Tips for Traveling San Francisco on a Budget

San Francisco often makes the headlines for being the most expensive destination in the US. Thankfully, however, this doesn’t mean you should knock it off your bucket list. It is possible to visit California on a budget and even find things to do for free.

You just need to know where to look

So, are you wondering how you can explore San Francisco on a budget? You can definitely visit on a budget, just as long as you take advantage of the different passes as well as finding the right place to stay.

So, here are My Tricks and Tips: They’ve been Tried and Tested for you!

Don’t Travel in High Season

The climate in San Francisco is really mild, and there is little more than 20 degrees in difference from the hottest afternoon in summer to the coldest winter night. This really is an excellent reason to avoid the high season; you won’t be compromising on the weather.

Hotels are at their highest occupancy rate from August till October, and then again at Christmas. Prices on airfares however are at their highest from June till August.

So, when you avoid summer and the early autumn months, you can enjoy a reduction of about 15% on your hotel bill, and even more reduction on your flight prices.

Where to Stay

When traveling to San Francisco, it’s important to look for hidden costs and fees. Many hotel bookings having additional costs that you might not see at first glance; these costs could include parking, resort fees, and city taxes. So, before you confirm your booking, make sure you are clear of the actual total amount you will be paying.


If you want to experience the city like a local, an Airbnb rental is an excellent choice. Just make sure to read the reviews and check out things like the exact location and if there will be parking nearby or not.

You can often grab a bargain from a Superhost on Airbnb for as little as $75 per night. They may be some hidden fees you have to pay, but when confirming your booking, you should be given the total price in full.


As an alternative to an Airbnb, you may like to stay in a hostel. Once again, read up on the reviews so you don’t get a shock on arrival. There are some real dumps out there, but some swanky hostels too.

Explorer Pass Options

Forward planning really helps here. Once you know what you will be doing on your arrival, you should see what passes are available. If you are planning on going as a real full-on tourist, the CityPASS could be perfect for you. Included in this pass is a 3-day tour of the city with the Muni Bus and Cable Car as well as entrances to some of the top attractions. If you intend to do absolutely everything available on this 3-day tour you will save yourself $76.90 per person.

Another popular pick that allows you to customize your trip is the Go to San Francisco Card. With this card, you can make a saving of up to 60% if you plan a few days of full-on sightseeing. If you only wish to visit a handful of attractions, the Explorer option is handier.

Sightseeing Pass

This option allows you to see anywhere between 2 and 6 attractions and is valid for a whole month. Alternatively, you could opt for an unlimited pass for 1 to 5 days.

Use the BART

The Bay Area Rapid Transit system is an excellent way to see San Francisco. This network, known as the Bart will get you anywhere you need to go, including OAK and SFO airports. The amount you pay depends on the distance you travel, an online calculator allows you to budget for your travel. The prepaid card system simply deducts what you spend on each journey, allowing you to travel without having to handle cash all the time.

Explore the Parks

The Golden Gate Park is a must, although there are many more besides that are entirely free to visit. You will also find a lot of free events going on, a quick look at the calendar before you going allowing you to properly plan for these. The Japanese Tea Garden is the first place you should visit within the Golden Gate Park, entrance being free before 10am on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Friday.


Free Things to Do

There are endless lists of things you can do for free in the city, and if you love photography, you will be in your element. For the best photo of the city, take a walk across the Golden Gate Bridge.

  • Admission to Alcatraz is free, although you will need to pay for the ferry to get there.
  • Coit Tower. This tower stands tall at 210 feet and provides you with panoramic views of the city. For an extra $9 you can go all the way to the top.
  • Murals on Lombard Street. These are the perfect location for taking your San Francisco selfies
  • Painted Ladies. No trip to San Francisco is complete without taking a few snaps of the Painted Ladies.
  • Free Walking Tours. Run by students and locals, simply leave a modest tip to your guide who will provide you with a real insider’s view of the city.

Cheap Eats

You can spend as little or as much as you want on food in San Francisco, from food trucks to Michelin star restaurants. To find cheap eats use the “Off the Grid Coalition” guide.

For local, cheap food that is authentic, head to the outdoor farmers market in the Ferry building on Saturdays.

Free Museum Days

Before you set off, make sure you take a look and find out which museums offer free admission, and on what days. While San Francisco can be pricey, there really is a lot to do for free and it really is possible to explore the city on a budget.