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6 Secrets To Visiting San Francisco On A Budget

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Inside: These are the best tips to visit San Francisco on a budget. From flights, to hotels, to things to do, I list all the ways we saved on our weekend getaway.

If you follow me on Instagram, you know I pulled off the BIGGEST surprise for my husband’s 30th birthday: a trip to San Francisco!

Our weekend trip was a lot fun, but it didn’t cost a lot of money.

We utilized TONS of cost-saving tricks and had the best time at all the local spots.

If you’re ready to plan your own trip, here are the best tips to enjoy San Francisco on a budget!

And don’t miss my Ultimate List of Frugal Living Tips for Families, here!

Is San Francisco Expensive to Visit?

San Francisco is not cheap, so it’s smart to make a vacation plan before you leave. Set a budget and stick to it! These money-saving tips will help you plan the best trip to San Francisco on a budget.

Union Square, San Francisco


1. Save Money on your Flight

DON’T fly into SFO!

I spent weeks tracking flights to San Francisco waiting for the price to drop, but they never did!

I had the thought to search other airports in the area and thank goodness I did because flying into Oakland was WAY cheaper!

Our tickets were $150 each. The same flight to San Francisco was at least $50 more which didn’t fit into our budget.

2. Chose an Alternative Hotel

You won’t be spending a lot of time in your hotel, so it’s a good place to compromise to save money.

Still, even the most rundown San Francisco hotels are expensive.

Luckily I found The Urban! It’s a boutique hotel right in Union Square. It’s fairly close to AT&T Park and the Financial District and such a fun place to be!

The Urban ran us $160 per night, which is a great price. However, because it’s a boutique hotel we did have to give up some of the regular hotel amenities.

Our room was small (think dorm room size), no elevator, no central air, and the bathroom and showers were shared. It sounds weird, but it’s just like using the bathroom at a restaurant and the shower situation wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be either.

The room was clean and we were only there to sleep and get ready for the day which worked out great!

I would consider this one of the best value hotels in San Francisco if you’re working on a tight budget.

3. Get the Best out of San Francisco Transit

In a city this big, a car is actually an inconvenience. For one, parking is insane (have you seen how steep the streets are!), plus traffic can be just as crazy (people weaving in and out of lanes on a 2-lane street, for example)!

So what’s the best transportation for San Francisco on a budget? We used a few different methods:

BART transit train to explore San Francisco on a budgetThe Bart System Map

1. BART: Also known as Bay Area Rapid Transit.

You’ll feel like a local riding BART!

Most people on the train are from the area and there’s a station right outside the Oakland Airport. We took that train to one of the main stations, got on a connecting train, and then had a 7-minute walk to our hotel.

It cost $10.75 each for my husband and me to ride and it was so worth it!

Citypass tickets and travel guide to see San Francisco on a budget

2. Muni: Also known as the city’s public transit system (i.e. the buses and streetcars)!

If you are going to be in San Francisco without a car, I HIGHLY recommend getting the San Francisco CityPass!

It’s such a great value and a great way to see the city! Not only do you get a 3-day pass to ride any Muni vehicle, but you also get passes to tons of the attractions in the city! It’s awesome!

When you need to go somewhere, look up the location in Google Maps and you’ll find exactly which bus to take and what time it will be there.

PRO TIP: Make sure you’re on the right side of the street! There were a few times we were on the wrong side of the road and had to run across to catch the bus. But, overall, the CityPass saved us a ton of time, money and walking.

3. Uber: We did use Uber to get from our hotel to the airport (at 4 in the morning). If we had more time and our flight was later, we would have taken the bus.

4. Walk: It’s the cheapest mode of transportation! It’s no secret that people in San Francisco walk!

My feet were so sore on Sunday, but it’s one of the best ways to explore and enjoy the city. There are so many hidden markets and buildings you won’t find on foot.


San Francisco has a wide variety of in things to do. There is something for everyone, everywhere! Anywhere you walk, there’s something cool to see or fun to do.

Here are all the fun ways we explored San Francisco on budget:

1. San Francisco Giants game at AT&T Park:

Man in front of AT&T Park Baseball diamond in AT&T Park Woman at baseball game in San Francisco. Man eating nachos from a baseball helmet at San Francisco baseball game.

My husband got to see one of his favorite teams (the main reason for this trip)! Sadly, the Giants lost, but I still had a great time at my first MLB game, and my husband had got to enjoy some great food!

Money Saving Tip: We splurged a little on food in the stadium, but if you want to save money, you can bring your own food into the park! There were two guys in front of us with full-sized bags of chips!

2. Walking Food Tour with Local Tastes Of The City:

Tour guide showing the history of San Francisco.A delicious cannoli from Little Italy in San Francisco!Couple with an Italian soda from a cafe in Little Italy!Inside an old church building in San Francisco.

This was my FAVORITE part of the trip!

You can experience this attraction through San Francisco Travel. Local Tastes of the City was awesome and accommodated us last minute. 

You get to sample amazing Italian food in North Beach and learn the history of the area! All of the food is delicious, but my favorite was the cannoli from Victoria Pastry, the Italian sodas from Cavalli Cafe, and the pizza from Mona Lisa Restaurant.

( . . . Actually, all of the food was my favorite! It was so yummy!)

Money Saving Tip: The portions are a single serving, but all of the food combined is enough to fill you up! We didn’t eat breakfast and didn’t need to eat lunch, so you can save on meals by doing the tour.

The tour also takes you to Saints Peter and Paul Church which is breathtaking inside! I loved the ornate sculptures and decorations. 

This tour was the highlight of our trip, so make sure this is on your list!

3. Lombard Street:

Couple on stairs, visiting Lombard Street in San Francisco!

The first time I visited Lombard Street was in a car (which I recommend doing once) and we didn’t get out.

But this time, we were on foot and were able to take some pictures. The street is so beautiful with gorgeous flowers and interesting homes.

You’ll sweat buckets walking all the way to the top, but it’s worth the trek. 

4. Pier 39:

People in front of Pier 39 in San Francisco. Crowds waling through Pier 39 in San Francisco Woman wearing souvenir shirt from her trip to San Francisco

The pier is full of shops and yummy restaurants! It’s usually crowded so you can tell it’s a popular place to visit.

Money Saving Tip: Go to the California Welcome Center on the second floor of the pier and ask for a savings book! You’ll get awesome coupons to use at many of the restaurants. We were able to save on an afternoon ice cream cone!

The shopping here is also amazing. There are tons of stores with San Francisco souvenirs, a magic shop, NFL and college apparel and more!

If you visit with children, make sure to check out the carousel and sea lions by the bay!

5. Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum:

Man visiting Madame Tussauds in San Francisco Woman standing next to wax figure in Tussauds San Francisco.Man pretending to play basketball with wax figure from Madame Tussauds San Francisco.

The wax museum is one of the most famous attractions you can find through San Francisco Travel! It is an absolute blast.

The museum is bigger than you might expect and plays themed music throughout! The wax figures each have their own backdrop with spots to take pictures.

If you’re feeling more adventurous, you can also visit the San Francisco Dungeon next door!

6. Dinner at Delarosa:

Eating spots in San Francisco. Delicious bruschetta at Delarosa in San Francisco! Delicious pasta parmigiana at Delarosa in San Francisco! Delicious pizza at Delarosa in San Francisco! Delicious beignets at Delarosa in San Francisco!

To go along with the Italian food from the tour, you can also visit Delarosa in the Marina District.

The food was amazing! We got the bruschetta with hazelnut and honey for an appetizer which was to die for! I got the ziti chicken parmigiana for my meal and Jordan got a pizza. It turned out to be a lot of food! And, for dessert, we got to try their delicious beignets!

The restaurant has a really fun vibe. It’s communal seating, so everyone sits close together. There is lots of talking and chatting and kids are welcome, so it’s completely family friendly!

7. Golden Gate Bridge:

Golden Gate Bridge at night.

Did you really go to San Francisco if you didn’t take a picture of the Golden Gate Bridge?? This one’s a must-see!

We took the Muni to see the Bridge after our Delarosa dinner. I’d been during the day before, but it was foggy and cold. This time, we went at night and got to see it all lit up.

8. Palace of Fine Arts:

Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco. Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco. Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco. Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco.

On our way back from the bridge, we made a spontaneous stop at the Palace of Fine Arts.

IT WAS BREATHTAKING! Built in 1915, the Palace is meant to evoke quiet sadness and solemnity.

I SO wish we could have gone during the day. I don’t think we got to appreciate all the architectural detail, but what we did see was incredible!

It feels like you stepped into Europe!


We made the most of our time with such a short trip, but there are even more amazing ways to explore San Francisco on a budget!

Here’s what we would have done with a few more days:

1. Big Bus Tour:

If you can make time to go on this tour, it looks super fun!

There’s a hop-on, hop-off tour that lets you get off at any attraction to explore and get back on again when you’re ready! The buses run every 15-20 minutes. The panoramic night tour looks great, too. 

2. Alcatraz:

Alcatraz on San Francisco bus tour.

Photo courtesy of San Francisco Travel

I know, I know . . . I’ve been to San Francisco twice and have never been to Alcatraz! The next time I go, I’m definitely making it a priority.

I’ve never had a desire to go, but after seeing the Al Capone figure in Madame Toussad’s I want to learn more about the history of the island and penitentiary. They have tons of different tour options and the tickets include the ferry ride out to the island!

3. Golden Gate Park:

Golden Gate Park.

Photo courtesy of San Francisco Travel

This is a stop on the Big Bus tour, so you know it’s one of the best places to see in the city!

They have a Japanese Tea Garden, buffalo, a carousel, museums, flower gardens, and an aquarium! It looks like a beautiful place to visit if you have the chance!

4. Coit Tower:

Coit Tower on San Francisco tour.

Photo courtesy of San Francisco Travel

After going on the Taste of The City food tour and learning more about Lillie Coit, you’ll want to visit Coit Tower! It sits on Telegraph Hill and gives you a 360-degree view of the city! It’s a landmark on the SF skyline!

5. Painted Ladies:

Painted Ladies on San Francisco tour.

Photo courtesy of San Francisco Travel

Any other Full House fans out there??

Someday I’ll get to see those iconic houses from the show’s opener! It’s one of the most photographed locations in San Francisco and a must-see!

6. Baker Beach:

Baker Beach on San Francisco tour.

Photo courtesy of San Francisco Travel

I wouldn’t go here to swim or get out in the sun, but it has one of the best ocean views of the Golden Gate Bridge! There are also great cafe’s nearby and hiking trails too!

7. Bay Cruise Adventure:

Bay Cruise Adventure boats in San Francisco.

If you take this cruise, you’ll get to sail right under the Golden Gate Bridge! So cool! They also have a Rocketboat that sails around the bay at high speeds!

The port to get on the boats is right by Pier 39 so you can enjoy two amazing attractions in the same place! Plus, this is an attraction in the CityPass booklet, so you get admission for having the pass!

8. Ghiradelli Square:

I got to go here the first time I went to San Francisco and I would definitely want to go back again!

There’s a Ghiradelli store that offers free samples of their chocolate and has the most amazing ice cream treats! Plus there are tons of other yummy restaurants and cute shops to visit.

It’s worth seeing at night, too, when the Ghiradelli sign is lit up!

Final Thoughts on San Francisco on a Budget

Woman posing on street in San Francisco.

Those are just a few of the amazing things to do in the city! Crazy, right??

I’m so glad I could surprise my husband with this trip. San Francisco on a budget was SO fun and I’d been wanting to do this for such a long time!

I loved soaking up the culture and vibe of the city, but, of course, it was good to come home to our wide streets, garages, and suburbs 😉

Want More?

After reading these tips for San Francisco on a budget, you’ll also love my Ultimate Guide On How To Save Money At Disneyland.

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Your Turn

Are you excited to explore San Francisco on a budget? Are there any fun attractions I missed? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

I received some of these items complimentary in exchange for posting about our experience #SFTravel

Check out my tips and tricks for visiting San Francisco in a weekend on a budget! From flights, to hotels, to things to do, I list all of the ways we saved!