Travel & Day Trips

Stop Calling It ‘San Fran’: The Bay Area Places Tourists Pronounce Wrong

As someone who has lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for a long time, I’ve had countless experiences with visitors and tourists who struggle with the correct pronunciation of area names.

Here are the top places that tourists mispronounce–and how to say them right. If you’re visiting San Francisco or moving to the Bay Area, you’ll want to get these correct.

Let’s Start with San Francisco

The very first term to use correctly is the name of the city itself: San Francisco. Don’t call it “San Fran”! This immediately makes you sound like a tourist.

The same rule applies to the abbreviation ‘SFO’. It’s primarily used for the San Francisco Airport, not the city itself.

To express a more local lingo, simply call San Francisco by its full name or just say ‘The city’. From my personal experience and interactions, I find that many locals, especially those residing outside the city, typically use ‘the city’ to refer to San Francisco.

The abbreviation ‘SF’ is kind of acceptable too.

Knowing the Names: North Bay City, Neighborhoods, and Towns

Don’t say San Rafael like the Ninja Turtle

Next on the list is the North Bay City, spelled S-A-N R-A-F-A-E-L.

A common mistake is to call it ‘San Rah-fay-yel,’ like the Renaissance artist or the Ninja Turtle, which understandably aligns with the Spanish pronunciation.

But locals call it ‘San Rah-fell’. Visiting this beautiful city is worth your time, but remember to call it by the correct name.

No, it’s not No Valley

Within the city of San Francisco, you’ll find a neighborhood spelled ‘N-O-E Valley.’ This is another common term that visitors often mispronounce as either ‘Noy Valley’ or ‘No Valley’. I’ve visited the area several times and can testify to its charm.

The correct pronunciation is ‘No-ee Valley’ with ‘Noe’ taking two syllables.

Common Mispronunciation: Point Reyes

Think “Rays of Sun”, which you rarely find in Point Reyes

In my years of staying in the Bay Area, the one term most visitors say wrongly – besides ‘San Fran’ – is a town located in the far north of the North Bay in Marin County.

It’s spelled ‘Point R-E-Y-E-S.’ Despite seeming like it should be pronounced ‘Point Rey-is,’ the correct pronunciation is ‘Point Rays,’ like rays of the Sun.

Key Takeaways

In summary, stick with ‘SF’ or ‘the city’ for San Francisco; ‘San Ra-fell’ for the North Bay City; ‘No-ee Valley’ for the neighborhood within the city; and ‘Point Rays’ for the town in the North Bay. If you can get these terms right, you’re well on your way to sounding just like a Bay Area local!

Thomas Smith

Thomas Smith is a food and travel photographer and writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. His photographic work routinely appears in publications including Food and Wine, Conde Nast Traveler, and the New York Times and his writing appears in IEEE Spectrum, SFGate, the Bold Italic and more. Smith holds a degree in Cognitive Science (Neuroscience) and Anthropology from the Johns Hopkins University.
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