Did you know that San Francisco has affordable attractions that you can see for under $20? Indeed, despite inflation affecting travelers like you, there are many things to do on a limited budget. In fact, you could spend an entire day in this beautiful city without putting a noticeable dent in your pocketbook. Above all, these San Francisco attractions are not only affordable, they’re among the most popular. In fact, some top attractions are absolutely free! Of course, these are just suggestions and you can always pick and choose your favorites.
Cable Car Ride
Powell and Market Streets
San Francisco, CA 94103
There’s nothing truly like riding a cable car in San Francisco. In fact, it’s last of its kind in the world and the first moving National Historic Landmark. Yet at the same time, a single ride is $8, which can add up if you’re in a group. Nevertheless, a cable car ride is a must-do attraction, especially if you’re a first-time visitor. Although there are several spots you can board the cable car, the turnaround at Powell and Market is convenient. However, the cable cars aren’t always on time and there could be a line of people waiting. In all, there are three San Francisco cable car lines in operation. Among other stops are Chinatown, Nob Hill, Union Square and Fisherman’s Wharf. A good rule of thumb is to download the MuniMobile app so that you have your fare ready. If you’re interested, there is also the free Cable Car Museum near the Ferry Building.
1 Telegraph Hill Blvd.
San Francisco, CA 94133
Even if you’re unfamiliar with its name, you likely recognize Coit Tower. To be sure, it’s one of iconic landmarks that shapes the city’s landscape. And, by all means, it’s also a very affordable San Francisco place to explore. Built in the 1930s, the tower is a memorial for fire fighters who died in San Francisco fires. In fact, if you look closely, you’ll notice that the 210-foot tall tower resembles a fire hose. Visible from spots like Fisherman’s Wharf and The Embarcadero, it’s a short walk from North Beach. However, the Filbert Stairs to reach the Telegraph Hill may prove challenging for some people. Fortunately, you can also take the 39 Coit bus to the parking area, which is severely limited. Admission for non-residents is $10 and $7 for older adults and youths.
Conservatory of Flowers
100 John F. Kennedy Drive
San Francisco, CA 94118
Like many Golden Gate Park attractions, the Conservatory of Flowers is quite affordable. In fact, it’s just $13 or $7 if you’re an older adult, college student with ID or a youth ages 12-17. Equally important are the stunning views of the Conservatory, both inside and out. For example, the gardens surrounding the structure are always colorful and well-manicured. By the same token, the Conservatory itself is stunning, with the Victorian-era greenhouse dating back to 1878. Moreover, this Conservatory is the oldest of its kind in the country and oldest in the park. Once inside, you will marvel at the countless numbers of flower and plant species. In doing so, you will quickly understand why it’s a popular spot for wedding photos.
De Young Museum
50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive
San Francisco, CA 94118
If you love art museums, the de Young is among the exception museums in San Francisco. What’s more, it’s refreshingly affordable, with prices starting at $15 and $12 for older adults. If that’s not enough students 18 and over with a valid ID is $6 and free for anyone under 18. In other words, if you have children, you’re saving money by visiting. Besides, the de Young has an extensive collection, with a particular emphasis on American art. For example, you can see works from artists like John Singleton Copley, Thomas Cole and Richard Diebenkorn. In addition, the de Young hosts ongoing temporary exhibitions although requires an extra fee. On the other hand, you won’t see a large collection of paintings from European artists. Instead, you must go to the Legion of Honor.
Golden Gate Bridge
San Francisco, CA
There’s no question, the Golden Gate Bridge will be on your list of things to see. After all, it’s a must-see attraction and among the world’s most famous bridges. However, do you want to see it up close or from a distance? In case you want to see it up close you have a couple of options. For one, you can drive there and hope you find a place to park. For another option, you can take a bus to the Bridge’s parking lot. That’s not to mention renting a bike or take a tour bus. On the other hand, if you find these options too difficult, you can still see the Golden Gate. In fact, you have several great viewing spots, like Fisherman’s Wharf.
Japanese Tea Garden
75 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive
San Francisco, CA 94118
The Japanese Tea Garden has similar affordable rates like the Conservatory of the Flowers. Only in this case, the Japanese Tea Garden offers free admission to residents and veterans. This means, if you’re a veteran or traveling with one or more, it’s free to visit. The country’s oldest public Japanese garden, it opened in 1894 as part of the World’s Fair. Today, some of the original structures remain, including the popular Tea House and Drum Bridge. Yet another beautiful spot in Golden Gate Park, the garden is renowned for its Japanese architecture and landscapes. Lastly, you find it interesting to know that the original gardener Makoto Hagiwara, is known as the inventor the modern fortune cookie.
Legion of Honor
100 34th Ave.
San Francisco, CA 94121
For many locals, the Legion of Honor is their favorite affordable museum in San Francisco. Moreover, the museum holds arguably the finest permanent art collection in the entire city. In the first place, the Legion of Honor holds the majority of the city’s European art collection. That is to say that you’ll see paintings from Monet, Rembrandt, Renoir and van Gogh. For another, you can also see priceless sculptures, such as Rodin’s “The Thinker”. On the other hand, the museum is near the coast, which may be difficult to reach without a car. Nevertheless, there is plenty of free parking and a bus stop for Muni route 18. At the same time, you also have outstanding views of the Golden Gate Bridge. To be sure, if you walk a bit, you can see other attractions like Land’s End or China Beach.
Pier 45, Shed A
San Francisco, CA 94133
There is no question that Fisherman’s Wharf is a very popular attraction for out-of-town visitors. But it’s important to realize that many attractions aren’t affordable. Although you might be able to fit in a trip to Alcatraz Island, there are alternatives. For instance, for the cost of zero dollars, you can visit Musée Mécanique. Set in the heart of Fisherman’s Wharf, this admission free attraction is an antique arcade center. In fact, it holds one of America’s largest privately owned collection of arcade games and artifacts. Of course, it’s also affordable, with many coin operated games that don’t cost you a dollar. In all, the family-owned collection holds over 300 items, including several antique games. By all means, make sure to see “Laffin’ Sal”, an animatronic figure from a bygone day.
Palace of Fine Arts
3601 Lyon St.
San Francisco, CA 94123
The Palace of Fine Arts is clearly among the most recognizable landmarks in San Francisco. The sole remaining structure from a 1915 world’s fair, it’s not exactly a palace, per se. Instead, there is a Beaux-Arts rotunda reminiscent of a majestic Roman monument. The Palace of Fine Arts has plenty of parking but can also be reached by bus. If that’s not enough, there are more affordable attractions nearby. For example, Crissy Field with its spectacular views of Golden Gate Bridge is a short walk away. Also in the area is the Wave Organ, a free attraction near the Marina Green. In addition, the Yoda Fountain is close by, as well as the rest of the Presidio. Lastly, one other attraction worth mentioning in the Presidio is the Walt Disney Family Museum. But then again, admission for this museum is over $20.
San Francisco Botanical Garden
1199 Ninth Ave.
San Francisco, CA 94122
The Botanical Garden is not only a gorgeous spot, it’s an affordable San Francisco attraction. Encompassing 55 acres, it’s among the largest attractions in Golden Gate Park. On the other hand, it’s also among the most overlooked. Be that as it may, it’s worth visiting, especially if you’re a gardening enthusiast. The botanical garden holds nearly 9,000 plant species representing countries all over the world. This in itself, may make it difficult to see everything. However, you should see the Magnolias, the Fragrance Garden and the Andean Cloud Forest. Like the Conservatory of Flowers, admission is $13 for adults and $7 for older adults and youths. In addition, a Gardens of Golden Gate Park Pass is $25 for adults and $21 for youths and older adults. This discounted pass allows you to visit the Conservatory, Botanical Garden and Tea Garden.
Lombard Street and Alamo Square
These well-known attractions are among the most popular tourist spots in San Francisco. Although these may be high on your list of things to do, there is a reason why both were left out in affordable San Francisco recommendations. To be clear, both are in residential neighborhoods. There has been a fine line between tourists and people who live along Lombard Street and Alamo Square. That’s because ongoing visitors tend to create traffic congestion and worse yet, littering. With this in mind, please pay particular attention to your behavior and respect these neighborhoods.
About The Author
Randy Yagi is an award-winning freelance writer who served as the National Travel Writer for CBS from 2012-2019. More than 900 of his stories still appear in syndication across 23 CBS websites, including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco. During his peak years with CBS, Randy had a reported digital audience reach of 489 million and 5.5 million monthly visitors. Additionally, his stories have appeared in the Daily Meal, CBS News, CBS Radio, Engadget and Radio.com. He earned a Media Fellowship from Stanford University in 2012.