The Travelogue: Can San Francisco Be Inexpensive?

San Francisco is one of those cities that pack a lot of energy into a small footprint. From culturally rich neighborhoods to dazzling attractions to sweeping views of what Mother Nature has in store for people in this Northern California town there is so much happening in the Bay Area that you have to consider it for a quick getaway. The question is, can you make it happen for a good price?



Waking up with a craving for a hearty breakfast while staying at the top of Nob Hill in San Francisco I looked out my window and caught a glimpse of Sausalito and decided that I must fulfill my urge.   A few minutes later I was driving across the Golden Gate Bridge, below me San Francisco Bay was emptying out into the Pacific Ocean and boats were already populating the surface of the choppy water. The sky was a mixture of bright blue, grey clouds and patchy fog trying to hold on to what little momentum it had as the sun rose.

The small town of Sausalito on the north side of the Golden Gate Bridge welcomes me with no fanfare. It is a sleepy place that feels romantic upon arriving. The motivated are on their bikes getting in some early exercise and the rest of the town seems to have slept in. My destination is a small coffee shop, The Lighthouse, nothing fancy aside from the way they create a simple American breakfast. There is no pretense to what they do and completely unlike the fine dining restaurants in the city, the price is affordable.  I watch as the line cook behind the counter masterfully fills each ticket. The bacon gets prepared, the potatoes get grilled and the pancakes are perfected. My coffee cup never runs empty and the sourdough is warm, crusty and goes perfectly with a heaping serving of butter.

No better way to start a San Francisco day.

San Francisco can be expensive and with the number of tourists you see on the street, it is no doubt a popular destination among people worldwide. The thought of overextending the budget can easily cross your mind as the attractions like a Ferry to Alcatraz along with a tour or any number of museums can be intriguing. Instead, I start my quest for a cheap San Francisco getaway with an initial stop at Golden Gate Park. This massive public park is home to the California Academy of Sciences, a science museum that will keep you busy for hours. It comes with a hefty price tag but if you find a City Pass around town you can probably package the cost with other attractions in San Francisco.

I opt for the Japanese Tea Garden as it is free if you enter before 10 am on weekdays and even if you don’t the price is among the cheapest for attractions in the city. The history of the garden and the Hagiwara family are enough to keep you seeking out the small treasures of this picturesque garden in the heart of Golden Gate Park.

The park itself is worthy of a full day of exploring and the options are affordable if not free. Other attractions to consider while there include the de Young Museum, The Botanical Garden and Stow Lake.

I decide to move on to Fisherman’s Wharf simply because it is an extremely popular tourist attraction and I am a sucker for a large bread bowl filled with clam chowder. Along the storefronts you can purchase large crabs and have them boiled right before your eyes and you can feast on some of the best sourdough bread the city has to offer. The hustle and bustle of this market is fun as long as you realize that it is a tourist attraction and you can be sure that you will pay inflated prices for almost everything.

The walk from Fisherman’s Wharf along the Embarcadero is precisely why you can do San Francisco without spending too much money. Take your time and pack your walking shoes as you explore this part of the city that has been cleaned up and is enjoying a remarkable revitalization. The views of the city and the bay are free.

The long walk over to Pier 15 gets me a look into the new Exploratorium which is an impressive hands-on museum that is perfect for families with young children. A few minutes later after walking past the America’s Cup building, I head into the Ferry Building Marketplace. The truth is I walk in to get some ice cream from Humphry Slocumbe, but this is the central spot from which to do even more exploring of the city. From this spot, the ferries can take you out across the bay and the BART can take you into other neighborhoods. Across the street, the cable car can give you a ride back to the starting point of the day or you can just move out onto Market Street.

For me, I drive back to the Golden Gate Bridge and decide to walk across this icon that stretches across the mouth of the bay all the while keeping an eye on Sausalito and the craving that started the day.

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