San Francisco cleanliness and safety

Colleen27

DIS Veteran
Joined
Mar 31, 2007
We spent a couple days in the city in August when we moved my daughter into her dorm. Without a doubt, San Fran has the worst homeless problem of any city I've ever been to... with L.A. a relatively close second. I don't doubt that law enforcement philosophies and city policies have the effect of making the problem more visible to tourists than other cities; police didn't seem concerned with open drug use (not pot, which doesn't bother me at all) or with homeless basically camping in some areas, which I'm sure makes it more obvious than in cities where users have more incentive to remain in the shadows/stay out of "better" (more touristy) areas. Most cities have ways of steering their homeless to places visitors are less likely to go, which makes for a more pleasant tourist experience even if it doesn't do anything to address the actual problem, but I didn't see much evidence that San Fran tries to do so.

But that said, it didn't impact our enjoyment of the city. Unlike a lot of the above posters, however, I wasn't walking around with an image of how it used to be in my head - I think that can be really make-or-break with enjoying a flawed place as-is (I'm guilty as hell about it when it comes to WDW; the memory of the things that used to be better is an overlay on my experiences that sometimes makes me judge the place more harshly than perhaps I should). We visited Fisherman's Wharf, spent a day in Golden Gate Park, shopped in Haight-Ashbury, etc. without incident and without ever feeling unsafe. I loved the Japantown area and wished we had more time to shop (and eat!) there. I'm really looking forward to going back in January and letting DD act as our guide, now that she's been there a few months and has gotten to know the city a bit.

I actually had a harder time with the homeless in L.A. and Anaheim, but to be honest, that was largely the juxtaposition of all that tourism money sloshing around the Disneyland area and literally walking past beggars and people sleeping on the sidewalks to get back to our hotel in the evenings. It just felt so wrong, not guilt exactly because I know the problems of the homeless are complex and not readily solved by money alone, but just very jarring. And in the other places we went, some of the panhandlers were fairly aggressive and unsettling.
 

DLfan4

Cant wait for another trip to DLR
Joined
Oct 23, 2013
Everytime I visit my cousin who lives just east of San Francisco we always visit San Fran and shopped all over downtown. but When we went in December 2018, my cousin said that San Fran has changed and there are areas to avoid.

We went on December 31st during the day, and left San Fran just as it started to get dark around dinner. We only went to busy touristy spots and it was fine. if you want to see my trip report, the san fransicso part starts on page 3.
 

RedVines2001

Mouseketeer
Joined
Jun 14, 2018
While all big cities have a homeless/mentally ill/drug addiction problem, the problem is pretty much completely unabated in San Francisco for political reasons. One thing that SF is different from other cities is that one of the main tourist areas, Union Square, is literally right next to one of the most crime infested areas, the Tenderloin. If you visit Union Square, you will definitely come across someone that is mentally altered, aggressive pan handlers, human feces, and intravenous drug use. A lot of these individuals are unpredictable and violent. If you visit any of the downtown areas be sure to keep your head up, keep your kids close and be prepared to have that awkward conversation explain to them why someone is going number 2 on the sidewalk. The experience will be the antithesis of Disney magic.

So with the doom and gloom out of the way, what are your must do's in San Francisco? There are certain less touristy things that have minimal safety and cleanliness issues. Hopefully we can help you navigate through those.
 
  • China Expat

    Mouseketeer
    Joined
    Oct 29, 2014
    My son lives in SF; it is pretty tough. He is moving south after Christmas. At the very least, one must visit the Walt Disney Museum, the Exploratorium Science Museum and Embarcadero, and ride over the SF Golden Gate Bridge.
     

    FireflyTrance

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Feb 5, 2011
    I live near SF and generally avoid South of Market. I would also definitely avoid Bayview/Hunters Point. That being said I have lived in and near SF my entire life, and have never once been a victim of crime. You just have to practice common sense like in any large city. Do not leave any valuables visible in your car. Don't walk with your iPhone out in a sketchy area. Don't walk alone at night. Etc
     

    cari12

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Jul 25, 2009
    We’re flying into San Francisco in March and will be staying one night mainly to see Alcatraz. I was thinking of the Sheraton fisherman’s wharf or the Zephyr hotel. Would these be good choices and is that area safe?
     
  • BadPinkTink

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Mar 13, 2015
    We’re flying into San Francisco in March and will be staying one night mainly to see Alcatraz. I was thinking of the Sheraton fisherman’s wharf or the Zephyr hotel. Would these be good choices and is that area safe?
    I stayed in Travelodge Fishermans Wharf which is in the same general area and I was fine. I walked from my motel, to Pier 33 for the Alcatraz ferry and then walked from Pier 33 up to the shopping and restaurant at Pier 39 and then walked back to my motel.

    However, I'm very streetwise, and used to living in a high crime area and I'm very aware of personal safety. I don't walk around when it gets dark, I dont walk around with my phone or camera in my hand, I keep my money in a money belt under my clothes.
     

    califbarbb

    Earning My Ears
    Joined
    Dec 19, 2019
    I don’t want to ruffle anyone’s feathers with this question but can you Disers here speak about the cleanliness of the streets and overall safety for tourists in San Francisco? I know most big cities have some of these issues to a degree, but I’m concerned with some of the things I’ve read online recently about the city. We really want to visit next summer and are mainly interested in some of the tourist attractions but also want to see some of the city. Please don’t take this the wrong way. I just want my family to have a safe and fun vacation and don’t want to be disappointed we chose to start our trip in San Francisco.
    As noted by most SF has great things to see and do and is worth the trip.. Use Uber or Lyft and enjoy!
     

    califbarbb

    Earning My Ears
    Joined
    Dec 19, 2019
    We’re flying into San Francisco in March and will be staying one night mainly to see Alcatraz. I was thinking of the Sheraton fisherman’s wharf or the Zephyr hotel. Would these be good choices and is that area safe?
    Sheraton fisherman’s wharf is closed
     
  • Lumpy1106

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Jul 2, 2010
    Mini trip report that seems to fit this thread. Stop me when you think this plan went awry...
    My wife came down with Pneumonia the day after Christmas (getting better now - thanks), so I took my 3 kids (17, 14 and 6) to San Francisco for the day so she could rest. Rode BART from Dublin, then walked down to the Exploratorium. We walked through the market on the way, and had lunch at Chipotle. Exploratorium was fun. We had gone once when it was in transition to the new space and that was not great, but I am happy to report it is back to it's original quirkiness that was always such a blast when it was on the other side of town. Crowds so far - not bad. We left the Exploratorium around 4p with a plan to ride the streetcars to Pier 39, skip that mess and walk down to Ghirardelli for ice cream and a ride back over the hill on the cable cars to head back home on BART.

    Streetcars were not too crowded but they weren't exactly collecting fares from everyone - that should have been a sign. We got to Pier 39 and it was MOBBED! The 3-block walk down to Ghirardelli was packed, and was the only time we encountered the now infamous human poo on the sidewalk. I honestly don't know how this area came to exist or why it is so popular. At least for me, this is hell on earth with all the tourist traps and crowds. Ugh! Ghirardelli square was much nicer but the crowds did not abate. There was a long line for the cable cars so we opted to get ice cream and come back. The line for the lower shop was out the door and 1/2 way to the intersection, so we headed up the stairs to the other shop...where the line was out the door, then to the street and 1/2 way up the block. We headed back downstairs and jumped in line. That honestly was not too bad. We struck up a conversation with the guy behind us whose wife was standing in the cable car line. She reported an hour wait - yeesh! We weren't sure that was worth doing, but the streetcars were set to close at 5p (I think they actually ran a bit later) so we were running out of options. We waited about 15 minutes when suddenly the guys wife is in line with us. Turns out the cable car line was 2 HOURS!! They bailed from the cable car and at that point, so did we. My son pulled up LYFT on his phone and found that we could get back to the Embarcadero for < $20 including tip - cheaper than the cable car and would be there in 15 minutes - DONE. I was sorry that my 6 yo would not get to ride the cable cars but that was looking like a miserable experience both for the wait and it was getting cold.

    Once back at the Embarcadero things started getting weird. The meth'ed up homeless were emerging - there was a shirtless dude screaming at everything that moved in front of the Chipotle where we had lunch, and a lady in the CBTL just absolutely trashed the area where you add sugar, cocoa etc. to your coffee while we were standing there. Mind you, it's only about 6p now. We were pretty happy to get back on BART and GTFO.

    So there you have it. Is San Francisco safe? Yeah. Clean? Meh. During the day, I would say you'll want to see it at some point in your life. After the sun goes down that gets a nope.
     

    cari12

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Jul 25, 2009
    Mini trip report that seems to fit this thread. Stop me when you think this plan went awry...
    My wife came down with Pneumonia the day after Christmas (getting better now - thanks), so I took my 3 kids (17, 14 and 6) to San Francisco for the day so she could rest. Rode BART from Dublin, then walked down to the Exploratorium. We walked through the market on the way, and had lunch at Chipotle. Exploratorium was fun. We had gone once when it was in transition to the new space and that was not great, but I am happy to report it is back to it's original quirkiness that was always such a blast when it was on the other side of town. Crowds so far - not bad. We left the Exploratorium around 4p with a plan to ride the streetcars to Pier 39, skip that mess and walk down to Ghirardelli for ice cream and a ride back over the hill on the cable cars to head back home on BART.

    Streetcars were not too crowded but they weren't exactly collecting fares from everyone - that should have been a sign. We got to Pier 39 and it was MOBBED! The 3-block walk down to Ghirardelli was packed, and was the only time we encountered the now infamous human poo on the sidewalk. I honestly don't know how this area came to exist or why it is so popular. At least for me, this is hell on earth with all the tourist traps and crowds. Ugh! Ghirardelli square was much nicer but the crowds did not abate. There was a long line for the cable cars so we opted to get ice cream and come back. The line for the lower shop was out the door and 1/2 way to the intersection, so we headed up the stairs to the other shop...where the line was out the door, then to the street and 1/2 way up the block. We headed back downstairs and jumped in line. That honestly was not too bad. We struck up a conversation with the guy behind us whose wife was standing in the cable car line. She reported an hour wait - yeesh! We weren't sure that was worth doing, but the streetcars were set to close at 5p (I think they actually ran a bit later) so we were running out of options. We waited about 15 minutes when suddenly the guys wife is in line with us. Turns out the cable car line was 2 HOURS!! They bailed from the cable car and at that point, so did we. My son pulled up LYFT on his phone and found that we could get back to the Embarcadero for < $20 including tip - cheaper than the cable car and would be there in 15 minutes - DONE. I was sorry that my 6 yo would not get to ride the cable cars but that was looking like a miserable experience both for the wait and it was getting cold.

    Once back at the Embarcadero things started getting weird. The meth'ed up homeless were emerging - there was a shirtless dude screaming at everything that moved in front of the Chipotle where we had lunch, and a lady in the CBTL just absolutely trashed the area where you add sugar, cocoa etc. to your coffee while we were standing there. Mind you, it's only about 6p now. We were pretty happy to get back on BART and GTFO.

    So there you have it. Is San Francisco safe? Yeah. Clean? Meh. During the day, I would say you'll want to see it at some point in your life. After the sun goes down that gets a nope.
    Wow! Glad we’ve decided to only spend one night there. We’re staying at the Holiday Inn Express near Fisherman’s Wharf for easy access to Alcatraz. Hopefully less of the meth-crowd than where you were.
     

    ordinarysmartfrog

    Earning My Ears
    Joined
    Jan 7, 2020
    You know, when you visit other cities with your family, you should understand that each city has its own problems, and it is worth paying attention to various good things. Interesting sights Delicious food and good music. Although sometimes still unpleasant when dirty
     

    StageTek

    It's kind of fun to do the impossible.
    Joined
    Apr 20, 2007
    I just got back from a little road trip after NYE in Vegas. (I was working - fireworks - not visiting...) And what was going to be a 2 night stay in SF. I hadn't been there in about 10 years.

    It was like a third-world country. And I've been to several. I rarely feel unsafe in any US city - I did in San Francisco. I took the hit (the hotel wouldn't refund me the one night) and left. SF was so beautiful and fun in all my previous 8 trips. I won't be going back.
     

    RedVines2001

    Mouseketeer
    Joined
    Jun 14, 2018
    I just got back from a little road trip after NYE in Vegas. (I was working - fireworks - not visiting...) And what was going to be a 2 night stay in SF. I hadn't been there in about 10 years.

    It was like a third-world country. And I've been to several. I rarely feel unsafe in any US city - I did in San Francisco. I took the hit (the hotel wouldn't refund me the one night) and left. SF was so beautiful and fun in all my previous 8 trips. I won't be going back.
    Just curious. Which part of the city did you stay/visit?
     

    skyblue17

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Nov 4, 2017
    San Francisco has a ton to see and do that is beautiful and worth the time and effort. Like others in this thread have said, know what areas to avoid. Stay out of the Tenderloin, don't get a hotel on Market St. unless it's close to the Ferry Terminal area, etc. I visited SF annually for six years starting in 2013 and enjoyed each and every trip. Last year was the only year I skipped and I plan to be back soon. I love visiting Land's End and the Coastal Trail, taking the catamaran under the Golden Gate Bridge, going to Oracle Park (the most beautiful ballpark of them all), taking MUNI and cable cars to visit different neighborhoods, enjoy the street art & murals, etc.

    Granted, I am from NYC, I am conditioned to a certain level of "gross" but I can honestly say I have never had an issue in SF. My hotel one year was in Union Square and only a few blocks from where the neighborhood starts to go south and I even felt safe walking home from a ballgame at night. It is all about what you are comfortable with and your expectations. Keep in mind that there are some areas that are sketchy, and some issues that you might not be able to ignore, but it is still a great city to visit, and the gateway to some other fantastic places to visit like the forest, coast, wine country, etc.
     

    bcla

    On our rugged Eastern foothills.....
    Joined
    Nov 28, 2012
    Granted, I am from NYC, I am conditioned to a certain level of "gross" but I can honestly say I have never had an issue in SF. My hotel one year was in Union Square and only a few blocks from where the neighborhood starts to go south and I even felt safe walking home from a ballgame at night. It is all about what you are comfortable with and your expectations. Keep in mind that there are some areas that are sketchy, and some issues that you might not be able to ignore, but it is still a great city to visit, and the gateway to some other fantastic places to visit like the forest, coast, wine country, etc.
    I won't pretend that there isn't

    However, I've rarely felt like there was any kind of danger, and I've seen things as extreme as someone heating drugs on a spoon. It's also kind of hard for people from somewhere else to understand, but this is an extremely high demand area where rents are sky high even with these issues of homelessness and drug use.

    I remember walking outside of Disneyland and seeing various vagrants hanging out in front of liquor stores and bus shelters. It's just kind of the way it is.
     

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