San Francisco is the next destination in our “Cities on a Budget” series (hope you didn’t miss our budget travel tips for Seattle, Orlando, and New York)! San Francisco is one of the most visited cities in the world; although physically compact, it has a lot to offer. With world recognized attractions, amazing food, and cultural diversity.

Usually known as one of the more expensive cities to visit, San Francisco can be pretty affordable for any traveller. Explore neighbourhoods like The Mission, SoMa, and the Western Addition, or visit some traditional attractions without breaking the bank. As always, be sure to pack travel medical insurance because your provincial health plan won’t cover everything if you’re injured or sick in the US.

Budget travel tips – San Francisco

CityPASS San Francisco – Get access to 4 of San Francisco’s best attractions and unlimited use of the Muni city-wide transportation with the CityPASS San Francisco. The pass costs $94 USD which is a 44% savings compared to paying regular price.

Alcatraz Island – Alcatraz is obviously famous for once being home to some of America’s most notorious criminals, but now it’s home to rare flowers and plants, marine wildlife, and nesting sea birds. The history of Alcatraz should not be missed. Note that CityPASS holders can substitute in the Alcatraz Cruise as one of their attractions.

Alcatraz island san Francisco top tourist sights
Visiting Alcatraz can be included as one of four attractions for CityPASS holders.

Pier 39 sea lions – Admittedly a giant tourist trap, but there’s something about the sea lions that seems to get people excited. Fortunately Pier 39 also has multiple attractions and dining options to keep you entertained.

Local best eats

Swan Oyster Depot – Arguably the best seafood restaurant in San Francisco, Swan Oyster Depot consistently has a lineup out the door. The family run restaurant mainly serves cold seafood, and their clam chowder is the only hot item on the menu.

Zero Zero – A popular spot for cocktails, Zero Zero also serves modern Italian dishes which never disappoint. The daily salad specials and the hand-crafted pizzas are hugely popular, but be sure to leave room for the custom sundaes for dessert.

Tartine – If you recognize the name, it might be because you’ve seen their famous cookbooks on shelves everywhere. The bakery is located in the Mission District and is run by Elisabeth Prueitt and Chad Robertson who were named as the best pastry chefs in America by the James Beard Foundation in 2008.

Budget accommodations in San Francisco

San Francisco is notoriously expensive for hotels, but there are plenty of options for every budget. Below are some options for travellers who’re looking to save.

Adante Hotel – Located next to Union Square, this boutique style hotel offers rooms for as low as $120 USD a night. Rooms have contemporary furnishings and the piano themed décor provides a unique atmosphere. Convenience is also a major perk since the Union Square area is popular with tourists.

colour San Francisco chinatown
The Adante Hotel next to Union Square is a short walk to San Francisco’s colourful Chinatown.

Aida Plaza Hotel – The Aida Plaza Hotel’s slogan is “today’s comfort at yesterday’s prices,” which keeps the budget conscious traveller happy. Located in downtown San Francisco, the hotel is walking distance from the Performing Arts District, Moscone Convention Center, and the Museum of Modern Arts.

The Francisco Bay Inn – This property is pretty basic, but the recently renovated rooms can be had for less than $90 USD a night. Located on San Francisco’s famous Lombard Street – just a few blocks from the “crocked” part – the hotel also offers free parking for all guests.

Be sure to check out the San Francisco Travel website for more hotel ideas on any budget and in any neighbourhood.


Parking is extremely expensive in San Francisco, so try to stick to the Bay area’s comprehensive public transportation system. The major transit systems are:

Muni — Metro subway, streetcars, buses, trolley buses and cable cars
BART — Regional subway services
Caltrain — Commuter rail services

Ah, the famous cable cars of San Francisco—very scenic, but not as practical as the Muni, BART or Caltrain for getting around the Bay area!
Ah, the famous cable cars of San Francisco—very scenic, but not as practical as the Muni, BART or Caltrain for getting around the Bay area!

Most tourists will end up just on the Muni system, so picking up a Muni visitor passport for 1, 3, or 7 consecutive days of unlimited rides is your best value. Considering a single ride cable car ticket is $7, the visitor passport is money well spent.

A trip to California wouldn’t be complete without a stop in the “City by the Bay.” If you have more budget travel tips for San Francisco, share below!

Barry Choi is a budget travel and personal finance expert. You can visit his blog at

Money We Have Twitter Barry Choi Google Plus - Barry Choi Image Map
Find related articles on travel

Cities on a Budget—Top Things to Do in San Francisco

Jan 12 2016