San Francisco cleanliness and safety

Blue32

DIS Veteran
Joined
Mar 21, 2012
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.
 

pigletliz

DIS Veteran
Joined
Apr 28, 2001
I've visited SF a few times. It is like any other large city. Some areas are much sketchier than others. Pay attention to your surroundings. That includes the BART stations. Don't flash money, jewelry, cameras, etc. What things in particular are you referring to?
 

cruisehopeful

Wishing I was taking a nap on a ship.
Joined
Oct 25, 2015
It's the same as any other big city. It has grungy areas and other areas that are just fine. I've been approached by homeless asking me to buy them some food (when I am by a restaurant or a food store) and it's my MO to feed homeless people, so no biggie to me.

Some of the public areas, particularly Fisherman's Wharf stink really bad of urine. I haven't had any other issues that I can think of. Just be aware of your surroundings like you would anywhere else and if you get a sketchy vibe from someone or from an area, go somewhere else.
 
  • Miss SD

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Aug 25, 2008
    I assume you’re referring to homeless- and crime-related problems. Yes, there are more homeless wandering the streets now for a variety of reasons that I won’t go into here. And recent law changes have essentially decriminalized many misdemeanors, including thefts of $950 or less, which has resulted in an increase of car break-ins, etc., even in my suburban neighborhood south of the city.

    That said, I wouldn’t let that stop you from traveling here. There are many beautiful parts of the city and nearby areas. Just stay aware of what’s going on around you, keep your purse and pockets protected, and if you’re renting a car, don’t leave anything at all on the seats or floor. Nothing.
     

    SteveH

    Where's my Mai Tai?
    Joined
    Sep 8, 1999
    Be my guest, personally until San Francisco can step up and address the issue I will not visit again. I am not spending my tourist dollars to deal with the city's filth. That's just me, I do choose to speak with my wallet.

    I ran into some of it in Anaheim too, I also took the time to email the City, Sheraton and CVS about the problem and how it would impact me on future visits.
     

    Blue32

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Mar 21, 2012
    What things in particular are you referring to?
    Mostly things I have read about lately being the growing population of homeless (and yes I know these are people too and mostly not hostile) and the condition of SF streets..ie human feces and drug needles.
     

    PlutoTheDog89

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Sep 19, 2011
    I have heard that some parts of San Francisco are very bad. I was nervous, as I'm going there for Christmas week with my mom and sister. My mom grew up in Brooklyn when...you didn't wanna live in Brooklyn, so she gets it. My sister is born and raised in the 'burbs and never really lived in the city. I work in NYC and have grown accustomed to how dirty it is and have dealt with my fair share of hostile homeless people.

    We're only spending 2 days there. We were supposed to do three, but I cut down our trip bc of the less-than-stellar reviews.
     
  • StarlitNight05

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Oct 6, 2016
    I agree with @SteveH -- we won't be going back anytime soon. And that kills me because I grew up going to SF. My DH even proposed to me there. But things have gone way downhill, especially the last 5 years or so. Last time we went, we were there for a concert (we live in Sacramento) and while in line we saw a very strung out looking woman smoking from a glass pipe and screaming at people. It was pretty frightening and sad at the same time. On the way to the venue we did also encounter a few instances of what had to be human feces. There were also strong urine smells as a PP mentioned above.

    Some areas are more sketchier than others. We happened to be in one of the sketchier ones at the time. For me its just not an enjoyable experience anymore. I hope the city can turn things around because it truly is a beautiful area with much to offer.
     

    BadPinkTink

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Mar 13, 2015
    Im a solo female from Ireland and I spent a few days in San Francisco in June 2017.

    I stayed in a motel, Travel Lodge at Fishermans Wharf and walked around that area and spent the day over on Alcatraz Island. I dont drive and used super shuttle from and to the airport.

    Honestly I didnt feel any less safe than I do in any major city. I guess I am just aware of personal safety and I did research about which areas to avoid.

    I dont walk around after dark, I stay in tourist areas. I dont use my phone when walking around, I wear a money belt under my clothes and Im very observant of my surroundings.

    Also in my home city we have a homeless problem too, so seeing pan handlers, rough sleepers etc is not shocking to me. In my home city I have seen drug taking on public transport, I have been on buses where Police have been called due to passengers fighting. I live in Dublin, Ireland land of shamrocks, leprechauns , and cead mile failte / hundred thousand welcomes, where only today, The Disney Store has caused controversy as it wants to put a metal gate at the shop entrance to stop rough sleepers at night in their door way. Their staff get abuse in the mornings when opening the shop and have to clean up human waste and drug paraphernalia

    My point is, anything you read about San Francisco can be about any major city in any country.

    Be aware of personal safety. do research on the area , then go and have a good time
     

    VandVsmama

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Mar 28, 2011
    My sister lives near SF and has to go into SF every day for work. She said that compared to 5-6 years ago, it's gone way downhill. You need to have your wits about you. She's seen homeless people shooting up drugs in broad daylight. The police don't do anything about it. Car break-ins in SF have skyrocketed. It's so bad that residents don't ever lock their cars anymore and they put signs in their windows saying that there are no valuables in the vehicle.

    The city of SF has a multi-million dollar budget every year just for cleaning up human poop. Pooping in public is a misdemeanor so the police basically look the other way. The laws were changed a few years ago making major drug offenses to be misdemeanors instead of felonies, so that's why the police look the other way and don't do anything. In addition, if the homeless are arrested, their sentences are often reduced or excused by the local DA, who has a reputation for being very soft on crime.

    In addition to that, the state of CA changed the law a couple of years ago such that you can steal up to something like $950 worth of goods in a store and it won't be considered a felony. There's now a major problem in Oakland and San Francisco where thieves go in and steal up to exactly $950 worth of goods, then they walk outside and hand it over to someone else, who pays them in cash for ~ half of the stolen goods' worth. Then the thief takes that money and uses it go buy more drugs.

    The city of SF is considering taking over a couple of parking garages and turning them into homeless tent camps.

    Earlier this year, apparently there was a big story in the news in SF where a woman was attacked by a crazy homeless person while she was trying to get into her apartment building. From what my sister said, it was pretty bad. My sister has since purchased pepper spray and carries it with her all the time now when she goes into SF. My sister said that there's this growing angry divide between the homeless and the uber-rich mega-millionaire Silicon Valley crowd.

    I'd love to go take my family to SF because there's some fun stuff to do there, but I'm not taking my 11 and 13 yr old DDs into SF itself while the city has such rampant problems.
     
  • DLgal

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Feb 12, 2013
    My sister lives in the city with 2 young kids. It's as safe as any other city, but you can't go there with your head buried in the sand. Do some basic research into the areas to avoid and prepare to aggressively defend yourself against homeless people or drug addicts who MAY approach you. If you are a meek, soft spoken person who doesn't like conflict, maybe avoid places like Union Square and the surrounding areas. You will likely encounter homeless people and/or drug addicts. The best way to deal with them is to completely ignore them. However, we had an incident inside the Macy's at Union Square a couple years ago when a clearly high young man rushed my 11 year old son aggressively asking for quarters. He put his hands on my son, grabbing his upper arm very forcefully. My son is autistic and screamed and I immediately put one hand on the guy's chest and used the other to pull his hand off my son's arm and forcefully said "he is a child, get off him right now." A security guard immediately swooped in and steered him towards the exit. A policeman showed up a couple minutes later to make sure we were okay and let us know he had been taken into custody because there was a complaint that he exposed himself to a young girl in the ladies room. So, yeah...you gotta be careful. My sister, when I told her what happened, said "I've stopped shopping in Union Square because something similar happened to us last time we were there." So, the lesson here is avoid Union Square, even though it looks like a safe, touristy area. It's not...the surrounding streets are some of the roughest in the city.

    As mentioned, if you rent a car, do not leave ANYTHING in there. Not even one penny. In fact, leave the windows open. Park it in a garage with an attendant rather than a surface lot.

    The city is still a wonderful place to visit with a lot to see and do, as long as you know where to not go. China Town is still fine, as is the Wharf area and the area around the Presidio.
     

    SteveH

    Where's my Mai Tai?
    Joined
    Sep 8, 1999
    @VandVsmama your report is exactly what I've heard from friends, and the reason I won't go and spend my money in that city. I am 100% sure they won't miss my money anyway.

    I won't say all big cities are like that, Denver has its issues but was very clean and safe. Walking around downtown Chicago felt very safe and clean, same for Dallas, Phoenix, etc. San Francisco has a problem, it's nationally known and really needs to be addressed.
     

    Blue32

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Mar 21, 2012
    I guess our main reason for the visit is it seemed like a natural starting point to drive down highway one on the coast. And being Disney fans really makes me want to see the WDW Family Museum. Alcatraz seems like it could be neat to visit, as well as riding the cable cars. Thank you all for your thoughts and opinions. I’ll consider them all!
     

    JimMIA

    There's more to life than mice...
    Joined
    Feb 16, 2005
    San Francisco is one of my favorite cities in the world, but what has taken place there (and in other west coast cities like Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles, etc) is really sad.

    And unfortunately, the decline is the natural result of the hypocritical attempts to solve the problem by avoiding it.

    San Francisco has spent more money per capita on "affordable housing" than any city in the US, but the "homeless" won't live in the housing -- because they can't shoot up in the housing!

    SFO refuses to admit that the real problem is not housing, but drug addiction. Calling drug addicts what they are is considered "...offensive."

    So instead of attacking the problem, they decriminalized thefts of less than $950, as mentioned above.

    If you have thousands of drug addicts needing drugs to put in their free city needles, what exactly do you expect them to do when you make crime legal?

    If you want to see a really good, but heartbreaking documentary, go to YouTube and watch "Seattle is Dying." It's an hour long, but it really nails the problem -- and toward the end, looks at some hopeful and successful programs in the east that are actually helping addicts.

    The first step is to call the problem by its right name.
     
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    nicole88s

    Earning My Ears
    Joined
    Dec 3, 2011
    We had a couple of free hotel nights expiring (we stayed at the Omni in the financial district and the Hyatt Regency near the Ferry building) and went for a long weekend in 2017. I wanted my kids to see the Golden Gate Bridge, ride a trolley car, see Alcatraz, etc.

    When we first arrived at the Omni, we dropped off our bags and then went out to walk the city. Within 5 minutes a homeless person spit at us. Completely unprovoked and out of the blue. They (I'm not sure if it was a man or woman) were walking the opposite way on the sidewalk, looking completely down with a hood covering their face and suddenly turned to the side and spit. Luckily the sidewalk was crowded with people and nothing more happened. It terrified all of us (well not really my husband, but he is very used to big cities), but especially my daughter, who was 12 at the time. She was not able to feel completely comfortable for the rest of the trip.

    There were people sleeping everywhere, people absolutely screaming at the top of their lungs for no reason, people fighting in the streets and very aggressive panhandlers, usually with a baby, which was heartbreaking. The city stank of urine and feces. It was rough. I don't think I'll ever go back. We have spent time in large cities including London and Paris and had nothing even come close to comparing to this. Not even close.

    That being said, we still had a good time. I would recommend both hotels we where we stayed. If you go we loved the trolley car, Alcatraz, Golden Gate bridge, hop on/off bus (my daughter felt safe on this since you ride up top), the wax museum, The Exploratorium Children's Museum (awesome! one of the best children's museums I've been to), the natural history museum, The San Francisco Dungeon (but don't go if you're shy-they definitely call people out to participate in front of the crowd), Musée Mécanique (a really cool penny arcade), Lombard Street and Baker Beach (safe area with beautiful views of the bridge).

    I think San Francisco is just one of those cities you need to see at least once in your life. It's just too bad what is happening there and I'm glad I took my kids to see it before it gets even worse.
     

    JimMIA

    There's more to life than mice...
    Joined
    Feb 16, 2005
    I agree, and the two areas where you were are NOT the places I would expect problems with drug addicts.

    The people "screaming for no reason" have a reason. They are desperately sick people -- and they need HELP, not sensitivity. "Protecting" them is not helping them -- it's turning your back on them, but San Francisco somehow can't bring themselves to see that.

    They are turning the beautiful "City by the Bay" into the "Toilet by the Bay."

    But my disappointed tourist experience is trivial.

    What's important is that sick people are dying because of San Francisco's hypocritical indifference. If they weren't nobodies, their deaths would be a crime.
     

    oakleycat

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Jan 19, 2017
    I agree with everyone else here, it's a good idea to be aware of the issues but don't let it stop you from visiting. San Francisco is an amazing city and you would be missing it out if you remove it from a CA coast tour. But it has gone gotten dirtier and less safe over the years, as have all the big cities in CA (and all cities here to some extent) due to the decrease or elimination of penalties for petty theft, loitering and especially drug offenses. The police don't bother with these because the DAs won't charge them. There's good chance you'll see people using hard drugs out in the open (and 100% chance you'll see/smell marijuana if you have a problem with that) in SF and LA. Transients are everywhere and often act in ways people find offensive because they have mental health problems. Car break ins and muggings are a problem but if you use good safety practices you'll be fine. Don't leave anything in the car and walk in well-lighted, populated places. There's plenty of tourists who don't take precautions for the criminals to prey on. Be aware of the social and safety issues and go have a great time in the city.
     

    Lumpy1106

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Jul 2, 2010
    JimMIA has it nailed. SF is worse than other cities because they normalized being homeless a LONG time ago. Los Angeles is not much better, though the worst of the issues are contained to "skid row". Other cities should take heed. I will avoid going further down the rabbit hole, and instead advise that if you really want to see the best that San Francisco has to offer, get out of the touristy areas and head to where the locals hang out. Jump on Muni and head to the Castro district and find a nice cafe for breakfast, catch a comedy show - YELP is your friend. Like any other big city, SF is a collection of 100's of small communities. Some are bad, most are not. Do some research before you go and enjoy!
     

    Disco Lemonade

    Earning My Ears
    Joined
    Jun 10, 2018
    I enjoyed SF a lot more when I was single. It was definitely different when we went with our daughter. Avoid the Tenderloin and other sketchy neighborhoods. There is still a lot to like about the city, though. If you have small children, the California Academy of Sciences is worth doing
     

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