What are quirky local customs in San Francisco?

Answers from Our Experts (4)

Marianne Wong
  • Marianne Wong

  • Concierge, Mandarin Oriental, San Francisco

  • San Francisco, California

Native San Franciscans ask for tap water at restaurants for two reasons. One, the tap water in San Francisco is sourced from the Hetchy Hetchy Resevoir from Yosemite Valley, an extremely pristine area of the national park and the only resevoir situated in a national park. Second, bottled water causes landfill.

Years ago the leaders of San Francisco set out a mandate to recycle sixty percent of its waste, and to date, this has been achieved. This was accomplished by banning styrofoam, plastic bags and containers, along with an intensive educational outreach. You will see three refuse containers: green for compost, blue for non-food related recyclables and black for landfill. Recently, the limited use of paper bags has begun. Shop owners charge ten cents to customers who request a paper bag, to discourage the use of a bag and to remind the public to bring their own tote bags. The trend is to carry lightweight collapsible totes; many stores carry these for sale and many companies advertise giveaway totes to encourage environmental consciousness. Take-out containers and utensils are made of compostable corn-based by-product.

While San Francisco is a dynamic world-class city, the restaurants tend to close early, generally by 10pm.  So plan your days and nights accordingly. Most restaurants are filled up by 7pm so if you wish to dine at an exclusive restaurant, you're likely to snag a table later in the evening.   

Because San Francisco has experienced two major earthquakes, the Emergency Management Team tests a city-wide alarm at 12 noon every Tuesday. For visitors, this alarm emits from the Ferry Building at the foot of Market Street at the Bay.

Katie Sweeney

First things first, San Franciscans are particular about what non-natives call their hometown. If you refer to the city as San Fran or Frisco, you'll stick out like a sore thumb. Locals simply refer to San Francisco as SF or The City.

If you attend a baseball game at AT&T park and the 2012 World Series Champions the Giants win, take note of the music that plays on the loudspeaker: I Left My Heart in San Francisco by Tony Bennet.

Fernet Branca is a bitter Italian spirit that is beloved by many a San Francisco bar goer. Revelers enjoy the herbaceous drink as a shot or sipped slowly from a small glass.

Locals aren't afraid to brave the elements for food. They'll wait in long lines if it means scoring the most talked about cup of coffee, scoop of ice cream, or out-there doughnut flavor. They are also known to withstand windy, foggy, and cold conditions during summer's food festivals.

Kimberley Lovato

I'd say the one quirky thing a traveler should know about is the name of a few things around San Francisco. Take the city's name, for example. We NEVER call it "Frisco" or "San Fran." Ever.  No seriously. Ever. (nails on chalkboard). Call it San Francisco, or The City, and omit the others from your vocabulary.

And while we're on the topic of what NOT to call something, I know the song says, "Clang Clang Clang Went The Trolley" but we call them Cable Cars. Never trolly. Crazy huh?    

And New York and Chicago may have neighborhoods called Little Italy but we do not. We have an Italian neighborhood and we call it North Beach.

Don't even get me started on the pronunciation of Gough Street  (rhymes with cough).

The Bay to Breakers race is a San Francisco original and May 19, 2013 is the 102nd annual.  Expect a wild spectacle of clothed, painted, costumed, and nude runners and walkers. It's perhaps THE ICONIC quirkly San Francisco tradition.

Maria Hunt

Most people are probably well aware of the Bay Area vibe before planning a trip to San Francisco, but this is an “anything goes” type of place. Protest and public expression are part of the patrimony of the Bay Area and people express themselves in all sorts of ways.

Sometimes it’s in a positive way, like the competing drummers on opposite sides of the corner of Market Street and Fourth Avenue. Or you may walk past an opera singer in costume performing an aria in the middle of Maiden Lane. Or it might be a group of teen-agers with a punk-Goth aesthetic and the partially shaved heads and piercings to match.

And then there are those startlling moments when you catch a glimpse of a partially clothed person walking down the street, making a personal statement of some sort. Just don’t be too surprised at anything you see on the street in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Related Questions