I'm nearly halfway through my semester in San Francisco, which is crazy for me to think about! It's been a great ride so far and I've learned so many tips and tricks along the way that I wish I would've known ahead of time. Here's my advice to you who plan on exploring a new city -- whether it's for spring break, study abroad, summer vacation or just because!
1. Follow Relevant Instagram Accounts
One of my roommates started following San Francisco Instagram pages before we came (mainly food places, to be specific), but it was super helpful to look at once we got here. We got a better sense of which types of food places we should go to, their location and any deals they were having. We also find beautiful scenery and places to go through Instagram, so it's a little preview of everything you can see in the city you're in.
2. Don't Be Afraid to Be a Tourist
Don't miss out on the iconic places everyone talks about seeing when they go to a new city. You should probably only go once, but don't feel ashamed if you want to go take a picture in front of the giant bean in Chicago like everyone else! In fact, take lots and lots of pictures. You will not regret it! Obviously you should live in the moment, but pictures will allow you to relive your adventures for much longer.
3. Wear Comfortable Shoes
Trust me on this one... I may or may not have spent a few weeks climbing up hills in my heeled booties. I have no doubt it was great for my legs, but my feet would throb constantly! Lesson learned. Still, I didn't want to compromise fashion for comfort so I invested in a stylish pair of Vans slip ons that have been a life saver. While I can still be seen strutting in my booties, the Vans have been a great alternative for everyday footwear.
4. Research Transportation Options
San Francisco operates on the Muni system and it's all I use. When I'm not taking a bus or walking, I'm taking an Uber or Lyft ride which is huge here in SF. Although taking an Uber at my request can be more convenient, the prices add up faster. Wherever you're going, I would recommend deciding which way you'll get around ahead of time and learning how the bus (train/subway) lines work if applicable. Figuring out transportation ahead of time will save you time, money and stress when you're exploring your new city.
5. Be Aware of Local Events
Free concert on Friday night? Fireworks in the park on Saturday? There will always be fun events that you definitely do not want to miss out on! Find a way to stay up-to-date on local happenings. Back to social media -- there will likely be a Facebook page, Twitter account, or even an app to give you all of this information. Not only is it just fun to attend these events, but they could affect your ability to travel around the city (ahem like Superbowl City closing down tons of roads in San Francisco) so always be aware of what events are happening in your area!
6. Go for a Run
I know some of you are probably laughing at this, but I promise it's worth it. It'll probably be your only chance to be alone (so I recommend going in daylight), but I always feel like I get a new perspective each time I run. I genuinely look forward to the days where I get to run in the city and see new areas.
7. Talk to the Locals
In San Francisco everything is about networking, even when you're not on the clock. But it doesn't matter where you go, because friending the locals and getting the low down on the best places to go is key. The first day I got here, I was wandering down a street with a friend deciding where to go for lunch. A friendly man came up to us because to ask if we needed help, and after some small talk he directed us to a great restaurant we probably wouldn't have found otherwise. Obviously you should be very cautious when talking to strangers, but you never know who you will meet, what you will learn, and where you'll go because of it!
8. Apps Are Your New Best Friend
Yelp, Uber, Lyft, Instacart, Shyp, you name it. This wasn't as relevant to me when I was living in a smaller town, but chances are that these apps will help you so much in your new city! It's not always convenient going to the grocery store and lugging all your food home on a bus, so that's where an app like Instacart is amazing. It's kind of funny because you can think of anything you need delivered or done in the city you're in and chances are, there's an app for it.
9. Be Ready for Anything
I can't tell you how many times I've left the house with an idea in mind of what we will do for the day, then 2 hours later I'm doing something completely different. Since you never really know where you'll end up, I recommend that you always wear comfortable shoes just in case (refer to tip #3) bring sunglasses, cash, a charged phone, and water.
10. Have an Open Mind
Most importantly, have an open mind and try as much as you can! If you've never tried dim sum before and you're in Chinatown, go for it! If you've never tried surfing before and you have an opportunity to take an hour lesson, do not hesitate! The only thing you'll regret is not trying new things. Happy exploring. :)