San Francisco is a top travel destination in the United States for many people and one we had been wanting to go to for a long time. We were finally able to get to the Bay Area city and take in everything beautiful San Francisco has to offer.
While San Francisco is definitely an expensive travel destination, it’s one that’s worth visiting at least once in your life.
Where to Stay in San Francisco:
It was difficult finding a budget friendly place to stay in San Francisco. Hotels, hostels, and Airbnbs were all really pricey. Ultimately, we decided on staying at an Airbnb in Mission, just south of downtown San Francisco. The private bedroom and shared bathroom Airbnb was great because it felt like we had the place to ourselves.
The Mission neighborhood was a fun, centrally-located place to stay too. Plus, it was budget-friendly. The BART stops right in Mission, so we could take the train from SFO airport right into San Francisco. It only took about 30 minutes and cost $10.
In Mission, there are tons of restaurants, parks, and shops. It’s definitely a neighborhood that’s becoming gentrified. However, there is a mix of new and old in Mission, and hopefully they are able to find a balance so it doesn’t become overly gentrified like so many neighborhoods and cities nowadays.
What to Do in San Francisco:
Painted Ladies – The Painted Ladies are a collection of colorful houses across from Alamo Square Park in San Francisco. The colorful houses are worth the visit, especially since you get a fabulous view of the city too. You might recognize them from the opening of the TV show Full House.
Dispensaries – California, like many other states in the US, has legalized marijuana. Throughout San Francisco, there are plenty of dispensaries where you can stop in and see what they’re all about. The employees are generally happy to answer any questions you may have. Whether you choose to partake or not is your call.
Haight Street – Haight Street is the main commercial street that runs through the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood in San Francisco. There are two primary sections: Upper Haight and Lower Haight. While Haight Street is the main street, the entire Haight-Ashbury neighborhood is best known for being the epicenter of the hippie counterculture movement in the 1960’s. The neighborhood’s past is still evident as there are plenty of remnants from this era. However, it’s definitely become more mainstream over the years.
Golden Gate Bridge – Without a doubt, the Golden Gate Bridge is probably the crown jewel of ‘Things to See in San Francisco.’ It’s historic, iconic, and, let’s be honest, makes for a great photograph.
Golden Gate Park – Golden Gate Park is a huge public park right in San Francisco. It’s actually 20% larger than Central Park in New York City!
Whether you’re looking to run, picnic, or relax, Golden Gate Park offers a wonderful escape from the city. Make sure to check out the sobering and memorable National AIDS Memorial Grove and the Rose Garden.
Presidio – Right next to the Golden Gate Bridge—not to be confused with Golden Gate Park—is another giant park that used to be a military base called the Presidio. Take a walk through the Presidio on your way to the Golden Gate Bridge and enjoy the beauty of urban parks that not every city offers.
You can walk, bike, or drive across the entire length of the bridge if you want, but you must at least see it. Our recommendation is to walk through the Presidio and get right up next to the bridge. Venturing across it is up to you.
Lombard Street – Lombard Street is the classic, super curvy street that’s edged with beautiful, well-kept gardens. It’s a landmark in San Francisco, but not necessarily a must-see, especially because you don’t get a great postcard-like view of the street when you are standing on it. Expect it to be crowded with a lot of people trying to get photos.
Mrs. Doubtfire House and Full House House – If you are a fan of 90’s movies and television shows, then you will probably want to stop at the Mrs. Doubtfire house and Full House house.
The Mrs. Doubtfire house is located at 2640 Steiner Street. The Full House house is at 1709 Broderick Street.
Both houses are closed to the public, but you can walk by and see the homes. However, remember that people live in the Mrs. Doubtfire House and next door to both houses now, so be respectful.
Alcatraz – Alcatraz is without a doubt one of the most unique, creepy, and impressive historical places we have been too. Many choose to skip visiting Alcatraz all together because there is so much else to do in San Francisco. If you are considering visiting the isolated, former federal penitentiary, check out our post Is The Alcatraz Tour Worth It? for more information of whether visiting Alcatraz is worth doing while traveling to San Francisco.
Fisherman’s Wharf – Another famous area of San Francisco is Fisherman’s Wharf. There’s plenty to do here with lots of restaurants and shops. However, many are overpriced because it’s definitely a touristy area. You can see sea lions for free! Assuming they are there. We came in “off season” for them and happened to see one.
Chinatown – San Francisco’s Chinatown is the largest Chinatown outside of Asia, and it definitely feels that way compared to Chinatown’s in other cities. There is a lot to do here, including watching fortune cookies get made. At the very least, take a walk through Chinatown and see the blend of cultures.
The main street is Grant Avenue, but we recommend venturing down smaller side street and areas to get a better feel for the real Chinatown.
Mission Dolores Park – This picturesque park located in the Mission District—named one of the coolest neighborhoods in the world in 2016—offers some of the most beautiful views of San Francisco. The weather here is almost always perfect given it’s unique microclimate, and you can relax, eat, drink, and people watch. So grab lunch and head to Dolores Park for a relaxing meal with a view while in San Francisco.
Castro District – The Castro District was one of the first gay neighborhoods in the United States and is still one of the largest. A common theme with San Francisco neighborhoods, there is a ton to do here and lots of historical relevance, especially when it comes to the human rights of the LGBTQ community.
If you are looking for fun without a history lesson, you can find it here too with all the bars, restaurants, and shops located within Castro. It’s a definite must-visit in San Francisco.
Where to Eat and Drink in San Francisco:
El Techo – El Techo is a newer Latin American restuarant and bar in San Francisco’s Misson neighborhood. It has an excellent rooftop and happy hour. A great tip for visiting San Francisco on a budget is to go to happy hours for drinks and food because the city is so expensive! Our recommendation is the corn empanadas.
Flying Pig Bistro – Not too far from El Techo, the Flying Pig Bistro is also right in the Mission District. This cafe-restaurant is relatively cheap and everything was delicious. This is another great food spot that won’t bust your budget.
Philz Coffee and Stoner’s Bagels – Philz Coffee is an uber famous coffeeshop located all over California and now in Washington D.C. and Chicago. There are about a dozen locations all over San Fran, but the one located on 752 Van Ness Ave. is right next to Stoner’s Bagels.
The combination of Philz Coffee and Stoner’s Bagels is unbeatable if you are looking for a made-to-order coffee and a delicious bagel sandwich for breakfast, lunch, or anything in-between.
Trax Bar – Located on Haight Street, this gay, dive bar had everything from a welcoming, unassuming atmosphere to cheap drinks and TVs for the World Cup! If you are looking for a chill, friendly bar to stop and hangout at and maybe watch a game, head to Trax Bar on Haight Street!
Tacolicious – Tacolicious is a delicious, reasonably priced taco restaurant near the Presidio on the edge on Cow Hollow and the Marine District.
Vitality Bowls – Looking for a healthy bite to eat in San Francisco? Check out Vitality Bowls on 5th Ave. in SOMA. They offer a variety of açaí bowls, smoothies, and salads. It’s a small place, but they have plenty of to-go options if you aren’t looking for a sit-down place.
Bolompié Cafe – This small El Salvadorian restaurant is the place to go for arepas and soccer in Mission. Plus, it will help your budget out too as it is very affordable.
Kui Shin Bo – Again, reasonably priced food is an essential for a budget trip to San Francisco. If you want great sushi at a reasonable price, head to Kui Shin Bo!
IPOT – IPOT is a popular hot pot restaurant in San Francisco. It’s all-you-can-eat and offers seemingly endless selections. If you have never been to a hot pot restaurant, definitely check this one out! You have your selection of meat, veggies, and other choices with a boiling pot of water—your hot pot—where you cook your food to your liking before enjoying it. While it may be different for many, it is worth the visit!
Cream – Looking for a dessert spot in San Francisco to satisfy your sweet tooth? Pop into Cream for a cool scoop of ice cream sandwiched between two warm cookies. It will surely satisfy your cravings. They also offer donuts, brownies, and sundaes if ice cream sandwiches are not your thing.
Marriott Marquis Hotel – Normally, hotel bars and restaurants do not make a list of things to do in cities here at MY Travel BF. However, San Francisco’s Marriott Marquis Hotel makes the list almost entirely for its spectacular view. It is not quite a rooftop bar, as it is not outside, but it has one of the best views of San Francisco. The drinks are pricey. Going up there for the view is worth it, but buying a drink is more dependent on your travel budget.