Budget Travel

San Francisco on a tight budget: the Golden City at rhinestone rates

San Francisco includes a well-deserved reputation for being an expensive city, and also the entire San francisco bay area regularly tops the charts of the USA's priciest places to live.

While you can spend unlimited sums on a visit to SF, there are ways to make your trip less expensive. Discounted flights aren't difficult to find, because of plenty of competition, and California's support of riding on the bus keeps fares reasonably priced and repair convenient (a minimum of by US standards). San Francisco is better seen by walking, and also the views, neighborhoods and park – some of the city's greatest attributes – are all free.

San Francisco also offers a well-deserved rep for excellent cheap eats. While no one is ever going to call SF a budget destination, it is possible to tame its costs – and have an extraordinary visit.

Be airport agnostic

San Francisco's international airport (SFO) is served by dozens of domestic and international airlines. As such, competition keeps fares reasonable, but it's always worth checking the price of flights to Oakland Airport terminal (OAK) over the bay. It's only a little more time-consuming to get involved with the town from OAK, and particularly for domestic trips, you might find a cheaper flight there.

Ride BART to and from the airport

The Powell St station on the fast BART train network is near to lots of hotels around Union Square. Trains are frequent and frequently quicker than driving around the traffic-clogged freeways. Fares average $10 to $15 based on distance, which is a significant saving over taxi or shared-ride fees charges.

The same advice applies to Oakland's airport. BART makes reaching SF easy from OAK, with simply one or at most two simple transfers needed.

Take the train or even the bus

San Francisco has good use of Amtrak trains, even though they stop over the Bay near Oakland and therefore are linked to the city by bus. If you are ready to ride public transit for longer distances, Greyhound serves SF.

Know when you should go

Unlike destinations more dedicated to the elements, for example tropical resorts, San Francisco's peak season stretches over the year. Casual tourists are more prolific in the summer and through holidays, but sometimes, hundreds of conventions and meetings big and small keep hotel rooms and restaurant seats filled.

Since January in Bay area could be just like expensive as August (or any other month), you'll need to take time to comparison-shop for flights and accommodation across many dates to locate bargains. Search for booking sites and apps that demonstrate prices inside a calendar format so you can see when rates are reduced.

Walk everywhere

Regularly ranked among the most walkable cities in america, most major sights in Bay area are reachable on foot, and that's the best way to explore the city's endlessly engaging neighborhoods. Since 2022 numerous streets over the city are closed to vehicular traffic a number of days per week – and some, such as John F Kennedy Drive in Golden Gate Park, are actually closed for the near future.

Ride a bike

San Francisco aims to become the most bike-friendly city in the US, and most residents are in the saddle. Many areas, such as are Golden Gate Park (mostly car-free on Sunday), the Embarcadero, Ocean Beach, the Marina and also the park-like Presidio are ideal for cycling.

San Francisco comes with an extensive 448-mile bike network, and most sights are reachable on two wheels. A roadmap of the bike network is available through the SFMTA, and the non-profit San Francisco Bicycle Coalition also offers maps and knowledge for cyclists.

Economical bike-sharing can be obtained citywide through Bay Wheels. Both traditional bikes and e-bikes can be hired from stations throughout San Francisco are available for single trips, day use or with monthly access passes.

Bay Wheels stations can be found downtown and also at major intersections – but bikes come without helmets, and biking without correct protection is dangerous, so bring your personal.

Take Muni

Muni operates bus, streetcar and cable car lines in Bay area, and buses and streetcars are known interchangeably because Muni. Some areas are better connected than the others, but Muni spares you the costly need for driving and parking – and it's often faster than driving.

Muni streetcars run in a subway under Market Street, where they are called Muni Metro. Lines J, K, L, M, N and T are fantastic means of reaching far-flung areas of the city. Addititionally there is this wonderful historic streetcar line F, which runs above ground on Market Street and runs to Fisherman's Wharf along the waterfront. For route planning and schedules, consult Transit 511. For real-time departures, see nextmuni.com, which syncs with GPS on buses and streetcars to provide best estimates on arrival times.

Essential and free Muni street and transit maps can be found online. Also useful is the MuniMobile app, which you can use to pay fares. Note that service and schedules are constantly changing because of Covid-19, check all routes and schedules in advance.

On buses and streetcars, tickets purchased from drivers (exact change required) or at underground Muni stations (where machines give change) only cost $3. Having a reloadable Clipper card (see below) or by using the MuniMobile app, the fare falls to $2.50. Just one fare will work for two hours of rides. Fares are 50% less for people age 65 and older, and people ages 18 or younger ride free of charge.

At the beginning of your Muni journey, free transfer tickets are for sale to additional Muni trips (not including cable cars or BART) within 1 hour 30 minutes. After 8:30pm, buses issue a Night time Transfer great for travel until 5:30am the following morning.

Buy a Muni pass

The Muni Visitor Passport targets tourists while offering some savings (1/3/7 days $24/36/47; using the MuniMobile app, $13/31/41). It allows unlimited travel on the Muni system, including cable cars, and it is sold at ticket kiosks and other locations.

The Muni's great bargain may be the regular day pass targeted at residents. It just costs $5 whether bought using the MuniMobile app or at a farebox or kiosk. It enables unlimited rides around the entire system aside from the cable cars.

Use a Clipper card

Clipper is really a reloadable fare system with cards that work on Muni, BART and other transit systems over the Bay Area. It automatically deducts fares and applies transfers (e.g., only one Muni fare is deducted per 90-minute period). You can put an electronic Clipper Card in your phone free of charge, or buy a physical card for $3.

Downtown Muni/BART stations have machines that sell Clipper cards and fare credit. Clipper Cards, whether in physical or digital form, could be linked to credit cards so they automatically refill with value.

Avoid taxis and shared rides

Taxi fares start at $3.50 and run about $3 per mile. Add 15% to the fare as a tip ($1 minimum), and the cost adds up fast. For quickest service in San Francisco, download the Flywheel app, which dispatches the closest taxi.

Lyft and Uber are based in Bay area and therefore are both ubiquitous and dear. Observe that with surge pricing, traditional taxis are often less costly, though both taxis and shared ride vehicles really go to town the same bad San francisco bay area traffic.

Consider a tourist pass

Two companies carry discount passes aimed at tourists in San Francisco. Whether or not they offer any real value depends upon what you would like concerning your amount of time in the town – if either group of attractions is in your listing of things you can do, it's worth doing the mathematics to see if the passes will save you money.

City Pass (adult/child $76/56) covers entry to four attractions, including the California Academy of Sciences, Blue & Gold Fleet Bay Cruise, the Aquarium from the Bay, the San Francisco Zoo and also the Exploratorium. It also offers a pass good for three attractions called C3.

Go Card (adult/child, one day from $63/52) is available in a rather bewildering array of options for varying lengths of time. It provides access to many major attractions, including the California Academy of Sciences, the de Young Museum, the Aquarium from the Bay, SFMOMA, USS Pampanito, the Beat Museum, Exploratorium and much more.

Eat on the streets

Yes, you can spend stratospheric levels of bread on a few of the finest meals in the united states here, but you can also enjoy exactly the same passion for top quality fare in more pedestrian form – literally.

The humble Mission-style burrito is ubiquitous in SF and is usually delicious. Various great eats are sold from storefront shops and cafes across the city. While you walk the city's streets, watch for lines of people outside bakeries, taquerias, dim sum shops, delis and other casual spots.

Some from the city's best chefs and purveyors have outlets along with their pricey restaurants where you can enjoy their food without the dine-in prices. The long-lasting Ferry Building has excellent eating and drinking options with to-go items at affordable prices – just locate an outdoor bench with views from the bay and revel in!

Daily Costs

Hostel room: $35 -60
Basic room for two: $120 -250 and up
Self-catering apartment: $150 and up
Public transport ticket: $2.50 -3
Coffee: $2 -5
Burrito: $8 -12
Dinner for 2: $80 -200 and up
Pint at the bar: $6 -9

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