How to Enjoy San Francisco on $20 a Day

cafe franco fort mason

Welcome to San Francisco! The City by the Bay is a wonderland of things to do, see, and eat, and even though it might have a reputation as a pricey destination, it’s actually a pretty friendly spot for a traveler on a budget. HI San Francisco Downtown Hostel helps visitors makes the most of their visit by offering a number of free or cheap activities, like neighborhood walking tours and taco dinner nights, so you can experience local highlights and get insider tips. And outside of the hostel, there are plenty of ways to have an excellent day around the city without spending more than $20. Take a look at just one day’s worth of adventure around San Francisco. 
Pro Tip: Book your stay for January or February and earn a free stay for you and a group of six or more people for each day you spend volunteering in the local community. 


Whether you’ve treated yourself to a private room, or gone the traditional way with a bed in a dorm, the right way to start the day is with free breakfast in HI SF Downtown’s airy kitchen. Fill up on the spread featuring bagels and fresh fruit to keep you fueled for a day of walking, and then head out onto the city streets. 

free breakfast hi sf downtown hostel

If you’re around on the first Sunday or Tuesday of the month, you can check out some of San Francisco’s awesome museums for free, including the Contemporary Jewish Museum, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, and the Asian Art Museum, all within walking distance of the hostel. The rest of the month you can check out the free Cable Car Museum or Wells Fargo History Museum, or lose a magical few hours at the Musée Mécanique playing penny arcade games (it’s a half-hour walk to the museum, but along the way you’ll pass Chinatown and the crooked Lombard Street). 
Maximum cost: $5 spent wisely at the arcade can last you a good one or two hours, or if you want to check out more museums on Free Tuesdays (like the de Young) that are a bit further away, a Muni ticket will cost $2.75


From the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts you can go north for a walkabout in San Francisco’s Chinatown. The brightly colored kaleidoscope of storefronts are great for browsing and also for picking up cute and kitsch affordable souvenirs, while the red lanterns on Grant Street make for an iconic Instagram post. If you’re feeling peckish, get off Chinatown’s main drag and on to one of the side streets to find a spot with cheap and tasty dumplings (and an egg tart from Golden Gate Bakery is kind of mandatory). Pro tip: Join the Chinatown walking tour offered at all three San Francisco hostels to get an insider’s look at this awesome neighborhood.

san franncisco chinatown

Take your Chinatown treats to go and walk five minutes to the Transamerica Pyramid. One of the best kept secrets of this San Francisco icon is that it’s right next door to a redwood park right in the middle of the city. The half-acre grove is a great spot to enjoy your lunch, do some people-watching, and meditate to serene fountain sounds. 
Maximum cost: You can spend up to $10 for 12 dumplings at a restaurant in Chinatown. 


Head back to the hostel to check if there is an awesome evening activity – it could be a movie and pizza night, a happy hour outing to a spot nearby with discounted eats, or a homemade dinner night before the tri-hostel pub crawl to local bars. Once you’ve gathered a nice crew of hostel friends to do some more exploring with, you can check out a few of these spots where you can enjoy San Francisco’s nightlife on the cheap
Maximum cost: The drinks will be the most expensive part of a night out, so if you’re being extra thrifty, make the most of the free hostel activities or stick to beer at about $4 a can.

free hostel dinner sf downtown 


HI USA Tip: Take a look at more awesome things to do that are within walking distance of HI SF Downtown