San Francisco has a reputation of being one of the most expensive cities in America to visit, so how did we (sort of) manage to do it on a budget? Well it was down to decent planning and a lot of compromising.
We had already both been before – Greg when he was 8 and me when I was 19. So we had seen some of the sights before, which straight away saved us some money – no visit to Alcatraz for example.
We had decided to opt for the cheaper option of getting the Megabus from Los Angeles, it took well over 8 hours but it was comfortable (with WiFi!) and got us there in one piece. The cost was just under £50 for both of us, though you could probably get tickets a lot cheaper further in advance.
A great way to explore San Francisco is to buy a 3 day Muni pass from pharmacies such as CVS or Walgreen’s. This will give you access to the buses, trams and trains, San Fran is quite spread out and hilly so expect a tough walk if you don’t have one. The pass cost us $23 per person, which sounds a lot, but a single ride on the famous cable cars is a staggering $6, so we easily made our money back on those alone.
San Francisco is very accessible via public transport, unlike LA. It is also quite compact, which means no huge bus rides.
The streetcars were what we used the most, with the fixed routes it made it easy to work out where you’re going. Also if you have working 3G on your phone, the Muni mobile site was amazing – it detected where you where and brought up the next buses from every stop near you, no app required.
By far the best reason to visit San Francisco is that there are many famous structures and landmarks to visit, most of which are free to see.
Coit Tower – Located at the top of Telegraph Hill, this 1930s Art Deco tower is one of San Fran’s landmarks. We didn’t climb this tower as the price was a bit much, and the walk up the hill was hard enough, but we appreciated it from the bottom. The ground floor is lined with amazing murals depicting scenes of the city’s past.
Pier 39 – Very touristy (you probably don’t want to eat there) but it’s free and interesting to walk around and you can see the famous sea lions.
Golden Gate Bridge – It’s free to walk over it, we managed halfway but kept getting swept up by the manic winds as a storm was brewing so turned back. There are also a number of open air exhibits showing the history of the bridge which is fascinating.
The bridge is quite a distance from the city but accessible by bus, however beware as we ended up on a bus that suddenly ended its journey half way, luckily we found our way to another bus stop a few hundred meters away.
Jack Kerouac Alley – The alley between a bookstore and a bar that Kerouac apparently hung out in, this alley is decorated with quotes by him and other authors (some in Chinese) along with some murals. Worth a stop if you’re a fan and are passing by.
Union Square – great for walking around but it is a major tourist shopping area so we didn’t stay long, However cable cars run from here and straight up the hill towards the pier.
Chinatown – Much like most other Chinatown’s, except it is apparently the largest outside of Asia. The impressive Dragon Gate serves as the entrance to it.
Lombard Street – AKA the famous crooked street. We walked up to here from Fisherman’s Wharf and it was quite a walk! But with such amazing views from the top and the bottom, how could we not? We saw several cars and taxis zigzag down this road but you can walk up the side if you don’t fancy paying a taxi for a 5 minute drive! There’s even a cable car from the top than ran us back down to union square, obviously if you plan it right you could probably not do the long walk from the pier..
Cable Cars – A sight and transport all in one! They are very slow, and don’t come along very often but they are a piece of history and well worth a ride. On one journey the conductor was singing the whole way, pointing out landmarks in song!
Cable Car Museum – If you want to know more about the cable cars, the completely free museum in Nob Hill is a must see. Not just a museum, the building also houses the power house for the cable car system, so you can see the cables being pulled through from viewing galleries above. It is also full of memorabilia and history about the system – Greg loved it here.
We sadly didn’t get to see as much as we wanted to in San Fran, as our last day coincided with a huge (not really that big) storm which knocked out most of the cities power, meaning almost everything was closed, as well as incessant rain.
SoMa – There is no shortage of places to eat here. We found an awesome Vietnamese fast food restaurant called Fresh Rolls & Bowls, and a few places doing Banh Mi, though the one we had wasn’t great. There are plenty of trendy restaurants all around SoMa.
North Beach – we had heard a lot of good things about this area, and while strolling through after visiting Coit Tower we found North Beach Pizza, they had authentic Italian American pizza sold by the slice which was delicious and very easy on the wallet. There are also countless other Italian eateries in the area.
Chinatown – We didn’t eat here but when has Chinatown not been great for food? San Fran’s also seemed to have a lot of Vietnamese restaurants.
Fisherman’s Wharf – Away from Pier 39 we found a couple of cheaper restaurants, mostly specialising in seafood and clam chowder.
We ended up at a sourdough bakery and restaurant called Boudins which had a deal for half a sandwich and a soup for something like $10 – Greg had the clam chowder in the sourdough bread bowl which filled him up (maybe a bit too much) for the rest of the day.
Chipotle – Not specific to San Francisco or even the US, however Chipotle was our saviour for reasonably priced, relatively healthy meals in a sea of American fast food.