How to See San Francisco on $50 a Day

Are you a penny pincher with wanderlust? Don’t fret, here is our guide to seeing and enjoying the City by the Bay without spending more than $50 a day.
By Carrie Bloom
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Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, California
Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, California  (iStockphoto)

Gorgeous, friendly, diverse—the City by the Bay is many things, but cheap is not one of them. Fortunately, savvy visitors can smoke out surprisingly affordable finds to see San Francisco on the cheap, from lush public parks and no-charge-nights at museums, to free concerts and low-cost food trucks with lines around the block (yes, they really are that good). Here are nine smart tips to lose your heart in San Francisco, but not your savings account.

Share some space
In a city as popular as San Francisco, it’s no surprise that hotel rates can hover in the stratosphere. That said, you can find some last-minute deals, particularly in the Union Square and Fisherman’s Wharf neighborhoods, and especially during the winter off-season. If you don’t mind sharing space with a local San Franciscan, consider booking a room on to hang out in San Francisco on the cheap. If two of you split a room and you don’t mind being in a less touristy part of town, you can just eek under the $50-a-day mark. Total cost (per person): $25.

Take a free walking tour
San Francisco’s famous hills do more than create a spectacular skyline: They also create distinct neighborhoods, many originally settled by immigrant groups (there’s the Hispanic folks in the Mission and the historic Italian community in North Beach). Learn more and see plenty on free walking tours offered by the San Francisco Museum and Historical Society and San Francisco City Guides. Total cost: $0.

Use public transit
With public transit this fun, who needs a car? The transportation system in San Francisco includes obligatory buses, but it also includes cute trolleys, clanging cable cars, and an efficient, safe, and comfortable light-rail network called the BART. All three are appealing, wallet-friendly ways to get around when hoofing it up the hills is just too tiring. For more options and information go to, or call 511 when you get there. Total cost: $2+ per ride (final cost depends on distance).

Cruise the bay for way, way less
While private ferry companies and day cruises would love to drain your wallet on a spin around the bay, you’re smarter than them. Opt instead for a ride on one of the city’s main commuter ferries. It’s the same water, and the same Instagram-worthy views of Alcatraz Island and the Golden Gate Bridge. Catch Golden Gate Transit boats at the Ferry Building to ride in comfort to charming North Bay towns like Sausalito and Larkspur. Total cost: $18 to $20 round trip.

Published: 11 Oct 2012 | Last Updated: 5 Nov 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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