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Saturday, October 6, 2012

48 Fun Hours on a Budget in San Francisco 10.6.12

In this blog series we look at how easy it is to budget travel anywhere and give you a quick overview of a new city each time in a brief 48-hour itinerary. Today’s 48 hours post is brought to you by Nancy, who usually works behind the scenes at STC, doing editing and marketing.

I have lived in the San Francisco Bay Area all my life, so choosing things to do on the cheap in just 48 hours was pretty tough. But if this is your first visit and you want to get a good sampling of The City by the Bay, I’ve come up with a list of affordable activities for you!

Photos of Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco
This photo of Golden Gate Bridge is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Day 1
Start your day off with breakfast at a San Francisco institution, The Java House, down at Pier 40 next door to AT&T Park. This historic waterfront restaurant has been around since 1912 and offers reasonably priced breakfast and lunch items all day, most in the $7-$9 range. It’s a great way to start your day and take in the incredible views on the water.

Photos of Ferry Building Marketplace, San Francisco
This photo of Ferry Building Marketplace is courtesy of TripAdvisor

You might think world-famous Pier 39 would be right next to Pier 40. But it’s not! It’s actually two and a quarter miles down Embarcadero. Depending on your energy level and your desire to walk off breakfast, you can take a leisurely stroll along the water or you can jump on Muni, San Francisco’s transportation system. I suggest the stroll, since halfway from The Java House to Pier 39 is The Ferry Building Marketplace, home to an incredible farmers’ market on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, and at all times featuring restaurants and storefronts from some of the most famous local food purveyors, such as Scharffenberger Chocolates, Hog Island Oyster Company, Stonehouse Olive Oil and Cowgirl Creamery. Many offer free samples!

Now you are ready to continue your walk (or jump back on Muni) to continue your trip down Embarcadero to the tourist mecca, Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39. Like oddities, mazes and wax replicas of famous people? You’re in luck! Here you will find Ripley’s Believe it or Not, Ripley’s Mirror Maze and The Wax Museum of San Francisco, which features 240 “lifelike personas” in 50 different scenes. You can do all three of these activities at a discounted price of $34 for adults and $18 for children, which is a great deal. Does the idea of wax people scare you? Swap that attraction out for the Aquarium of the Bay at the same pricing.

Photos of Pier 39, San Francisco
This photo of Pier 39 is courtesy of TripAdvisor

When you are ready for lunch, there is no shortage of restaurants in the area to choose from. Local seafood is in abundance, and for an economical taste of the catch of the day, head on over to one of the seafood stands. Think of them as a precursor to the food cart. There you’ll find the best seasonal choices, including the famed Dungeness crab. The start of crab season is almost like a holiday in San Francisco.

When you have had your fill of seafood and done all three of your attractions, take a moment to check out some of San Francisco’s most popular celebrities: The Pier 39 Sea Lions! From late July to mid-May, hundreds of the bipeds hang out and bark and bask in the sun. You look at them, they look at you…it’s a good arrangement.

Photos of Lombard Street, San Francisco
This photo of Lombard Street is courtesy of TripAdvisor

By now you are probably asking, “When do I get to ride a cable car?” The answer is, right now! Make your way to Victorian Park & Bay Streets and jump on the Powell-Hyde Line and ride it to Lombard Street, the “Crookedest Street in the World”. The Powell-Mason line will also take you to Lombard Street, but it drops you off at the bottom. Take your pictures and walk the steep, winding lane if you are so inclined, and then jump back on the cable car and continue on toward Union Square. Cable car rides run you $5 each way or $13 for the whole day.

This is probably a good time to discuss transportation. San Francisco strives to be a “transit first” city. You’ll know why if you have ever tried to negotiate its many one-way streets or had to drive blocks out of your way to be able to turn in the direction you hoped to go. Not to mention finding a parking space…it might be easier to find a unicorn. Luckily, the city offers a very user-friendly transportation system, known as Muni. The system fleet includes historic streetcars, buses, electric trolley coaches, light rail vehicles and those iconic cable cars. If you are going to ride the cable car and take the bus or rail to get around, a pass is going to be your cheapest option. One-day unlimited Muni passes are $14 (you can get a seven-day pass for just $27) and considering a single ride on a cable car will cost you $5, that’s a bargain!

Photos of Osha Thai Noodle Cafe, San Francisco
This photo of Osha Thai Noodle Cafe is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Okay – back to Union Square. Yes, it is home to Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom, stores not known for their budget wares. Window-shopping is free! And there are plentiful stores catering to tourists and budget shoppers as you head down Powell toward Market Street. If you are an art lover, there is no shortage of galleries to peruse. And when you have worked up an appetite…again…how about some tasty Thai at one of San Francisco’s most popular families of restaurants, Osha Thai Noodle Café on Geary. There you can find a huge assortment of delicious dishes, with entrees mostly running in the $10-$14 range.

Now that you are full and tired, head on back to your hotel and get ready for your Day Two adventure.

Photos of Posh Bagel, San Francisco
This photo of Posh Bagel is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Day 2
Start your day off deliciously and affordably at The Posh Bagel over in 4 Embarcadero Center, near the Hyatt Regency Hotel. Their unique offerings will energize you to start your day. A bagel and drink will cost you around $6, but if you choose to get a sandwich instead, look to spend around $10. Once you have noshed, head over to California and Market Streets. Again you have the choice of transit on wheels or on your feet. The California line cable cars start their “journey to the stars” here, so you can jump on one and take the ride to Grant Street, our first stop of the day. Or you can walk the eight blocks up to Chinatown. Peruse the exotic and inexpensive wares offered at storefronts all up and down Grant Street from Bush Street to Broadway.

Photos of Yerba Buena Gardens, San Francisco
This photo of Yerba Buena Gardens is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Next up, head down Grant and across Market and go two blocks down Yerba Buena Lane to the Yerba Buena Gardens, two city blocks of gardens, a meadow, a 120 thousand-gallon waterfall and more all with free admission. After you have explored the garden area, you have a variety of choices, including what to eat for lunch. Choose from a nice variety of options in and around Yerba Buena Center.

Now you are ready to fill up the rest of your day. Feel like some culture? Check out the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (Admission $18 for 12 and over). Have little ones with you that have a curious nature? Treat them to the Children’s Creativity Museum ($11 entrance fee for everyone over 2 years old) – or “Zeum” – and a nearby carousel. Like high-tech shopping (or window-shopping) experiences and IMAX movies? Metreon is for you!

Photos of Tropisueno, San Francisco

This photo of Tropisueno is courtesy of TripAdvisor

To finish up your day and your 48 hours, how about some popular Mexican fare at Tropisueño? Bottomless chips and three kinds of salsa start you off, and then you can go for small plates starting at $6 on up or entrees, mostly in the $12-$16 range. People rave about their moles and margaritas.

And there you go! Forty-eight hours of food, culture, sightseeing and shopping. I hope you enjoyed this taste of the streets of San Francisco!

{Thanks for these fun ideas from Nancy. This itinerary would cost you around $150. Save some bucks on activities and transportation by purchasing a CityPASS for just $69 per person, and also relax a bit by taking a cruise around the Bay on Blue & Gold Fleet, which is included in the cost of your PASS.}

What are some of your must-do activities in San Francisco?

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