San Francisco on a Budget

|August 2, 2019

We didn’t count all of them, but we’re pretty sure you can find more than ten thousand things to do in San Francisco; the trick is narrowing down the list to things that won’t break your budget. In a city that has been home to things like a $500 tasting menu and a $725 Mai Tai, you’ll also find free guided tours, $8 margaritas, pizza slices for just $3.50, and gargantuan sandwiches for under $10. And all those budget-friendly options are on this guide. 

So, keep reading to plan your inexpensive San Francisco itinerary that includes hotels, transportation, attractions, bars and restaurants. 

Jump ahead to find:

Places to Eat | Places to Drink | Things to Do | Places to Stay | Getting Around

Places to Eat

There’s no getting around the fact that San Francisco is a foodie city. We’re famous for oysters, for Dungeness Crab, for farm-to-table, for Mission-style burritos—the list goes on. And that list includes more than 30 Michelin-starred restaurants and several James Beard Award winners, but a round-up of those upscale options isn’t exactly budget-friendly. To give you a sampling of our foodie city without breaking the bank, we rounded up a selection of places that blend San Francisco flavor and Northern California sensibilities with inexpensive price tags.

Super Duper Burgers

San Francisco on a budget food

Photo courtesy of Aubrie Pick via Super Duper Burgers

This Bay Area original is dedicated to delicious burgers, local sourcing and sustainability. From the humanely raised Brandt Farms beef to the housemade pickles, everything at Super Duper is, well, super duper—including their packaging, which is completely compostable. This makes Super Duper a great way to experience Northern California sensibilities and San Francisco cuisine for a low price. Their Super Burger comes with two patties and is less than $9!

Hot Sauce and Panko To Go 

The original chicken gangster of San Francisco, this hole-in-the-wall shop and eatery sells hot sauces and slings chicken wings from the counter. You’ll find no seating, no bathrooms and no waiters, but you will find great deals and excellent eats. Just grab a spot in line and choose your flavor (there are more than 25!); your wings will be hand-coated and prepared in small batches. Though you’ll also find a few sandwiches, fish and chips, and sides on the menu, our favorite budget-friendly deal is the Waffle Special. It comes with one order of five wings and a waffle for just $10.99. 

Golden Boy Pizza

Featured in The 16 Essential Pizza Places in San Francisco, the original Golden Boy Pizza was opened in North Beach in 1978 by 19-year-old Peter Sodini. Forty years later, the pizzeria is operated by Peter’s sons and they’re still dishing out some of the most beloved pies in the city. Offered by the slice or by the sheet, Golden Boy is one of the few places you’ll find square pies because, at Golden Boy, it’s hip to be square. Though their sheets can be pricey, you also have the option to purchase pizza by the slice starting at $3.50. 

Pancho Villa Taqueria 

Pancho Villa is one of many authentic Mexican restaurants in the Mission, but along with their signature salsas, Mission-style burritos and nacho platters, you’ll get great values, too. Their extensive menu includes meat and vegetarian nachos, tacos, burritos and more, as well as classic combos, chile relleno and enchiladas. And more than half of the menu is under $10! Their huge Super Burrito is just $10.45 and they also offer a Baby Burrito for a smaller portion at $6.85. To see the full menu, click here

RT Rotisserie 

Rich Table is one of the city’s most talked-about upscale restaurants, and RT Rotisserie is their take on casual dining. The team’s delectable sandwiches cover everything from cauliflower to Southern fried chicken and range in price from $11 to $14. An even better deal, their rotisserie chicken comes in half and whole sizes and these are perfect for sharing a meal under $10 each. To see the full menu, click here

Tommy’s Joynt 

This colorful, no frills, neighborhood hofbrau is one of San Francisco’s longest living institutions. Their cooks arrive bright and early to prepare food and, when the doors open, they hand-carve meats and move quickly, so have your order and cash ready when you step up to the counter. Tommy’s Great Big Sandwiches are the best deal, packed with meat, and are just $8.80 each. On a Sourdough roll, whole wheat, white or rye bread, you can get roast beef, BBQ brisket, corned beef, pastrami, ham or turkey then add additions for an extra charge. To see the full menu, click here, and stick around for the drinks, too, because Tommy’s is one of the city’s most affordable bars!  

Places to Drink

As a big city and a foodie city, San Francisco’s cocktail scene is second to none. But, if you hit all the stops on The San Francisco Cocktail Bar Bucket List in one go, your wallet probably won’t thank you. To help you get a taste of the city’s best without spending a ton of money, we rounded up some of the best, budget-friendly cocktail bars. 

Holy Water 

San Francisco on a budget cocktails

Photo courtesy of Holy Water

If you’ve been praying for a good cocktail, Holy Water is the place to go. The relaxed tavern atmosphere is elevated by decanters doubling as light fittings, chandeliers made out of old books, a cloud-covered ceiling, and religious murals. The cocktail list offers more than 10 artisan options and every single one is $12, with a few $10 beverages during happy hour. 

Doc’s Clock 

It’s always time to drink at this Mission District staple. At Doc’s Clock, they serve up no frills cocktails, draft beer and liquor for low prices alongside daily drink specials, all day happy hour on Sundays, shuffleboard and special events. 

Harper & Rye 

Named after one of the owner’s children and an infatuation with rye whiskey, this neighborhood cocktail bar is as cozy and welcoming as it gets. Each cocktail is named after and inspired by family and loved ones, and they’re all about $11. But the best deal on the drink menu is the punch jar section. These huge beverages serve four people and cost $36—the perfect size and price to split with friends. One of the options, the sparkly Kentucky Punch, is made with bourbon, honey, aperol, sparkling wine, seltzer and rosemary. Yum! 

Comstock Saloon 

As one of the city’s most talked about cocktail bars, Comstock pours handcrafted, artisan drinks for pretty standard prices. However, there’s never a cover, they offer live music every night, and their daily happy hour includes the Moscow Mule and Margarita for just $8 each. For details on happy hour and the cocktail menu, click here

Things to Do

You’ll never run out of things to do in San Francisco, but the trick is tracking down the activities that don’t break your budget. Luckily, even our most talked about institutions offer budget-friendly alternatives; for example, check out The 11 San Francisco Museums That Offer Free Admission Days. And for free or inexpensive activities you can enjoy every day, keep reading! 

Golden Gate Park

things to do in Golden Gate Park San Francisco

Golden Gate Park covers more than 1,000 acres of San Francisco and is home to some of the most serene spaces, the most fun activities and the most well-known attractions in the city. That long list of attractions includes the Japanese Tea Garden which offers free admission Monday, Wednesday and Friday if you enter by 10 a.m., San Francisco Botanical Garden which offers free admission to residents daily from 7:30 to 9 a.m., and Lindy in the Park, a free weekly event which includes a free, half-hour, beginner swing dance lesson. For more information on the entire park, check out Everything You Can Do At Golden Gate Park.

Free Tours by Foot 

Free Tours by Foot offers guided, name-your-own-price tours in cities all over the world, including San Francisco. Their excursions can be designed for any budget over the course of a day or a full weekend, including options like San Francisco in One Day, Secrets, Scandals, and Scoundrels of San Francisco, and The Castro and the Fight for Equal Rights. To learn more about SF tours, click here

Cable Car Museum 

At the Cable Car Museum, they cover everything about the San Francisco cable car system from the first run in 1873 to the present day. Inside, you’ll find a collection of historic cable cars, photographs, mechanical displays and a gift shop run by the Friends of the Cable Car Museum, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of cable car history. And the best part is admission is always free! 

The Portwalk at Oracle Park 

The home of the San Francisco Giants, Oracle Park is also home to The Portwalk, a unique feature of the stadium located beyond the outfield wall where guests can take in sweeping views of the Bay while strolling along the waterfront. During Giants games, you can view up to three innings completely free of charge, but there are no alcoholic beverages allowed and you will have to go through a quick security check. For more information on The Portwalk and Oracle Park, check out the Oracle Park Information Guide

Musée Mécanique

Musée Mécanique houses one of the world’s largest, privately-owned collections of coin-operated mechanical musical instruments and antique arcade machines in their original working condition. That means you can play on and interact with more than 200 antique games and machines! Located on Pier 45 in Fisherman’s Wharf, admission is free every day, and it’s the perfect destination to see this tourist-friendly neighborhood.

Places to Stay

If you’re visiting the city and need a place to rest your eyes, check out these budget-friendly places to stay, including a hotel, a motel, a hostel and a bed and breakfast. For even more hotel options suitable for various budgets and preferences, check out Where to Stay When You Visit San Francisco

Parker Guest House

San Francisco on a budget hotels

Photo courtesy of Parker Guest House

Parker Guest House is a highly rated, 21-room bed and breakfast located near San Francisco’s vibrant Castro, Mission and Noe Valley neighborhoods. In addition to offering private baths in most rooms, guests can enjoy an extended continental breakfast in the morning, a complimentary wine social in the evening, free WiFi, a library and fireplace, a sunroom and extensive outdoor decks and gardens. On-site parking is also available for an extra fee.

HI San Francisco Fisherman’s Wharf Hostel

Operated by Hostelling International, this Fort Mason accommodation boasts an on-site cafe serving organic food and local libations, a movie room with theater-style seating, a free pool table and jukebox, and a cozy lounge with a fireplace. And because it’s located at Fort Mason, it’s just steps from Fisherman’s Wharf to the east and the Marina District to the west! Free parking is also available at the hostel on a first come, first served basis. To view all three of Hostelling Insternational’s San Francisco hostels, click here.

Ocean Park Motel 

Ocean Park Motel offers a historic escape just steps from Ocean Beach and the San Francisco Zoo. As the city’s first motel, this dog-friendly lodging has been in operation since 1937, and today, their 1930s art deco decor is perfectly suited for the trendiest of design lovers. It was even honored by the Art Deco Society in 1987 for the preservation of this Streamline Moderne beauty.

The Metro Hotel 

This charming, boutique hotel is one of the best values in the city. Family-run and centrally located in Haight-Ashbury, The Metro offers 24 guest rooms with private bathrooms, complimentary WiFi, flat screen TVs and ceiling fans. Though the building doesn’t have an elevator, it does have a garden oasis in the backyard and prices start at just $123 per night. 

Getting Around

As one of the country’s most bike-friendly cities, San Francisco is super accessible when you don’t have your own car. In fact, walking, biking and using public transport can help you avoid much of the street traffic in our bustling city. Below, we rounded up some of the best ways to get around the city, including bike rentals through your Lyft app, a free shuttle, and ferries to Marin County and the East Bay. 

Muni 

San Francisco on a budget

The master of public transportation in the city, SFMTA operates Muni, San Francisco’s network of fuel-efficient buses, light rail Metro trains, historic streetcars and iconic cable cars which cover nearly all corners of the city. Single rides on Muni cost just $2.50 or $3 cash, and you can pay quickly and easily using MuniMobile, SFMTA’s official ticketing app. Additionally, kids 4 years and under ride for free and there are discounts for youth, seniors and people with disabilities. If you’re visiting the city, we recommend checking out the Visitor Passport available for one day, three days and seven days. To learn more and get a breakdown of all Muni fares, click here

BART 

San Francisco on a budget

Bay Area Rapid Transit, affectionately nicknamed BART, connects the Millbrae in the Peninsula to Downtown San Francisco to the East Bay reaching all the way to Fremont, Dublin and Antioch. For residents who frequently ride BART and Muni, we recommend checking out the Clipper Card, but visitors or infrequent riders can purchase tickets at ticket vending machines that accept both cash and credit card in several locations. For all ticketing details, click here, and you can even calculate your fare in advance using the BART Fare Calculator

Bay Wheels 

Available in the Lyft app, Bay Wheels charges $2 for one ride up to 30 minutes and an extra $3 for each additional 15 minutes. It takes roughly an hour to bike from the Embarcadero to Ocean Beach which would cost about $8 for an hour. For residents, we suggest checking out the Monthly and Annual Memberships which offer unlimited 45-minute trips for one monthly or annual fee. For full Bay Wheels information, download the Lyft app or check out the website here

PresidiGo Shuttle

Offering free rides to and around The Presidio, PresidiGo is an excellent resource in the city if you’re set on exploring one of the city’s best parks. The system offers three routes, including PresidiGo Downtown which provides service between the Transbay Terminal, Embarcadero BART and Union Street/Van Ness Avenue and the Presidio. Once inside the park, check out the Around the Park routes serving more than 40 ​destinations within the Presidio. For things to do in the Presidio, check out Your Guide to Spending a Full Day in The Presidio, Mapped which includes restaurants, bars, hikes, views and things to do. 

San Francisco Bay Ferry

San Francisco on a budget

The San Francisco Bay Ferry connects the city to the East Bay, skipping the bridge traffic and tolls. Terminals include locations at Oracle Park, the San Francisco Ferry Building, Pier 41 and South San Francisco and connect to terminals in Alameda, Oakland, Richmond, Vallejo and Mare Island. To get details on various routes, fares and tickets, click here. And remember, children under the age of 5 ride for free!

Golden Gate Transit and Golden Gate Ferry

For travel outside the city, we recommend the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District which operates Golden Gate Transit and Golden Gate Ferry. The ferry connects San Francisco to Sausalito, Tiburon and Larkspur in Marin County, single ride tickets start around $12.50, and children 4 years old and under ride for free. The transit system also connects the city to Marin County and even goes as far as Santa Rosa in Sonoma County. 

Do you have a tip?

If you have the insider scoop on budget-friendly things in San Francisco, tell us in the comments below!

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McGuire Real Estate

McGuire Real Estate

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