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Traveling to San Francisco on a Budget

Author: Christopher Taylor

San Francisco is a vibrant, stunning, culturally iconic city. No place like it exists in America or the world. It is also one of the most expensive cities in America. Real estate prices are higher than anywhere on the mainland, not named Manhattan. Gas regularly costs as much as 50% more than the national average, and grocery bills in San Francisco rank among the nation's highest.

Do not let high prices in San Francisco scare you away from vacationing there. You can enjoy the city on a budget. By doing research and planning ahead of time, you can find an inexpensive flight deal and a safe and affordable hotel, and build your vacation itinerary with a long list of unique San Francisco activities that will not break the bank.

Flight Deals

San Francisco is served by San Francisco International Airport (SFO) which is the second busiest airport in California behind LAX and the seventh busiest in America. Hundreds of flights take off from and land at SFO every day; you are bound to find a great deal among them.

United Airlines, along with its regional carrier, United Express, offers the most flights to and from SFO. The other major airlines, such as American and Delta, also fly into SFO. The easiest way to compare fares among the major airlines is on a third-party travel site, such as Priceline or Expedia. SFO also hosts several value airlines, such as JetBlue, Virgin and Frontier. Depending on where you live, you might find a lower fare on one of these airlines. Since value airlines do not appear on third-party sites, check their websites individually to compare fares.

A major benefit of flying into SFO is the airport connects directly with the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), one of the finest public transportation systems in any American city. BART can connect you to your hotel and to just about any tourist destination you can think of; it renders a car rental largely unnecessary.

Hotel Deals

San Francisco is home to over 200 hotels. With BART's expansive public transportation network covering most of the city, you have some flexibility in where you stay. Once again, third-party sites, such as Expedia and TripAdvisor, are your best friend for a hotel search. These sites aggregate current hotel deals and update pricing information at least daily. They make searching in a designated area easy; some even let you draw boundaries on a city map and specify your price range, and then they show you the hotels within those boundaries that are available at your requested price.

The crime rate in San Francisco is not terrible, but certain areas are more desirable than others. If staying in a safe, family-friendly neighborhood is of top concern, look to the Fisherman's Wharf and Union Square areas. Both have low crime and are popular with tourists but still feature affordable lodging options.

Have Fun

San Francisco offers an abundance of ways to have fun for little to no cost. If you like art galleries, the city is inundated with them. Check out 49 Geary, Ratio 3 and Diego River Gallery.

Catching a San Francisco Giants baseball game during the week is often inexpensive. If you want to catch a game with no ticket, the waterfront promenade east of the stadium offers an unobstructed view of the field for free.

Cable cars are a rich part of San Francisco's history. Visiting the Cable Car Museum, which houses still-functioning cable cars from the 1800s, is an authentically San Francisco way to spend an afternoon without breaking the bank.

A San Francisco vacation is not complete until you visit the Golden Gate Bridge. Stretching 1.7 miles, the bridge can be traversed on foot or bicycle, and buses are available to bring you back. Make sure to stop for a minute and take in the amazing view of Alcatraz and the city's iconic skyline.

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