Eat, Stay and Explore San Francisco on a Budget

Thursday, August 31, 2017

The food, culture, diversity, music and stunning views of the city are what draws people to San Francisco.  It’s best to explore all of the different neighbourhoods of the city to really get an in-depth idea of one of the funkiest cities in America.

San Francisco has always been at the top my travel list and I finally had the chance to visit this eclectic city a few months ago.  Although San Francisco is one of the most expensive cities to live in the US, you can definitely travel here and not go broke. Here are some budget-friendly tips for the average traveller looking to visit San Fran.

Where to Stay

Finding a reasonably priced hotel in San Francisco can be quite difficult.  After endless searches for a decent priced hotel in a safe neighborhood, I stumbled across Hotel Mayflower.  I found it strange that this hotel was not listed on any of the hotel booking websites and could only be booked by visiting their very basic website.  Most people are so quick to use or to find hotels, but this one had incredible ratings on TripAdvisor so i had to give it a try, plus the price was the best in the area! After a quick phone call to make sure this place was legit, I reserved a room and a confirmation email was sent.

The hotel is located in the Nob Hill Neighbourhood and is quite centrally located.  It is an older hotel, but it is exactly what you need in a busy city.  The staff are extremely friendly and helpful, the rooms are spacious and comfortable, and most importantly it is CLEAN.  They even offer a continental breakfast which I usually skipped out on because it was mediocre, but other guests seemed to really enjoy it.

If you’re looking for a basic hotel that is comfortable and pleasant then this is your best bet.  Kudos to the bowl of candies at the front desk which I gladly pocketed daily for excursion snacks.

What To Do

There is an abundance of fun activities and sites to see in San Francisco and the best way to do them is with the San Francisco City Pass.   The city pass is a pocket-sized ticket booklet that includes tickets to the city’s top attractions.  The pass includes a Cable Car and Muni Bus Passport, entry to the California Academy of Sciences, Blue and Gold Fleet Bay Cruise Adventure, Aquarium of the Bay, and the Exploratorium or de Young Museum.  All of these attractions total to $213.85 but with the City Pass you only pay $123.44 (adult ticket price).  The savings are totally worth it and I found that the cable car and Muni Pass really came in handy as transportation costs start to add up quickly.  The pass is valid for 9 days after the first day of usage.

Visiting the Golden Gate Bridge is a must! Whether you choose to walk or bike across the bridge, be prepared for some heavy winds. We decided to walk across the bridge (took about 35 mins).  At the end of the bridge you can continue on to a little town called Sausalito (5 km from end of bridge).  Sausalito was quite beautiful and a nice little getaway from the busy streets.  Be sure to stop by Lappert's Ice Cream for a couple of scrumptious scoops. The walk across the bridge to Sausalito was quite long so I would recommend renting a bike and/or walking one way and then taking the ferry back.

Another great spot to visit is PIER 39.  I went on a special day and got to experience the Pier 39 Summer Sip Wine Tour which was kind of like a scavenger hunt for wine samples. It was a really fun afternoon exploring the great shops throughout Pier 39 and observing the popular sea lion viewing area.  I sampled a great variety of California wines on the Sip Tour and learned a bit about the Napa Valley and Sonoma regions.

Other places to visit: Alcatraz (be sure to book your tickets in advance), Lombard Street aka The Crookedest Street in the World, Chinatown, Haight-Ashbury Neighbourhood, The Castro District, Fisherman's Wharf.

Where To Eat

The food scene in SF is pretty happening and with only 4 days in the city, I really had to narrow my choices down. After visiting tons of Food Blogs and Yelp reviews,  I ended up with a few must-try spots.

Farm Table is a local San Francisco Micro-cafe that specializes in local, sustainable and homemade ingredients. The restaurant is quite small inside so I suggest going there early if you're thinking about dining in.  The menu features house cereal, steel cut oats, daily toast, egg on a croissant and a few more healthy options.  They also serve lunch and great hot & cold beverages. I tried their famous 'Daily Toast' which was a thick slice of brioche bread slathered with whipped mascarpone and topped with fresh fruit.  It was absolutely amazing and I still think about it from time to time when I wake up hungry.

Everyone knows all about the famous Tartine Bakery! They are known for their fresh bread, breakfast pastries, hot pressed sandwiches and coffee.  There is a line-up almost every day at Tartine, but it does move quite fast.  A lot of people order take out here as it can be difficult to snag a table.  As with majority of small cafes and restaurants in San Francisco, you order at the counter and they call out your number once your food is ready.  There is no wait staff here which can make things seem a tad unorganized and competitive when scoping out a table.

I tried a number of the pastries at Tartine and absolutely loved the popular Morning Bun (pictured on the bottom left).  It’s kind of like a croissant and cinnabon rolled into one.  It was sticky, flaky, gooey and full of cinnamon and orange zest flavour.  The hazelnut tart was also quite lovely, rich in chocolate and hazelnut flavour and not overly sweet.

Chubby Noodle is a hip spot with good music, great beer and cheap eats! Their motto is, We cook the best food while playing the best music. It is rarely quiet in our restaurant, but you don't need your ears to taste delicious food. I love the truth and simplicity in that, and it couldn’t be more spot on.  I ate spicy garlic noodles while listening to Blackstreet’s No Diggity and it was a wonderful experience. They are known for their noodle dishes and Korean pork tacos but there are also wings, ribs and greens on the menu. They have an excellent sake list as well.

Del Popolo pizza is a busy hot spot located a few minutes away from Hotel Mayflower. Reservations are hard to come by, but luckily we got one a little later on in the evening.  It’s  a cozy and dim restaurant with some uncomfortable shared table seats (tiny stools that are attached to the table and swing back and forth ugh) Despite the weird seats, the rest of the experience was top-notch.  The wood fired pizza here is DELICIOUS and huge, you might be able to finish one on your own but your best bet it to split one.  They also have really great salads and appetizers, such as the fried green tomato’s and the avocado arugula salad.

The oldest neighbourhood in San Francisco, The Mission District, is home to some of the hottest restaurants in the city.  The neighbourhood is the place to be at any time of the day, but especially in the evening and late night as the bar scene here is quite popular.

To experience some of the best eats in the Mission District, I joined a walking tour hosted by Avital Food Tours.  I signed up for the culinary tour a few months in advance and received my confirmation and meeting location of the tour by email.  Upon arrival, there were about 10 other people on the tour with us from all around the world.  It was a great way to meet new people and find out what brought everyone to San Francisco.

Our tour guide was very pleasant and full of knowledge about the district.  She took us to murals, parks, buildings and some of the best food spots in the area.  At each restaurant visited, we already had tables reserved for us. It was quick service with no waiting which really made the experience worth while.  We visited Bi-Rite Creamy, Gracias Madre, Mission Cheese and West of Pecos.  My favourite spot was definitely Gracias Madre which is an exceptional plant-based Mexican restaurant.  The sweet potato quesadilla was incredible and would appease the taste buds of any non-vegan guaranteed.  I also really enjoyed the salted caramel ice cream from the very popular Bi-Rite creamery.  Apparently it’s the most popular flavour in SF and is also known all around the United States for being one of the top ice cream destinations.

Our tour ended at the lovely Mission Dolores Park, where you could sprawl out under one of the large trees and just people watch for hours. There are also incredible views of the city here so if you're into taking photos, be sure to stop by for a visit.

The tour lasted about 3 hours and we walked about 5 km altogether. I had a fantastic time with Avital Food Tours and highly recommend using them if you’re into exploring the culinary side of SF.

Please feel free to shoot me an email if you have any other questions about planning a trip to San Francisco.

Links to all of the places mentioned in my review:
Avital Food Tours -

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