Let’s get it out of the way, “San Francisco is pretty expensive.” It is one of the most expensive cities in America and the cost of living is just right up there. Hotels, food, parking, and shopping are quite expensive than in Los Angeles. Yes, traveling here can hurt your pocket, but for travel fiends, like most of us, we’ll always find a way. We can always find a way to visit San Francisco on a budget.
High cost would not prevent our wanderlust to not be amazed by the Golden Gate Bridge, to not see the 2nd most crooked street in the world, to not try that famous clam chowder in Fisherman’s Wharf, and to not experience riding the vintage Street car or the Cable Car. Smart planning and thorough research have to be done to visit this beautiful city without costing us a fortune.
As a budget traveler myself, I can assure you that it is feasible. The following tips are mostly DIY and would not lessen the value of your experience of San Francisco. So, if you are looking on how to travel the city on a budget, then, look no further coz we’ll share with you this San Francisco hacks.
Where to Stay?
Choosing your accommodation plays a crucial part of your entire budget traveling. If you have relatives or friends living in San Francisco, then it is no brainer, stay with them. It’ll save you lots of money. We didn’t know anyone here, unlike in LA (thank you Big brother Eric and Big Brother Jan Argy for your warm hospitality), so we opted for cheap accommodations.
Forget about staying in hotels, opt for either Airbnb or hostels. If you are traveling alone or with someone and not on honeymoon, backpacking and renting a bed on a hostel is the way to go. One bed with shared bathroom is only USD50 to USD65 per night. That’s a pretty good deal since you are not staycationing and would spend most of your time outside. If you need a private room, Airbnb rooms are from $75 to $100 per night. It will also help if you choose to visit San Francisco on weekdays. Much cheaper than staying on weekends.
So you’ve finally decided on staying on a hostel, which hostel to choose? Choose any hostel that is within walking distance to Union Square. Union Square is like your introduction to the city and is near to everywhere. Staying near Union Square means your walking distance to some of the tourist attractions like, Chinatown, Polk Street and Cable Car stations. It is also just a one ride away from Lombard St, Fisherman’s Wharf, Painted Ladies, and Ferry Building.
You may also use HotelsCombined to search for the cheapest hotels out there in San Francisco.
Mode of Transportation
Bring your car or rent one? No, that’s not very practical. San Francisco is a very tourist-friendly city that tourist attractions are close by. You do not really need to rent a car. Spend that rental fee and the parking fee somewhere else.
Will it be worth it to buy a 3-day MUNI pass for a three-day stay? It depends, if you are sure to take the cable car multiple times, then it’s definitely worth it. But, I doubt it. MUNI 3-day pass is $32 and a single trip for a cable car costs $7, if you’re to take it 3 or 4 times during your stay then it’s worth it. But, queuing, especially during weekends is a problem. There is always a queue, sometimes you might choose to just take the MUNI bus instead of waiting. Take it at least once for experience. MUNI bus can also take you to all tourist attractions. A single trip is $2.5 with a free transfer until the time stated on your ticket. The answer to the previous question is, No.
Join a Day Tour?
Sure, there is convenience in joining a day tour with a tour guide. You do not need to worry on your transportation and you’ll sure to cover mostly all tourist attractions. Just be ready to shell out $50 to $65 on a city tour or up to $100 if including crossing the bridge and Sausalito.
What if there is another way? Another option that will cost you just under $25 per person. An option that is more enjoyable and more personal. Something all wanderers yearn for. Like…
Renting a Bike for a Day and Cross the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito
For just $24, you’ll get to do things based on your own itinerary. You’ll get to cross the bridge, that not all tourists get to do, and visit the beautiful but tiny town of Sausalito. You can also visit famous attractions like Palace of Fine Arts, Crissy Field, Fort Point, Embarcadero, Ferry Building, and Fisherman’s Wharf all in one day and for just under $25. There are many bike rental shops to choose from and many bikes to choose from complete with maps, locks, and helmets.
We rented a bike and cross the bridge and it was fun. It was definitely the highlight of our San Francisco Tour and we highly recommend this to everyone.
Where to Eat?
One of the most thriving businesses in San Francisco is the food and restaurant business. You’ll find restaurant anywhere you look. And if you are looking for the cheapest finds, then head over to Chinatown.
Chinatown here is one of the largest Chinese communities in America and the place to go for souvenir shopping. There are also lots of restaurants that are within our meek budget. Restaurants here are much cheaper compare to restaurants along Fisherman’s Wharf. After a very tiring day of biking, return your bikes on shops in the Wharf, take the cable car from there and get off at Powell and Jackson which is one block away from Chinatown.
Many points of interests are free of charge, but, some are chargeable. Alcatraz island, some museums in Golden Gate Park, and day tours all come with a fee. If you are on a limited time and tight budget, you may opt first for tourist attractions that are free of charge like all that are mentioned above. If there is one that is worthing saving some dough, that is the tour of Alcatraz island. A tiny island full of history and oh, the audio tour was incredible.
Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman’s Wharf, Ferry Building, Lombard St, Union Square, Chinatown, Palace of Fine Arts, Crissy Field, Fort Point, Painted Ladies, and Embarcadero are just some of places you can see without shelling a dime. Which can pretty much can cover your limited stay in San Francisco.
There you have it, some tips on how to visit San Francisco on a budget. It doesn’t mean that going on a budget means less fun, sometimes it’s much more personal and memorable. If you have some more tips to share, please feel free to share on the comments section below.
See you on the bridge, biking!