How to Visit San Francisco on a Budget
Major California cities are not exactly known for being affordable to visit, which is why you might be surprised at how many cheap or free attractions San Francisco has. Just because you’re on a budget doesn’t mean you can’t visit museums, enjoy breathtaking views, see local landmarks or get lodging in a great location in San Francisco. Here is a sampling of what you can do on a budget in the City by the Bay.
The key to budget travel is finding a cheap place to stay. This is especially the case when you plan to stay several days and will be out exploring most of that time. You can find some hotels and inns in San Francisco starting around $80 per night, with Union Square being a good area to check for such deals. When you just need a safe place to rest your head, consider one of the many San Francisco hostels, since prices start at about $30 per person per night.
If you’re intent on seeing all that San Francisco has to offer–without going over your budget–the CityPASS or Go Card San Francisco may be your best bet. With CityPASS, when you pay for an adult or child ticket, you get access to the California Academy of Sciences and the Aquarium of the Bay, as well as a one-hour cruise around the Bay. Your CityPASS also lets you use both the Muni bus and the famous cable cars to get around the city without paying extra. You can then choose between a visit to the de Young Museum or the Exploratorium. With Go Card, you can get a variety of multi-day and option packages. Choose from more than 25 attractions and activities, such as the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, AT&T Park Tour, San Francisco Dungeon and beyond destination tours to Muir Woods and wine country.
Golden Gate Bridge
You can’t visit San Francisco without getting an up-close look at the Golden Gate Bridge. Luckily, this attraction fits into any budget, because it’s free. You can walk or ride a bike across the 1.7-mile bridge. You can even participate in a free walking tour on Thursdays and Sundays so you can hear the history of this landmark as you explore.
Free Walking Tours
The Golden Gate Bridge is not the only place you can tour for free during your visit. You can also take part in one of the many free tours offered by the San Francisco City Guides. They offer tours all year, with some of the destinations including popular neighborhoods like Castro, Haight-Ashbury, Westwood Park, Chinatown and Potrero Hill. Some of the tours also focus on local ghost stories, murals, past earthquakes, fires and the history of many landmarks.
Budget travel in San Francisco is easy for music lovers thanks to the many free festivals. For example, every fall, Golden Gate Park hosts the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, which features seven stages and more than 100 musicians. Another option is Stern Grove Festival, a free concert that takes place every Sunday over the summer. North Beach Festival also features live entertainment in the summer, along with more than 100 arts, crafts and food booths. Union Street Festival in June is similar, though the wine and beer sampling tickets do cost money.
Mission District Murals
If you’re a fan of art, you’ll want to see the many murals of the Mission District. Most have been around for a few decades, and provide creative commentary on everything from politics and human rights issues to natural disasters and varying art styles.
Many of the museums in San Francisco are cheap or even free, letting you experience the city on a budget during your trip. Fisherman’s Wharf is a great place to go for free museums, since it’s home to Musée Mécanique, and has more than 200 antique musical instruments and mechanical arcade machines. Admission is free, and it costs less than $1 to play most games. Another free museum in the Fisherman’s Wharf area is the San Francisco Maritime Museum. Other museums have free admission days. For example, a ticket to Museum of Craft and Design is normally $8 per person, but it’s free on the first Tuesday of every month. The de Young Museum is also free on that day, though its Hamon Observation Tower is always free and offers a stunning view of the city.
AT&T Park Portwalk
Want an amazing view of the bay and chance to watch a San Francisco Giants baseball game? Then head to AT&T Park to check out the Portwalk. It’s a large walkway right between the ballpark’s outfield wall and the bay, allowing guests to enjoy the ocean breeze and even watch up to three innings of any game going on, all for free.
Some of the main attractions at PIER 39 may be the dozens of stores and eateries, but not everything has to cost a lot. One of the best activities here is free, and that’s watching the sea lions as they relax just a few feet away. Of course, there are also amazing views of Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge. So if you want an affordable day out, grab some ice cream or coffee from one of the nearby shops and stroll around admiring the views from the pier.