So you want to visit San Francisco. Maybe you’ve seen the iconic cable cars in movies and you want to be able to say you’ve ridden one. Or maybe you just really want to get a selfie with the Golden Gate Bridge.
San Francisco is one of the most expensive cities in the U.S., not only to live in, but also just to visit – even the hostels cost upwards of $40 a night.
Luckily, accommodation aside, there are plenty of fun things to do and see in San Francisco without breaking the bank. I moved here for school in 2011, so between being a student then and a writer now, I’ve become well-versed in all the cheap or free things to do in the city. If you’ve only got a weekend in San Francisco, and you’re on a budget, here’s what you should check out.
48 Hours in San Francisco
Start your day off by scoping out Union Square. You know those iconic heart statues? Yeah, this is where those are. If you have your heart set on a cable car, head to Powell Street Station (5 min walk). The cable car picks passengers up right outside the station, and is the most expensive thing on this list. To go from Powell St. to Pier 39 costs $6, and is an additional $6 to come back.
You can take the cable car to Lombard St. – San Francisco’s famous crooked street that zig-zags instead of going straight like a normal street – or all the way to Fisherman’s Wharf (Pier 39). I think Pier 39 is pretty overrated, and on a nice day, I like to just walk along the piers instead, or sit at Cupid’s Span and look at the Bay Bridge (“the other bridge”). Cupid’s Span is a gigantic bow and arrow statue.
(Pro tip: there’s a LED light art installation on the cables of the Bay Bridge. If you find yourself over here at night, you can see it light up.)
Next, head to Telegraph Hill for an awesome view, and see if you can spot any of the wild parrots that call Telegraph Hill home (although they have been known to fly all over the city).
If you haven’t gotten enough cool views yet, hit up Twin Peaks for the sunset. Be warned, though: it will most likely be super windy.
If it’s a nice day, pack a picnic and go hang out at Dolores Park. If it’s a really nice day, be prepared for it will be very crowded. Remember to pack your trash! If you head out before 5 p.m., go slide down the steep Seward St. slides. (They close at 5 p.m.)
I know you want to get that Golden Gate Bridge selfie. The classic “GGB jumping picture” that’s all over Instagram was most likely taken next to the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center at Fort Mason. This is also where you can walk across the bridge, if you’re into that. It’s free.
Alternatively, you can see the bridge and the beach at the same time by heading to Baker Beach, which is also another dope spot for a sunset.
NOTE: Parking in San Francisco is next to impossible, but all of these places are easily accessible by using MUNI, our public transportation system, which goes both above and below ground. MUNI costs $2.75, and tickets are valid for an hour and a half. However, if you download the app MuniMobile, tickets are $2.50, and you just show the metro station attendant the ticket on the app once you’ve bought it. And you save paper. Win-win.
Use Google Maps to see which bus or train you should take to get to where you’re going, and use the app NextBus to see when the next one is coming. Isn’t technology crazy?!
Also, secondary pro tip, regardless of what the movies make it look like, San Francisco is cold, basically all the time. We even have a nickname for the fog because he visits us so much. (His name is Karl, and he has a Twitter account.) Layer up and wear long pants.