Visitors come from all over the world to see San Francisco. It’s one of the most recognizable places in the world, thanks to landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge and the distinct, hilly terrain. It can be expensive to vacation here, though, but there are plenty of cheap attractions and restaurants that will prevent you from wrecking your budget.
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You hardly need San Francisco vacation deals when the city has so many free and cheap attractions. The architecture is so impressive, simply walking around is an enjoyable way to spend the day. Find other cheap attractions that will entertain everyone in your vacation group.
For Nature Lovers
- Golden Gate Park — Go to Golden Gate Park to see one of San Francisco’s most famous attractions. You could spend your entire vacation here and still not see everything. The park takes up more than 1,000 acres of land. The amazing Japanese Tea Garden, designed in 1894, is here. Stop by the Bison paddock before you leave the park. Bison have lived in Golden Gate since 1891.
- Marin Headlands, 948 Fort Barry, Sausalito — Gaze at the San Francisco coastline from afar at the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Home to Rodeo Beach, the Point Bonita lighthouse, and spring wildflowers, this place is just begging to be hiked.
- Lands End, 680 Point Lobos Ave — Like the Marin Headlands, this is also part of the Golden Gate Recreation Area. It's an easygoing hike with life-changing views of shipwrecks, wildflowers, ruins of the Sutro Baths (saltwater swimming tanks), and more.
- Japanese Tea Garden, 75 Hagiwara Tea Garden Dr — Within Golden Gate Park is one of San Francisco's more surprising and serene attractions: the oldest public Japanese garden in the US. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings, admission is free; otherwise it only costs $5 to visit.
For City Lovers
- Fisherman's Wharf, 1250 Columbus Ave, San Francisco — San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf is world-famous, and it’s free to visit. Fisherman’s Wharf is where you’ll find Pier 39, multiple museums, the Cannery shopping center and tons of different restaurants offering seafood. Spend a day walking around the Wharf, and even without spending money you won’t be bored.
- Chinatown, northeast — You can always sightsee for free in a big city like San Fran, and Chinatown is a great place to do just that. While you may find yourself spending money at the shops and restaurants, you'll also find yourself in awe of the authentic Chinese architecture (dragons on the columns, pyramid roofs) and attractions.
For Museum Lovers
- Alcatraz Island — What used to be a prison, populated by people like Al Capone, is now a sprawling museum of sorts, with all kinds of colorful sea birds and plant life. While a day tour can cost you $30, you can easily kill an entire day here, so it's worth it.
- California Palace of the Legion of Honor, 100 34th Ave — The on-site de Young Museum features art ranging from ancient Egyption works to 19th century photography, but that's not all you'll get to gaze at - the museum overlooks the ocean and the Golden Gate Bridge. Get access to the art gallery for just $11.
- Asian Art Museum, 200 Larkin St — For $12, you can browse more than 18,000 items, ranging from statues to paintings, hailing from Asia.
- Cable Car Museum, 1201 Mason St — If you, or your kiddos, love heavy machinery, then don't miss out on this museum, featuring old cable cars and their parts. Best of all, admission is free.
- Musee Mecanique, Pier 45 Shed A — Here you'll find more than 200 coin-operated music machines and arcade games. You will certainly want to pack along some pennies, though!
- Contemporary Jewish Museum, 736 Mission St — Admission is $12 (except for Tuesdays, when it's free) for this museum, which always features a new and relevant exhibit.
Knowing where to find the cheap restaurants in the city is just as valuable as the best San Francisco vacation deals. Spend less money on dining out, and you’ll have more money to enjoy yourself while on vacation.
Coffee & Dessert
- Cups and Cakes Bakery, 451 9th St — Choose from 75 cup cake flavors. If you're at a loss at what to try (first), here's a hint: the red velvet is a local favorite.
- Bi-Rite Creamery & Bakeshop, 3692 18th St — There's something for every sweet tooth here, whether you like cheese cake, cookies, or ice cream sundaes.
- Sugar Cafe, 679 Sutter St — Enjoy good coffee and/or a good sandwich at this afternoon and evening spot.
- Coffee Bar, 1890 Bryant St — In addition to the meticulously made coffee that's offered here, you can also enjoy breakfast or lunch.
- Rocky's Fry Bread, 3318 22nd Street — Some of the best street food in the city. The food stand has become a permanent San Francisco fixture, and it’s perfect when you want to grab a tasty, cheap bite.
- Codmother Fish and Chips, 2824 Jones Street — This is an affordable food truck offering truly tasty cuisine.
- Saigon Sandwich Shop, 560 Larkin St — The Vietnamese sandwiches here are legendary and great for a light, but no less delicious lunch.
- Ike's Place, 3489 16th St — With sandwich names like "Going Home for Thanksgiving," "Kryptonite," and "Captain Kirk," you may enjoy ordering your sandwich as much as you enjoy eating it.
- Pearl's Deluxe Burgers, 708 Post St & 1001 Market St — Go for a classic cheese burger or order something a little more unique like the chili burger, "the Bomb."
- In-N-Out Burger, 333 Jefferson St — This famous fast food joint is a Must Eat when visiting California.
- Max's Market, 555 California St — This unique but varied menu offers up some fancier dishes at affordable prices.
- Pescatore, 2455 Mason St — Italian food meets seafood at this popular spot. Order everything from seared tuna to margherita pizza.
Instead of going out to eat, stay in and cook with your vacation group. It’s possible with a vacation rental, which will give you full kitchen facilities. You’ll save a ton of money just by staying in for some of your meals.
San Francisco vacation rentals give you a lot more than a crowded hotel. Instead of a single room, you’ll have an entire home to call your own. That means you’ll have all the amenities and comforts of being at home while on vacation. It’s a true luxury, and it’s even more affordable than that crowded hotel room.
Looking for more ways to save on your San Francisco getaway? Check out these tips:
- It’s easier to find San Francisco vacation deals when you know when to schedule your trip. The city gets crowded in July and August, when the tourists come to see the sights. You’ll also find a lot of visitors in town in September and October, peak season for business conventions. Rates will be higher during these times of year, so avoid them to find the best San Francisco vacation deals. Schedule a trip from November to April to get the best discounts.
- When planning a day out, bring along a cooler with drinks and snacks so you're not tempted to buy high-priced items at convenient stores. Soft coolers with freezer packs can easily be stuck in backpacks and will keep items cold all day.
- Consider investing in a San Francisco CityPASS or San Francisco Go Card, which feature discounts on top attractions.
- If you stay in an area of San Francisco within walking distance of your favorite attractions, you can avoid using a rental car or taxi and save a lot of money. Short of that, make sure to get to know the public transportation system or rent a bike to get around the town quickly and cheaply.