How to Visit San Francisco Without Going Broke

By Andrea Cannon on 18 September 2015 0 comments

San Francisco is officially the most expensive city in the country, surpassing New York City for the first time. This means a visit is going to hit you where it hurts: right in the wallet. Fortunately, once you've found an affordable flight and hotel deal, there are some fun ways to get more from your vacation, and save money in the process.

1. Free (or Discounted) Tours

There are a plethora of free or affordable tours to take advantage of throughout the Bay Area. You can take part in walking, biking, hiking, or bus tours. An online tour or smartphone app like Stray Boots can also allow you to take a tour on your own time, at your own pace. You can also find deals on tours and attractions on discount sites like Groupon, LivingSocial, and Amazon Local Deals. (See also: $20 in San Francisco: The Best Ways to Spend It)

2. Savings on Entertainment

You can find endless ways to have fun without spending a dime, like free art, music, fitness classes, and more throughout the city. Take advantage of discount programs like Goldstar, the Go San Francisco Card (which can save you up to 55% on top San Francisco attractions), or the San Francisco CityPASS, which combines the Muni Pass with admission to some of the best attractions in the city. You can also save money on performances throughout the city at the TIX half-price ticket booth in Union Square.

3. Visit the Beach

Walking through Fisherman's Wharf can give you the feeling of a beach, boardwalk, and theme park in one. Save money with a WharfPass or watch your spending at this tourist hotspot. Santa Cruz Beach and Boardwalk are only a short drive away, and can provide a day of fun, without the high entrance fees that you'd find at a theme park. You can also visit Pacifica State Beach, Robert W. Crown Memorial State Beach, Surfer's Beach, and any of the other beautiful Bay Area beaches for endless hours of free entertainment.

4. Go Wine Tasting

With Napa Valley, Sonoma Valley, and endless wineries at your fingertips, it's hard to resist a wine tasting. Fortunately, taking advantage of wine tastings is actually an affordable way to spend your weekend or next date night. It will allow you to sip some of the finest wines for cheap and you can even find discounts to wineries and tastings to get more from every sip. Browse the Preisser Key for the lowdown on Sonoma and Napa Valley wines, restaurants, and more.

5. Home of the Festivals

Whether it's food, music, film, or shopping you're into, you'll find a festival nearby that can appeal to your passions. Visit California Fairs and Festivals to find festivals near you.

6. Go to the Park

Home to some of the most beautiful parks in the country, it only makes sense to spend a day picnicking and exploring one of the Bay Area's majestic parks. On a trip to the Golden Gate Park, make sure to also stop at the Japanese Tea Garden for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that will only cost $6 per person. You can enjoy an entire day at these two destinations without spending much.

There are also a number of amazing hiking destinations, such as Twin Peaks, Lands End Trail, and Bluffs Trail, which will offer some of the best views of the city, combined with an incredible workout. If you're serious about spending some time at the beautiful parks and recreational sites throughout the area, consider getting a National Park Pass, so you can save money on admission fees and visit any of the national parks as often as you like throughout the year.

7. Take in a Museum

You can visit one of the Bay Area's many museums for free. Spending a whole day in the museum is a great way to take in some culture without breaking your budget. It's a great way to spend time with friends, family, or on a date.

8. Save on Food and Shopping

San Francisco is home to some of the best restaurants and freshest produce in the country, but it can be pricey. Take advantage of local foodie favorites like food festivals, food truck finds, and SF Restaurant Week, which offers fixed price menus at a discount. If you're tired of spending a fortune on food, take advantage of San Francisco's sprawling farmers markets, like the Alemany Farmers Market, and cook more at home. Local foddies rely on EaterSF to stay abreast of the latest Bay Area food news and events.

You can also take advantage of some of the best thrift stores and outlets in the country for unique finds at a bargain.

9. Leave the City

It can be easy to get carried away in the San Francisco lifestyle, but there is life outside the big city too. Oakland, Berkeley, and San Jose all offer their own unique charms and attractions. Spending some portion of your trip in each of these NorCal locations will provide you with an affordable vacation right in your backyard.

What are your favorite ways to save money in San Francisco? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

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