How to Navigate an RV in San Francisco, the Hilliest City in the U.S.

Luckily, I’m quite familiar with the beautiful city of San Francisco having lived in the area for many years, so the intimidation factor for driving Gypsy Rose in and around the city is quite low when I’m there for a visit. By sharing my personal experiences and offering some tips my hope is that these insider tidbits will help you to navigate your RV a bit easier than if you were just winging it on your trip to SF.

My RV is 25.5 ft. long, so if your rig is larger you will want to take that into consideration. And if you are pulling a trailer longer than a teardrop, you may want to make alternative plans. Based on my first-hand experiences, here are my tips for driving, parking and overnighting in a small to medium-sized RV in the hilliest city in America.

You will want to avoid these hills in North Beach and many other hills in San Francisco by walking or taking a car service from the flattish parts of the city where you decide to park your rig.
  1. To avoid steep hills altogether drive along the streets around the perimeter of the city. It will be relatively flattish compared to other parts of the city. It’ll also be very scenic since you’ll be driving along or near the shoreline of the bay. If you need to take the 101 all the way through the city, the terrain is relatively flattish as well and fairly easy to drive including the parts that run through the downtown streets of SF. I can’t say that the conditions of the road are optimal though. Some of the streets in SF are getting pretty worn out and bumpy.
  2. If you want to visit the tourist attractions such as Fisherman’s Wharf, Alcatraz, Chinatown, North Beach, Coit Tower, the Embarcardero, Crissy Field, Presidio, Union Square, the Fillmore, Japantown, Fort Mason, SoMa, Yerba Buena or SFMoMa, I would recommend parking your RV at Marina Green in the Marina District where Fillmore St. meets Marina Blvd. and then walking or taking a car service to your point of interest. The parking lot is large and the park is lovely with nice views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz. It is just south of Fort Mason. The parking spaces are all singles (no back to back double spaces) so you might have to get creative like I do to fit in the space. Don’t be afraid to hang your rig’s butt over the curb to fit into the parking space.

    Gypsy Rose, at 25.5′ long, fit into a standard parking space with her butt over the edge of the curb.
  3. If you want to visit Golden Gate Park (and the museums and gardens within it), the Mission District, Haight-Ashbury or the Castro, I would recommend parking inside of Golden Gate Park closer to the ocean or west side of the park. As you drive further away from the busiest parts, the eastern section, of the park you will discover that there are more opportunities to find parking spots. From there, walk to your destination. The park is beautiful and worth taking a walk through. If you find that the walk is too long, just hire a car service once you’re parked. There are no parking space delineations on the roads inside of the park in the western section, so finding a space large enough for an RV is relatively good. Weekends that are sunny can make it more challenging to find a space, but on weekdays or less desirable weather days, the likelihood of you finding parking is good. You can also try the streets surrounding the park nearer to the ocean. I often park in the parking lot at the north end of Ocean Beach at Balboa St. which is just a block from the edge of Golden Gate Park. 


Gypsy Rose parked next to Lindley Meadow inside of Golden Gate Park.
Gypsy Rose facing west and looking onto Ocean Beach in the Outer Richmond District of San Francisco. The parking lot across the street is the lot on the north end of Ocean Beach and just a block from Golden Gate Park.

My RV is 25.5 ft. long, so if your rig is larger you will want to take that into consideration. And if you are pulling a trailer longer than a teardrop, you may want to make alternative plans.

And last but certainly not least, the absolute best place to “camp” overnight is at Vista Point on the Marin County side of the Golden Gate Bridge at the H. Dana Bower Rest Area. Since it is an official California Department of Transporation Rest Area, you can legally stay there for up to 8 hours within any 24-hour period. There is no cost to rest there. To get there you must drive northbound across the bridge and then take the first exit to Vista Point. You can only enter it going northbound. Once there, I recommend parking closer to the exit than closer to the entrance since it is quieter on the exit side. It is also more protected from the winds that can sometimes be quite blustery and further away from the tourists who come and go throughout the night. The views can be spectacular depending on the weather. The bridge is an awe-inspiring, man-made wonder and on a clear day, you can also see San Francisco as it wraps around the bay, and the Bay Bridge off in the distance. In the morning, head out to the Marin Headlands which is just across the highway where you will experience even more breathtaking panoramic views of the bay, the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco from a different perspective.

These RVs are parked closer to the entrance. My recommendation is to stay closer to the exit of the rest area where it is quieter.
The spectacular view at night. Sometimes the bridge will be completely surrounded by fog and you may not see the bridge at all, but there is also a chance that you might see it on a very clear day or night. San Francisco weather can be very unpredictable. Regardless of the conditions, Vista Point is a great place to “camp” overnight just outside of San Francisco.



* All text and images are copyrighted and protected by copyright laws. Use or reproduction of any kind are prohibited. All rights reserved. © 2019 Carolyn Quan / The Happy Little Bird / Dream World Media LLC. 

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