San Francisco on a Budget

San Francisco is considered one of the most beautiful, postcard-perfect cities in the world, attracting tourists from around the globe. Yet visitors quickly learn that the City by the Bay requires a super-sized wallet or a realistic spending budget. Luckily, there are plenty of affordable things to do in San Francisco without sacrificing quality or leaving grandma back in Minnesota. The following options give tourists a broad appreciation of San Francisco while saving a few dollars.

San Francisco Walking Tours

A wonderful way to explore the rolling hills of San Francisco is to set out on foot. With picturesque skylines, surrounded by the Pacific Ocean, tourists will find this is one of the easiest and healthiest ways to explore the culture and highlights of San Francisco's neighborhoods.

A walk up Van Ness Avenue reveals the magnificent architecture of City Hall's dome, one of the largest in the world rising 306 feet above the base and referred to as "The Crown Jewel" by civic planners. A few blocks away stands the glass-encased San Francisco Opera House with a display of a Henry Moore sculpture outside its entrance. The Opera House is a powerful magnet for international music groups and for tourists who choose from daily docent-guided tours. Out-of-towners will marvel and appreciate the structural variety of these two iconic San Francisco buildings.

A short hike across to the financial district, swarms of Wall Street-types and venture capitalists gather at the pyramid-shaped Transamerica Building to discuss the stock market rally and how to launch the "new new thing" from Silicon Valley. Until 1974, the Transamerica Building was the tallest building west of the Mississippi.

Across town, a more leisurely pace can be set at the Palace of Fine Arts with its classical Roman rotunda adjoining curved colonnades set against a swan-filled lake. The creator of the Palace of Fine Arts, architect Bernard Maybeck, poetically said the place should be one of "sadness modified by the feeling that beauty has a soothing influence." Visitors stroll through gigantic rust-tinged colonnades and may feel wonder tinged with nostalgia when taking in the ethereal beauty of this park. This idyllic landmark is a wonderful way to end a walking excursion through San Francisco.

The best part: San Francisco walking tours don't cost a thing except perhaps new shoes.

  • San Francisco's City Hall, 1 Dr. Carlton B Goodlett Pl., San Francisco CA; Tel. 415.554.6023
  • San Francisco's Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco CA; Tel. 415.861.4008
  • Transamerica Pyramid Bldg, 600 Montgomery St, San Francisco CA
  • Palace of Fine Arts, 3301 Lyon St, San Francisco CA; Tel. 415.563.6504

San Francisco Architecture, Structures and Landmarks

Exploring San Francisco's famous architecture, structures and landmarks can make for breathtaking panoramic sightseeing worthy of a weekend trip. The following are top must-see sites to behold and admire: Coit Tower, a monument to firefighters; Embarcadero, a palm tree-lined square with restaurants and shops; Fisherman's Wharf a bayside entertainment park; Ghirardelli Square, a plaza at the old chocolate factory centered with a mermaid fountain; Golden Gate Bridge, a car ride with ample panoramic photo opportunities; Union Square, a designer shopping district perfect for window shopping or a cable car ride that criss-crosses the city. The touring list is near endless.
  • Cable Cars, 949 Presidio St., San Francisco CA; Tel. 415.923.6162
  • Coit Tower, 1 Telegraph Hill Blvd., San Francisco CA; Tel. 415.362.0808
  • Embarcadero Centers 1-4, Sacramento St., between Sansome & Drumm St., San Francisco CA; Tel. 415.772.0650
  • Fisherman's Wharf, The Embarcadero & Taylor St., San Francisco CA; Tel. 415.474.8796
  • Ghirardelli Square, 900 North Pt, San Francisco CA
  • Golden Gate Bridge, US Hwy 101, San Francisco CA; Tel. 415.921.5858
  • Union Square Shopping Center, Geary and Powell St., San Francisco CA
  • Dragon Gate, Chinatown, Grant & , San Francisco CA

San Francisco Cheap Eats

For food connoisseurs, the Bay Area is dining nirvana. The question is not what to eat but where with thousands of eateries to choose from recommends these award-winning restaurants.

Italian culture aficionados quickly find themselves at home in North Beach's Little Italy where living La Vita Dolce is top priority. Handsome, dark-mustached waiters fresh from Rome beckon young couples into their cafes with promises of hot pasta plates and frothy cappuccinos. Michelangelo's is a favorite trattoria that serves generous entrees with a warmth and spirit that invokes an Italian mother's kitchen.

Enter Chinatown through the Dragon Gate and be transported into a Chinese wonderland complete with sights and sounds of another culture, in addition to the rewards of world trade; here tourists will find 99 cent baking pans and embroidered fans. Asian culinary treats abound from Peking duck to fortune cookies sold throughout the bazaar-like maze. House of Nanking, an award-winning low-key restaurant popular with the locals, seasons dishes with special spices from the Orient and feeds the whole family on a shoestring budget.

The Mission District provides a peek into the zesty, colorful world of Mexican culture and cuisine. At El Farolito, a whole family can feast on what are considered the best tacos in town for less than the cab ride from the hotel.

  • El Farolito, 4817 Mission St., San Francisco CA; Tel. 415.337.5500
  • Michelangelo Café, 579 Columbus Ave., San Francisco CA; Tel. 415.986.4058
  • House of Nanking, 919 Kearny St., San Francisco CA; Tel. 415.421.1429
Alcatraz Tours

Alcatraz Tours

Tour Alcatraz and San Francisco Attractions