San Francisco for the Budget Traveller
Updated: Dec 23, 2022
San Francisco is an amazing California city to explore. It's home to hippies, hipsters, techies, yuppies, immigrants, and business people. It has one of the oldest gay scenes in the US, Alcatraz Island, an amazing Chinatown, incredible food and the famous big red bridge. It's a great city to visit with a fabulous mix of things to do for every type of traveller. It has been a favourite early Spring getaway for me over the years when I'm fed up with the dreary rain in Vancouver and am looking for a quick break and (slightly) better weather than I am experiencing at home.
San Francisco has several unique miro-climates. Temperatures may rise or fall from one street to the next. On the same day, one hill can be cold and foggy, the next hill is clear and sunny. Views of the Golden Gate Bridge can be partially or fully obscured by fog or may be beautifully clear. Sunny San Francisco is an absolute joy. Foggy, wet and chilly San Francisco is also a delight. Plan to wear layers and comfortable shoes.
Each neighbourhood has its own charm and personality and each begs to be explored. Getting around on foot is fairly easy (although there are plenty of hills) but there is a decent public transportation system including metro, busses, street cars, cable cars, taxis, and ride-sharing. Hop On Hop Off Tour
I'm a big fan of hop-on hop-off tours for my first visit to a new city. It's a great way to get a feel for the city, to learn a bit of history and culture, and it helps me to decide which places I want to explore more fully. There are multiple companies that offer tours, take your time to research which offers stops at the sites you most want to see. The Big Bus Day Tour is the most popular. The Painted Ladies In American architecture, Painted Ladies, are Victorian and Edwardian homes and buildings that were repainted during the 1960s in three or more colours. There are many located around the city, the most famous group of these is a row of Victorian houses on Steiner Street. Also known as "Postcard Row" or the "Seven Sisters", these houses were built between 1892 and 1986.
The Ferry Building A great place to eat is the 1898 Ferry Building Marketplace, located along the Embarcadero at the foot of Market Street. . Outside the building on weekdays are many food stalls. On the weekend, a big farmers market is set up outside. Inside you will find restaurants and food vendors selling specialty food items including butchers, cheese mongers, and wine bars. Opening hours are weekdays 10am -7pm, Saturdays 8am - 6pm, and Sundays 11am - 5pm.
Embarcadero After grabbing a coffee and a breakfast treat, wander along Embarcadero. The Embarcadero is along the city's eastern shoreline where several waterfront attractions are located. On a series of numbered piers visitors will be able to catch ferries, pick up hop-on hop-off tours, see science exhibits at the Exploratorium, and discover many restaurants. On a sunny day, it's a pleasant walk to Fisherman's Wharf.
A favourite stop along the way is the Pier 23 Café & Bar for a bowl of chowder, a cold beverage, and a great view of the bay in a convivial atmosphere.
Fisherman's Wharf - Pier 39 - Ghiradhelli
This area covers multiple blocks along the waterfront and is the tourism center for most visitors. If you aren't into walking, or it's a damp day, the best way to reach Fisherman's Wharf is to take the F-Line streetcars running along Market Street from the Castro neighbourhood or one of the cable car lines: the Powell-Hyde line (Hyde & Beech Street) or the Powell-Mason line (Taylor & Bay Street)
At Fisherman's Wharf, you'll find street performers, souvenir shops, carnival rides and many expensive restaurants. It's an excellent place to wander and people-watch.
Sea lions flock to Pier 39 at Fisherman's Wharf where they lounge and make an incredible noise right on the wharf. Sea lions are very common where I live but this is a highlight for visitors who don't get a chance to see marine life regularly.
I can't imagine visiting San Francisco without taking a stop at