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My family and I just returned from a fantastic three-night stay at one of our favorite hotels on earth … Cavallo Point. It’s located in Sausalito, California, which is just over the Golden Gate Bridge. One of the many amazing perks of staying at the hotel is that they give guests (on a first-come, first-serve basis) a brand new Lexus to cruise around in for a few hours. RELATED: California Road Trip: Los Angeles to San Francisco and Must-Visit Stops Along the Way
While there, we were going to take our kids to the California Academy of Sciences, which is supposed to be an amazing museum. However, multiple friends warned us not to drive into the city and park because smash and grabs really are a thing. In fact, the California Academy of Sciences’ own website states: “Please note: Car break-ins are unfortunately common in San Francisco. To reduce your risk, please leave nothing of value in your car, either in the trunk or in plain sight. You can safely store your belongings in an Academy locker for $8.”

So I’m updating this article, which is a couple of years old because this is a very important subject and reminder. Having your stuff stolen from your car can seriously make or break your trip.

If you’re not familiar with the term ‘smash and grab’, you should be since it’s a negative trend that’s getting more and more popular. A smash and grab is when criminals spot something of value in your car and they take a special hammer that costs $5 on Amazon to smash your car window and quickly grab your belongings. FYI: I keep one of these hammers in my car as a safety measure just in case one of us ever gets trapped inside and the windows won’t go down. That’s what the tool is meant for (it’s also a seatbelt cutter) and is a great gadget to keep in your car in the event of an emergency.

It literally takes criminals seconds, and I mean seconds, to smash the window and grab your valuables. If you don’t believe me, see this video taken in San Francisco and posted to YouTube.

YouTube video

Crazy, right?

In 2021, YouTuber Casey Neistat made headlines after his car was broken into in Venice Beach and he tweeted: “so our cars got robbed this morning because Los Angeles is a crime riddled 3rd world [blank] of a city…”

Seth Rogan chimed in with, “Dude I’ve lived here for over 20 years. You’re nuts haha. It’s lovely here. Don’t leave anything valuable in it. It’s called living in a big city.”

So how do you prevent a smash and grab from happening to you? Here are a few ways:

  1. Never leave anything of value in your car. That’s the first and most important thing.
  2. If you do leave something of value in your car (sometimes you have no choice), make sure it’s hidden, either under the seat or under a black sheet or black tablecloth so it camouflages with the floor. It’s always a good idea to keep one of those in your car, just in case. Here’s more on that tip.
  3. Don’t ever open your trunk to get something out when you arrive at your destination because people might be watching you. Always get what you need out of the trunk before you get where you’re going.
  4. Some people leave their windows down and the glove box open just to show that there’s nothing of value inside the vehicle but that seems a little risky to me.
  5. Never leave anything of value in your car. Period. That’s the best advice.

Again, these smash and grabs often happen in big cities, parks and popular tourist destinations but as you can see in the video above, they can also happen in the middle of the street, in front of your house or even when you’re just stopped in traffic. People sometimes just run into a store or leave their car to take a photo for five minutes and they come back and everything is gone, like what happened to these photographers who stopped at Battery Spencer Park in San Francisco for five minutes to snap some pictures and returned to their car in ruins and their belongings gone. Don’t let it happen to you.

WARNING: If This Can Happen at Trader Joe’s, it Can Happen Anywhere – Here’s How to Protect Yourself
Seatbelt Cutter and Window Breaker for Car Emergencies
Record Numbers of People are Traveling and Thieves Know It – Here’s How to Protect Your Home While You’re Away

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5 Comments On "Traveling to California? Here's How to Prevent Smash and Grabs from Ruining Your Vacation"
  1. Doris|

    I just read an article that said thieves use a device to detect blue tooth signals from phones, tablets and computers left in cars (even hidden). The article recommended turning off devices because sleep mode still emits signals .

  2. Kay|

    We were victims of a Smash & Grab at an In-N-Out burger in Davis, California. We had just arrived at the Sacramento Airport and were on our way to Napa Valley for a vacation with another couple. We rented a car at the airport and stopped at the burger place for lunch. While we were inside eating, our car window was broken and they stole mine and my friend’s carry on bags, which contained all of our jewelry, medicines, iPad, Kindle, makeup…..things that you would normally have in your carryon to keep them safe!! They didn’t touch the luggage, just the small pieces that they could pull through the window. The police came and made a report but we never heard a word from them. Of course, our insurance didn’t even cover the true cost and value of all of these items. It totally ruined our vacation and we will never go back to California again!!!!!

    1. Johnny Jet|

      Sorry to hear this. I don’t blame you but that’s why I’m trying to alert others.

  3. Jody|

    A professional photographer friend of mine.
    had his vehicle broken into in San Francisco. Everything was supposedly secure in the trunk, but they broke the front windows, folded down the rear seats and pulled out everything from there. By the way, they had been followed, and the bad guys saw them loading stuff into the trunk.

    As a professional photographer and cinematographer, I often have to travel with equipment, and I add a layer of security: a long, thick bicycle lock which I run through the handles of my locked cases, and through some immovable structure in the vehicle. That will significantly slow them down if not prohibit them from getting away with my gear.

    I never travel without it.

    Same goes for a thin black furniture pad from Harbor Freight, or black duvetyne to cover anything exposed, especially in the back of an SUV.

  4. Sheri|

    Why don’t you alert Californian’s to vote the people out that allow crime to proliferate? The current regime in California does NOTHING to criminals and they know it. I moved out of the state last year because I saw it declining daily. I feel so sorry for visitors like Doris that come to enjoy the state to only become another victim.

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