If you’ve ever visited San Francisco, you know it can be a very expensive city. Hotel costs, restaurant tabs, valet fees and cab fares can add up quite quickly. But, if you know where the values are, that trip to San Francisco can actually fit into your budget quite nicely.
First, let’s start with lodging. Yes, it’s nice to stay at the Grand Hyatt on Union Square or the Mark Hopkins. But, let’s face it, they’re expensive. For budget considerations, I suggest you consider Lombard Street. No, not the crooked part of Lombard Street, but the section of Lombard Street which runs through the Cow Hollow and Marina districts in the northern part of San Francisco, near the Golden Gate Bridge.
You can find a nice room on Lombard Street for just under $100 a night, which is a far cry from the hotels on Union Square. But, what kind of room will your $100 get you? Of course, you’re not going to get the luxury of a fancy hotel, but you’re not paying for luxury. You’re paying to enjoy San Francisco. Your $100 will buy you a comfortable, clean room. Also, you will generally receive free parking. If you drive to San Francisco or rent a car in San Francisco, free parking is a big deal. The luxury hotels usually charge for parking, as well as a in & out fees when you retrieve your car for a day trip or night out.
Lombard Street is also a great location. Just north of Lombard Street is Chestnut Street, with a movie theater, shops and wonderful food. To the south a few blocks you’ll find Union Street, with upscale shops and, again, wonderful food. Lombard Street is also a good location for bus service to all parts of San Francisco, eliminating the need for expensive taxi rides.
You have numerous choices for lodging along Lombard Street. I’ve stayed at the Cow Hollow Motor Inn (415-921-5800) and find it to be good, inexpensive choice, with free parking, with a nice, inexpensive Italian restaurant located just north on Steiner Street (Ristorante Parma). One caveat I have about Cow Hollow, which can probably be applied to any of the motels on Lombard Street, is that you will probably want to request an inside room off the main streets, as they can get quite loud. Another motel you might consider would be La Luna Inn (415-346-4664), a recently renovated inn with some luxuries you wouldn’t expect from a budget motel, such as pillow-top mattresses, flat screen TVs, wireless internet access and complimentary muffins, breads, coffee, tea and juices served every morning. All that for just under $100 per night for a single king or queen bed.
Restaurants can also add up to the cost of a vacation. San Francisco has a large amount of wonderful restaurants at inexpensive prices. Of course, you have to know which ones they are. Those would usually be the ones the locals frequent, so if you want to avoid over-priced restaurants, you’d stay away from restaurants in tourist traps like Fisherman’s Wharf and go for neighborhood restaurants, such as those found in Cow Hollow and the Marina District, 24th Street in Noe Valley, or Potrero Hill. One very inexpensive restaurant I’d recommend in Potrero Hill is San Francisco Bar B Que, 1328 18th St. , a wonderful little Thai BBQ restaurant that serves great food at cheap prices. If there’s a wait, just put your name on the list and bop into Bloom’s Saloon a couple doors down for a drink and great views of the downtown skyline.
As for inexpensive things to do in San Francisco, check out the free walking tours offered by San Francisco City Guides, a non-profit organization of more than 200 trained volunteers who lead free walking tours in San Francisco. Their website at sfcityguides.org lists all the many different walking tours of such sites as Chinatown, Golden Gate Bridge, Coit Tower, and even ghost walks of supposedly haunted locations.
San Francisco is truly a great city to visit. It’s even better when you know you can visit and experience all the city has to offer without breaking the bank.
Shari Hearn is a writer and creator of Top Vacation Spots , where you can learn more about things to do in San Francisco .