San Francisco is a stunning and colorful city full of culture, music, and technology. It is a city a lot of people wish to visit and many hope to live in. However, San Francisco isn’t the kindest city for your pockets. It is the second most expensive city in the United States. This poses the question of whether San Francisco is (1)worth visiting (2) possible to visit on a budget? Below I share with you detailed and curated information on a Budget-Friendly SanFrancisco Itinerary for 4 days.
Disclaimer: This post contains activity discounts from SFtravel, however, all opinions are mine.
Breakfast at Basik Cafe- Hawaiian Acai Bowls
Address: 1958 Polk St, San Francisco, CA 94109
Hours: Mon – Fri: 8 am – 4 pm; Sat: 8 am – 5pm ; Sun: 9am – 5pm
Favorite: Best Açaí in San Francisco
Sweet tooth: Dandelion Chocolate
Address: 740 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA 94110
Hours: Mon – Thurs: 10 am – 10 pm; Fri: 8 am – 11 pm ; Sat: 9am – 11 pm
Favorite: Quality Chocolate
Dinner at San Jalisco
Address: 901 S Van Ness Ave, San Francisco, CA 94110
Hours: Mon-Sun: 8 am – 10 pm
Favorite: Delicious food, huge rations and affordable.
Discover San Francisco’s culture at SFMOMA
The San Francisco Museum of Arts aka SFMOMA is an activity that should be on your list when visiting San Francisco. The 460,000 sq.ft building is home to numerous art exhibits by well-known artists and even Gap founders, Doris and Donald Fisher (Forbes). Besides the brilliant art exhibits displayed, my favorite was the Living Wall. It’s a balcony with abstract colorful metallic structure from Alexander Calder. Behind this structure, you can find a wall filled with living plants. These plants make the perfect natural aesthetic touch to this cultural Museum. In the living wall balcony, you can’t help but take tons of pictures, a background picture if you please as well. I didn’t hesitate to do this.
The SFMOMA tickets are $25 for Adults, $19 for young adults, and free for teens and kids. Check out their page for more information.
Tip: Don’t bring food or drinks into this museum, you will be forced to toss them out.
The living wall is the largest public one in the U.S. (Curbed)
Every neighborhood in San Francisco has it’s own feel, theme, and character to it. The Mission district is one of those neighborhoods. It is full of culture, especially Latin culture. If you want to enjoy the best Central and South American dishes, this is the neighborhood to be in. Mission district prides itself on attaining Michelin stars for 5 restaurants in the neighborhood. Besides, the award-winning restaurants, you can find street food vendors and food trucks that serve tantalizing street foods. The most popular place to visit in mission district is the Mission Dolores. It is the largest park in the neighborhood. What is culture without art and music to express it? Mission district has a great art scene. While walking through this district, you will find Murals, mostly representing the Chicano movement of the 70s. One of which was painted by Diego Rivera. If you are lucky, you will find some Mariachi bands playing between Valencia and Mission street as well. Parades and Carnivals take place in the Mission district. Find out more on the Mission district’s Latin American Influence.
Activity fee: Free
World famous Mexican American musician, Carlos Santana grew up in Mission District.
Climb uphill to the most crooked street in the world
The famous Lombard street is a must see in San Francisco. It is considered to be the most crooked street in the world. Cars drive carefully down the one-way hilly street in a criss-cross manner. To see this impressive view, you will have to climb several blocks uphill, it is quite the hike. Between the cars crisscrossing and the crowded group of tourists standing in the middle of the road to take the perfect picture, Lombard street is hard not to miss. Be careful not to block the road for vehicles passing by while you admire this unique street. There are steep steps up Lombard street that allow pedestrians to climb uphill, overlooking the city of San Francisco.
Activity fee: Free
Selfie in front of the flowers
Just downhill towards the right from Lombard street, you will be on Lyon street in the Marina district. The Marina district is characteristic for its stunning houses and breathtaking view of the bay. Peek a view of San Francisco from the Marina district and also take pictures of the brightly colored flowers there.
Activity fee: Free
Enjoy the view of the city’s Iconic landmark
Did you even go to San Francisco if you didn’t visit the Golden Gate Bridge? You can take the Muni Bus from the city to be dropped on Lincoln Boulevard. The view from Lincoln Boulevard is alright, but for a more spectacular view walk or ride a bike across the bridge to Marin Headlands for the best view.
It should take you less than an hour by foot on the 3 mile bridge or 15 minutes with a bicycle
‘The Golden Gate Bridge Isn’t Red
The official paint color is “International Orange.” ‘ – EventBrite
The Italian Homemade Company
Address: 716 Columbus Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133
Hours: Mon – Fri: 11 am – 9 pm
Favorite: The entire food is fresh, Pasta is handmade.
Address: 900 North Point St, San Francisco, CA 94109
Hours: Mon – Fri: 11 am – 11 pm
Favorite: It’s Ghirardelli, no more needs to be said!
Address: 2944 16th St, San Francisco, CA 94103
Hours: Mon – Fri: 11 am – 11 pm
Favorite: Wide variety of empanadas, vegetarian-friendly!
Tip: Accepts only cash.
Learn the history of the Alcatraz Island and its prison
Alcatraz Island founded in 1775 by Spanish explorer Juan Manuel de Ayala, used to host America’s most dangerous criminals such as Al Capone. It was also used by Native Americans to protest and claim the Island. Some Native American protesters were also locked up in the Alcatraz prison. Alcatraz Island was the second highlight of my San Francisco trip. The Island today is now a national recreation area and somewhat like a museum. Most people visit the Island because of its infamous prison. The prison tour is no ordinary tour. What makes it engaging is the audio tour feature. You get to feel like you were there during that time period. Visitors listen to a narrator and follow his guided instructions. The scenes from the narrator are reenacted and you can hear the sounds and feel the moments of fear and moments of joy when the Alcatraz prison was fully functioning. It is truly a priceless experience.
Activity Fee: $38
I recommend that you book months in advance for this ticket as they are usually sold out. I booked my ticket with Alcatraz Cruises. It was a smooth ride and I had a great time Book here!
“Cells were smaller than a closet: In B & C blocks, the cells were 5 feet by 9 feet, with a toilet and small sink (cold running only). Today’s walk-in closets are about 6 feet by 6 feet, or bigger.” – Trip Savy
This is a neighborhood which hosts popular shopping centers and a place where many tourists hang out. Here you can find tour buses, strips of well-known stores, tons of restaurants, strings of souvenir shops and many activities that would attract tourists. Tourist attractions usually mean overpriced products or services. The great thing here is that walking through the Fisherman’s Wharf (which is free) is an equally enjoyable experience. You get to feel the vibrant energy from the entertainment and nonstop activities going on. Some of the key attractions in this neighborhood are: Pier39, The Wax Museum, Ghirardelli Square, Ripley’s believe it or not Museum, to mention a few. My highlight at Pier 39 was visiting the Sealion.
Other attractions to look out for are: The aquarium, Acsailing Sf, Bike rentals, City tours, The Musical stair, Whale watching tours and many more.
Activity fee: Free (If you are only walking through)
Watch the Sunset over the Painted Ladies
The painted ladies are a set of colorful Victorian houses that have been rumored as the set for The T.V. series, The Full house. The painted ladies faces a lovely uphill park called Alamo square. From the Alamo Square, you can see one of the best views of San Francisco.
“The Painted Ladies are symbolic of the Gold Rush Era. After all that new money came in, San Francisco wanted to show it off via grand, opulent houses. The designs leaned toward the Queen Anne style—fancy, flashy combinations of bay windows, turrets, and decorated rooflines.”- Upout
Other places with great Sunset views: Twin Peaks, Bernal Hill, Mt. Davidson Park, Grand View Park, Tank Hill Park, Coit Tower etc.
Activity fee: Free
China Town is another characteristic neighborhood in San Francisco. It is the largest outside of Asia and the oldest in North America! China town is home to 15,000 Chinese locals (HiddenSf). It serves as a cultural shopping hub for the Chinese, SF Locals and tourists alike. Visiting China town during the Chinese New Year is a special experience. Here are some of China town’s main attractions. Make sure to check out the Golden Gate fortune cookie factory where the first fortune cookie was made.
Activity fee: Free (if only walking through, however items and restaurants in Chinatown are usually inexpensive)
“More people visit China Town than the Golden Gate Bridge”- Inside Guide
“Fortune Cookie is an American invention”- Fancy Fortune Cookies
I saved money on Day 3 by buying a fulfilling lunch at a grocery store.
Yosemite National Park
A 4-hour drive from San Francisco will take you to Yosemite National Park. If you are an outdoor person, you must have already included the park on your must-go-to list. The 1,169 mi² park is a huge park, that you can’t discover it all in a day. I recommend 3- 7 days at the park to hit most of the sought after spots. A trip to this park would blow your mind. Even your digital device wouldn’t do justice to how breathtakingly beautiful this park is. The Yosemite Falls is the largest waterfall in the whole of North America (National Parks). I spent only 6 hours at the park (mostly in the Yosemite Valley) it felt like I only scratched a tiny spot of the gigantic park. As a first timer to a National Park and Yosemite, there are many rookie mistakes made and lessons learned. Here are some tips to know before and while visiting the Yosemite Park:
- If you are on a budget bring your own food, there are restaurants and shops with food at the park but many things there are overpriced, including the food.
- If you need to fill up your tank do so before entering the park for a couple of reasons (1)There are only 5 gas stations in the whole park and (2) Prices for gases are astronomical, I’m talking $5 per gallon!
- Have an idea of the Key areas and spots you want to visit. As mentioned before, this park is huge!
- Save money by buying an annual pass for your household. This would work great if you plan on visiting any National park or Federal recreational site more than once in a year.
- Some areas of the park will be closed depending on what time of the year you visit. Most areas are open in the Summer and Spring seasons, however, those are the time with the most visitors. Fall has fewer crowds and Winter is said to be a magical time at the park. For more information click here.
- Don’t expect to check out your Facebook or Instagram feed while at the park. The network is spotty (except for the hotels and motels) and most times it doesn’t work. For those of you that want to immerse in nature, avoiding all distractions, this is good news. If you are worried about how you’d navigate throughout the park, don’t be. There are perfectly clear instructions on how to get around and how to exit the park
- Be careful, there are bears in The Yosemite National Park! Ask the visitor center or park ranger how to avoid or protect yourself from bears.
Entrance Fee: $35 per vehicle
Lunch or Dinner at Yumma’s Mediterranean Grill
Address: 721 Irving St, San Francisco, CA 94122
Hours: Mon – Fri: 11 am – 10 pm
Favorite: Fresh vegetables, yummy hummus, and overall delicious Mediterranean meal. Also Halal- Friendly
Best Ice Cream- Bi-Rite Creamery
Address: 3692 18th St, San Francisco, CA 94110
Hours: Mon – Fri: 11 am – 10 pm
Favorite: Said to be the best Ice cream place in all of San Francisco
Become enlightened at the Golden Gate Park
This is a 1,017 acres urban park, 20% larger than the size of New York’s central park. The Golden Gate Park houses interesting Gardens, smaller parks, and centers that are fun and educational for both adults and Children. The park itself is free, however, some of the activities cost a fee. Here are the places I visited at the park:
California Academy of Science:
Hands down my favorite place in the Golden Gate Park. Inside this science center, you will find interactive exhibits about plants and animals. Each of which is sectioned into a wide variety of habitats. Make sure to check out their Planetariums, the largest digital dome in the world. The grand screen that almost encapsulates the room, gives you the feeling like you are actually inside the video being displayed. Another visitor’s favorite is the rainforest dome, where you get to see beautiful butterflies flying freely around. Learn more about the California Academy of Science here.
Activity fee: $40 for adults (18 -64). See here for more info.
“The California Academy of Sciences is one of the largest and oldest museums of natural history in the entire world.”- Famous Wonders
Shakespeare Park: A pretty and quaint sized park with a statue of Shakespeare in its center. It is the perfect place to relax after a long day of walking.
Activity fee: Free
Japanese Tea Garden:
You can find interesting Japanese inspired gates with Bonsai trees spread around. Try their tea shop for delicious tea and Japanese desserts.
Activity fee: $8, (There is an additional cost for the tea and sweets).
San Francisco Botanical Garden:
This lovely garden is home to over 50,000 plants from around the world.
Activity fee: $9
Last view of San Francisco at the Mosaic Steps:
Hidden, in one of San Francisco’s beautiful neighborhood, is the Mosaic steps. Located between 19th Moraga street and 16th avenue. It is another way to see the city of San Francisco. What’s also impressive are the artistically colorful steps.
The Mosaic steps have become a place to take that perfect Instagram pic and a great way to view the city.
Where to Stay
Booking.com app: Find great hotel deals through your mobile booking.com app.
Airbnb: Airbnb is always a great option to save for accommodation however, The Airbnb in San Francisco can be quite expensive. Airbnb imposes a hotel tax for all Airbnb hosts in the San Francisco area. To opt for a cheaper Airbnb, I suggest you look outside the main city. For example, in Daly city, you can find better prices.
How to get around San Francisco
A public transportation that covers San Francisco’s Cable cars, Hybrid Buses, Muni Metro, and Streetcars. It’s the perfect way to get around the city for as low as $2.50 per ride. You can get a 7-day pass for $44. Check out the fare costs here. This was how I got around the city. I found it safe and reliable.
Bart: The Bay Area Rapid Transit, runs separately from the Muni transport system. You will have to get a different ticket for the Bart. The Bart stretches farther from the city than the Muni. You can also take the Bart from the airport to the city. Fare varies depending on where you are going. Check the fare calculator to find out more about prices.
Uber: Another great option to get around the city. To save money you can use the Uber pool option.
Rent a car :
Depending on how far you are going, you can use Expedia to rent a car or with Turo. Turo allows you to rent a car from a car owner for a certain number of hours and even a day. You can choose the type of car make you prefer and the price rate that is favorable to you. Prices could be as slow as $20 a day! The only downfall I found with Turo was that, the cars had a certain mile/distance limit. If customers who rent a car pass that mile limit, they will be charged extra per number of miles.
The Big Bus San Francisco:
This double-decker bus allows you to visit the top tourist attractions in San Francisco. Check out its site to find out more.
I hope you enjoyed this post and it encourages you to visit San Francisco. It is one of the best cities I have visited in the United States. To save money during your visit, I recommend that you get a CityPass for San Francisco. With CityPass, you get discount offers for many attractions.
What other cool places did I miss in this post? Feel free to comment down below.
like this post? pin it or save it for later!
San Francisco is one of my favorite places in the world to visit! I am so blessed to be able to visit this beautiful city on the weekends. I have yet to visit the Japanese Tea Garden, although everyone I know always raves about it. One day I will visit. Great tips!
I loved this post! I sent it to my sister who is heading to San Fran now. I think the Japanese garden will be a big sell to get my BF to come and travel there with me one day soon. Thanks for sharing your travels and reccos! xo, Natalie http://nataliastyleblog.com
Wow, I never knew it was even possible to travel on a budget in SF (HAHA!) but this guide really helps people like me who budget and makes attempts at traveling cheaply! Great read, great photos. Thank you!
So I think I messed up my last comment….anyways I’m trying again…what I was saying is that I didn’t know it was even possible to travel on a budget in SF (HAHA!) but this guide is super helpful for people like me and many others who attempt to travel cheaply. Great read. Thank you!!
I just returned to the US after living abroad for two years & San Francisco is at the top of my domestic travel bucket list! I can’t wait to go and I will definitely be pinning this itinerary for future reference – budget travel is the only way I travel. Thanks for putting this together! :)
Great read! I had no idea SF is possible to explore on a budget. That citypass option is the best way to move around the city where possible to get many discount offers.
I was born in Cali but have never been to San Fran! What a relief to know it can be done on a budget. Saving this for the day I finally make it to Northern California.
The San Francisco tour sounds great. We did one in Barcelona recently and it was the best way to explore the city.
Wow your really fit so much great stuff into a short time period! We’ve been a couple times, but I’m really hoping to make it to Alcatraz and Ghirardelli next time we’re there. And try some of the food you mentioned!
The Alcatraz tour was amazing!!! and yes I hope you get to try the food. You wouldn’t be disappointed :)
So nice to know that there are many free things to do in San Francisco! And you seemed to find a lot of great restaurants that were decently priced. I guess the most expensive city in the US can be done on a budget!
My boyfriend’s best friend lives in San Fran. It would be great to visit with him one day and implement these tips along the way. Saving $$$ tips are always welcome!
Such great photos and a lovely list of suggestions! Must try them out when I visit :D
These are great tips! Not too little, not too many either. And the photos are lovely also. Thanks for sharing!
Hi, very informative post. Are all the restaurants you recommend halal? Thank you
Hello, the only Halal/Zabiha certified restaurant is Yumma’s Mediterranean. I will be posting a Halal List for San Francisco soon!