The Best Things to Do in San Francisco on a Budget

For starters, San Francisco is not a cheap place to visit, but it is such a cool city that it still is a must visit! Luckily, there are many free things you can do in and around The City by the Bay!

Regardless of Bay City being extremely overpriced and expensive, you can still have an absolute blast if you’re on a bit of a budget like us. The majority of our tips will be free or at least fairly cheap, and we’ll share everything we know with you!

Disclosure: this post contains affiliate links* which means that if you decide to use them we get a small commission from the platform. Thank you <3

Here are the Best Things to Do in San Francisco on a Budget

1. Wander the streets of Chinatown

Did you know that Chinatown in San Francisco is the oldest one in North America? What better place to try authentic Chinese cuisine and check out Chinese shops than here?

If you’re looking to walk around and see the typical touristy shops then stick to Grant Street. But if you’re feeling a little adventurous you should walk down some of the side streets or head over to Stockton Street where you’ll see cheaper produce and get more of a market feel so you can experience more of the real Chinatown!

Another awesome way to see everything is by taking freetoursbyfoot’s walking tour where you will see all the iconic spots in Chinatown like The Dragon Gate, Portsmouth Square, The Goddess of Democracy Statue, Famous Fortune Cookie Factory, and The Bank of Canton.

This tour is relatively cheap since it’s just a donation of your choice and you’ll really get a feel for this part of San Fran! Of course, you pick the amount you donate so you can basically just donate what you think the tour is worth. We believe about $10 a person is standard. But, of course, that depends on the quality of the tour.

2. Walk or drive down Lombard street

The famous one-block section of Lombard street claims to be “the most crooked street in the world”. With 8 hairpin turns in just one single block makes it a fun tourist attraction to check out while you’re in San Francisco.

The road is filled with beautiful flowers and bushes that make the street really pretty. A lot of people drive on it, but we actually just walked along the sidewalk and took in the pretty views! Maybe we’ll drive it next time! 😉

3. Check out The Painted Ladies

By only hearing the name you’d have no idea what to expect. You probably think you’re going to some sort of gallery or concert. What you’re actually going to see is a famous group of Victorian houses which are arguably some of the prettiest houses in the whole city!

If you’ve ever watched Full House then the houses will look awfully familiar as that’s where the Tanner family was portrayed to live. There is also a beautiful park right across the street from The Painted Ladies where you can sit down and have a picnic while people watching 😉

4. Walk around Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf

One of our favorite parts of the day was visiting Fisherman’s Wharf! If you’re looking for some delicious seafood then Fisherman’s Wharf is the place you want to go.

The Pier is filled with seafood restaurants. The famous clam chowder is served in a sourdough bowl and looked absolutely delicious (according to Dom). But since Jo isn’t a seafood lover we decided to try the iconic In and Out Burger and it did not disappoint!

So, if you’re like Jo and don’t like fish then you can head over to the famous Pier 39 where most of the tourist attractions are found.

Pier 39 is filled with a bunch of awesome attractions and if you just have an afternoon to explore the city like we did then make sure to go check out the sea lions colony right next to Pier 39! From there you’ll also be able to get distant views of the famous Alcatraz! But cover your nose up – the sea lions really stink!!

5. Ride the San Francisco Cable Cars

If there’s one way to get around San Francisco it’s definitely by a cable car! Only 3 of the 23 original cable car lines actually remain and they go by many of the popular landmarks and attractions. Two of them go from Union Square to Fisherman’s Wharf and the third line is along California street.

It’s about $6-7 to ride the cable cars but we recommend buying a 1, 3, or 7-day Visitor Passport that enables you to ride any form of public transport in the city for $12 for the full day.

It’s not free but it’s definitely a cheaper option to travel around the city if you don’t have a car and a way to experience the awesome cable cars as well. Here is a bit more info on the Visitor Passports.

6. Head to the Golden Gate Overlook

This is the place to go if you’re looking to get some awesome shots of yourself with the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s very accessible as there are bike paths and also a few car parks in the area. (Psst… You can also bike across the bridge if you want to).

If you put Golden Gate Overlook into your maps you will be able to find some free parking spots or use the SpotAngels app to find the free parking!

This area is absolutely stunning but may have high coastal winds so be prepared and dress warm if you’re taking some pictures! It’s a great spot for a cute little date as well. Bring a bottle of red or rosé and enjoy the views.

Things to know before you go to San Francisco

Before you go, make sure to download the following apps to your phone. They will definitely help you save a few bucks.

  • Groupon is GREAT in big cities with so many options. We use it ALL the time! You can easily find delicious meals and fun activities at a discounted rate.
  • Airbnb is great for finding places to stay for a few nights if you’re planning on spending a few days in the city. Click here to get $47 off your first stay.
  • If you are driving into San Francisco from one of the northern bridges make sure to have some cash on you as there are tolls you have to pay for entering the city! The price varies between $5-10.
  • Luckily, once you’re in the city we’ve got you covered. SpotAngels shows you all the free parking around the city including how long you can park for, how many other users have parked there before, and you can track your parking on your phone! The best part? The app is completely free!

If you haven’t already been to San Francisco, make sure you add it to your bucket list and make sure to try and check out as many of these places as possible!

We’d love to hear what your favorite spot was and if you found any other awesome spots or activities that we missed so we can add it to this post!

For tips and tricks to find cheap accommodation, don’t forget to check out this blog post: 7 Ways to Save Money on Accommodation.

What budget-friendly activity are you most excited to try in San Francisco? Leave a comment below and let us know!

Have fun!

Dom & Jo

Signature | Red White Adventures

Love it? Share it!

6 thoughts on “The Best Things to Do in San Francisco on a Budget

  1. I’m so glad you had an amazing time in San Fransisco and it’s nice to see you can fit quite a lot in one day! It looks really beautiful. I went when I was younger but don’t remember anything haha!

    1. Hey Pauline!

      Well now you have a reason to go back when you move to Vancouver! 😉 You’ll be on the west coast so it won’t be to far for you!!

      -Dom

  2. Oooh great tips! I love this kind of city when you can have a lot of fun just walking around to find pretty sights. I mostly want to visit SF for the food though. It might get pricey whatever I do!!

    I would never have thought of group on (I didn’t use it for yeeears!) Good thinking batman.

    1. Hey Josy,

      Exactly! We didn’t think it was possible to do in San Fran since it’s such an expensive city but you sure can. 🙂 Honestly groupon has saved us so much money and also helped us find awesome places we wouldn’t have otherwise!

      -Dom

  3. I’d love to actually see Lombard Street one day! It looks so cool! Might be kinda scary to drive though haha. That’s awesome the cable cars are affordable! Seems like such a quintessential San Francisco thing to do 🙂

    1. Hi Andrea,
      It does seem a little scary but I’m sure you’d do it! 🙂 Absolutely!! I feel like when you think of San Fran you think of the cable cars! 🙂 I feel like most places you can make affordable, just have to find the right things to do.

      -Dom

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *