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Your Guide for San Francisco on a Budget
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Your Guide for San Francisco on a Budget

If you were wondering whether or not you can do San Francisco on a budget, here is a detailed guide.

Natasha Kouyoumjian

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6 min read

October 08, 2022

Disclaimer: California.com does not receive any kind of compensation for reviewing any of the products or services mentioned in this article.

If you haven’t properly been introduced to this city, the motivation to visit might escape you. But, from fans of the “Full House” series and architecture buffs to supporters of the gay pride movement, San Francisco keeps attracting visitors like no other.

Unconventional is one word to sum it up. Though common knowledge claims the city is pricey, we beg to differ. The most appealing of the city’s attractions are either cheap or completely free. And speaking of free, we have rallied cool hacks and tips to mold the trip to fit your budget in San Francisco.  

Marching to the beat of your own drum

Standing in the Golden Gate  Park of San Francisco, who said there aren’t sunny days?

The city is crawling with tourists from June to August, thus, flights and accommodation prices are increased due to high demand, and also the attractions are full of visitors. So, for a pro-budget tip, and to have the best weather conditions, visiting a bit earlier than June will save you time, money, and a lot of wet clothes. Also, the less crowded the places, the better your photos will look!

In Spring, the weather is perfect, the city is alive, and most importantly, the rates are at their lowest. So for the cheapest way to visit San Francisco, book your tickets for some springtime fun. With accommodation rates unusually low, you’ll save a load for a foggy day in the city. Yes, it's non-conformal, but that’s the formula of the city. 

Does the early bird get the worm? 

Staying in San Francisco’s outskirts is like a vacation within a vacation.

Early to bed, and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise. As bittersweet as this sounds, if you book in advance you will save a lot. And we mean, A LOT. The hack in the flights is all about the timing. Whilst you can get cheaper flight booking ahead, flying into Oakland airport with direct flights can get you even cheaper deals. For the thriftiest way, we recommend flying midweek – Monday and Friday excluded because that’s when all the business trips are.

Timing is everything. Planning in advance is one thing, but organizing ahead can actually save you loads of time, effort, and money as well. Most times, accommodation is the most prominent cost of the trip. If you want to down-budget your San Francisco trip, be sure to book your stay in advance and aim for a little more outside the town center. For the best accommodation, San Francisco Airbnbs offer the most decent housing rentals.

San Francisco is a Full House

Pun intended. Located between the San Francisco Bay and the Pacific coast, the city is steep and rolling in hills.  With all three sides surrounded by water, the town is famous for its summer fog. But that’s not all San Francisco has. The city is home to Victorian architecture, beautiful views, transportation, and the most incredible history in activism. With cable cars available all around town, public transportation is fast and cheap. But riding cable cars is not the only way to travel around and keep it a cheap trip to San Francisco. If you’re into biking, there are plenty of must-ride bike routes that will show you the juiciest bits of the city. 

Fog and Better Things

If this is what fog gives, let it.

The clever quip, “the coldest winter I ever spent was summer in San Francisco” sounds pretty legit when you’re there. If you’re looking to go on a budget to San Francisco, make sure you dodge the Bermuda shorts. And if we’re sidestepping on things, San Franciscans don’t exactly appreciate their town being called “Frisco”, so you might wanna avoid that name.

The better things that come out of the fog are not only the idyllic sceneries of the Golden Gate Bridge or the unique San Francisco experience. There’s a theory experimented on by the locals that states that San Francisco has the best sourdough due to its foggy atmosphere. Apparently, the fog makes the dough rise better, and leaves it moist and fresh. So, if you’re looking for a unique San Francisco experience, this is a great way to get a taste of the city on your budget travel to San Francisco

Alamo Square

Get ready for that picnic on the softest grass in the Bay Area.

Looking for the painted ladies? Your destination will be on… mmm, your backdrop?! If we’re talking about culture, San Francisco speaks in its own accent. Standing out in every way, the city has a series of colorful houses that draw in architecture buffs, and a crazy amount of “Full House” fans. If you’re visiting this park be sure to have your tennis racquets with you to enjoy a little duel at the park’s court. On a clear day, you can easily spot the Transamerica Pyramid building and the top of the Golden Gate bridge.

Full House

A tribute to all the loyal Full House fans!

If you’re a fan of the Tanners, you can get the most out of this walking tour by reenacting the opening of the theme song. Get a shot of you running across the park with the Victorian majesties blowing their own trumpets in the background. If you want to get to the Painted Ladies, a three-minute walk from Alamo Square will take you on a lovely journey down to history. For “Full House” tourers – east of Alamo Square, along Steiner Street, you’ll find the Tanner house sitting casually in the neighborhood. Make sure you read the funniest sign, as they quote Stephanie’s “how rude”. Of Course, we cannot mention the Tanners without paying our respects to the Father of late 80’s national Television and smoothest raunchy comedy – Bob Saget.

Lombard Street

An opposite view of the most infamous crooked route.

“There was a crooked man, who walked a crooked mile”... but just a few meters down Lombard street you’ll get the most crooked experience you’ve ever had. Initially designed to reduce the steepness of the slop, this one-block portion of a street contains eight hairpin turns. The fastest drive down this route is merely five miles per hour, but the opposite view is completely worth it. So if you’re looking for some exciting framable fun, this will be a great destination for your San Francisco trip on a budget.

Palace of Fine Arts

This classical Roman rotunda is like a piece out of a history book.

Architecture enthusiasts are going to love this classical Roman rotunda peacock in the Marina district of San Francisco. If you’re on a budget in San Francisco, this will be one of the most fun and free places to enjoy on foot. Get the best Instagrammable shot standing in front of this classic piece of art with curved colonnades. Enjoy a memorable picnic with your friends while you bask in the serenity of its European-style lagoon in the company of the floating swans. If you're thinking of catching a show, booking in advance will get you better deals. Why not? A penny saved is a penny earned. 

China Town

Did you know that San Francisco has the biggest Chinatown outside Asia?

Reputed to be the oldest of all, San Francisco’s Chinatown is one of the largest of all Chinatowns outside Asia. If you’re wondering how to down-budget San Francisco, spending time in this neighborhood is most satisfying. Established in the 1840s, the Chinatown neighborhood portrays the most vivid picture of the town's diversity. Its main tourist area extends from Grant Avenue starting from Bush all the way to Broadway and is absolutely filled with culture. Walking around Chinatown, be sure to try out the street food as they stir fry those noodles right before your eyes.

Golden Gate park

Tea anyone? Check out this mesmerizing view at Golden Gate Park.

How can we not talk about San Francisco without mentioning Golden Gate Park? It's easy staying on a forgiving budget if San Francisco hands you magic. Full of windmills, bison, a carousel, and all the tourist attractions that you want to see, this park is truly a golden treasure. If you’re visiting, you will want to see it all, so make sure to rent a bike to catch a glimpse of the entire area as you are on your tour ride. Be sure to check out the Japanese Tea garden and pass by the gift shop to pick up a souvenir. With the camera at the tip of our fingers, and the best settings on hand, spend the most picturesque day at Golden Gate.

Fisherman’s Wharf 

Clams anyone? Get the best clam chowder in a sourdough bowl.

If we’re aiming for the full-fledged quirkiness of the city vibes, this might actually be the best place to visit in San Francisco. Running all the way from Aquatic Park to Pier 39, this place was the hub of the town’s fishing fleet, leaving it very popular in the seafood section. It’s a great place to walk around, get good glimpses of the historical buildings, and pick up some souvenirs for friends and family. Walking past Pier 39, don’t forget to check out the sea lions.

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