Car break-in in San Francisco

That time when we lost all cameras and lenses

Break-in in SF

Growing up in Saigon, I am always paranoid and careful of my properties to avoid being robbed. In addition, I lived in the Bay for about 3 years so I knew the area pretty well to stay safe. Unfortunately, I was caught off-guard after taking photos in Sutro Bath and going to Daigo Sushi for our favorite Hamachi shots.

As we couldn’t find a parking spot in front of the restaurant, we drove around the neighborhood and parked on the meter parking spot on Geary Ave which was pretty crowded of pedestrians and cars. The impression of having lots of people around made me think that it would be safe to leave our cameras and lenses inside the trunk. How foolish I was!

Map of break-in

Map of break-in

After having a nice dinner at the sushi place, we walked up the hill in the quiet neighborhood at 9PM. I had a chilling feeling that it would not be safe walking here so we ran to our car as quickly as we could. My sister ran before me and as I walked up to the car, I saw the horrified look on her face so I ran to the car to see what happened.

To my horror, the light inside the car was up, and the windows of the trunk were smashed. One could see all the glasses and debris on the street but no one stopped to see what was happening. Buses, cars and pedestrians kept going like nothing was going on with us 😐 Given how people in SF seem to care about any social issues, I was appalled at how indifferent they were to people in need.

The side window was smashed

The side window was smashed

My heart stopped when we discovered that 3 of our camera bags were stolen from our rental car. It meant that 3 cameras and all of our L-lenses were gone, and the estimation would be $15K. I was so shocked that I couldn’t figure out what I should do. I didn’t cry and I was almost laughing at myself (I was crazy I think). Other stuffs in our car were intact and I am glad that I left all of my computers in the hotel.

After a few minutes, I called 911 to report the incident. To my surprise, the police just asked me these questions:

  1. Did you witness anyone breaking into the car? – NO
  2. Where did it happen? – I told them the street section
  3. Can you file the report online or call this number to report it?

I was so mad at how they handle my call! They didn’t even bother to come to the scene to take pictures! There was a police car drove right by us and they didn’t even stop by to see our smashed windows 😐 In our city in Orange County, the police came right after when our car was keyed to write a report. We also called 911 before and 2 minutes later, the police showed up in front of our house and check everything in the house, so I was surprised at how sluggish SF police was!

We then called Hertz to report the damage and they told us to drive to the SF airport to replace another car but with our stuffs inside the car, we decided to drive to the hotel instead and replace it the next morning in SJ airport.

After all of my cameras and lenses were gone, I was so devastated and blamed myself for being so stupid! At least none of us got hurt so I was thankful for that. Searching around, I found tons of reports of break-ins on Geary Ave and break-ins in SF had been so epidemic that the police and locals here didn’t even care anymore!

And we were not the only one that got our rental car broken into! My aunt and her film crew also got into similar incident just a few day before and their drones got stolen. My friends also said they had their cars smashed while parking on the streets.

We almost cancelled our trip to Oregon since we lost our gear but after the night, I decided to buy a new full-frame camera and Tamron 16-35mm to replace the stolen ones and continue our trip. It was not a bad decision at all 🙂

To get back at much as we could, I researched the problems and found out that our home insurance covered stolen properties any where in the world! I immediately called the agent and gave them all the receipts and police report, and they sent me back a nice fat check to replace all of our cameras and lenses! Overall, there is always hope in a dire situation!


  • Rent a car in San Francisco so you can get replacement quickly. We would have had to pay at least $500 for the broken windows if we drove our own car!
  • Do not leave anything inside the car. Our windows were tinted but the bad guy could easily smash them and grab whatever inside.
  • Avoid SUVs as they seem to be targeted easily.
  • File police report immediately and report all the stolen stuffs with their values.
  • If you have home insurance, check whether they will cover stolen properties
  • If you have damage fee waiver with the rental car, that’s good. Otherwise, check your credit card company whether they cover damage fee waiver. Your car insurance should pay first before they cover the rest.
  • If you have premium car insurance, they should cover rental car damage too.
  • Keep all the receipts to prove that you own those stolen properties.
  • If you can’t get back what you get stolen, your tax can be deducted a bit.

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