The Big Question: SF SAFE For Solo Travelers?

Dawson Turner
SF1

Let’s get real.

When I initially told my family and friends I was moving to San Francisco for the summer on a work exchange, most expressed immediate concern in some form. This is coming from a place of care and support, but nonetheless. There’s been a lot in the news about SF lately, this is true. Stripped of proper context, without experience walking the city, a product of only having attention-grabbing click-reliant news filtered across the country. This is not to say there isn’t truth in these stories, these events, but *only* telling these stories is jaded. So I can understand those getting this impression.

For this piece I’m going to avoid hyperbole because nothing is in absolutes. Reading other published articles on the same subject, many do not refrain from using them. None of my experience, or that of anyone within my sphere (I have met and talked to literally hundreds of people staying the city since my time here), have been outwardly horrible experiences. These things can happen here, just as they can happen anywhere. In any big city in the states, the world, your home town. Get out there and see something. If you’re reading this, I have no doubt you are.

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BIAS

I’ll admit my bias and privilege here. I’m a tall white man. I can get by more comfortably than others walking the streets alone later at night, this is true. My experience of no bad experiences is very possibility a product of greatly reduced risk. My advice to anyone else who plans to be navigating the streets of SF late at night is to plan in pairs, groups, if possible. Never intentionally venture into dark, unpopulated areas. Stick to the street lights.

To create an honest of a portrait as I can, this is based on my experience, relating to the time I’ve had here and areas I’ve been in. I speak only from this and voicing others who have lived in the Bay Area and have relayed knowledge to me.

Some of my impressions

You’ll see this headlined in several articles: AVOID TENDERLOIN. I want to write more about this neighborhood because I have seen and walked these streets myself. I recently visited Tenderloin for a show at the Great American Music Hall, as did hundreds of other people, other young people.

I walked a few blocks through to get there, and again to get out. Most did. The show let out late. Listen, if you’re downtown around union square, you might happen to pass through a street. It by no means translates to danger danger danger! or “I’m screwed!” but it is important to know the area you’re in.

There are a lot of unhoused people and wanderers, but for the most part seem to mind their business. Anyways, I walked the entire way home to Chinatown around midnight.

Cityscape Hilton Union Square

Only a few neighborhoods are best to avoid, and they are generally out of the way, residential. Some are simply best to avoid late late at night. Notably, Golden Gate Park is a gorgeous place to visit with much green and many attractions. BUT, it is not a good idea to linger late after dark when the grounds are vacated by most of the population.

Avoid walks through Mission after 9pm or so. I have found myself walking through it after a movie @ Alamo New Mission.

South of Civic Center is also best to avoid during these hours if possible.

EXPECTATIONS

Let’s be clear, there are a lot of unhoused people in the city, all throughout. In just about every neighborhood I have visited. I believe them to be harmless. They are trying to survive, and mind their business. This is an institutional issue, and needs to be addressed head on by the city.

You will likely come across individuals displaying signs of mental illness or drug addiction. Don’t be alarmed, but do not linger. Always avoid confrontations.

This by no means is a reason not to be aware of your surroundings. This goes for any large city in the world. I would hope any solo traveler has this in mind at *all* times, no matter where you are. That being said, there are people, everywhere, that are desperate and will do rash things.

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WHAT I’VE READ AND NOT HEARD

I’ve read many articles on the safety of particular neighborhoods throughout the city, and truthfully I find many of them incredibly biased, even racist. Rather than pointing out which neighborhoods are to best err on the side of caution, avoid after dark, etc., they dismiss several of them completely. As if they’re not a living, breathing piece of the city.

I saw a site literally listing Oakland as a place in SF to avoid. One of the top results on safety tips for travel to San Francisco (I do my homework). Are you kidding me? First of all, Oakland is not part of SF, not a neighborhood of SF, it’s a city across the Bay. It should not even have to be mentioned that its a a city with its own unique culture, ecosystem, art. What a disgrace.

Travel sites, blogs, should be informative, and fear mongering as means of funneling tourists into specific “safe” areas with the good (pricey) hotels and Airbnbs! is not what travel is about. Not for me.

This is not what I aim to do. As a traveler, I think it best not just to hit the “top spots” but push those boundaries sometimes, even if that means ending up not exactly where you’re “supposed to be” for a block or two. You’ll survive. Hey, maybe you’ll stumble into something unexpectedly wonderful. History knows I have many a times this way.

San Francisco is a beautiful, beautiful city with so much to see. If the news has discouraged you in any way or given you cause to reconsider travel here, I can earnestly reassure you that you will have a ball on your trip if planned leisurely and appropriately.

GENERAL TIP LIST

  1. Try to blend in with locals
  2. Do not leave valuables, bags, etc., unattended
  3. Avoid lingering in dark, unpopulated areas late at night
  4. Stay alert for pickpockets in crowded areas! (Usually around Union Square)
  5. (If you’re driving a car in the city) Do not leave valuables in your vehicle. I recently had a friend in Oakland who had her car broken into. And nothing was even stolen! Crazy, random stuff happens.
  6. Understand the homeless situation and do not be alarmed.

Thank you for reading and safe travels!

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