Mission San Francisco de AsÌs, or Mission Dolores, is the oldest surviving structure in San Francisco and the seventh religious settlement established as part of the California chain of missions.

Don't miss the Mission District – or Nob Hill, the Embarcadero or so many other spots – as you stroll around San Francisco. (Scott Chernis Photography)

San Francisco is known for a lot of things – but being an affordable city isn't one of them. Don't be discouraged. Devising an affordable trip is easier than you might think, if you strategize beforehand. To help find the best tricks for traveling within a budget, U.S. News asked a few local experts to weigh in. Here's what they said.

Sightsee by foot.


The moon is seen through masts of boats at the Embarcadero Marina

The Embarcadero Marina (Scott Chernis Photography)


"You don't need a lot of money to walk around and see the most scenic vistas," says Nancy K. DuBois, chief concierge at Cavallo Point. "Instead of taking a tour, just walk. Walk along the Presidio. It's just chockablock full of history. Walk the bunkers in the Marin Headlands and see the lighthouse out there. You can pretty much see every famous site in San Francisco by walking."

[Read: The Best Hotels in San Francisco.]

Ranked the second most walkable city in the country by Walk Score, San Francisco is easy to get around by foot – if you know where to go and don't mind the hills. Head to Nob Hill and stroll Hyde Street until you get to Lombard Street, where you can see the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, Alcatraz Island and the San Francisco Bay. Continue through North Beach, the city's historic Italian neighborhood, and up to Coit Tower for more views. For more moderate walking, stroll the Embarcadero waterfront district or the trendy Mission District.


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Take public transportation.

"Invest in a multiday pass for transportation," says Andreas Rippel, chief concierge at the Four Seasons Hotel San Francisco. "The SFMTA Visitor Passport system lets you ride cable cars, streetcars and buses."

The cost of hopping around San Francisco can add up quickly, especially if you're visiting for a short time and have a lot of places on your bucket list. The city's Visitor Passport, which grants you unlimited rides on the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency's "Muni" system, is a great way to curb transportation costs and get around easily. You can purchase passes for one day ($21), three days ($32) or seven days ($42).

Visitors who are staying for a long weekend and planning on hitting a lot of the city's main points of interest may want the CityPASS, which includes a three-day Visitor Passport and one admission ticket to attractions like the California Academy of Sciences and The Exploratorium, valid for a nine-day period. Prices are $94 for adults, $69 for children 5 to 11 and free for kids 4 and younger. Passports can be purchased in advance on your smartphone using MuniMobile.

[Read: 5 San Francisco Neighborhoods to Discover on Vacation.]

Feast on casual eats.

"You actually don't have to spend a lot of money at restaurants to eat well," says Jose Lopez, chief concierge at the Palace Hotel, A Luxury Collection Hotel. He recommends La Taqueria, which has "the best burritos in the city," he says.

Mission Chinese Food is a celebrated Chinese restaurant with an imaginative flare, and nearly every dish is less than $18. Go with friends, or make new ones, and share. The Chairman began as a food truck before opening a brick-and-mortar establishment in the Tenderloin neighborhood, serving baos like pork belly with turmeric-pickled daikon in a steamed bun. Or hit the city's happy hours: Anchor & Hope has $1 oysters and $6 wines.

Take advantage of public art.


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The Bay Lights, by artist Leo Villareal (James Ewing)


You don't have to pay a pricey entrance ticket to see good art in San Francisco. A lot of the city's best art can be found outside. In the Mission District, check out the colorful murals in Clarion Alley between 17th and 18th streets, and in Balmy Alley between 24th and 25th streets. After sunset, head to the Embarcadero to see The Bay Lights, a magical LED light installation on the Bay Bridge by artist Leo Villareal in honor of the bridge's 75th anniversary.

[Read: 6 Can't-Miss San Francisco Museums.]

But there are also ways to see what many museums have to offer, without paying full price. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art has 45,000 square feet of art-filled space that you can see for free. "And the tower at the de Young is free and offers one of the best views of San Francisco," says Rachel Ward, editor at Where San Francisco magazine. Those museums and others offer admission-free days on occasion, so be sure to check their websites before visiting.


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Book ahead, or be flexible – if you can.


The San Francisco Symphony with music director Michael Tilson Thomas, during rehearsal at Davies Symphony Hall on Wednesday morning, November 2, 2016.

The San Francisco Symphony (Stefan Cohen)


"If you're planning on seeing a show or live entertainment, book in advance – and book directly at the venue, if you can," says Tom Wolfe, chief concierge and director of heritage at the Fairmont San Francisco. "Ticket brokers will charge double the face value."

But if you have more flexibility, that can work in your favor. The San Francisco Ballet offers 200 standing room tickets on the day of performances at a discounted rate. Likewise, the San Francisco Symphony offers a 25 percent discount for groups of 10 or more at most performances, or try to snag a rush ticket for $20 on the day of select performances.

To experience more of what San Francisco has to offer, check out the U.S. News Travel guide.


The Ultimate Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip


Photo Gallery
Man driving a convertible on Pacific Coast Highway.
Part of the Vancouver skyline, seen from Olympic Village at the end of False Creek. In the foreground is the ramp down to the watertaxi dock, with the geodesic dome of the Science Museum behind, along with some apartment buildings and offices on Quebec Street.
Beautiful Sunny Morning in Seattle With Mt Rainier
Sunset landscape of Portland, Oregon.
The shore of Columbia River in Astoria, Oregon.
Looking up at the redwood trees at Muir Woods in San Francisco.
San Francisco skyline and Bay Bridge at sunset.
Bixby Creek Bridge, along California 1
Sunset in Venice Beach with Santa Monica Pier in the distance.
San Diego
Rosarito Beach- Baja California, Mexico
|

Take a spellbinding drive, packed with exciting twists and spectacular scenery.
When you imagine driving along the Pacific Coast Highway, you might think of the thrilling stretch of coastal road between San Francisco and Los Angeles. This is one of the country's most famous drives, and for good reason. But stick to this route and you'll only see a fraction of the spectacular scenery that lines the West Coast. For a real adventure, hit the road for a longer coastal journey, from Vancouver, British Columbia, to San Diego, taking in soaring redwood forests, hidden beaches, big cities and charming seaside towns. Read on for route highlights.
(Getty Images)

Vancouver
Start your visit to Canada's western hub by orienting yourself from the top of the Vancouver Lookout Tower, which offers 360-degree panoramas of the city. Then grab a bike and pedal along the Seawall, a paved path that runs along the harbor and continues around Stanley Park. Stop in at the Vancouver Aquarium, which houses more than 50,000 animals. Also be sure to save some time to explore the city's trendy neighborhoods – Gastown's historic streets are lined with patios and twinkle lights hanging from the trees, while Yaletown's sophisticated, urban setting caters to the fashion-forward crowd.
(Getty Images)

Vancouver to Seattle
For this leg of the trip, it's best to take a break and hop on the train. The scenic four-and-a-half-hour journey hugs the coast. Sit back – and get your camera ready for those views. In Seattle, swing through Pike Place Market to watch the fishmongers toss their wares, before making your way to the original Starbucks outpost a few blocks away. And coffee isn't the only thing brewing in Seattle. Make sure to sample the local craft beer scene Fremont Brewing and Cloudburst Brewing. If it's a clear day, take a trip to the top of the Space Needle, where you'll get a glimpse of the city, water and mountains.
(Getty Images)

Seattle to Portland, Oregon
Swing south and inland to Portland, another major Pacific Northwest hub. The city is about three hours south of Seattle, nestled between the Columbia and Willamette rivers. Portland is known as the Rose City, and it's easy to see why at the International Rose Test Garden, which includes a diverse range of test plants in different varieties of the flower. Other must-see sights include Powell's City of Books and the Portland Farmer's Market. And the best way to explore the city is to get lost in its eclectic local shops, art galleries, breweries and vibrant neighborhoods.
(Getty Images)

Portland to the Oregon Coast
From Portland, drive two hours northwest to Astoria, the prime starting point for a trip along Oregon's dramatic coast. At the top of town, climb up the Astoria Column, where you'll get a fantastic vista of the Columbia River. Then, head south along Highway 101, which meanders along the coast all the way to California. You can spend days exploring the small towns, hiking trails and beaches along the coast. Don't miss Ecola State Park, where the bluffs overlook Cannon Beach's iconic Haystack Rock; Oregon Dunes, where the forest makes way into sand dunes; and the Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor, a 12-mile stretch of coastal road where the sunsets are breathtaking.
(Getty Images)

Southern Oregon to Redwood National Park
Just south of the Oregon-California border, you'll enter the heart of redwood country. Redwood National Park offers hiking trails through groves of the world's tallest trees, bird and wildlife spotting and coastal views. And a little farther along, you'll find Avenue of the Giants, a 31-mile stretch of Highway 101 featuring some of the largest redwoods in the world. It's touristy, but guiding your car through a massive tree trunk is a worthwhile photo op.
(Getty Images)

Northern California Coast to San Francisco
The highway leads out of the redwood forest and emerges above the ocean. From here, you'll pick up the famed California State Route 1, also known as the Pacific Coast Highway. The drive hugs the coast as you move south, passing through seaside communities like Fort Bragg, home to the sea glass-strewn Glass Beach, and Mendocino, a charming town with a strong arts scene. Nature enthusiasts will fall in love with the seascapes around Bodega Bay in California's Sonoma County and the picturesque Point Reyes National Seashore. Spend some time and soak in the scenery before you make your way across the Golden Gate Bridge to San Francisco.
(Getty Images)

San Francisco to Big Sur
The heart of the Pacific Coast Highway, this scenic stretch is the stuff of road trip bucket lists. From San Francisco, Highway 1 passes by swaths of undeveloped coastline before reaching Monterey, a town that's famous for its aquarium and its connection to author John Steinbeck. Just south is the ritzy community of Pebble Beach, where you can cruise along world-class golf links and pristine beaches on 17-Mile Drive. The road then winds up and down along the cliffs past photogenic spots like Bixby Bridge, and offers plenty of places to get out and stretch your legs, including Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park.
(Getty Images)

Big Sur to Santa Monica
As the Pacific Coast Highway continues south, the road's curves start to straighten out. Keep an eye on the hills as you pass through the small town of San Simeon. Drive on to Santa Barbara, a popular hub with a charming downtown and a delightful local wine scene. Not far south, Ventura and Oxnard are the departure point for daytrips to the picturesque isles of Channel Islands National Park.
(Getty Images)

Santa Monica to San Diego
A beach suburb outside of Los Angeles, Santa Monica not only sits on the Pacific Coast Highway, it's a hub for another great American drive: Route 66. Spend some time on the pier, with its iconic Ferris wheel or peruse the shops on the car-free Third Street Promenade. From here, you can head down to San Diego in about three hours, but you'll want to carve out some time to enjoy the coastal drive through communities, such as Huntington Beach and Laguna Beach. As you near San Diego, make a detour to La Jolla, where sea caves and sea lions draw crowds of onlookers.
(Getty Images)

Bonus: Mexico
If you've made it all the way from Canada to San Diego, you might as well push a little farther. About a half-hour south of the city is San Ysidro, where you'll find a border crossing into Tijuana, Mexico. Take the car (check your rental car agreement) and venture farther afield – Valle de Guadalupe is a popular wine destination. Getting into Mexico is fairly straightforward; getting back across into the U.S. takes time. Another tip: Global Entry members can use their SENTRI membership cards for a shorter wait.
(Getty Images)

Man driving a convertible on Pacific Coast Highway.
Part of the Vancouver skyline, seen from Olympic Village at the end of False Creek. In the foreground is the ramp down to the watertaxi dock, with the geodesic dome of the Science Museum behind, along with some apartment buildings and offices on Quebec Street.
Beautiful Sunny Morning in Seattle With Mt Rainier
Sunset landscape of Portland, Oregon.
The shore of Columbia River in Astoria, Oregon.
Looking up at the redwood trees at Muir Woods in San Francisco.
San Francisco skyline and Bay Bridge at sunset.
Bixby Creek Bridge, along California 1
Sunset in Venice Beach with Santa Monica Pier in the distance.
San Diego
Rosarito Beach- Baja California, Mexico

Take a spellbinding drive, packed with exciting twists and spectacular scenery.
When you imagine driving along the Pacific Coast Highway, you might think of the thrilling stretch of coastal road between San Francisco and Los Angeles. This is one of the country's most famous drives, and for good reason. But stick to this route and you'll only see a fraction of the spectacular scenery that lines the West Coast. For a real adventure, hit the road for a longer coastal journey, from Vancouver, British Columbia, to San Diego, taking in soaring redwood forests, hidden beaches, big cities and charming seaside towns. Read on for route highlights.
(Getty Images)

Vancouver
Start your visit to Canada's western hub by orienting yourself from the top of the Vancouver Lookout Tower, which offers 360-degree panoramas of the city. Then grab a bike and pedal along the Seawall, a paved path that runs along the harbor and continues around Stanley Park. Stop in at the Vancouver Aquarium, which houses more than 50,000 animals. Also be sure to save some time to explore the city's trendy neighborhoods – Gastown's historic streets are lined with patios and twinkle lights hanging from the trees, while Yaletown's sophisticated, urban setting caters to the fashion-forward crowd.
(Getty Images)

Vancouver to Seattle
For this leg of the trip, it's best to take a break and hop on the train. The scenic four-and-a-half-hour journey hugs the coast. Sit back – and get your camera ready for those views. In Seattle, swing through Pike Place Market to watch the fishmongers toss their wares, before making your way to the original Starbucks outpost a few blocks away. And coffee isn't the only thing brewing in Seattle. Make sure to sample the local craft beer scene Fremont Brewing and Cloudburst Brewing. If it's a clear day, take a trip to the top of the Space Needle, where you'll get a glimpse of the city, water and mountains.
(Getty Images)

Seattle to Portland, Oregon
Swing south and inland to Portland, another major Pacific Northwest hub. The city is about three hours south of Seattle, nestled between the Columbia and Willamette rivers. Portland is known as the Rose City, and it's easy to see why at the International Rose Test Garden, which includes a diverse range of test plants in different varieties of the flower. Other must-see sights include Powell's City of Books and the Portland Farmer's Market. And the best way to explore the city is to get lost in its eclectic local shops, art galleries, breweries and vibrant neighborhoods.
(Getty Images)

Portland to the Oregon Coast
From Portland, drive two hours northwest to Astoria, the prime starting point for a trip along Oregon's dramatic coast. At the top of town, climb up the Astoria Column, where you'll get a fantastic vista of the Columbia River. Then, head south along Highway 101, which meanders along the coast all the way to California. You can spend days exploring the small towns, hiking trails and beaches along the coast. Don't miss Ecola State Park, where the bluffs overlook Cannon Beach's iconic Haystack Rock; Oregon Dunes, where the forest makes way into sand dunes; and the Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor, a 12-mile stretch of coastal road where the sunsets are breathtaking.
(Getty Images)

Southern Oregon to Redwood National Park
Just south of the Oregon-California border, you'll enter the heart of redwood country. Redwood National Park offers hiking trails through groves of the world's tallest trees, bird and wildlife spotting and coastal views. And a little farther along, you'll find Avenue of the Giants, a 31-mile stretch of Highway 101 featuring some of the largest redwoods in the world. It's touristy, but guiding your car through a massive tree trunk is a worthwhile photo op.
(Getty Images)

Northern California Coast to San Francisco
The highway leads out of the redwood forest and emerges above the ocean. From here, you'll pick up the famed California State Route 1, also known as the Pacific Coast Highway. The drive hugs the coast as you move south, passing through seaside communities like Fort Bragg, home to the sea glass-strewn Glass Beach, and Mendocino, a charming town with a strong arts scene. Nature enthusiasts will fall in love with the seascapes around Bodega Bay in California's Sonoma County and the picturesque Point Reyes National Seashore. Spend some time and soak in the scenery before you make your way across the Golden Gate Bridge to San Francisco.
(Getty Images)

San Francisco to Big Sur
The heart of the Pacific Coast Highway, this scenic stretch is the stuff of road trip bucket lists. From San Francisco, Highway 1 passes by swaths of undeveloped coastline before reaching Monterey, a town that's famous for its aquarium and its connection to author John Steinbeck. Just south is the ritzy community of Pebble Beach, where you can cruise along world-class golf links and pristine beaches on 17-Mile Drive. The road then winds up and down along the cliffs past photogenic spots like Bixby Bridge, and offers plenty of places to get out and stretch your legs, including Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park.
(Getty Images)

Big Sur to Santa Monica
As the Pacific Coast Highway continues south, the road's curves start to straighten out. Keep an eye on the hills as you pass through the small town of San Simeon. Drive on to Santa Barbara, a popular hub with a charming downtown and a delightful local wine scene. Not far south, Ventura and Oxnard are the departure point for daytrips to the picturesque isles of Channel Islands National Park.
(Getty Images)

Santa Monica to San Diego
A beach suburb outside of Los Angeles, Santa Monica not only sits on the Pacific Coast Highway, it's a hub for another great American drive: Route 66. Spend some time on the pier, with its iconic Ferris wheel or peruse the shops on the car-free Third Street Promenade. From here, you can head down to San Diego in about three hours, but you'll want to carve out some time to enjoy the coastal drive through communities, such as Huntington Beach and Laguna Beach. As you near San Diego, make a detour to La Jolla, where sea caves and sea lions draw crowds of onlookers.
(Getty Images)

Bonus: Mexico
If you've made it all the way from Canada to San Diego, you might as well push a little farther. About a half-hour south of the city is San Ysidro, where you'll find a border crossing into Tijuana, Mexico. Take the car (check your rental car agreement) and venture farther afield – Valle de Guadalupe is a popular wine destination. Getting into Mexico is fairly straightforward; getting back across into the U.S. takes time. Another tip: Global Entry members can use their SENTRI membership cards for a shorter wait.
(Getty Images)

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Tags: San Francisco, travel, vacations


Jenna Scatena writes about San Francisco for U.S. News & World Report. Her work has appeared in Afar; BBC Travel; San Francisco Chronicle; Sunset; Travel + Leisure; Marie Claire; O, The Oprah Magazine; Vogue; Self; Delta Sky; Mr Porter; Via; and C California Style, and her stories have been anthologized in The Best Women's Travel Writing Volume 9 (Travelers' Tales) and An Innocent Abroad (Lonely Planet). You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

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