My husband, Cameron, and I recently visited San Francisco and found some really cool cost effective things to do in the area. We both had one bucket item each that we wanted to cross off of our list and the rest I planned using my Lonely Planet San Francisco Pocket Guidebook, Yelp for restaurants, and Pinterest for cool local finds.
I believe that research is the most important step in getting the most bang for your buck. Finding the hidden gems that will make your trip unique and memorable especially on tight time constraints. Another thing I can’t forget to mention is to be sure and leave your trip open for change. If you walk by a cool bookshop or restaurant and end up spending hours there – fantastic! These finds are yours and are part of exploring a city to its full degree. So let’s start our money saving tips, shall we?
- Guidebooks. I’m a big fan of a paperback. Call me an old lady, but there is something about grabbing a book out of my purse and circling/crossing things off my lists. Let’s face it- your phone may die at one point because you’ve been taking all those amazing photos! Grab your map in your guidebook and voila- saved! Markup your book, highlight the shit out of it. Make it yours. As you travel, make notes in it on items you loved and items you hated. I’m not a huge souvenir person, but this guidebook will serve as one for you. We found a list of museums and were able to hit up two art museums which offered dual entry for the price of one! This cost us $12.00 each for 4 hours of entertainment. Keep it on the bookshelf marked up with all the notes that make it yours. The more coffee stains on the pages the better. Collect them and reference them at dinner parties or simply as good reminders of places you have enjoyed visiting. I recommend The Lonely Planet Series. You can find the San Francisco Guide we used here: Lonely Planet SF Guide Book
- Yelp. Yes, I am the girl who makes their friends wait before we pick a place to eat because I’m furiously researching who had the best eggs benedict in the area. I have found Yelp to save me time and time again while traveling. It may be a little extra work (and patience from your friends), but you are going to get the ability to have that local choice without knowing a soul in the city. Check out the pictures- look at the online menu WITH prices. Does this fit in your budget? Once you nail out your spot- call in advance for reservations. Because we called in advance at one location we found out there was a 45-minute wait that would cause us to miss our reservations for a show later that evening. I was able to hop on yelp while in the Uber, find a nearby place that was cool, had good reviews, and less of a wait time which allowed us to do all the things we had hoped to do on that epic night. In our case, we only had one night so… research my friends – research!
- Transportation. The Bart/Muni/Uber are your friend. In a big city with shitty drivers that end up making you yourself a shitty driver, public transport is truly your best option. Don’t even get me started on the prices for parking – good laaawwd help us all! Depending on your time constraints, choosing which mode of transport to use in different scenarios will be your trickiest part. Map out your day, see which areas are nearby each other, then plan your day around those parts of town. For example on day 1 we did Museums – Golden Gate Park is massive and is a wonderful place to get lost in. Then we headed to Legion of Honor Museum which is a clear shot using the buses (Muni). We ended that side of the city by hitting up Lands End and the Sutro Baths to see the sunset over the ocean. By this time it was late, so we used an Uber to get back to our hotel which was located in between Union Square and JapanTown. Breaking down those costs for you – $2.00 each to ride the muni (show them your ticket when you re-board the bus) and then $6.00 to get from Lands End to our hotel (we use the rideshare option on Uber – we are 100% cool splitting the costs with someone else!). That my friends is a total of $10.00 total for you and someone else to get across town when parking generally runs $20-30.00. Nighttime I generally always Uber or use the Bart – safest mode of transportation and the quickest, but during the day I can not stress the beauty of paying $2.00 to ride around the city. I’ve done this several times and it’s been so cool to just hop on and off while you see neat things you have never visited before. Of course, the best mode of transportation is your feet. WALKING! Something about setting out and exploring with only an end destination in mind is super exciting. The second day we walked to Japan Town for breakfast, then headed to St. Mary’s Cathedral to see the epic architecture and modern art, walked to nearby City Hall and went to every level and stood in awe of the grandness of such a huge and beautiful building as well as watched the twenty or so couples getting married at the same time. A sight to behold! We then headed over to Union Square, checked out “minted” a find that I found on Pinterest for local best shops in the area – check it out! Walked to Chinatown and found ourselves pretty zonked from all the walking. Insert Uber here — Uber took us to Pier 39 ($5.85 ride) which lead us to bikes for rent which leads me to my next tip.
- Bucket List items: Bucket list items are not always jumping out of an airplane and spending half your month’s salary on doing so. If you do a little research you can find cool things to do in the area that might fit your budget better! If traveling with a partner or friend – each of you choose one item you MUST do. By doing this you both will leave your trip feeling accomplished regardless of what roadblocks (it can definitely happen!) you may face. For myself, It was riding a bike across the Golden Gate Bridge. One of the cheapest things you can do are items that use your body for activity. For example, hiking, biking, kayaking, etc. Whenever I travel I research the area for local State or National Parks so I can get one nature day- try this out! We were both able to rent a bike for $8.00 an hour each and get across the bridge from Pier 39 in 2 hours total. That is $16.00 each for 2 hours of one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever done. Please please do this if in the area – see the city in a whole new perspective and even get to enjoy some time in Sausalito. We used City Ride Bike Rentals which is located by Fishermans Wharf. We used City Cameron’s bucket list item was having noodles from Chinatown in a “To Go” container. 🙂 Cam had never done this and he has always wanted to get that little To Go container like they show in the movies. Simple- but so fantastic when you are in a huge Chinatown in a bustling city! Cam’s bucket list was $4.99 and worth every penny. Big or small- think outside the box! What’s on your bucket list for your next trip?
- Hotel/AirBnB: We stayed at The Hotel Majestic which is the oldest hotel in San Francisco and loaded with history. I was shocked when I read that it would only cost us $100.00 to stay at a cool ass hotel with a fireplace and suite! One of the biggest items here that I need to mention is traveling during the off-season. We traveled in February and this cut the cost by about $60-$90.00. We also decided to only go for one evening which by researching in advance we already knew the things we really wanted to do, kept us busy and efficiently allowed us to do a ton of items within just 48 hours. I personally use hotels.com for hotel points, but I also suggest Expedia and Airbnb. Both are fantastic!
If you can’t get yourself to do Public transportation, I highly suggest researching cheap areas around your hotel to park. I did a little research and found out that our hotel actually had the cheapest parking and it included Valet – heeeyyyy! If you left your car in the garage and still did public transportation in the city you will be saving yourself a lot of extra parking garage fees that can add up quick. I did find that the State Parks had free parking and Golden Gate Park had free parking alongside the roads inside the park. It’s one of the most visited places in the city though and weekends do get very busy and hard to find parking spots- so be aware to leave yourself plenty of time for finding a spot!
I hope that these suggestions help guide you on your next adventure to the Bay and help you cut some costs in your pocketbook. The more you save the more adventures you can do in the future!
Happy traveling my friends.