Cash Register

Shopping is one of the fun things to do in SF.


    Image used under license from IstockPhoto

    Image used under license from IstockPhoto

If you make purchases in the City by the Bay, you should be aware of the sales tax in San Francisco. As of March 2013, the sales tax rate in the city was 8.75 percent, which is slightly higher than the overall California sales tax. If you are a buyer, you need to factor in the tax rate to the cost of your purchase to ensure that the purchase remains within your budget. If you are a seller, you need to collect the sales taxes and submit them to the proper taxing authorities.

Purchasing and Sales Tax in San Francisco

What is covered by sales tax in San Francisco? The sales tax laws of California apply to San Francisco, which applies sales tax to tangible personal property. Items such as gifts, toys, furniture, antiques, and clothes are taxable. Sometimes, labor or service can also be taxable if the result of the labor or service yields personal property. Even going out to eat is subject to sales tax.

Tax Exempt Products

Some products are not eligible for sales tax. Most food products are not taxable, except for food that is prepared in a restaurant. However, most of your grocery purchases are sales tax free. You can also buy candy, sweets, snacks, and bottle water (including items in vending machines) without paying sales taxes. Your pet purchases may also be tax free, including the purchase price of the pet and pet food. In agribusiness, purchasing livestock, feed, and medicines are exempt from sales taxes. Finally, if you purchase food with food stamps, those purchases are sales tax free.

Health care purchases are tax exempt, including visits to physicians, chiropractors, and medical support (such as an optician or an audiologist). Prescription medicines are also untaxed, as are purchases of wheelchairs, canes, oxygen, medical ID tags, and other medically-necessary equipment.


Nonprofit organizations are not expect to pay or collect sales taxes. These organizations are tax exempt, and even if they sell products, the purpose of the sale is solely for the advancement of the organization. For example, if you purchase a box of delicious cookies from your local Girl Scout troop, neither you nor they will be expected to pay sales taxes.

Where Do You Pay Sales Tax?

Where can you expect to pay sales tax in San Francisco if you are visiting? If you are vacationing in the Bay Area, you can expect to pay sales tax on the purchase price of entry to various sites. For example, if you have dinner at a restaurant at Fisherman's Wharf, you will be charged sales tax on the purchase of your meal.

If you plan to visit a museum or take in a show, be prepared to pay sales tax on the admission price of your ticket. Driving your car down Lombard Street does not cost anything, except that you will pay sales tax on the cost of the car rental and you will be charged sales tax when you refill the tank. Nevertheless, taking in the sites in San Francisco is enjoyable; simply be aware that the sales taxes may be higher than yours at home.

Saving On Taxes

If you live in San Francisco, you may be interested in lessening your tax burden by shopping outside your neighborhood. Venturing outside of San Francisco may find you shopping in a local with a lower sales tax rate, but you may spend more money and time in the process. Determine whether a trip outside the city is worthwhile for purchases you want or need to make. If you make online purchases, the purchase may still be subject to California sales tax, which is somewhat lower than the San Francisco sales tax rate.

Regardless of your opinion about taxes, sales taxes in San Francisco are levied only at the point of purchase. If you make a major purchase, such as furniture or less exciting purchases like a hot water heater, you will be assessed the 8.75 percent sales tax. If you do not want to pay the tax, you may want to delay or avoid the purchase.