than a cab. There is also a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) terminal above you. (Take the red AirTrain people-mover), if you’re really on a budget. BART goes all over the Bay Area, including the Oakland Airport and heading south east to Fremont.

Car Rental at the Airport

The blue “AirTrain” people-mover goes to the rental center a mile north of the airport. (The red AirTrain only goes to BART). If you arrived in a group, with other adults, have someone watch the luggage at the baggage claim (Floor 1) and you go pick up the rental car. Before you leave ‘baggage claim’, walk outside. There are four separate terminals (three domestic, one international) in San Francisco, so be sure where you are before you leave. The outside bays are named (by airline) and sometimes numbered. Or fire up your cell phones, so someone from your group can call you and tell you where they are. (Drivers are now required to be “hands free” with cell phones in California so, if you’re driving, pull out your BlueTooth or ear buds.)

Pick up your rental car and head south. Follow the “return to terminal arrivals– baggage claim“ signs. Pick up the others, and the luggage, at the lowest level “baggage claim”. Like all airports, you can’t stop unless you are actively loading, so have everyone outside, ready to go.

Parking and Traffic

These are the two really bad things about San Francisco, and getting worse. San Francisco is a fine city! Parking fines, such as parking by a fire hydrant, bus zone, even a handicapped sidewalk ramp, will now cost you $270 and up. Block a driveway, and you will be towed in a heartbeat. Ticket + towing can easily pass $500. Be sure to read all the signs by the side of the street and read parking meters too before you put money in them. Most parking meters allow credit cards now as well as quarters, dimes and nickels. If you’re going to stay more than a week, you might buy an SFMTA (Municipal Transportation Agency) parking card. They come in $20 and $50. Check out “Buy parking cards” at No discount, just convenient. Some meters also allow you to pay with your cellphone. A few of the meters in tourist areas are up to $6/hour which is a 24 quarters, 48 quarters for 2 hours (if the meter allows that much time). Read the meter!

In downtown areas during the week, there is “Rush Hour” Tow-Away at 4PM in some places, 3PM in others. If you stray into residential areas, they have street sweeping hours each week. Look for the signs. If it was really easy to park, it might be Street-Cleaning Day! They won’t tow you but it’s now a $95 ticket. Pedestrians have the right of way. If you enter a crosswalk where people are walking you now can get a ticket from $100+! Everybody in your car must wear a seatbelt. ($75 fine). Fine city!

If you have someone who can drive you and drop you off, and pick you up later, that’s great. What do we do? We have now started to take a cab in our own city and leave the cars at home. Yellow Cab is the best cab company, 415-333-3333. There are lots of other cab companies. Avoid Town Taxi (Town Cab). By the time you’ve wasted an hour in your rental car, and then managed to find a garage, it will be $20 to park, so you might as well have taken a cab. Or call where you’re going and find out if they have Valet Parking. Every restaurant below includes a phone number, and we’ve indicated which ones have valet service. Uber or Lyft are great, cheap alternatives to a taxi if you have those apps downloaded on your cellphone.

On the other hand, Deb and I have started a habit of just getting in Deb’s PT Cruiser, and ‘cruising’ around the city. When we see a parking spot, we park there and eat at a local restaurant. Cool way to try new places, but you’d better not be in a hurry or on a schedule.

There are NO freeways that go across the city. They just dump you on city streets and wish you good luck. (This is where that GPS comes in real handy!) We’ve built new entrances and exits to the “new and improved” Bay Bridge, such as “Octavia St.” and also new “beautiful” approaches to the Golden Gate Bridge (Lombard Street). They’ve finished tearing down the “old” Bay Bridge just south of the new one. The 1989 earthquake made part of it fall down. Meanwhile, we’re always tearing up streets to fix our ancient sewers, or put in handicapped ramps, so watch for detours and avoid congested areas.