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Is San Francisco Safe For Travelers? What You Need To Know

San Francisco is a place many folks love to visit; one of the largest cities in California, known for its fog, bright red Golden Gate Bridge, and hilly aesthetic. It’s known as home to the infamous Alcatraz Prison, and with recent news coverage, you may be wondering if San Francisco is safe. Believe it or not, this incredible city by the bay is one of the safest in the country. It’s even safer than the tourist hubs of Las Vegas, Charleston, and Orlando, according to WalletHub.

The same study ranked three other California cities, including Los Angeles, as some of the most dangerous cities in the country. Like with any data, it’s important to remember that many factors go into considering a city safe or unsafe. You also can’t discount steps you can take as a traveler to protect yourself from the moment you take off until the moment you get home.

With those considerations in mind, we’ll dive into how to visit San Francisco safely. We’ll let you know the ins and outs of San Francisco’s public transportation, crime rates, safe areas, and general safety tips to make your trip to San Fran the best.

Is It Safe To Visit San Francisco?

Haight-Ashbury District in San Francisco
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Whenever you consider the safety of a place, it’s crucial to know that two things can be accurate simultaneously. San Francisco’s violent crime rate is among the lowest in the country for cities its size; and the property crime rate is unusually high for the same size metropolises, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Anytime you travel somewhere, major city or not, it’s crucial to know that property crime can happen no matter where you stay. Particularly if you’re visiting a state like California, with some of the highest living costs in the country, you need to be aware of your surroundings during the day and at night.

Unfortunately, that high cost of living means San Francisco’s homeless population is also higher than average. We’ll cover that in more detail later.

What you need to remember about San Fran is that it isn’t a crime-ridden city. It is perfectly safe for tourists in all the same ways any beautiful city would be. It’s easy to be safe in San Francisco even if you’ve never been here before–especially if you stay in the tourist districts and use common sense.

General Safety Tips for San Francisco

There are a few ways to protect yourself in San Francisco that are both common sense and learned tactics. Keep these in mind if you feel unsafe at any point:

  • Don’t be overly distracted by your phone or companions in public (especially on public transit)
  • Don’t keep your valuables in plain sight
  • Don’t set your bag(s) down
  • Don’t listen to headphones too loud in public or on public transit
  • Keep your phone close to your body
  • Keep zippers on bags at the bottom of the zipper–not the middle
  • Source travel insurance from somewhere like VisitorsCoverage or TravelInsurance.com ahead of time

Keeping Safe in San Francisco

Aerial View of San Francisco Skyline
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

San Francisco Crime Stats

So how does the crime rate in San Francisco compare to other major cities and similarly sized ones across the U.S.? Let’s take a peek at some figures sourced from NeighborhoodScout.com.

City (Crime Rate per 1,000 residents) Violent Property Total
Detroit, MI 23.07 35.94 59.01
Los Angeles, CA 7.40 24.60 32.00
New York City, NY 5.21 19.62 24.83
Chicago, IL 8.70 23.82 32.51
Madison, WI 3.09 25.63 28.72
Minneapolis, MN 13.42 44.74 58.16
San Francisco, CA 5.39 54.33 48.94
U.S. National Median 4.00 19.00 23.00

By these figures, it appears that the San Francisco crime rate shakes out pretty evenly against other American cities. You can use statistics to prove anything (and 98.739694% of them are made up anyway), but it’s obviously more complicated than that.

Race and Policing in San Francisco

Whether you’re talking about San Francisco or New York’s police force and crime stats, you encounter similar issues. No matter where you go in the country, crime statistics are inherently rooted in racism, over-policing, and segregation.

For instance, despite being a place that tourists can safely enjoy, Mission District is also said to be one of the more dangerous parts of San Francisco. This neighborhood is also nearly 50% Latinx. Even cities like Minneapolis and my beloved Chicago also have heavily skewed crime stats.

What crime stats tell you about a city only tells a small fraction of that place’s story. They need to be read with a critical eye, understanding how racially diverse neighborhoods tend to be more heavily policed, which means more crime data and reinforces racist notions. However, it should be noted that San Francisco’s local authorities and police officers are making a more concerted effort to diminish bias than other departments nationwide.

See Related: Best Things to Do in California & Places to Visit

Is Violent Crime An Issue?

Crime scene tape in San Francisco
Laura Drake Enberg / Shutterstock

San Francisco’s violent crimes are actually at historic lows right now. This isn’t a dangerous city by any means; most crime here pertains to property crime or car break-ins. As we mentioned previously, this is mainly because of the wealth disparities in San Fran and the state at large.

As for violent crime stats, San Francisco has much lower percentages than nearby Californian cities, let alone other cities around the country. While the chances are never zero, you can rest assured that historically the city is much safer towards bodily autonomy.

Petty theft is far more likely in San Francisco now because of the affordable housing crisis. If you’re wondering, “Is San Francisco safe?” be more aware of places like parking garages and specific neighborhoods like the Tenderloin District.

See Related: Best Things to Do in Northern California

What’s the Deal with Drug Use in San Francisco?

A needle in the street in San Francisco
mikeledray / Shutterstock

Unfortunately, San Francisco has fallen into a dangerous drug overdose epidemic. Partly due to the homeless population and lack of affordable private places, there is a lot of open-air drug addiction in the city. While these drug addicts don’t necessarily threaten tourists, you should be aware of what is happening in San Francisco before you go there.

Illegal drugs and drug deals are not always private situations in a city like San Fran. Mostly because drug users can’t afford a place to live, you may see more drug dealing or drug abuse than you’re used to where you’re from. Be cautious around any drug users you notice as a means to keep you and them both safe.

The city continues to crack down on open-air drug use, and you’re less likely to see it in tourist areas. Even so, be particularly aware if you end up in places like Golden Gate Park, the Tenderloin District, or Mission District.

See Related: Best Things to Do on the West Coast, USA

What Should Travelers Know About Homeless People?

Tents in San Francisco
paulaah293 / Shutterstock

I always remind folks about homeless people here or abroad to always remember to treat folks with dignity. Unhoused people deserve as much respect as anyone else, regardless of how they got into that situation. Statistically, more than half of us are just one paycheck away from homelessness ourselves.

The fact of the matter is homeless people are everywhere in San Francisco. If you’ve been to any major American city, especially in the last few years, you know the homeless population, in general, is on the rise. It doesn’t matter if you stay in areas like Fisherman’s Wharf or Powell Street, or any other touristy part of the city.

Extreme wealth gaps, mental illness, drug addiction, and various things are at play for why there are so many homeless people in San Francisco. But no matter where your journey to the Bay area takes you, carry around a bit of kindness for everyone.

Are Car Break-Ins an Issue?

Broken driver's side window in San Francisco
Jason Finn / Shutterstock

Is San Francisco dangerous? Not really. Are car break-ins a significant issue in this city? Absolutely.

While other crimes are on a downward slope, car theft, and break-ins continue to rise in The Golden City. The continuous rash of these crimes can also be tied back to the wealth disparity we’ve mentioned.

One way to avoid car break-ins during your trip to San Francisco is to avoid street parking and only utilize well-secured parking garages. Other ways to keep your vehicle safe are to not keep belongings in it, park only in well-lit areas, and use anti-theft devices like steering wheel locks.

Or you can skip bringing a car altogether. Why not just fly in and enjoy a private car tour around the city? That way, you don’t have to worry about protecting a rental car or your own personal vehicle while trying to enjoy your vacation.

How Safe Is San Francisco Public Transit?

A cable car in San Francisco
Sergii Figurnyi / Shutterstock

Anytime you head into a city with significant public transportation options, you must always be aware of your surroundings. Unfortunately, violent street crime runs rampant in public transit from huge cities like New York City to smaller ones like San Francisco.

Although, sadly, crime statistics show that crimes are rising on San Fran public transit across the entire city, you shouldn’t be afraid to use it. San Francisco’s public transit, the Muni (San Francisco Municipal Railway), is still one of the best ways to see the Bay area and save money.

Don’t forget to hop aboard one of the city’s iconic cable cars. If you’re a fan of The Princess Diaries like I am, you know that the cable cars are a quintessential San Francisco experience–especially if you’ve never been there before.

See Related: Best Places to Visit in Southern California & Things to Do

Is San Francisco Safe for Solo Travelers?

The ferris wheel in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Given how safe San Francisco is for most travelers, it’s a perfect location for solo adventurers. In part, because it’s highly walkable and has low violent crime stats, it is one of California’s best cities for solo travelers. Not to mention that being on the Bay, San Francisco is a wonderful place to visit.

That doesn’t mean solo travelers can ignore their better judgment when walking around the city, especially at night, but there is less reason to always be on edge in the Bay area. As with any travel, you must keep your head on a swivel and be wise about your personal space. Even so, you can let yourself enjoy the trip more, knowing that San Francisco is a safe haven for solo travelers.

There are a few items you can bring along to make yourself a bit safer, though. One thing I recommend, especially to solo female travelers, is to invest in a handy door lock and door alarm for your hotel room. It doesn’t matter if you’re staying in a five-star luxury hotel or a chain off the highway; folks can get into locked hotel room doors reasonably quickly if they want to.

See Related: Best Places to Travel Alone in the World

Is San Francisco Safe for Queer Travelers?

San Francisco Pride parade
Sheila Fitzgerald / Shutterstock

As a queer traveler, this question makes me giggle a bit. San Francisco is safe for queer folks and one of the best places on the planet to be part of the LGBTQIA+ community.

San Fran is considered one of the LGBTQIA+ capitals of the world, and for good reason. This city has one of the country’s most prominent and prolific queer communities, so queer travelers can head there knowing they have people to lean on if they need it.

The Golden City has long been a paradise for the queer community, which remains a significant part of the city’s identity. Especially as more and more states make it harder for queer folks to live in their own skin, havens like San Francisco become even more critical for us. Queer travelers should feel welcome to San Francisco with open arms, free to express themselves as they see fit.

If you do need support while visiting the city, there are several queer spaces that you can reach out to. Here is a quick list to save for reference:

  • Alliance Health Project – 1930 Market St. – (415) 476-3902
  • API Wellness Clinic – 726 Polk St. – (415) 292-3400
  • Queer Lifespace – 2275 MARKET ST., #7 – (415) 358-2000
  • SF LGBT Center – 1800 Market St. – (415) 865-5555
  • Trikone – 60 29TH ST., #614 – (844) 903-5663

See Related: Essential Solo Travel Luggage & Accessories

Do I Need Travel Insurance?

Author Stuart Jameson on a Road Trip in San Francico
Stuart Jameson / ViaTravelers

Travel insurance is always a good idea whenever you visit a new city, country, or continent. VisitorsCoverage protects you from the unexpected so you can have peace of mind on your next trip. Even if you stay in a safe neighborhood in a big city, you can have your car broken into, your wallet lost, or your flight home canceled.

Nearly all your worries can be lessened with a travel insurance company like VisitorsCoverage. Not to mention you don’t have to worry about fighting for the reimbursements you need if travel plans go awry; the insurance company has your back.

Also, consider adding an extra luggage tag to the side handle and the top handle to help keep your information attached to the bag. You can also try adding an Apple AirTag or Tile inside your bag to keep track of it remotely in case it gets lost.

See Related: San Diego vs. Los Angeles: What’s the Difference?

What are the Most Dangerous Neighborhoods in San Francisco?

Coit Tower from Lombard Street, San Francisco, California
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

I want to reiterate that San Francisco generally has lower crime rates than many other major metropolitan cities nationwide. We’re saying closer to the safety you’ll find in European cities, which are notably safer than their American counterparts. If you’re anxious about safety, consider guided tours of the city for your time in San Francisco.

The Bay area as a whole is pretty safe, and tourists are, therefore, relatively safe in San Francisco. This unique city is safer in more heavily touristed areas, and what neighborhoods or streets are considered unsafe should be taken with a grain of salt. Even more reportedly dangerous areas could still be safer than other places you’ve been.

All of that said, these are statistically the less safe areas in San Francisco in no particular order:

  • Western Addition
  • Tenderloin District
  • SoMa
  • Market Street
  • Taylor Streets
  • Golden Gate Park
  • Ocean Beach

A special note about Fisherman’s Wharf. Statistically, this famous and largely safe neighborhood sees a lot of property crime compared to other safe neighborhoods. But the reality is this spike in property crime is from pickpocketers targeting tourists. Just as long as you keep an eye on your belongings, you’ll find Fisherman’s Wharf plenty safe.

See Related: Best & Fun Things to Do in San Diego

Is Downtown San Francisco Safe?

Street in San Francisco's Chinatown
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

It isn’t so much that Downtown San Francisco is unsafe; it’s more that it is a ghost of its former self. Significant parts of Market Street and Union Square never recovered from the pandemic, and the once bustling downtown area is far from that these days.

While plenty of tourists still enjoy lengthy downtown walking tours or take in the sights, this area of San Francisco has changed a lot, even in the last few years. There are more unhoused people than ever before and more empty storefronts. It’s pretty damned sad.

What Parts of San Francisco Are the Safest?

Aerial View of the San Francisco Skyline
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

It should come as no surprise that the Fisherman’s Wharf area and Union Square are among the safest parts of San Francisco. Even at night, tourist-driven places tend to be safer partly because of the light and the proximity of safe locations.

While not all of the safer parts of San Francisco are touristy, like the gorgeous Presidio Heights, for example, even the safest among them are some of the safest neighborhoods in the country. Regardless of where you visit in the city, you need to pay attention–especially at night.

Here are some of the safest neighborhoods in San Francisco in no particular order:

  • Fisherman’s Wharf
  • North Beach
  • Union Square
  • Haight-Ashbury
  • Oceanview
  • South of Market
  • Presidio Heights
  • Nob Hill

And here are my favorites:

Oceanview

Aerial view of the Financial District
SvetlanaSF / Shutterstock

San Francisco’s Financial District is not only the business epicenter of the city, but it’s also one of the safest neighborhoods as well. Surrounded by the towering buildings of downtown, you are surrounded by all the amenities downtown has to offer. That includes Tadich Grill, San Fran’s oldest restaurant.

Here is also where you’ll find the historic Jackson Square district. This area has long been a significant piece of the city’s story, dating back to the Gold Rush. It was even once a Red Light district! Scattered amongst the historic brick buildings, you’ll find art galleries, restaurants, antiquities, boutiques, and furniture shops. T

here are a few hotels of varying quality to choose from, but the rental game produces a few gems too. This fab condo with a rooftop patio made me feel like I was in a movie.

Fisherman’s Wharf

Fishermans Grotto restaurant in Fishermans Wharf, San Francisco
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

As San Francisco’s busiest tourist area, Fisherman’s Wharf is where a lot of visitors will visit when they come for the first time. In addition to lots of shopping, restaurants, and sites along Pier 39, you also have many museums to visit. That includes Musée Mécanique, Madame Tussauds San Francisco, and even the Boudin Museum & Bakery Tour.

When you fall in love with the area, you’ll want luxury accommodation with equally luxe views of the nearby harbor. One spot to consider would be the gorgeous Fairmont Heritage Place Ghirardelli Square.

Centrally located in the Wharf, only steps away from all the area has to offer. Plus, you can take the elevator straight to the Ghirardelli Ice Cream and Chocolate Shop when your sweet tooth strikes.

North Beach

The North Beach neighborhood in San Francisco
randy andy / Shutterstock

Believe it or not, the North Beach neighborhood in San Francisco is the city’s Italian neighborhood. Actually, S.F. has one of the country’s highest populations of Italian Americans.

So not only is this neighborhood incredibly lush and beautiful, but there is also delicious food everywhere you go. North Beach is also where the Beatnik culture developed, making it the original hip spot. Be sure to check out The Beat Museum while you’re here or indulge in a literary tour of the city to get a broader taste of how writers made S.F. their own.

Should you be compelled to keep the bohemian vibes going, lay down your head at the Hotel Bohéme. Enrobed in the 1950s and 60s palette of Beatnik vibes, this historic hotel will keep you in the hip aesthetic from sun up to sundown. An easy walk to Pier 39 and Aquarium of the Bay, Hotel Bohéme, will add a little Jack Kerouac to your stay.

Some Fun Things to See and Do in San Francisco

Golden Gate Bridge

Famous Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco at night, USA
ventdusud / Shutterstock

When visiting San Francisco, you can’t miss the Golden Gate Bridge. Even if you wanted to, you can’t avoid the magnificent, ruby-red suspension bridge. One of the most photographed bridges in the world since it was erected in 1937, the Golden Gate is an incredible sight to see.

Fun fact, while its name can be a bit confusing because the bridge isn’t gold, its name alludes to its location. It is linking over the bay to the Golden City and the Golden Gate Strait, where it meets the Pacific Ocean.

One of the best ways to see the bridge is to walk across it, which takes roughly 35 minutes, or take a bike ride across it instead. From this point of view, you can see the bay up close and personal. Or, if stopping for the view isn’t as much of a priority, you can also see the bridge during a San Francisco hop-on, hop-off bus tour.

See Related: Where to Stay in San Diego

Alcatraz Island

View of Alcatraz Island from the Ferry, San Francisco
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

One of the most famous prisons in the country, Alcatraz Island, is a major attraction in San Francisco. Just over a mile and a quarter from the city, the island prison was created in the mid-1800s.

It was a Civil War fortress, a military and federal prison, and a bird sanctuary. Alcatraz was even where the American Indian Red Power Movement began.

Until it closed in the 1960s, Alcatraz housed some of the country’s most notorious prisoners. That is part of the reason it has become such a tourist spot in San Francisco. Some of its most famous inhabitants included Al Capone, Robert Stroud, Machine Gun Kelly (no, not the rapper), and Alvin Karpis.

Rumor has it that Alcatraz is also haunted. If you feel so compelled, why not do a bit of ghost hunting while you’re there?

Alcatraz Island: America's Most Infamous Prison
And don’t forget to check out our boots-on-the-ground tour of the island!

See Related: Day Trips from San Diego

Exploratorium

The exterior of the Exploratorium
marleyPug / Shutterstock

Address: Pier 15 Embarcadero at, Green St, San Francisco, CA 94111

Founded by Frank Oppenheimer in 1969, San Francisco’s Exploratorium is a science, technology, and arts museum. The brother of J. Robert Oppenheimer, Frank Oppenheimer, lost his academic job because of the Red Scare in 1949, eventually leading him to California. Thus the Exploratorium was born.

With hundreds of hands-on exhibits, the Exploratorium allows visitors of all ages to learn creatively. This enormous museum has more than enough on-site activities to keep the whole family busy all day. When you need a break from learning, you can visit the Seaglass Restaurant or Seismic Joint Café for some refueling.

On Thursday evenings, they even have an 18+ event for adults to get their learning on without any kiddos romping around. These After-Hour events are a fun way to shake up your vacation evenings.

See Relat.ed: San Diego vs. Los Angeles: What’s the Difference?

California Academy of Sciences

Front and entrance of the California Academy of Sciences
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Address: 55 Music Concourse Dr, San Francisco, CA 94118

Located in San Francisco, the California Academy of Sciences is one of the largest natural history museums in the world, with over 46 million specimens in its collection. Founded in 1853, the museum is located in Golden Gate Park.

California’s oldest operating museum, the Academy of Sciences, houses many exhibits. The museum’s most popular areas are the planetarium, aquarium, and natural history museum. If you can’t dedicate several hours to the museum, you can complete it in an hour or two, but you can easily spend most of the day here too.

See Related: Best Museums in the U.S. to Visit

FAQ

Is San Francisco safe at night?

Like any other city, San Francisco can be more dangerous at night. Even places like Market Street, which are generally safer, become inherently more dangerous at night. But this isn’t a unique problem for San Francisco.

Is public transportation in San Francisco safe?

Public transportation in San Francisco is a bit more dangerous than walking the streets. However, this is also true for other major cities, inevitably because of the nature of public transit. If you’re concerned about public transit, you can rent a car, but we highly suggest getting a hotel with valet parking if that’s the case due to the high number of car break-ins.

How does San Francisco compare with other cities?

Compared to other U.S. cities, San Francisco is actually safer. The rates of violent crime and theft are both lower than in most other cities of the same size. Compared to other California cities, San Francisco is also considered safer than many.

Is San Francisco safe to travel for families?

Yes, San Francisco is about as safe as other cities, if not more so. Do be aware that San Francisco has a significant unhoused population, so it might be good to discuss homelessness with older children.

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