9 Cheap & Awesome Things to Do When Visiting San Francisco


 

san francisco chinatown

Introduction

 

Whenever you are visiting a fantastic city like San Francisco, there is so much you can do for fun that it can be hard to decide what you want to commit your time and money towards!

Then, speaking of money, you probably do not want to spend too much on your trip either, because between what your travel and hotel might be costing you adding-in the idea of paying a bunch of money to see an expensive show or eating at a pricey restaurant probably sounds pretty lame.

Well, thankfully there are very many cheap things you can do when visiting San Francisco and this blog post is going to tell you about them!

To help keep things organized and help you find exactly what kind of thing you might be looking for that's cheap, everything is going to be broken down into categories to help you immediately find what you're after.

This is handy should you not want to read this whole article and just are thinking,

'Where can I get a cheap breakfast?" Think of this post as a road-map of sorts.

You can read the whole thing or just, "Jump ahead," to your exact destination!

Right below is the "Table of Contents," so you can proceed wherever you need!

 

 

Table of Contents

 

Food

  • Breakfast
  • Lunch
  • Dinner
  • Coffee/Snack

 

Key Landmarks to Visit (Listed Alphabetically)

 

  • Alcatraz Island
  • Chinatown Gate
  • Coit Tower
  • Fisherman's Wharf
  • Golden Gate Bridge
  • Golden Gate Park
  • Lombard Street
  • Old Saint Mary's Cathedral
  • Union Square

 

Fun and Attractions

 

  • General Outdoor Fun for Nice Days
  • General Indoor Fun for Rainy Days
  • Specifically Family-Friendly Fun
  • Fun for Grown-Ups/Nightlife Activities

 

 

Food

food

 

Before you start exploring San Francisco, you'll probably need a bite to eat! Here are some inexpensive locations to have a meal (or some coffee) before you start enjoying all the sights!

 

Breakfast

 

Breakfast Little has delicious and fairly-priced breakfast sandwiches and burritos, which also come in reasonably-sized portions that ensure you won't leave hungry but also can avoid fearing you'll be wasting a heaping portion of food.

Sutter Street Cafe features its well-known meat, egg, and cheese combination you can put on a fully-stacked English muffin, roll, or croissant for a non-bank-busting $5 and some change.

With a name like Bacon Bacon, you already know what features on the menu at this small-yet-delicious spot that is sure to satisfy your breakfast cravings for, you guessed it, bacon!

 

Lunch

 

If you're looking for some of the cheapest burgers in San Francisco, then visiting Beep's Burgers should be high on your to-do list. With a quarter pounder burger for only $6.25 and a whole half-pound for merely $9.25, you can get a lot of beef for very little money. Try not to just fill-up on burgers; however, as their Twinkie Milkshakes are worth a try for anyone curious about the unique flavor.

Don't let the generally long-line scare you away from visiting Good Luck Dim Sim, which may only have counter service, but it serves up some cheap and dumplings that make a great fast lunch.

If you're craving Mexican food for lunch, you will find yourself quite satisfied by how well Taqueria Vallarta fills your belly without emptying your wallet! With tacos and burritos are known for being extremely reasonably priced as well as delicious, the only thing you'll feel guilty about after eating here is how much sauce you slathered your burrito in

 

Dinner

 

With a dinner platter that will merely run you $12.90 for some meat, veggies, and mashed potatoes, Tommy's Joynt is not only an iconic San Francisco eatery, it also has some tasty and cheap grub!

For merely $4, you can enjoy a sizable square pizza from Golden Boy Pizza loaded with tasty toppings from the familiar (garlic, pepperoni, etc.) too much more exotic (give the clams a try).

Purple Rice is a fantastic place to enjoy an evening meal of Asian fusion. A bit of a "Hidden gem," with some fantastic food for a very fair price, Purple Rice may be a newer restaurant (it opened late in the Summer of 2019), but it already is doing a lot of stuff right!

 

 

Coffee/Snack

 

Family-owned and featuring an industrial design-style, Flywheel Coffee Roasters may have a minimalist, "Look," but its coffees on brew tend to be exotic and loaded with complex flavor.

 

Trouble Coffee is quite tiny so you shouldn't expect a place to sit, but it has some great coffee and delicious toast which makes a perfect snack. Whether you want the toast coated with cinnamon sugar or with a heavy spread of Nutella, Trouble Coffee is happy to satisfy your sweet tooth and coffee-craving!

 

Should you a self-described coffee snob (we don't judge) who prefers visiting places where the coffee is so fresh they roast the beans at the cafe, then Ritual Roasters will be right up your alley. They roast on-site and are able to keep costs low thanks to how they have direct deals with growers that get them their beans fresh and inexpensively.

 

 

Key Landmarks to Visit (Listed Alphabetically)

 

Once you've had some food, you are most likely eager to see some key landmarks.

Well, here are some of the most famous ones you will find in San Francisco, which as a bonus are generally inexpensive to visit or even free!

 

Golden Gate Bridge

 

golden gate bridge

 

Without a doubt the most famous landmark in San Francisco the Golden Gate Bridge is a breath-taking sight.

Construction of the bridge completed in 1937 and it was the World's Longest Suspension Bridge for decades (in 1964 a longer but less visually-striking bridge was built in New York).

Between its orange colors, Art Deco style, and towers that go up 746 feet, it is not surprising the Golden Gate Bridge averages over 10 million visitors annually who love to walk or drive upon it.

There a number of tours of the bridge you can select to try from walking, to biking, to riding a Tuk Tuk and they all are wonderful for taking in the majesty of it.

Alcatraz Island

alcatraz island

The notorious prison-island held such infamous prisoners as mobsters Al Caopone and Machine Gun Kelly before it was shut-down in 1963 due to being too expensive to keep running (the fact some inmates had escaped the supposedly impossible-to-break-out-of prison did not help either).

Still open for tours, it should be noted Alcatraz is technically free to visit, but in order to actually get there (unless you have your own boat), you need to pay a sometimes hefty fee ($30 and up) to take the official Ferry to the island which also includes an audio tour.

Hence, while Alcatraz may not be as cheap of a landmark to visit as some of the others about to be discussed, it is still so well-known if you do choose to splurge a bit for a tour that is perfectly understandable!

 

Chinatown 

sf chinatown

 

Also known as the Dragon Gate, this is the Southern entrance to what is the largest Chinatown you will find anywhere in the United States.

Found at the intersection of Bush Street & Grant Avenue, walking through this gate means entering into an amazing location that feels just like being in a foreign country thanks to all the cultures (and of course delicious foods) found within Chinatown.

SF City Guides offers free two-hour walking tours each week and extremely popular and fairly priced tours that also incorporate enjoying the food of Chinatown exist as well such as the Chinatown Food Walking Tour.

 

Coit Tower

coit tower

 

Since its construction was completed in 1933 Coit Tower has stood as an impressive monument funded by the deceased Lillie Hitchcock Coit, who left the money upon her passing in 1929 for it to be built in honor of volunteer fire-fighters.

Full of gorgeous murals painted through funding from the Works Progress Administration in 1934 which depict life during the Great Depression, Coit Tower is as impressive outside as it is inside.

Completely free to visit, tickets can be bought for official guided tours that discuss the history of the tower and its murals and an elevator ticket can be bought inexpensively to go up to an observation deck for a breathtaking view.

 

Fisherman's Wharf

fisherman's wharf

The most famous waterfront community in San Francisco (and possibly all of America), Fisherman's Wharf is filled to the brim with attractions such as rides, arcades, the historic Hyde Street Pier, nearby Alcatraz (discussed above), and of course plenty of dining and hotels to rest a weary head after a busy time at the Wharf.

There are a number of wonderful tours as well, from Trolley-based ones to walking-tours such as, "Fisherman's Wharf: A Hidden History," which is completely free but welcome donations.

Simply put, you wouldn't just spend a day at Fisherman's Wharf, you could spend a number of them exploring all that is has to hold!

 

Golden Gate Park

golden gate park

 

The third most popular park in all of the United States, Golden Gate Park is, in fact, free to visit but does have certain attractions that can cost extra.

Home of the California Academy of Sciences, the Garden of Shakespeare's Flowers, and a number of official tours (on Segway, scooter, or bike), Golden Gate Park is as beautiful as it is fun to visit.

 

 

Lombard Street

lombard street

Considered the most crooked street in the World, Lombard street is a one-way road found at Russian Hill right in-between the streets of Hyde and Leavenworth.

Due to having eight sharp turns, it is quite fun to walk on the sidewalk of (with its gorgeous flowers) and very scary to try and drive down!

While currently free to have your motor-vehicle brave the street, fees of up to $10 have been proposed to help reduce congestion from tourists eager to try-out the challenge of getting down the twisty-and-turny road.

Even if you don't want to drive or walk down Lombard Street however it still is worth visiting just to admire how wildly curvy the whole thing is.

 

Old Saint Mary's Cathedral

 

This is quite the landmark for religious scholars!

The first-ever church built by the Roman Catholic Church in California and currently the second-oldest church you will find in San Francisco which is still being used, this gorgeous stone structure was first erected in 1854 but after burning down due to fires from the 1906 earthquake it was rebuilt in 1909 and still stands to this day.

It is free to visit and attend Mass at as well as featuring a gift shop.

 

Union Square

union square

 

Union Square itself is a 2.6-acre plaza open to the public for recreation and relaxation but also is the term given to the hotel, shopping, and theater district which surrounds the titular square for a number of blocks.

A good deal of walking tours of Union Square exists including the Union Square Cocktail Tour which provides those 21-and-over with fun and booze-filled tour of the area.

 

Fun and Attractions

 

fun things

Besides visiting the main landmarks you might want fun specifically tailored to a gorgeous day, rainy day, or activities that are great to do depending on if the kids are in tow or its a romantic night with your spouse/romantic partner.

 

Here are some recommendations that won't break the bank!

 

 

General Outdoor Fun for Nice Days

 

Visiting the beach is a stellar idea for a gorgeous day! Baker Beach, Ocean's Beach, and Marshall's Beach all are wonderful for ocean-based fun!

 

Should you go during a game that is not during playoffs or in super-close seating you can catch a San Francisco Giants' Baseball game at AT&T Park.

 

Presidio Park is not a famous Landmark, but it still is a great park full of trails to hike, golf courses to play upon, and events such as the Presidio Picnic which features an assortment of food trucks and vendors on Sundays from 11 AM-4 PM (season and weather permitting).

 

General Indoor Fun for Rainy Days

 

If the weather is too rainy for a Baseball game as described above but you still have a hankering to see some professional sports you could always catch a Basketball game played by the Golden State Warriors in the comfy (and indoor) Chase Center which just opened in September of 2019.

 

Should you be someone who loves losing yourself in a good book visiting City Lights Bookstore is a must! Specializing in World literature, titles about art, and with a number of events often held you could spend hours at City Lights Bookstore enjoying all it has to offer.

 

Do you want to enjoy seeing sea-life without having to actually go in the ocean? Well, the Aquarium of the Bay is a magnificent place to visit! With 20,000 different types of marine animals behind the glass of clear tunnels you can walk through to see them up-close this is quite a place to visit and not too expensive considering how much fun you can have (there are often coupons making it $20 a ticket or less).

 

Family-Friendly Fun

 

When it comes to a beloved attraction by kids and adults, Exploratorium is one of the best in San Francisco. The exhibits encourage participation AKA touching and are just plain fascinating to visit.

 

Children tend to love Disney movies, television shows, and parks. With that in mind, the Walt Disney Family Museum looks at the past, present, and future of Disney. Plus, there is a theater that shows different classic Disney films every week!

 

 

Kids sometimes seem to have unending levels of energy. That makes the House of Air a smart choice should you hope to tucker your little ones out a bit. Full of trampolines, foam pits, rock-climbing walls, and more, the House of Air is full of running, jumping, and climbing-filled fun!

 

Fun for Grown-Ups/Nightlife Activities

 

 

Mini-Golf, tasty food, and ample drinks all result in a great time for grown-folk at Urban Putt! Plus, they have happy hour specials!

 

Axe Throwing has really caught on as a fun activity for couples or groups of adults to do. You have some drinks, relax, and throw axes at targets. It sounds odd but anyone who has tried it loves it. Bad Axe Throwing is one of the best places to give this fun excursion a try.

 

For adults who love being creative or doing crafts Clay by the Bay is fun-filled thanks to offering pottery classes that allow you to make your own impressive work of art that you get to take home and treasure forever!

 

Conclusion

 

Hopefully, this article has helped to illustrate how much cheap and free enjoyment you can have visited San Francisco.

Whether it is your first time here or another of many pleasurable visits, it is an amazing city without a doubt.

While this list by no means covers all the great cheap places to eat and sights to see, it should make a handy reference should you be unsure where to start when its lunchtime and your stomach starts growling or if you need something entertaining to do on a day filled with thunderstorms.

Just remember, it's your trip so don't hesitate to make the most of it!