Last updated on March 25th, 2019
Planning to travel to San Francisco and not sure what to include in your travel budget? Look no further! In this post, you will find out how expensive is it to travel in San Francisco with a detailed overview of different travel costs: from accommodation to sightseeing prices in San Francisco.
This is a guest post submitted by the amazing travel blogger Mimi from The Atlas Heart, who knows everything about San Francisco.
Why is San Francisco expensive?
Having lived in the Bay Area for most of my life, and San Francisco, specifically, most recently, I’ve seen prices increase pretty dramatically within the last 10 years.
The Silicon Valley boom is one of the main drivers of increased prices in the Bay Area. With Fortune 1000 companies and countless startups making their headquarters in the region, so are thousands of new residents.
That’s not to say that you can’t still enjoy a visit to this incredible city! You just might want to save a bit more before you make your way over here, especially for longer stays.
Of course, San Francisco has always been a little on the expensive side compared to other places in California, but I think you’ll find that to be the case with any big city. Despite the prices, San Francisco should 100% be included on a visit to Northern California.
For starters, it’s smack-dab in the middle of the state and has so much packed into one, 46 square-mile city.
It is also one of the most culturally diverse cities with incredible food, nightlife, art, music, and tourist attractions.
So, let me help you break down how much you can expect to spend on a trip to San Francisco, from transportation to shopping, accommodation, food, and more!
San Francisco travel budget: how expensive is it to travel in San Francisco?
Transportation costs in San Francisco
Luckily, when it comes to making your way around the city, you can travel as cheaply or as luxuriously as you like.
Haven’t bought a flight to San Francisco yet? Check the prices and availability on Skyscanner.
Affordable ways to get around San Francisco
The most cost-effective options for getting around San Francisco are the public transportation systems: BART and MUNI.
BART is the trans-bay railway system that has multiple stops in SF and the surrounding Bay Area cities. If you’re staying within the city, your travel costs will be pretty minimal, around $3 for any one-way ride. If you’re going to the East Bay, costs vary because it’s based off distance traveled.
MUNI is the city’s bus system – fairly reliable, and, unlike BART, has predictable flat-rate fares that are $2.50-$2.75 each way. The MUNI system covers much more of San Francisco compared to BART, and will certainly get you to where you need to go. Just know that you might need to hop on one or two different lines to get there.
San Francisco start-up company, Scoot, has placed vespa-like scooters all over the city and it is another affordable way to get around San Francisco. Most rides are priced between $4-6 for the first 15 minutes and then they tack on another $0.10 for each additional minute. Just download the app, save your feet, and zip up and down those hills!
Ridesharing prices in San Francisco
Lastly, Lyft and Uber ridesharing apps are readily available at anytime in San Francisco because it’s the city where they were born. If you opt for the economy ‘pool’ option for either one, it’s usually pretty affordable to get to most parts of compact San Francisco. I usually don’t pay more than $10 one way if I’m doing pool rideshare, even when I’m heading across the city. Ridesharing prices in San Francisco for private rides might cost you closer to $15-$20+.
For the rideshare options, just make sure to watch out for surge pricing that usually happens on weekend nights and during weekday rush hours.
Accommodation costs in San Francisco
In terms of where to stay – whether it be for a weekend or an extended period of time – there are quite a few price options available in San Francisco.
If you’re looking to really pamper yourself during your visit, districts like Union Square and Nob Hill will certainly have you living in the lap of luxury. These districts are home to famously-nice hotels like The Mark Hopkins, The Fairmont, and the Westin – all with nightly stays starting around $200 per night and going up to $1,000+.
You can find more affordable hotels in the city too, and most are still located in or near a central location. Hotel Zephyr, located in Fisherman’s Wharf area, is a fun boutique hotel with rates starting around $100/night. Similarly, the Villa Florence Hotel in Union square has rates around $135/night.
On a tight budget? There are plenty of hotels in the city that fit a tighter budget too! Airbnb or VRBO are also great options for pricing a little more affordable than the hotels and a little more homely too. They’re certainly a fun way to experience those traditional San Francisco Victorians first-hand!
Keep in mind that even the nicest of hotels offer special deals so you could still find yourself “livin it up in the city” without totally emptying your wallet. If you’re booking last minute, you can find significant discounts on Hotwire.
Food and drink prices in San Francisco
As far as drinks and dining go, you’ll find most things to be more expensive than cheap in San Francisco. It certainly isn’t uncommon to find a burger to be $15+ in the city (and that might not even come with fries).
At the nicer restaurants (usually 4- or 5-stars), you’ll be lucky to get a meal for two that’s under $100.
On average, most restaurants in San Francisco are around $15-20 per plate for lunches and dinners and tack on roughly $8 for a beer and $11-14 for a cocktail. Also, don’t forget to include the 8.5% San Francisco sales tax in your budgeting that’s put on the bill at the end of your meal.
Sightseeing and activity prices for San Francisco
If you’re out and about exploring San Francisco you can find both fun free things to do and more touristy or “cost for entry” activities. The city has literally everything!
Certainly something to check out while you’re in town are one (or a few) of the many museums located in the city. Most entry fees are around $20/ticket (give or take $5).
Here are a few other typical costs you might see for a tourist activity:
City Bus/sightseeing tours – $75 pp
Alcatraz Tour – $46 pp
San Francisco Ballet or Opera – $140 pp
Cost for packing essentials – what to buy before your trip
San Francisco has a pretty temperate climate year-round. Winter and spring are a bit cooler and wetter, summer tends to be a bit on the foggy side, and fall is usually the most pleasant time to visit the city. The best temperatures usually come out in September and October.
That being said, really the only thing you might want to purchase before heading to San Francisco (at any time of year) would be a windbreaker and a warm (preferably down) jacket. That’s pretty much like Scotland – have you ever been?
Not so bad! Windbreakers aren’t usually too costly and a good down jacket is sure to come in handy again at some point during your travels so you can feel good about splurging a bit for a nice one for San Francisco.
Shopping in San Francisco
San Francisco has countless nice high-end boutiques, large department stores, as well as some of the best thrift and consignment stores you’ll find on the West Coast. With this variety in shops there is certainly something there for every style and budget.
If you’re looking for high-end shopping, head over to Union Square and Nob Hill. For budget-friendly thrift stores, the Haight is the best neighborhood. And, for something in between, the Mission and the Marina districts are your best bet for cute local boutiques.
If you’re looking for those classic kitschy San Francisco souvenirs, Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39 will be the best place to find them.
Summary: how expensive is it to travel to San Francisco?
San Francisco tends to get a bad rap for how expensive of a city it is to live in, mostly due to astronomical rent prices, but the good news is that it can actually be a relatively budget-friendly place for travelers.
San Francisco on a budget: is that possible?
If you’re looking for a low-cost trip to San Francisco, take public transit everywhere, take advantage of all of the free things to do around the city (i.e. walking across the Golden Gate Bridge, exploring Golden Gate Park, hiking to the top of Twin Peaks or to Land’s End), eat in more budget-friendly neighborhoods, such as the Mission and the Haight, and stay slightly outside the central districts.
If you’re looking for a luxurious stay, San Francisco has plenty of options for that too. I truly believe that San Francisco can be enjoyed by all budgets, it’s just about being smart about how you spend your money in the city.
If you’re looking for more ideas of what to do in San Francisco and California as a whole, make sure to check out my recent bucket-list post I put together about the top 101 things to do in California.
Guest post by Mimi McFadden
Travel blogger at The Atlas Heart
Originally from California, Mimi has been slow travelling the world since 2013. When she’s not writing, you can probably find her sipping on a pint of craft beer, chasing waterfalls, or planning her next adventure in a foreign land.
After living abroad for five years in Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Greece, and Portugal she has finally found a home in San Francisco, California. You can find her on Instagram, Facebook, and her blog!