Despite its reputation for expensive hotels and restaurants, San Francisco offers something for the budget traveler, too.
Tips for Visiting San Francisco on a Budget
- Avoid busy times, not only the obvious summer vacations and holidays, but also anytime there's a big convention in town. You can check the Moscone Center event calendar to see when those occur. If they're using more than one of the center's venues, they're also likely to fill up all the hotels in the area.
- Try leaving the car at home, especially if you live in the Bay Area and can take public transportation. You'll save parking fees and aggravation and get a chance to enjoy the city on foot.
- If you've been to San Francisco before, think about doing something different. Stay in a different part of town (an Alamo Square B&B, Presidio Heights or the Marina), where hotel rates may be lower and parking may be free, go to the Mission area for dinner or follow a street you've never been on.
A big breakfast should hold you until dinner time. Join the locals in line at Mama's on Washington Square (1701 Stockton at Filbert), who line up for French toast and "m'omlettes."
Cut meal costs by heading to the Ferry Building Farmer's Market (Market at Embarcadero) on Saturday morning to pick up some fruit, artisan bread, handmade cheeses or other items for a picnic lunch or in-room breakfast.
San Francisco's annual dining event, Dine About Town is usually held in late January, when dozens of Bay Area favorites offer three-course lunches and dinners for reduced, fixed prices.
Where to Stay
Check our recommended hotels and area campgrounds.
You can keep the cost of your San Francisco getaway in check and you won't have to stay in a dump, but you will have to do some work. Use the "Hotels in a Known Area" section of our guide to finding a place to stay in San Francisco, cheap, and you should be able to get a four-star hotel near Union Square for the price of a low-end motel, as long as there are no major conventions or events in town that take up all the rooms.
Parking at most San Francisco tourist hotels can cost $40 per night or more. Drop off the bags at the front door, skip the valet and park yourself in a city-run parking garage for a more reasonable rate.
What to DoYou'll find plenty of things to do in San Francisco for free, and if you're a people-watcher, you can indulge yourself all day long at Fisherman's Wharf or seated outside a North Beach Cafe.
Instead of taking an expensive bay cruise, just take a ferry ride to Sausalito instead. They leave from Fisherman's Wharf and the Ferry Building.