Travel & Day Trips

This Tourist Visited San Francisco and was “Shocked” by What They Saw

San Francisco: a city that has been the topic of much discussion in recent years. Its beauty, vibrant culture, and iconic landmarks have always been a draw for tourists from all over the world.

Yet, recent news and anecdotes paint a picture of a city in decline, plagued by homelessness, dirty streets, and a general feeling of malaise.

In March, one tourist visited San Francisco and shared his experiences in an online post. He was shocked by what he saw.

Photograph of cars parked and driving along Shotwell Street in the Mission District in San Francisco, California, December 25, 2020.

Expectations vs. Reality

“I just got back from San Francisco last week. I was SHOCKED at what I saw,” the tourist began their online writeup. Based on what they had heard about San Francisco’s current state, they expected to encounter streets filled with homelessness, unsightly scenes, and a sense of unease. Instead, they were met with a city that still shone with its quintessential charm.

“After hearing non-stop about all the homeless people, the piles of poop, the general malaise of a once beautiful city…I saw NONE of that,” they continued. They further added that while they did not extensively visit the Tenderloin area, they still drove past significant landmarks such as the beautiful City Hall and witnessed no distressing scenes.

The Beauty Remains

San Francisco, for this traveler, was still a place filled with bustling activity, tourists exploring the city, and locals going about their day. They drove around extensively and also explored on foot, yet the negative portrayals that have been frequently highlighted in the media were nowhere to be seen.

They noted, “It was my first time back since Dec. 2019.” Yet, the city seemed as lively and beautiful as they remembered.

A Few Changes Noticed

The one noticeable change was the increase in vacancies in some of the commercial strips. However, for the tourist, this was the worst of their observations. While they acknowledge there might be issues in parts of the city they didn’t see, their experience suggests these problems are not as widespread as many believe.

Safety First, As Always

Despite the positive experience, the tourist did not dismiss the concerns completely. While they felt extremely safe during their visit, they acknowledged that, like in any big city, it’s essential to remain aware and take standard precautions.

“And I felt extremely safe there and always have. Yes, I was in a group but there was no one wandering around that looked like they were threatening any of the other people walking around by themselves,” they shared.

Concluding Thoughts

This personal account reminds us that sometimes, the narratives we hear are not always representative of the broader reality. While San Francisco, like many urban areas, undoubtedly faces challenges, it’s essential to remember that the beauty, culture, and spirit of the city remain intact.

That has been our experience here at the Bay Area Telegraph, too. We shared how the Doom Loop narrative is overplayed, and how–despite fiscal challenges–BART is a safe and effective transit system.

The overall conclusion? If you’re considering visiting San Francisco but are scared by the way it’s portrayed in mainstream media, don’t be. Like this tourist, you can come to SF and have an amazing time.

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.


  1. Same here! My partner and I just spent a week, saw the whole city (even non-touristy places since I lived there 25 years ago), even went into the Tenderloin (during the day) and saw NOTHING like a post-apocalyptic hellscape! Don’t listen to the critics. Every city has problems but yours is still beautiful!

  2. P.s. The only time we felt threatened was when a religious zealot was shoving a Bible in our face and screaming at the cable car stand!

  3. The “doom Loop” is only a storyline Fox News is desperate to sell to its gullible viewers. Yes, some chain stores are closed downtown (where – ever will you find a Marshall’s or a Gap to shop at … IN AMERICA??) – meanwhile the Yves St. Laurent store took over a 5 syory building AND Banana Republic merely moved 2 blocks to open a FANCIER store.

  4. That’s just not true, I’ve been there in July, 10 years after my first visit, and found hordes of homeless people around market street, witnessed both a car break in and retail theft in just 7 days!
    Street car service was taking 30min/1 hour between voyages, even though still crowded by tourists.
    Business and restaurants still closing at 6pm! As if we still in the were in the pandemic.
    The urban decay is visible!
    You need to take walk in another major city to see what you lost! The world is back to normal!

  5. Same here! I used to live in SF 25 years ago. I’ve visited a couple of times through the decades, but came last week with my partner who had never been there. I wasn’t sure how much the stories about SF being a post-apocalyptic hell-scape were overblown, and our answer is that it is COMPLETELY overblown. Does the city have problems – sure, they all do. But we visited all the tourist traps as well as places only a (former-)local would know about, and literally the only time we felt harassed was by a religious zealot screaming about the Bible in our faces at the Powell and Market cable car stop. We walked around Union Square at night. We even walked in the Tenderloin twice to rent bikes (admittedly during daylight) and didn’t find anything worrisome there. And mind you, we live in the Midwest (she lives in cornfields), so we’re not desensitized to things you might see in a city.

    SF is still the most beautiful city in the world. I found myself at tears often. She was stunned at the Palace of Fine Arts (and no, no one tried to steal our cameras there). Don’t listen to the biased press. You’re doing fine, and will recover from the few setbacks you’ve had lately.

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