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Affordable San Francisco Weekend Trip

San Francisco gets a lot of hype as one of the most expensive cities in the US and being so close to Silicon Valley it has an abundance of job opportunities. The city itself is very compact so it is possible to see all the highlights in a weekend if you are willing to maximize your days! This short itinerary is perfect for visitors who don't have a lot of time to spend in the city but want to see the highlights on their trip. In general, I try to make connections with people everywhere I go and stay in touch with everyone I meet. This allows me to have friends all over the US and also gives me a couch to crash on when I visit. This method isn’t easy for everyone and some people like to have their own space, but when I travel my goals are always around experiencing as much of a place as possible for as little cost as possible. Plus it is always great to know locals for tips and because they usually know the best spots to take you! Every friend I have ever visited always has an open invitation to visit me anywhere I may be living which creates another great way to stay in touch.

We flew in Friday night and stayed with friends in downtown. If you’re looking for cost effective places to stay, I would recommend checking out the numerous hostels all over the city. They are small living spaces but if you are not intending to spend much time in your room, they are the perfect place to drop your stuff and lay your head down for a few hours of sleep before heading out again. Along the same lines, while SF has plenty of amazing restaurants to try, I focused my trip on seeing the sights rather than trying food to keep costs low. While I love eating and experiencing new restaurants, I try to minimize eating and drinking out for trips where I am looking to be cost conscious. For a weekend trip, that approach usually saves me anywhere between $200-$300 if you count 6 meals plus drinks for a typical weekend trip.

So Friday night we stayed in a cooked while enjoying the views of the city from our friend’s apartment. The next morning, we got up around 8am and stopped by a local deli to grab a breakfast sandwich and begin our day. There are plenty of little neighborhood sandwich shops so no matter where you stay, I would just do a quick search for breakfast sandwiches within walking distance of where you stay and you will find something good! While eating, we walked to our first site, the stereotypical painted ladies which you have to see if you’re in SF simply because they are so popular. As a heads up, they are very underwhelming given their popularity. There are so many beautiful houses around them and throughout SF that they are not as impressive as you would expect. Plus, you will have to deal with crowds of people trying to capture the perfect picture. If you are determined to snag a clear picture, you will have to wait a while on the weekends so be prepared to use up some of your time. We were less concerned with the pictures so only spent about 10 minutes there before heading to catch a view and some beautiful colored steps. Along the way we stopped by the windy Lombard Street and took a stroll down the curves before continuing on to the Moraga Steps.

I’m all about finding hidden gems in cities so the Moraga Steps were high on my list of must sees. There are 163 steps covered in beautiful mosaic tiles at the end of a neighborhood street. At the top of the steps there’s a park that over looks SF in all directions which was right in line with my view-chasing mentality. We enjoyed the views from the park for about 30 minutes before heading to our Golden Gate Park. We walked the entire length of the park all the way down to the Golden Gate Bridge, stopping to see a few iconic spots along the way: Cliff House and Lands End. After our day of walking SF, we decided to get off our feet for a few hours and cooked dinner with our friends back in their apartment. After dinner we went out to a handful of bars that I don’t recall the names of because we were just going with the flow based on our friends' preferences. There are so many great bars in the city in each of the neighborhoods, we just preferred to tag along with our friends and treat it like any normal going out night.

For our last half day on Sunday we rode a streetcar down to the Bay (because what is more San Francisco than riding in a streetcar over the rolling hills towards the Golden Gate bridge?) and ate at Fisherman’s Wharf. There were so many food options to choose from but we ended up getting sandwiches from Boudin Bakery on a friend’s recommendation and were not disappointed. We ate our launch on the pier overlooking the water before having to head back to catch our late afternoon flight.

I felt satisfied with how much we saw in such a short period of time. But there were a few things we did not get to that would be fun to check out next time we roll through. We didn’t make it to Alcatraz Island, partly because we didn’t have time and partly because you have to book tickets well in advance and we did not know our schedule early enough to do so. I also did not get the chance to see the Sea Lions at Pier 39. Any local will tell you there were a few other gems I missed on my trip, which makes sense because there is always more to see. But if you are looking for a quick and cheap way to see SF, this itinerary worked well for us.

Cost breakdown

  • Flights: $350

  • Food: $150

  • Drinks: $50

  • Stayed with friends: Free (plus thank you gift - I usually opt for some type of alcohol that I know they like so costs are $20-$40)

  • Activities: Free (by choice but there are activities in SF that cost money - visiting Alcatraz for example)

For any questions about this trip or others, email me at or connect with me on IG.

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