San Francisco – Frugal or Not?

Illustration by Samantha Hahn
Illustration by Samantha Hahn

San Francisco is a beautiful city in every way.  The people are friendly, the sidewalks are clean, the buildings are unique, the food is spectacular and there are so many great sites to see!  The question is, can San Francisco be a frugal trip?

Let’s break it down.  Obviously these prices are based on my experience, and can be different depending on where you are coming from.  I am going to list all values in US dollars.

Flights:  Good

Flying from Vancouver to San Francisco was an easy 2 hour flight and the cost was just as painless.  For $250 round trip I was able to get to San Francisco.  The key here is to book early, closer to the date it was almost $1000 return, which is a big difference.  Being frugal means booking early or watching for a seat sale.  Usually 3 months out is the cheapest flight.  If there is an airline you like flying with sign up for their emails because they send you a note when they are having seat sales.



Accommodations:  Average to Insane

I searched quite a few places online and the prices in San Francisco are crazy.  Airbnb had places for $1000 per night and the less expensive options were not very desirable.  I think booking early will really help cut down on costs.  A few hotels we had seen while wandering the streets didn’t even come up on our searches because they are booked months in advance.

Here are a few around the $150 per night mark, which in San Francisco is reasonable.

Mystic Hotel by Charlie Palmer: From $139 and up

Hotel Vertigo: From $140 and up

Metro Hotel: From $110 and up

Hotel des Arts: From $109 and up

I think with accommodations you really have to do some digging because it was not easy to find affordable accommodation on my first few searches!

Transportation: Many options!

How do you want to get around?  You have so many choices in San Francisco!

Walking: Free and the streets are so much fun to walk!  Plus it’s basically a free work out.

Buses: They have a great transit system and the bus is only $2.25 and your transfer is good for 90 minutes.

Street Cars: If you want to hop on the Powell Street Car it’s $7 one way, but an experience!

Uber: Easy to use and always available.  We wanted to go to the Treasure Island Flea Market but you can’t walk across the bridge.  We decided Uber would be the best option and it was!  Only cost $10 to get there and took half the time of the bus.  If you go to any city with Uber download the app, you won’t regret it!



Food: Questionable

As a Canadian the food and drinks seemed pricey.  They were on par with prices back home but in US dollars.  For example we ended up at the Morritt inside the Mystic Hotel, it was a fantastic little lounge with a jazz band playing.  They had craft cocktails that were out of this world so we had to order one.  The craft cocktail was $12 (which is a similar price to home) but when converted was $15.75 for us!  Eek, not frugal but a really nice treat, and we only had one!

A few amazing spots we tried out that I would highly recommend:

Trestle: A price fix menu with 3 courses, the men changes daily and it’s $35 per person.  This meal was absolutely divine.  The food was great, the atmosphere was perfect and it was a great choice for a night out.  Best part is you can book your reservation online prior to your trip!  Which I would highly recommend.

Red’s Java House: This was my fan girl moment because Anthony Bourdain ate here!  It’s a greasy spoon right on the pier, and it was totally worth it!  Plus $5 for a cheese burger, you can’t go wrong.

Food Trucks:  There are a lot of food trucks in San Francisco and we were lucky enough to have a dozen at the Treasure Island Flea.  We ended up trying mac and cheese spring rolls, what?  It sounds gross but totally awesome!  ROAMING HUNGER is a place where you can search food trucks, super easy!

We tried out a few other places along the way, but one night we simply wandered around the neighbourhood to see what we could find, and that was really fun!  Simply walk around and check out menus, pop in for an appy or two and a drink and move on!  A fun way to try out a few places without committing to one!


Tourist Attractions: Affordable but can be a trap

I think there is a lot to see in San Francisco for free.  Here are a few things we found.

  • Filbert St Steps – You get to walk through a beautiful San Francisco neighborhood, and at the top you get a beautiful view of the city.
  • Golden Gate Bridge – It’s pretty and a huge San Francisco landmark, you can see it from many different views like Crissy Park or Battery Spencer Park.
  • The Wave Organ – A really cool piece of art where the ocean is making music.
  • Chinatown – You don’t need to buy anything the sights are great, the buildings are unique and there are some hilariously kitschy items.
  • Wineries – On Treasure Island there are many wineries that have free tastings.
  • Breweries – All around the city of San Francisco there are local breweries where you can go for tastings.

Treasure Island Flea – it was $3 per person but I found a deal online for $11 for 2 people with a glass of sangria each.  It was so much fun to see all the vintage items, the local vendors, view of the city and the Oakland bridge.

All around there are so many beautiful sights to see, new restaurants to discover, hidden lounges to stumble upon, and crazy streets to walk on.

Overall I was really happy with all of the frugal adventures we had and think San Francisco can be added to the frugal travels list!  There is so much to see and do that won’t cost you a fortune!

Total cost per day per person: $75 (not including accommodations since Marks boss treated him to a few nights in San Francisco)

















3 thoughts on “San Francisco – Frugal or Not?

    1. Sarah thank you so much! I think being frugal also includes being frugal with your time! If I can help a few people find some great places with ease that makes me happy.

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