How to Visit San Francisco for Less

This week’s Cities for Less post brings you some fabulous tips from Katie for visiting San Francisco for less.

San Francisco for less

Anyone who has ever visited San Francisco knows it’s a pretty special place, especially if you grew up on a diet of US TV with iconic scenes of the city a regular occurrence. However, is it possible to visit this city without breaking the bank, and if so what are Katie’s top tips for doing San Francisco for less?

Well before we find out, let’s find out a little about Katie from the traveller herself.

Introducing Katie of the Traveling Spud

I’m Katie, a 26-year-old from Idaho living in the lovely city of San Francisco. I’m addicted to adventures, sitting on tall cliffs, traveling the world and, of course, eating potatoes (because that’s what we do in Idaho). I especially love showing people around my favorite city, San Francisco. Let’s find out together if you can do San Francisco for less.

Is San Francisco For Less Realistic?

San Francisco is one of the most expensive cities to live in the USA, but one of the coolest places to visit! Despite being relatively expensive, it’s got some of most incredible and diverse neighborhoods, restaurants, and culture in the entire United States.

After living in San Francisco for four years, I can finally call the ‘City by the Bay’ home. I’ve gotten to experience a lot of the city in my time here and am excited to share some of my favorites with you! I love that the bay and the ocean are minutes away, the mountains are close by, you always get a beautiful view of the famous Golden Gate bridge and you can eat food from all over the world!

San Francisco for Less

San Francisco’s got the old school hippie vibe mixed with the new hipster start up vibe and is a melting pot of culture, art, tech and food.

Yes, San Francisco is expensive, but lucky for you, I’m sharing my guide to visiting San Francisco for less. Here is a list some of the great things you can do in the city without breaking the bank, and who doesn’t love that?


Because there are so many events happening in San Francisco each week, the downtown hotels typically go for pretty high rates ($300+ a night). If you want the real San Francisco for less experience I recommend using AirBnB to get a cool apartment or studio in the city.

San Francisco for less

If you really want the cheap route, then I recommend the San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf hostel and if that doesn’t work then I recommend staying at a cheaper hotel like the San Ramo Hotel in North Beach or the Nob Hill Inn.

Getting There

Whether you fly into SFO or the Oakland airport, you can take the public train system, BART, to the city. You can also take an Uber or Lyft ride or a cheap cheap, shared shuttle service that you can hitch a ride with when you get to the airport. (Anne: I recommend Skyscanner for flights as they search ALL airlines including budget ones!)

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Oakland airport is a little farther away from the city, but sometimes has the cheapest flights.

Getting Around

In San Francisco the cheapest way to get around town is public transport by bus, trolley, cable car, Muni or BART (around $2-$5 per trip). You can also get around easily by using Uber Pool or Lyft Line which allow you to share your car ride with other people on the way to your destination. Usually this costs about $5 per trip.

Anne: wow that really is a great tip as cabs in the States can definitely be on the pricey side! Having only just started using Uber, I hadn’t realised you could share!

Food and Drink

Drinks are typically in the $6-$15 range and dinner is roughly $20 and up. However, here are some of my favorite spots for eats for less in San Francisco!

Tacos: Taqueria Cancun – This place has great authentic Mexican food with most of the items under $10.
Comfort Food: Tommy’s Joynt – This is the ultimate American comfort food spot. It’s a little grimy, but you go through a line full of amazing, mouth watering options. Under $10 for most of it.
Greek wraps: Souvla – great Greek food anywhere from $10-$20
Drinks: Butter – a dive bar that serves Twinkies and Jello shots. Very American.
El Rio – great bar in the Mission district with a fun outdoor patio
Pizza: Golden Boy in North Beach – Arguably the best pizza in the city! $3.75 for a slice!

Things To Do

Walk around Golden Gate Park

This is one of the largest parks in San Francisco and full of amazing activities, nature and people watching. Within the park you’ll find two museums – the Cal Academy of Sciences ($34.95 entry) and DeYoung museum ($10 entry) and even a field of buffalo!

Rent a bike and bike across the Golden Gate Bridge

This is a popular activity for people wishing to visit San Francisco for less. You can find bike rentals all over the city, including one of the most popular ones, Blazing Saddles where you can hire bikes for $32 for 8 hours.

Take a walk through China Town and get some dim sum

It’s always fun to walk through China town to visit the shops. Check out the Good Mong Kok Bakery for some cheap dim sum!

Hike up to Coit Tower

This is a free fun city hike with a view at the top. You can also go inside Coit Tower, but I recommend walking around the top and checking out the murals inside for free!

Go see the Painted Ladies in Alamo Square.

This park is amazing and has the houses that were featured on the TV show, Full House. I recommend going and sitting in the park and then walking around the Haight district.

Painted Ladies in San Francisco for less
Source: Pixabay

Anne: I would highly recommend this too as these houses will certainly be familiar to you from a ton of programmes you have watched over the years. It must be a real bummer living in one though with all the tourists gawping at you!

Walk through the Castro, the Mission, and Haight/Ashbury districts

These are some of the most diverse and eclectic neighborhoods in San Francisco. I recommend walking them all. They are all close to each other and you’ll be able to tell the major differences when you walk into one from the other!

Adventure through Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39

There is a ton of stuff going on down here! Walk around and be sure to get views of Alcatraz and the sea lions.

Sit and have a picnic in one of the many parks in the city

My favorites are Fort Mason, Chrissy Field, Dolores Park and Golden Gate Park.

Go to a Giant’s baseball game!

You can find cheap bleacher seats at the Giants for about $15

Walk through the Palace of Fine Arts at sunset

This is a beautiful structure that you can walk through for free. It’s a real oasis with a lake right in the city!

San Francisco for less

Anne: That really does look beautiful doesn’t it?

Ferry Building Farmers Market

Visit the Ferry Building Farmers Market and stop off for a beer at Pier 23 Cafe

Check out Off the Grid in Fort Mason or on the Presidio lawn if it’s doing one while you’re here!

There are a ton of food trucks, live music and drinks served! It’s definitely a fun time when it’s nice outside. Off the Grid is free to go in and you just pay for food or drinks!

Your Best Splurge

One of my favorite things to do is take my visitors to the speak-easy bar called Bourbon & Branch. You must make a reservation ahead of time to get your password. When you show up at the bar you’ll need to knock on the unmarked door. There won’t be any signs telling you where to go so you’ll have to rely on Google maps to get you there.

Give the person that answers the door your password and be prepared to adventure back into the prohibition era of the 1920s. You’ll get to experience exquisitely made cocktails and sliding secret bookshelves inside. It’s definitely an amazing place to splurge for a drink before dinner.

Anne: that sounds so underground and cool! I would be worried it would be a den of debauchery!

Final Musings from Katie

I hope my tips above have helped you develop your itinerary for visiting San Francisco for less. I guarantee you’ll have an amazing time no matter what you choose to do! Even if you choose to go to two different neighborhoods in one night you’ll feel like you’ve been to two totally different cities!

That’s the magic of San Francisco! I hope you enjoy your stay and if you need any other tips on things to do in the San Francisco Bay Area, check out my blog Traveling Spud!

Enjoying San Francisco for less

Top Travel Hacks from Anne

So there, you have it, the Traveling Spud. You can also find Katie on Twitter or Instagram but hasn’t she got some great ideas? I always love tips on where to find things for FREE….perhaps something to do with my Yorkshire roots.

Here’s a few final top tips for me on getting the most from your travels generally.

Top Travel Hacks for Any City For Less

  1. Book hotels with for one free stay after every ten stays (click through from the Top Cashback store to multiply your earnings rate)
  2. If you have a credit card, check to see if there are any dining offers you can use in conjunction with the card
  3. Use Uber to get around town. Sign up with this code to earn a £15 free ride

Monaco on a budget with Uber

Have your say…

Now it’s over to you. Where would you like to see featured in Cities For Less? Perhaps you are heading to a city and would love some top tips and how to get more from the city for less. Just drop your suggestion in the comment box below and I will see what I can do.

The great thing about the travel community is that we all love to travel stories so I am sure we will be able to find an expert from that city to help us out.

If you would like to feature your city on Cities For Less, please email me at

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Photo Credit: all photos courtesy of Katie

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About Anne

Anne is the founder and editor of Frommilestosmiles. If she isn't travelling, she is thinking of travelling or planning her next trip. She has visited over 90 countries on six continents and sampled everything from backpacking to bank bursting travel. Her mission is to help you enjoy more luxurious travel without the luxury price tag through the use of airline and hotel rewards and other money-saving travel tips

One comment

  1. Accommodation: Try the hotels in and near the city.

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