Best Inexpensive Things to do in San Francisco

Predictably, my desire to visit San Francisco can be traced back to the Golden Gate. What can I say? I’m bridge-lovin girl. Of course, my first suspension bridge love was—and will always be—the Mackinac Bridge in Michigan (aka. the Mighty Mac). But the Golden Gate? Easily number two. And, in this case, second place ain’t bad.

Golden Gate Bridge in the fog

So yeah. I’ve had my eye on San Francisco for a while and a half. But it’s just soooooo dang expensive to fly there. I mean, tickets from Florida to San Fran generally cost more than what I paid to fly to Europe three different times last year!

But then. Back in November I snatched up a $108 RT fare from TPA to SFO. (Know your airport codes?) Call it fate, luck, good timing, whatevah. I just knew I’d regret not booking that flight.

Though I’d initially planned to go solo, my sis Jenessa and our sister/friend Kristen jumped at the chance to tag along. They had to pay three times as much to fly out of DTW and meet me there, but they did. January 16th, we met up at SFO, ready to explore the heck outta the City by the Bay. And by ‘explore the heck’ I mean walk 28 miles in 3.5 days. True story.

Three women standing in front of graffiti stairs in San Francisco

All that walking gave us plenty to see and do, and honestly, I can’t recall a single place I didn’t enjoy. But of course I have favorites, which I’m happy to share with you. Take notes.

Favorite Restaurants in San Francisco

Zushi Puzzle

Sushi in San Fran is a must. We hit up Zushi Puzzle for its solid Yelp rating and short walk from the hotel. I’m not a sushi expert by any stretch, but my taste buds know the difference between good (ie. Publix deli grab & go) and ‘Can I eat this every day forever?’ good (aka. the authentic stuff). This place? Totally authentic. The miso soup is even served with chopsticks. No spoon for you! My favorite roll: BBQ eel with mango (Una Mango). I literally could eat that every day forever.

Plate of sushi


This place was ideal for a hot n hearty lunch on a cool, rainy day. Glaze serves up a mean teriyaki bowl that is fresh, locally sourced, customizable, and warmed me tummy and soul. I recommend sitting by the window to get your people watching on.

Stir fry bowl in front of a window


You know when you’re headed someplace, with a plan to eat after. But your stomach has other ideas? That’s how we stumbled upon Crepevine. We’d already put in four miles of walking since breakfast, with at least another mile to go before our next stop… and our bodies said “But first foooood.” After scouting out a few nearby options, we agreed on Crepevine. Good call, us. And we weren’t even there for the crepes! I had some giant egg & veggie scramble, with a side of potatoes and killer English muffin, that powered me through another eight miles of walking before dinner. And if you’re not a fan of breakfast for not-breakfast, there are plenty of other options for the likes of you.

Egg scramble with English muffin and diced potatoes

Stock in Trade

Confession. I’m Brussels sprouts obsessed. Used to hate em, but all that changed a few years ago. Funny how that works sometimes. Anyway, on our first night in SF, we needed dinner and we needed it nearby. Enter Stock in Trade. The full menu wasn’t available, so we opted for some bar appetizers. They had me at crispy Brussels sprouts (with apples and bacon!). Whaaaaaa?? I ate every crispy bite + an order of deviled eggs (also with bacon). And that’s how this bacon-loving place earned a spot on my faves list.

Deviled eggs with bacon and fried brussels sprouts

Unique Things to See and Do in San Francisco

Lands End

Hike here. Doooo it. For the bridge views. And the fresh air. And the exercise. But let’s be real. For the views. Coastal cliffs topped with stately Cypress and pine trees serve as a natural frame for those Golden Gate sightings at every turn. It’s two miles of your life that your legs won’t find terribly daunting and your eyes will thank you for.

Hazy view of Golden Gate Bridge

East Beach at Crissy Field

For more Golden views from a right-side angle, visit Crissy Field. East Beach totally delivers, plus it has that whole beach thing going for it. But if that doesn’t convince you, maybe you’ll be sold on the ample parking and restroom facilities. Or maybe just take a look at this photo.

Women on beach in front of Golden Gate Bridge

Painted Ladies

Have you heard of these Victorian beauties? Maybe you’ve seen them in movies or on TV… like the very end of the opening credits of Full House. That was my first introduction, which also confused me into thinking that one of the Painted Ladies was the Full House house. Not so, my friends. Thanks to good timing and my sister’s bold congeniality, we met the owner of one of the houses, who set us straight on the true location of that Tanner family home. He also shared his scrapbook of all his house’s cameos in film and TV shows. And guess what? The man has three Golden Retrievers. (Comet, anyone?) He even brought one out for a photo op! Sooo we got some Full House vibes at the Painted Ladies after all.

Painted Ladies in San Francisco
Three women holding a Golden Retriever

Lombard Street

Just for the sake of seeing it, climb to the highest point of Lombard Street and watch cars drive down the ‘Crookedest Street in the World’ with its crazy eight hairpin turns. And, if you’re feeling adventurous—and have a car—why not drive down it yourself? At the very least, it’s a fun curiosity, as well as a main thoroughfare for the Powell/Hyde cable car.

Lombard Street in San Francisco

Chinatown San Francisco

A friend told me, “you’ll never see the same thing twice” in Chinatown, and after spending a few hours here, I couldn’t agree more. The colors, character, and controlled chaos is not to be missed. Shop for cultured or kitschy souvenirs, inhale the aroma of authentic cuisine, and even watch how fortune cookies are made. Yup. The Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory offers a quick, free tour of its cookie-making facility, complete with a sample of still warm fortune cookie crisps. Heaven! Bring cash if you wanna take some home—and you will, with flavors like strawberry, green tea, and even chocolate frosted fortune cookies. Regular restaurant fortune cookies may be ruined for you after this. (Okay. How many times did I just type ‘fortune cookie’ in this paragraph? Geez!)

Three women posing in China Town San Francisco
Line of people at Golden Gate fortune cookie factory in San Francisco
Fortune cookie factory

Pier 39

I would be remiss not to mention Pier 39. Sure, it’s touristy. But guys. Sea lions. Go for the sea lions. The pier is their prime sunbathing spot, and you’ll hear the lot (and I do mean LOT) of them barking before you even see them. The pier also offers plenty of food options, as well as the most random collection of shops.

Pier 39 docks in San Francisco

Magowan’s Infinite Mirror Maze

For a cheap thrill (or to get out of the rain, cold, sun, whatever you’re trying to avoid), pay $5 and give Pier 39’s mirror maze a go. It’s actually decently challenging and an oddball way to spend 10-20 minutes—depending on how mirror savvy you are.

Three women in a fun house

Now remember. You’ll be hard pressed to find something you don’t like about San Francisco. These are merely a handful of the standout things we did. If you’re looking for some recs for a first—or even tenth—trip to SF, I hope this helps. Lemme know.

And if you’re no stranger to SF, share your favorite eats and sights in the comments below. I’d love to know for my next trip!

4 thoughts on “Best Inexpensive Things to do in San Francisco

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