America Destinations Guide

A Broke Backpacker’s Guide to Enjoying San Francisco

No matter where I go in the world, whenever anyone asks me where I’m from and I tell them “Santa Cruz, California,” I’m usually met with a blank stare. But, when I say “a small city kinda near San Francisco,” people’s eyes light up. However, I did go to school in San Francisco for 5.5 years, and I know a lot about the nightlife and how to have fun in San Francisco on a shoestring.

Even if they haven’t been to San Francisco, everyone’s seen the cable cars in movies, looked at pictures of the iconic Golden Gate Bridge on Instagram, or heard tales of barefoot hippies with long hair frolicking in the park. Everyone wants to visit the fabled City by the Bay.

It’s no surprise, then, that San Francisco is one of the top 5 most expensive American cities to live in. It’s been competing with the Manhattan district of New York City for the title of most expensive U.S. city for the past couple of years. Presently, San Francisco is situated at #4, after Honolulu, Hawaii, according to Kiplinger.

Needless to say, this means that San Francisco is expensive to visit. The cheapest hotel room is usually around £78 a night, a standard meal downtown costs between £10 and £13, and those cable cars? Yeah, those cost £4.72 pounds per person – each way. This might not seem that expensive in comparison to, say, London, but compared to some other cities in America it’s insane.

Without further ado, here is my list of 7 fun things to do in San Francisco on a budget.

1. Have a picnic at Golden Gate Park

Golden Gate Bridge swing

Price: Entrance is free, but if you are picnic-ing, obviously you have to buy your picnic snacks elsewhere.

I hate to say it, but the days of the aforementioned barefoot hippies frolicking in the park are long over. Except for when I’m at the park.

Jokes aside, Golden Gate Park is still a chill place to relax and have a picnic, a cheap San Francisco classic. It’s also really big, so if you don’t want to picnic, or if you want to wander around post-picnic, there’s lots of stuff to see within the park.

There’s Stow Lake, which is located on, shock, Stow Lake Drive, and is full of ducks and turtles. The park also happens to be surrounded by picnic benches, so if you are not really a picnic-in-the-grass person, you can have a picnic here.

There is also the Japanese Tea Garden, which features many assets similar to the traditional tea gardens in Japan. According to their website, the garden is FREE if you’re inside the gates before 10 a.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. (It opens at 9 a.m.)

Otherwise, you can still hang out in the large pagoda in front of the garden even if you don’t go inside.

Hidden point #1.5: Lucca Food Store is on Irving Street, which is close to one of the many park entrances and has some really good sandwiches, beer and bags of crisps for not-expensive. I myself tend to stock up on snacks at the grocery store Trader Joe’s prior to picnic time, but you have options.

2. Go look at the Golden Gate Bridge

Cheap San Francisco Travel

Price: FREE

I don’t recommend walking along the bridge, as some people attempt to do, as it’s very windy and cold up there, but it can be cool to look at. And, you know, take selfies with.

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