Cheap Things to Do in America's Most Expensive City

San Francisco consistently ranks as one of the nation’s most expensive cities, but don’t let that deter you from visiting. There’s plenty to see and do in the Golden Gate city and much of it is free or at least cheaper than you might expect.    

Here are a few tips to help you enjoy the best of San Francisco while on a budget.

San Francisco CityPASS

Depending on what attractions you’d like to tick off during your stay, you may be able to save on entry fees—and even transportation—by purchasing a CityPASS. This will get you into Aquarium of the Bay, the California Academy of Sciences, and either SFMOMA or the Exploratorium, plus an hour long cruise around the bay, and 3-days of travel on Muni cable cars, trolleys, and buses. Unlike similar discount cards in other cities, you won’t have to run yourself ragged to feel like you’re getting your money’s worth. Passes are $89 for adults, $69 for children, and make for a totally doable 3-day itinerary.

Museums & Attractions

Many of San Francisco’s top museums offer free admission on certain days, usually the first Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday of the month. You may find it more crowded than usual, but it’s hard to beat the price.

Dates may change, but currently the Asian Art Museum is free on the first Sunday of the month; the de Young, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Contemporary Jewish Museum, and Museum of Craft and Design on the first Tuesday of the month; the Museum of the African Diaspora is free on the third Thursday night of the month. Meanwhile, across the bay, the Oakland Museum offers half price admission for adults on Friday nights, with food trucks, DJs, and a marketplace selling locally made handcrafts.

A Visit to the Golden Gate Bridge

When the weather cooperates, some of the city’s best views of the Golden Gate Bridge can be found at the Presidio, a 1,500 acre national park and former army post. Entrance to the park is free. Hikers can choose from several coastal trails, with picnic areas located throughout.

Bike paths are available to cyclists, winding through the Presidio and over the bridge. The most direct ride is 1.7 miles one-way. If you’ve left yours at home, bike rentals are available at Sports Basement at Crissy Field.

If you’d rather hoof it, guided walking tours of the bridge are free (excluding tips, of course) on Sundays and Thursdays at 11am from the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center.

Cheap Hotels in San Francisco

Room rates in San Francisco can be through the roof, especially in the summer months. You’ll have more luck finding a deal by searching smaller hotels located around Union Square such as the Mosser, Grant Hotel, 325 Sutter, and Hotel Triton.

San Francisco is known for its brightly colored Victorian homes, many of which have been converted to bed and breakfasts. Rates can be hit-or-miss, but you can often find deals for midweek stays at properties like the Queen Anne Hotel in Pacific Heights.

Cheap Fares to San Francisco

San Francisco (SFO) is a hub for both United and Alaska, both of which regularly offer sale fares to the area from all over the U.S. Check our San Francisco (SFO) fare listings for a look at current finds. Nearby Oakland (OAK) is another option for inexpensive flights to the Bay Area. Transportation into San Francisco is available from both SFO and OAK via BART. 

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