Visiting San Francisco
It has been said that vacations help relieve stress and anxiety while boosting the mental and physical health of the entire family. One of the biggest boosts in happiness can come from planning a vacation. It’s a fact, that people who take vacations have lower stress, less risk of heart disease, a better outlook on life and more motivation to achieve goals. Yet, due to financial constraints, many of us put the thought of taking a vacation off indefinitely.
I’ve done some research about how to vacation without breaking the bank. San Francisco has always been one of my favorite cities, but spending time there can be pricey. However, there’s lots to see and do in the city by the bay, that can be financially acceptable and still enjoyable.
If you feel that inexpensive vacations can still strain your budget or would like to upscale your vacation a little, check out my suggestion on How to Earn Extra Money from Home at the end of this article.
Where to Stay
My first recommendation would be to consider renting an apartment, instead of staying in a hotel. Hotels in big cities can be outrageously expensive. An apartment will provide a kitchen for eating some meals “in” and a parking space. Parking in any big city can cost an arm & a leg. There is an online service called VRBO that can help you find an affordable place to stay. If you prefer to stay in a hotel, San Francisco has a myriad of hotels in different price ranges. Using an online service such as Expedia or Trivago will allow you to compare pricing and amenities. You will be able to select the area in which you prefer to stay, like Union Square or Fisherman’s Wharf, and select a hotel that will fit your budget. Sometimes you can find hotel deals on Groupon or Travelzoo that fit your schedule, or you might set your schedule around hotel specials.
What to See
Now it’s time to explore San Francisco. Cable cars are one of the great attractions in this city. A trip to San Francisco could be considered incomplete without at least one ride on a cable car. My suggestion is to take the Hyde Street cable car to the top portion of Lombard Street. There you will see the “crookedest street in the world”. Take a walk down this steep and winding street, while admiring all of the beautiful homes and foliage you will pass along the way. You can catch the cable car at the foot of Hyde St. near Ghirardelli Square, at the Turnaround.
Another free attraction is a trip to Haight-Ashbury, the center of the 1960s hippie movement. The neighborhood is known for being the origin of the hippie counterculture. Experience the flavor of that era at many of the shops along Haight and Ashbury streets. The Haight-Ashbury Street Fair takes place the second Sunday of June each year. Be sure to take advantage of this event, if you are visiting at that time.
Two blocks away you will discover Golden Gate Park, one of San Francisco’s greatest treasures. There are 1,017 acres of gardens, lakes, picnic groves, trails and monuments to be enjoyed. Be sure to visit the Japanese Tea Garden. It is the oldest in the United States. The garden’s lush, harmonious landscaping pays homage to the traditional Japanese Art of the Garden. The grounds also feature elaborate carved wood gates, many stone lanterns, a five story pagoda, a Zen Garden constructed of stones and gravel, a high-arching Drum Bridge, a large bronze Buddha and of course, the teahouse. In the same area of Golden Gate Park you will find the deYoung Museum, the California Academy of Sciences and the San Francisco Botanical Gardens. Down the road is Stowe Lake and the Herschell-Spillman Carousel is a little further west. These are a few of the sights in Golden Gate Park and many are free or inexpensive.
A trip to San Francisco would never be complete without a visit to the most famous waterfront community, Fisherman’s Wharf. As you stroll along the wharf, you might enjoy some clam chowder soup in a sourdough bread bowl or fresh Dungeness crab served steaming hot at one of the outdoor stands. Be sure to explore Pier 39, as you continue your walk along the wharf. Check out the Aquarium of the Bay and enjoy the street performances as you walk to the end of Pier 39. There is a two story carousel toward the end of the pier, which will delight all who are young or young at heart. Walk just a little bit further and you will see a Sea Lion colony hauled out on the docks on Pier 39’s marina, sunning themselves. This is one of the highlights on the wharf and a treat you shouldn’t miss.
Catch a Giants game at the very awesome AT&T Park, located on the water of the Embarcadero. The view from the worst seats in the house still gives you a view of the Bay Bridge and the South Beach marina. This stadium features a nine foot statue of America’s greatest living ballplayer, Willie Mays, at the public entrance. Having won the World Series in 2014, 2012 and 2010, makes seeing this team in action an experience you’ll brag about for years to come!
One more “can’t miss” adventure is a trip to Chinatown at Grant Avenue. Be sure to have your camera ready as you reach Chinatown Gate. This gate is a great photo opp. It is also known as Dragon Gates. When you walk through these gates, you have entered a whole new world. This is the oldest Chinatown in North America and the largest Chinese community outside Asia. Here you will experience a glimpse of Chinese culture at it’s fullest. Enjoy the food and the unique shops. If you are planning to bring back souvenirs, they are reasonably priced and bargaining will add to the fun.
A Short Drive Away
Drive over the Golden Gate Bridge and stroll through Sausalito. This waterfront community is home to many boutiques, as well as art studios and galleries. It’s scenic backdrops and bayside marinas provide the atmosphere that keeps tourists coming back again and again. Though this article is about vacations on a budget, I would recommend having dinner at The Spinnaker, 100 Sausalito Drive, if you decide you can afford one splurge. This is a fantastic seafood restaurant, right on the water, with dramatic views of the Bay, looking across to the San Francisco skyline.
While in Marin County, drive a few miles north to Muir Woods. Muir Woods is another inexpensive and yet enjoyable outing. It is the home of the giant redwoods, some of the tallest trees on the planet, and an enchanted ancient forest. The entrance fee is $10 for adults and free to children 15 and under.
I hope you find the above suggestions helpful to visit San Francisco on a budget. I tried to point out free or inexpensive things to do and sites to see on your visit. You can tailor your time and site seeing to your budget and spend more if your budget allows. Either way, it is sure to leave you with the feeling that you have truly enjoyed visiting the city by the bay, without having to rob a bank!
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