San Francisco's stratospheric cost of living may make headlines, but there are still ways to explore the City by the Bay even without a tech-stock windfall. From historic walks and picnics in Golden Gate Park to world-class culture and wine country day trips, here's how to experience it all without breaking the bank.
Take a Historic Walk
At 49 square miles, San Francisco is a compact city, and its most charming neighborhoods are easily walkable. It’s free to soak in the distinct ambiance of North Beach, Chinatown, the Mission District, and Haight-Ashbury on a stroll past quirky cafés, bookstores, alley murals, and Victorian mansions. If aimless ambling isn't your style, walking and bike tours showcase each neighborhood’s hidden history.
Ride Muni, BART, or a Hop-On Hop-Off Bus
Ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft dominate San Francisco streets, but there are cheaper ways to get around. Two public transit systems (Muni and BART for short) connect all corners of the Bay Area with a combination of trams, streetcars, buses, and underground trains. Within San Francisco proper, hop-on-hop-off-bus tours stop at all the major city landmarks and are a wallet- and user-friendly way to get from A to B.
Look for Package Tours and City Passes
If you don't mind shelling out a bit more at the outset, combo tours can actually save money compared to visiting top attractions individually. Attraction passes are also a great value if you plan to visit multiple ticketed sights such as the Aquarium of the Bay, Madame Tussauds, SFMOMA, bay cruises, and more. Insider secret: If tickets to Alcatraz are sold out for the dates of your trip, you can often still visit the Rock last minute by booking a package tour.
Find a Discount Day Trip
When you've decided to forgo the expense and hassle of car rental (including San Francisco’s famously steep hills and parking tickets), it's still possible to visit popular Bay Area day-trip destinations on a budget. Cost-effective shared bus tours can get you to Muir Woods, Sausalito, and Napa wine country for guided or independent exploring of Northern California's natural treasures.