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.
"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.
You don't have to travel far to find some of the greater Bay Area's best day destinations.
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.
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.
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.
See a different side of San Francisco with each of these unique experiences.
Book ahead, or be flexible – if you can.
"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.
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