San Francisco on Less than $100/day Budget

San Francisco is for Lovers

My husband and I recently went on a trip to San Francisco. The first thing I have to say is “Ouch! My legs, shins, calves, feet were killing from the massive amount of walking.”


The second thing I want to say is, “So fun!” This was an anniversary trip, so we intended on going all out, spoiling ourselves, and the like. However, due to some bigger expenses coming up right before our trip (new tires for one car, new brakes for another), we had less to spend on our trip than originally planned. We did not want to dip into savings for a vacation, ya know?


We don’t use credit in our family. We love to travel, and prioritize it, but we feel like if we don’t have the money to pay for the trip right now, in cash, we probably shouldn’t go on it.


This was a 5-day trip (3 full, 2 half days, the day we flew in and the day we flew out), Monday to Friday, we had a budget of roughly $1000. The good news was we didn’t even spend it all. Here is how we were able to spend 5 days, in San Francisco, arguably an expensive city to visit, for just $831.77 total. That is only $415.89 each for everything, flights, hotel, food, and fun.  And we filled every minute of the trip with fun!


Here is a quick breakdown, details below:

  • Hotel: $0
  • Flights: $199
  • Ground transportation: $27.40
  • Entertainment: 225.98
  • Food: $355.39
  • Other: $24


The things we did:

  • Bridge 2 Bridge Cruise
  • Escape from the Rock Cruise
  • City Tour- Hop on Hop off bus
  • SS Jeremiah O’Brien tour
  • Ripley’s Believe it or Not Museum
  • Aquarium of the Bay
  • Sausalito, Golden Gate Bridge Trip
  • California Academy of Science
  • De Young Art Museum
  • Saw a Movie
  • Went Bowling


We also walked around the city, exploring, shopping, and eating! We had more things planned (and paid for), but simply ran out of time to do them all, or were too tired and skipped them. With what we paid, we could have also done: a tour of the AT&T Park, Bike Rental (to ride over Golden Gate Bridge), SFMOMA, and the Conservatory of Flowers. (As well as many other activities)


Here are the details of how we were able to accomplish all of this for just $415.89 each:


Hotel: $0

We got lucky on this one, as it is rare to pay a whopping NOTHING for a hotel stay.

We originally booked through a timeshare that we bought way back before we had kids. I think I paid $75 for the housekeeping fee, and used half of our points for the year. Since we pay a yearly fee of about $600, you could say I paid $375 for our accommodation.

I probably could have found somewhere less expensive, but it was centrally located, already paid for (I am paying those fees anyway), it had a small kitchen and laundry, which was a huge plus because it meant we could save $ on food, and bring fewer clothes, saving $ on luggage.

However, when we arrived at our hotel, it was closed. A pipe had burst on the 8th floor, and flooded all the floors below a few weeks earlier, and so the whole hotel was shut down for renovation. We never got the email saying our reservation had been canceled, and so arrived in San Francisco with NOWHERE to stay.

Fortunately, the company was great to work with, and because they failed to reach us, they put us up in a hotel nearby free of charge, and refunded our credits and housekeeping. The downside was it was a hotel, not a small condo, so no kitchen or laundry.

Obviously this is not going to happen for everyone, so watch for my suggestions next week for low cost accomodations.


Getting there: $226.40

Airline tickets: $199

Ground transportation: $6 bus transfer, $7.70 BART ticket x 2 (each way)

San Francisco Riding the Trolley


We flew to San Francisco (actually we flew into the Oakland airport) on Allegiant, and it was only $49 each way, making it roughly $100 roundtrip each. This is a steal of deal, but you do kind of get what you pay for.

Allegiant is a budget airline. They offer low fares, and terrible customer service. Don’t expect any kind of help. There is no “free” beverage service, and you pay for everything, even to sit next to your travel companions. You can bring a personal item and food on board free of charge, but carry-on and checked luggage cost extra.

We did not pay to have assigned seats by each other since it is only an hour and twenty minute flight. Luckily that was not a problem as we were assigned by one another for our flight there, and someone traded me for the flight back.

Because this was a kid-free trip, we could travel light, so we both brought a backpack with our clothes, shoes, and toiletries, and did not pay for luggage either.

Allegiant flies out of a lot of cities, and they show their fares by the month, so you can plan according to when it is the cheapest to fly.  Let me just say that this was not a fluke deal. They always have low cost flights. For example, we flew to Oahu for only $300 round trip a few months ago on this same airline.


Ground Transportation:

San Francisco is not the place to rent a car. Tons of hills, tons of one-way streets, narrow streets, and lots and lots of traffic. Oh yeah, and crap parking, most of which is paid—read VERY EXPENSIVE. The beautiful side is that San Francisco has amazing public transit. We were able to hop on a bus right outside the terminal, which took us to the BART metro station, which dropped us only a few blocks from our hotel.

While we were in San Francisco we walked most places as almost everything we did was a mile and a half or less from our hotel. When we did go further, we used a hop on and hop off bus. We also met a friend for one evening and he drove to our various destinations.


Entertainment: $225.98

Smart Destinations Go San Francisco Cards: $201.98

Movie Tickets @ AMC Van Ness $24

San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge

If you have never heard of Go-Cards, you are really missing out. We have used them several times, and really love them. They are a great way to see and do all of the big touristy things without a big price tag. Yes, we do like being tourists from time to time.

The way they work is they get you into a bunch of different attractions (I think for San Francisco there are 30 + options), for a set number of days, depending on how many you pay for. We opted for a 3-day card. Check them out here to see how it all works and what is included in the various cards.

It was well worth it for us. We maximized our time and did a lot of things. Plus, the hop on hop off bus tour that was included happened to go pretty close to our hotel, so we were able to use it kind of like a taxi service (but free) to get to some of the further away places we wanted to visit.


Food: $355.39

San Francisco Crab

This is about what we wanted to spend, but not exactly how we wanted to spend it. We had planned to spend a little more on dinners, and eat breakfasts in our condo. But with the hotel switcheroo, we ended up eating breakfasts out, and so went a little less expensive on dinners, but we were delightfully surprised by the outcome. It can be challenging to choose food in San Francisco because there are just so many places to eat. Here is exactly what/where we ate.


Day one:

The Stinking Rose: $73 (Paid $23 as friends gave us a $50 gift card as an anniversary gift). We had crab. Yum!

San Francisco Food

Day two:

Breakfast- Small Café: $17 We had croissant sandwiches.

Snack: Slurpees: $5

Lunch: Calamari, Shrimp and Fry Basket on Fisherman’s Wharf and waters: $14

Beverages: Drinks on bay cruise: $6

Sweets: Chocolates at The Chocolate Shop: $10 I had a caramel apple, and my hubby had a chocolate toffee bar.

Dinner: The Oriental Pearl: $35 We had a curry dish and a beef with broccoli.

San Francisco Breakfast

Day three:

Breakfast: $5.50, Dim Sum and Take Out in Chinatown. We had BBQ buns and chow mien, which was surprisingly good.

Waters $1

Lunch: The Cafeteria at the California Academy of Science: $25.89 This was one of my favorite meals. I had a fish taco and broccoli and carrots. My hubby had fish and chips.

Snack: Bread bowls with clam chowder on Pier 39 $16 How can you do SF without this classic?

Dinner: Uncle Vito’s Pizza and drinks: $25 We ordered a medium pizza and had half of it left.

 San Francisco Sourdough Bread Bowl

Day four:

Breakfast- Johnny Rockets: $22  We both ordered Bacon, Egg, Lettuce, and Tomato sandwiches and orange juice.

Drinks: $6 on Alcatraz tour

Snack: $7 on Chocolate covered Twinkies from The Chocolate Shop

Lunch: Leftover pizza from night before

Snack: Ice Cream and Candy and Drinks etc. from convenience store: $31 (some of these were for the flight home)

Dinner: Off the Grid Food Truck Market $20 This was phenomenal. Seriously, it was great. I had a burrito from the Sisig Truck, and my hubby got curry from a Thai truck. Both were delicious.

Dessert: Humphry Slocombe ice cream $14 (We bought one for a friend) This was a great ice cream place that offers unique flavors and varieties. We had brown butter. Mmm.

San Francisco Off The Grid

Day Five:

Breakfast- Chili’s at the Airport: $22 We got the Classic breakfast of eggs, bacon, potatoes, and toast.


Other Expenses: $24

Sunglasses: $20 Mine fell out of my bag and I don’t recommend taking a cruise around the Bay without some eye protection.

Advil: $4 My hubby gets headaches when we travel, and I forgot to bring some medicine for him. Ooops.


To sum it up, here are my top 3 tips for seeing San Francisco on a budget:

1. Don’t rent a car. Use public transit. It is great, gets you where you want to go, and you don’t have to pay for parking.

San Francisco Trolley

2. Buy a Go San Francisco Card if you want to see and do at a fraction of the cost.

San Francisco

3. Eat street. The best food we had was some of the cheapest. Great food truck foods, great pizza, and even great cafeteria food. You don’t have to eat the big, expensive, or fancy places to find great food in San Francisco.

San Francisco California

Our days were full, we did a lot of fun things, and we were able to do so on a small budget for a big city. Check back for the next part of our San Francisco series: Things to Do and See in San Francisco.


What is your favorite way to save in San Francisco? Let us know on Facebook, or in the comment section below.


About Rachael

I am Rachael, I have a passion for all things travel. I have an incurable wanderlust, and a need to see and do. I have four littles that call me "mom" and I am currently wading through the ever changing tides of parenting. I am figuring out what works, and what doesn't. And, I have a passion for food. In fact, I have an entire website dedicated to food I love to eat, cook, and try new things.

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