San Francisco on a budget

March 27, 2019

San Francisco is one of the most beautiful cities in USA, and it is on a bucket list of every traveler. But it is also one of the most expensive cities in the world. 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.

Majority of sightseeing and attractions of San Francisco are actually free or very affordable. One of my favorite and cheap activity in the city is riding iconic cable cars. San Francisco is one of the few places in the world where people can ride on a national historic landmark. The cable cars are the world’s last manually operated cable car system, a tramway whose cars are pulled along by cables embedded in the street. These right-out-of-the-Smithsonian cable cars were named a national historic landmark in 1964. Refurbished and equipped with new tracks, cables, turnarounds and cable propulsion machinery, they operate much as they did on Aug. 2, 1873 when Andrew S. Hallidie guided the first car down the Clay Street grade.

Pier 39. 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.

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.

Crossing the strait of the Golden Gate from San Francisco’s Presidio to the Marin headlands for 1.7 miles is the world-renowned Golden Gate Bridge, easily identified by its International Orange color. Opened in 1937, the bridge was built at a cost of $35 million in principal and $39 million in interest and 11 workers’ lives. The single-suspension span is anchored by twin towers that reach skyward 746 feet, and was once taller than any building in San Francisco. To support the suspended roadway, two cables, each more than 7,000 feet in length and both containing 80,000 miles of wire stretch over the top of the towers and are rooted in concrete anchorages on shore. More than 10 years in planning due to formidable opposition, but only four years in actual construction, the Golden Gate Bridge brought the communities of San Francisco and Marin counties closer together.

A mile and a half from Fisherman’s Wharf, Alcatraz was the site of the first lighthouse built on the Pacific Coast, then a federal prison for such notorious convicts as Al Capone. Now it is one of the city’s most popular attractions. Alcatraz was the site of the first lighthouse in the Western United States but became a federal penitentiary from 1934-1963, housing famous convicts such as Al Capone and George “Machine Gun” Kelly. Now, this once infamous prison island is part of the Bay Area’s 80,000-acre Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Beside visiting Alcatraz you can admire it from Pier 39 or from a boat.

One of the most photographed locations in San Francisco, Alamo Square‘s famous “postcard row” at Hayes and Steiner Streets is indeed a visual treat. A tight, escalating formation of Victorian houses is back-dropped by downtown skyscrapers, providing a stunning contrast. The grassy square itself is an ideal midday break. One of 11 historic districts designated by the Department of City Planning, the area includes several bed and breakfast inns. Its absolutely free to enjoy this postcard view.

Mission Dolores Park. Many festivals, performances, and other cultural events are held here, and on sunny afternoons people flock to the park to play, picnic, lounge, walk their dogs, and enjoy spectacular views of the city’s skyline and beyond. Named for nearby Mission Dolores, the park is situated on land that was once a Jewish cemetery. The City bought the property in 1905 and established the park. In 1906 it served as a refugee camp for more than 1,600 residents made homeless by the earthquake and fire. Mission Dolores Park is bounded by Church, Dolores, 18th, and 20th streets. The Muni Metro J-Church Line runs along its western edge.

At the northwestern corner of San Francisco, there is wild and windy trail with stunning views at every turn… Lands End’s trails winds their way around rocky cliffs above the ocean, moving through shady stands of cypress and eucalyptus and emerging on to spectacular views of the shore, headlands, and Golden Gate. A trip down the trail is also a journey through the history of Lands End, offering glimpses of the past at every turn.

The 1,500-acre Presidio is San Francisco’s unique national park at the Golden Gate. Once the Nation’s premier Army post, today the park offers the spectacular vistas, nature, and history you would expect, plus many surprising experiences. In today’s Presidio, visitors can walk on a 24-mile network of trails; discover art exhibitions indoors and out; soak in incredible Golden Gate views; visit San Francisco’s oldest building reborn as a museum and cultural center; jump on a trampoline in a former airplane hangar; bird watch at restored wetlands; and relax at San Francisco’s largest picnic, which draws 5,000 people each spring/summer weekend. Even better, most events and activities are free, making the Presidio an affordable and accessible escape that’s welcoming to all. One of the best way of exploring San Francisco sight-seeings is with City Pass ticket. City pass is ideal way of saving money on visiting museums and attractions of San Francisco. With this pass you can choose 3 attractions and on those you have free entry. Choose wisely, my suggestion is to choose those attractions that are with the highest price on their entries.  My top 3 attractions are California Academy of Science, Blue and gold fleet cruises of the bay and Aquarium of the bay.

This is just part of the many attractions that are actually free or very affordable to visit in San Francisco. But beside exploring sightseeing you have to think about accommodation. I am recommending HI San Francisco Downtown Hostel with best location in the middle of the city.

Close to cable cars, museums, shopping, and more, HI San Francisco Downtown hostel is at the center of everything you want to see and do in the city. Awesome staff will help you meet fellow travelers and get to know SF like a local, with the best tours and tips for exploring the city’s coolest neighborhoods. 

Nearby bus and subway lines make it easy and cheap to get everywhere you want to go, whether you’re after tacos and nightlife the Mission District, sunshine and culture in Oakland, or are just looking to catch your flight home from the airport. Check into one of newly updated dorm rooms or your very own private room and find out what makes HI San Francisco Downtown hostel a budget traveler’s dream in the land of pricey hotels.