How To Visit San Francisco On The Cheap

Leilani Salgado
San Francisco On The Cheap (1)

Visit San Francisco

San Francisco at night has such a retro vintage vibe, it may not be bursting with nightlife, most places close really early, so if you are an early riser, you’re in luck because to really enjoy this city you have to go out and take advantage of the day from morning until sundown. If you’re visiting San Francisco in November, sundown will be around 5 pm so be prepared.

During the day San Fran is dreamy AF. The views of the Pacific Ocean in contrast to The Golden Gate Bridge will have you pinching yourself like you’re in a movie.  If you wake up early try to catch the sunrise at Marshall beach. You can do some self-guided morning yoga while you enjoy some stunning views of The Golden Gate Bridge + the hills next to it that make it look like you’re also in Hawaii.

Things To Do in San Francisco on a Budget

Take advantage of free attractions and avoid overly-hyped tourist attractions such as a visit to Alcatraz. San Francisco is such a great city for photography and almost all the beautiful places you can photograph are free!

Some beautiful free attractions include:

  • The Golden Gate Bridge
  • Salesforce Park
  • Coit Tower
  • Chinatown
  • Marshall Beach
  • Taking a stroll along Pier 39 & Fisherman’s Wharf
  • Bay Bridge

Fun and Cheap Things To Do in San Francisco

One thing I can suggest for seeing San Fran on the cheap is not to do things you can do anywhere, especially things you can do back at home. Remember you are visiting this city for its uniqueness. This means that if you can rollerskate and go to the cinema back at home, don’t spend it on doing that while here.

Cheap things to do in San Francisco:

  • Rent a bike for $20 and bike it to & on the Golden Gate Bridge
  • Enjoy some Mexican street food at San Francisco’s Mexican neighborhood, La Mission 
  • Visit San Francisco’s Botanical Garden, if you visit in the morning admission is cheaper
  • Party at night at Castro, San Francisco’s gay district, you could go here on a Tuesday and it will still be lit, trust me.
  • Drink tea or eat a pastry at Union Square
  • Get a massage for $30 in Chinatown

San Francisco Best Cheap Eats

San Francisco has the largest Asian community outside of Asia. If you’re traveling to San Fran on a budget you’re most likely not in the mood for sit-down fancy restaurants but rather street food or local fast food joints. 

Head to Chinatown, or Japan Town

Chinatown has more to offer than just Chinese food,  you can grab a Vietnamese sandwich at Little Paris for $6. (Bonus: near Japan Town, you can find Korean BBQ on Geary & Presidio).

Try Hawaiian Bbq at L&L Hawaiian Bbq

Their BBQ chicken bowl has rice and veggies and hits the spot!


Half Mexican & half Korean tacos! One order of 2 tacos + tater tots came out to $14.

Get Your Eats on at Hippie Thai Street Food on Haight Street

According to my locals, Haight street is known as a hippie neighborhood with cool shops, & restaurants that generally cater to a young crowd and are specially lit on the weekends. 

Just Get In N Out

In N Out Sf (1)

It’s a California classic and won’t put a dent in your budget.

Street Taco

Tacos San Fran (1)

Has 3 locations in San Francisco and serves Mexico city street-style tacos.

Cheap Rental Cars in San Francisco

One hack my mom taught me for cheap rental cars is to book your stay, flight, and car rental in combination using Orbitz, this saves you so much money in comparison to booking each thing individually. 

If you can’t book everything in conjunction, of course, there are other options. Nowadays renting a car from an app such as Turo, can even be more affordable than renting from a company directly, since you a renting from another person.

Travelocity also has car rentals for as cheap as $18/day. Truly visiting San Francisco on the cheap means that when it comes to transport in San Francisco the best way to go is public transport. Fare is only $3, (make sure you get a Clipper card or download the app). If you’re 18 and under fare is free. 🙂

Finding Affordable Places To Stay

When it comes to San Francisco on the cheap, your best bet for accommodation is Bed and Breakfasts, Hostels, or Airbnb. You can get a shared room on Airbnb for San Francisco for about $30/night, and a private room for $50/night.

The most popular hostels in San Francisco are Green Tortoise and Pacific Tradewinds ITH. Green Tortoise is known more like a party hostel, while former Pacific Tradewinds guests would describe PT as small & community-centered. Pacific Tradewindsis a great place to make new friends and take part in weekly activities such as Sunday movie nights and taco Tuesday. Yes, free food twice a week! That’s always nice as a budget backpacker!

To check out all your options, take a look on Hostelworld, & if you’re coming for only a couple of days you might even want to consider Couchsurfing.

I am a content creator from Chicago with a passion for writing + lifestyle & travel photography. When I'm not creating content you can find me listening to podcasts on Spotify, reading, or exploring a new place. Join me on Instagram @leilani.jeanette to follow along with my adventures and read my blog!

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