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3 San Francisco Hacks for a Budget Trip

San Francisco is far from a budget-friendly city, but these 3 San Francisco hacks for a budget trip will help you save those dollars so you can travel better and longer.

In my day-to-day lifestyle, I’m a pretty laid-back person. I’m rarely stressed about having a plan, but nothing grinds my gears more than poor travel habits that lead to a tornado of problems later down the road.

Be prepared for everything and then you’ll have a stress-free vacation. Learn from my years of wisdom, guys!

In an expensive city like San Francisco, little mistakes can easily cost you loads of time, money, and hair follicles from the sheer stress of it all. With the city being so close to the tech bro haven of Silicon Valley, the prices are rising super high, and it’s one of the most expensive places to visit in the country.

However, it’s still definitely worth visiting and there are ways to explore this amazing city on a shoestring budget.

Practice these three travel hacks and you’ll be sure to maximize your enjoyment of San Francisco while you’re in town. These also work for a wide variety of expensive US and Canadian cities so make a note of them for your next budget city break!

1. Get Accommodation Where You Want to Be

While San Francisco does have some public transportation, it pales in comparison to New York or London in accessibility. The main bane of all San Fran life is called the BART and it picks up and drops off in very specific locations around San Francisco, Berkeley, Oakland, and other popular boroughs.

Plan ahead and stay within walking distance of where you think you’ll be spending the majority of your time (and not the Golden Gate Bridge). There’s a fine line between staying in the super expensive heart of the action and being local enough to not have to fork out for a cab everywhere.

San Fran, Oakland, and Berkeley have TONS of food and bar scenes within walking distance and any money you would have saved by staying in a random borough is going to be made up in a drunk taxi and Uber fares.

Trust me it happens more than you think with San Fran’s amazing bar and nightlife scene. It might seem more expensive to stay in a main borough rather than a cheaper suburb like Daly City, but trust me, all the Ubers and taxis add up, and with all the traffic, you spend all of your vacation on the road.

Not fun and not how you want to spend your time or money in San Francisco.

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2. Fly or Drive in or out on a Tuesday or Thursday

Coming into town on a Tuesday or Thursday is going to greatly decrease your risk of catching mind-blowing traffic, and potentially save your relationship with your travel companions.

I was caught at the entrance to the 580 highway in the middle of San Fran because it’s impossible to make a left/U turn anywhere and it nearly ended my relationship with my mom (sorry mom!).

If you’re someone who’s easily angered by traffic and dumb people, beat the rush in or out by coming in the middle of the week.

Also, it’s probably the worst-kept secret in budget travel that flying and booking mid-week is an easy way to save a ton of money. Weekend travel is normally sold at a premium for people looking to get a quick city break without having to use up a ton of their vacation days.

Avoid these travel dates if you can be flexible and you should be able to save a good chunk of money. Flexibility is key when you’re trying to save money on flights so give yourself plenty of options when you’re booking your trip to San Francisco.

3. Adventure Out for Lunch, but Stick Near Home for Dinner

Debit card fees start to add up quickly in an expensive place like San Fran so it’s best to take advantage of lunchtime deals at the city’s foodie hotspots. You’ll get more bang for your buck and be able to slip in and out of congested areas just before or after rush hour.

Go big for lunch and then go home for dinner. Chances are that you’ll be so full from lunch that you’ll order less during dinner and you’ll end up saving more in the long run. 

There are tons of lunchtime deals all over the city. Whether that’s a reduced version of a restaurant’s dinner menu at a lower cost, or combo meal and drink deals that can save you a little bit of cash each day, it’s a great way to keep costs low and check out a wide range of local restaurants and cafes.

If you’re big on the bar scene, spend all that extra money you’ve saved on dinner on drinking, you lucky dog. You can also have your smaller dinner at a bar or pub that serves small bar snacks or sides like wings or sliders, so you can stay in one place all night.

Also, sticking near your hotel or AirBnb also increases your chances of walking/stumbling home instead of spending more money on a cab or a DUI. This is why booking an Airbnb close to the action is well worth the extra initial expense to save on transportation overall. 

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A Few More Budget Tips for Spending Time in San Francisco

  • Head to local hotspots rather than eating or drinking around tourist spots like Fisherman’s Wharf or Union Square. The fewer tourists you see in a place the cheaper and more authentic the place is likely to be.
  • If you haven’t used Uber or Lyft before, download the app and take advantage of the free introductory rides that you get while you’re in town.
  • Check out the free museum days that happen throughout the month. This way you can enjoy a great indoor excursion without spending a fortune on ticket entries.
  • Raid local supermarkets rather than eating out for every meal. San Fran is full of amazing restaurants but if you’re buying breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks out you’re going to run out of money quickly!
  • Check out the happy hour deals in different bars and pubs. There are always places running either 241 deals or reduced-rate drinks in the city, so have a look around and split the prices with your friends or loved ones. 
  • A lot of the main tourist spots are free to visit, like the Golden Gate Bridge, Union Square, or Fisherman’s Wharf, but there are a lot of expensive coffee shops and restaurants around them. Don’t visit these sights hungry or you’ll end up spending a small fortune!

Enjoy Your Time in SF on a Budget!

So, let’s be honest. We all know that San Francisco is one of the most expensive places that you can visit in the US. That being said, there are plenty of ways that you can save money and minimize costs without sacrificing fun on your next North California vacation.

Follow my tried and tested tips and you’ll save a good chunk of change that you can save for your next trip, or splurge on a cool excursion while you’re there. 

What are your favorite San Francisco budget-saving hacks or wallet-friendly places to check out while you’re in the city? Let me know in the comments below, and I’ll be sure to check them out next time I’m in town!

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Thursday 30th of July 2015

Just got back from a week in SF for a wedding and loved it! I found the city really relaxed, no stress, easy to get around and full in interesting things to see/do/eat. I would definitely go back!

Nnedi Ugo

Wednesday 29th of July 2015

I wish this was posted earlier! I was just there last week. It was so expensive to travel in San Fran esp since I had to take the Caltrain to get there. Great article tho!

Vanessa Menchaca

Wednesday 29th of July 2015

Ugh isn't that the worst! Thanks for the love though :]