Is San Francisco Safe?

Jill on a windy day at the Golden Gate Bridge

by Jill Loeffler  •

Updated: March 11, 2024

People often ask me is San Francisco safe? Because of the news, and social media about our city, it is a good question to ask as you plan your trip to the City by the Bay.

Overall, San Francisco is a fairly safe city. However, we do have many of the same problems as other larger cities throughout the world.

Due to our mild temperatures during almost all of the year, we also have a decent homeless population.

The other common problem here is what is called "smash and grabs" which is thieves breaking car windows and stealing from your car. 

As you've probably seen, and heard, these have been the source of quite a few negative stories about San Francisco.

San Francisco vacation

Many of these news stories are simplistic or over-exaggerations.

They make it sound as if SF is not safe, is extremely dirty on every street, there are homeless people everywhere, and it is scary no matter which district you visit here.

As we all know, the news often exaggerates what is happening and you will quickly find that most of the problems are concentrated in a few specific areas.

Yes, there can be problems outside of the areas I'm going to specify in here, but in general, it is designated to these places and I'm going to give you advice on how to stay safe when you visit them.

I've always found that if you use some basic common sense, you will be fine. In fact, I use these same strategies no matter where I travel anywhere in the world.

Disclaimer: I receive a small commission from some of the links on this page.

Homeless Problems in the Tenderlion

The Tenderloin is a historical district that sits next to Union Square. It's home to many high-end hotels and some of our famous theaters. If fact, you would not even notice that know you are entering the Tenderloin, and leaving Union Square, since it's a seamless transition from one district to the next.

The Tenderloin is where many of the homeless population receive services such as health care, housing, and food, which is why you find such a large concentration here.

This is also why you will hear about it on the news and it's become a hotbed of controversy regarding safety and tourism here.

The good thing is that it isn't the entire district, just certain areas and you can easily stay safe and secure if want to stay in this area, see the theater shows, and more without problems.

First off, when you are near the intersection of Taylor and Ellis, you will find a couple of important places that service the homeless. This area often has a large quantity of homeless people as they wait for services. 

The interesting thing is that you will also find some wonderful hotels, theatres and bars. This means you will find a lot of locals and visitors in this area too.

Unfortunately, due to the number of homeless people, this area the sidewalks and places around them can also be quite dirty.

Most of the homeless population will keep to themselves, so as long as you aren't bothering them, then they mostly won't bother you.

If one approaches you, simply continue on your journey, and they will leave you alone.

If you feel unsafe, simply step inside a local business and ask them how to get to where you are going safely.

I've found that hotels are often the best place to stop since the employees know exactly how to handle any situations as they are used to dealing with the people there.

The homeless people may be regulars outside, and the staff can talk to them or ask them to leave you alone. Again, most of the homeless are perfectly safe and are just trying to live their life each day. 

>> Check out some of the best districts to visit

Staying Safe on Public Transit

As with any large city, there can be problems with petty theft on the public transit systems. Crowded buses, or mass transit stops, make for the perfect environment for those stealing purses, bags or wallets.

Again, I use these suggestions no matter what city I'm in whenever I travel anywhere. They are mostly basic common sense ideas, but I want to make sure you know them so you can feel more safe and secure.

Muni at Castro Station

Here are a few rules to keep yourself safe.

Keep an Eye on Your Bags at All Times

Make sure to keep your eyes and your hands on your bags at all times. Move all purses and backpacks to the front of your body.

As you walk around, just rest your hand on the, or put your arm over them, and this should dissuade any possible thievery.

Most thieves are looking for someone who isn't paying attention, is distracted, or is an easy mark. If you make it more difficult, they will move on and leave you alone.

Move Wallets to Your Front Pocket

This is a good idea in all big cities. It will be harder for a thief to get your wallet if it's in your front pocket.

This also allows you to remove it and keep it in front of you at all times when you decide to buy something here.

Be Aware of Your Surroundings If Someone Is Trying to Distract You

One of the easiest ways for would be thieves to grab your belongings is for them to work in groups. One person will try to distract you and the other person will walk by to steal your stuff.

If someone you don't know is trying to get your attention, be extra alert to your belongings as they are trying to make it easier for their partner to steal your bag.

Again, pay attention to your belongings, keep your hand or arm over them, and just walk on by them.

They will quickly leave you alone as they look for someone else who isn't as attentive as you are here.

Don't Carry Expensive or Unnecessary Items

Make sure to pack light as you travel around SF. It's more difficult to grab smaller bags and they are easy for you to keep an eye on.

Being that San Francisco is a fairly compact city, and it is very difficult to drive around it, our transit system is often very crowded.

So, not only will having smaller bags make your traveling around easier, it will also make you much more unlikely to have to deal with thieves or anyone else.

I usually only carry a small purse that I can easily keep close to me without a lot of effort.

Use Bags with Zippers

Some of the newer bags only offer a small snap in the middle. This makes it really easy for someone to just reach into your purse and grab your wallet.

If you can, use a purse or bag that has a zipper and make sure it's fully zipped at all times.

This small hassle will make you less of a target for potential criminals.

>> Learn more about getting around SF

Keeping Your Car Safe to Avoid Smash and Grabs

Is San Francisco safe for cars? Yes, but you will need to be smart about making sure your car is safe.

Most parking in San Francisco is on the streets or highly trafficked parking lots. Many people think they will be safe due to the volume of pedestrian traffic around, so they leave things in plain sight.

This makes it a quick crime for someone to "smash and grab" the items in your car.

This happens frequently as so many tourists leave their luggage in their cars. I hear stories all the time of people leaving everything they own in the car and then heading off to visit local attractions. You should never leave anything in your car unless it's an emergency. 

You will also see signs EVERYWHERE that tell people not to leave anything in their cars. 

Here are a couple of tips to keep your car and possessions safe in San Francisco.

Don't Leave Anything Out in the Open

This means nothing should be visible to those looking into your car. Even if you have a little change showing, you could be a victim of someone smashing your window and grabbing that change.

Another common mistake is people will leave a car phone charger or cord in plain sight.

Make sure everything (and I mean EVERYTHING) is in your hotel unless you specifically need it and not in plain sight.

This is also true of all big cities you will visit anywhere.

Almost all hotels allow you to drop off your luggage before you check in or after you check out. They will keep it for you until you return. 

Don't Showcase What You Have in Your Trunk

Make sure you have everything you need with you before you get to your parking spot.

If you have belongings in your trunk (which I don't recommend unless it's absolutely necessary), don't open it and show everyone what you have as you find what you need for your visit.

Leave the trunk shut so others can't see what you might have hidden in the car.

Don't Drop Off Items in Your Car and Leave It

Even though the streets are busy, there are some people that are watching those with cars specifically to steal from them when you go shopping, to dinner, or wherever else.

You will want to avoid dropping off your camera or other belongings in your car and then locking it and leaving it.

This will alert people that you have valuables in the car.

Park in An Attended Garage

Another option is to look for a garage that has an attendant.

This doesn't guarantee safety, you will still want to make sure nothing is visible and follow the other rules above, but it does slow down would be criminals from targeting your car.

Use Public Transit Instead

Another option is to just use our public transit system.

Parking here is expensive and you will often waste time trying to find spots at each attraction.

You can easily take public transit or an Uber/Lyft to get everywhere you need to go.

These are just a few simple rules that will help you keep your car safe on your visit in San Francisco.

You can also learn more about renting a car in SF.

>> Find additional tips on parking in SF

Safety at Ocean Beach

This may sound a bit unusual, but when people ask is San Francisco safe, I often want to mention is the waters at Ocean Beach. This is less about theft and more about the riptides in the water. 

The waters off Ocean Beach look smooth and harmless, but that is not necessarily the case. The ocean here is a quite rough as it's where the waters from the Pacific and the SF Bay are mixing together. 

This area is famous for its deadly riptides and you will hear about someone losing their life to them about every other year. Some years are worse than others and claim several lives.

If you are unfamiliar with riptides, and or aren't comfortable with how to get out of them, then I would not recommend swimming here even if you are a strong swimmer.

You can get your feet wet but be very careful to not go too far into the water in order to avoid the riptides along Ocean Beach.

Where Should I Go with Questions

If you have a question or concern before your stay, please reach out to me so I can help.

I can give you some thoughts on where to stay, where not to stay, or any other needs you want answered so you feel safe and can enjoy your visit to the fullest.

And again, just remember that during your stay in the city, it will be faster to step into a local hotel or restaurant whenever you are uncomfortable with your surroundings.

The employees at these places are coming and going along these streets daily and they will help you figure out if you should be concerned or not.

Some of them may even know the people that worry you and ask them to leave you alone.

They can also help you find a path to where you are going in order to avoid any issues if at all possible. 

Comments? Questions? Suggestions?

I would love for you to join me in my private Facebook group

It's a great place to interact with me and others who know the area well.

You can ask questions, get advice for your upcoming stay, and then share your photos and advice with others when you return home. It's a great community and the fastest way to get answers to those nagging questions about your visit!

Come join the fun here!

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