Everything you need when planing a vacation trip to San Francisco
I save for pigon feed


Looks good to me


We are unapologetic budget travelers. There was a time when it was a necessary, but with age came prosperity and the loosening of the belt. Why worry, was the attitude, we have enough to cover it. I figured I was being over charged a bit, but never really scrutinized the bills. Besides, they were in a currency I did not really understand and I was there to enjoy myself. But once, on a trip to Greece, I was in a small cafe in Corinth having a cup of coffee and a roll, waiting for the ruins to open. The menu was in Greek so I just told them to bring me coffee and pointed to a roll. It was only us and a table of locals, who looked like farmers with no signs of prosperity. They showed every indication of being morning regulars. The bill came, I paid it and as I was walking back to my car, I started doing the conversion into dollars in my head and it hit me: They just charged me 20 bucks for a cup of coffee and an ordinary bread roll! There was no way those local guys were paying that price. They took me for an idiot, and like an idiot I helped them do it. Never again.


Now my attitude is: I earned my money and people have to earn it before I give it to them. It is not about how much or how little I have. It is about self-respect and respecting the resources that we have. And there is something healthy about developing one's resourcefulness, that is, getting the biggest result from the smallest input, that can actually add a layer of satisfaction to life.




There are three main competing discount pass companies in San Francisco: CityPass, Go Cards and the Fisherman's Wharf Card. All have their advantages and disadvantages. All three of these cards offer considerable savings and if bought online, will save you from having to stand in long lines at the more popular tourist attractions' ticket booths. Not a small matter during the high season.


Let me give you the bottom line first and then you can skip the calculations and details if you wish. This analysis assumes that your trip will be a mixture of going to attractions that charge an admission, and city sight seeing. "Number of Tourist Days" refers to the number of days you plan on spending going to the attractions that charge.

Bottom Line On The Best Deals:

Number of Tourist Days Best Deal
1 Day
  Fisherman's Wharf Pass
2-3 Days
3-7 Days
  Go Card


Our analysis follows below:



CityPass's Web Site


The CityPASS program has packaged five first rate attractions with a one week Muni pass (good for unlimited use of the cable cars, too) that they deliver at a 47% savings, depending on season, for a $69 adult pass. The five attractions have a good mix of culture (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art), popular interest (California Academy of Sciences) and fun attractions (San Francisco Bay tour and Aquarium of the Bay). They also give you a choice between the more kid-friendly Exploratorium and the more adult de Young and the Legion of Honor museums.


The attractions are little spread out, so while they could all be done in a day, two days would be more reasonable. But the Muni card remains good for a full week. This is important if you are planning to do some general sight seeing since the Muni pass helps you get around town.


CityPASS detail.


Go Cards

Go Card's Web Site


The Go Cards people have two programs, the Go Card and Explore Card. The Explore Card is for excursions outside of the city so we will just consider the Go Card.


The Go Card differs from the CityPass in that it is like an all-you-can-eat buffet. With the Go Card you pay a flat rate for a certain number of days and then you can visit as many of the 50 participating attractions as you can pack into your days with no extra cost. The price per day drops dramatically the more days you add to your card.


The daily costs of the Go Card break down as follows:


Days Price Price Per Day


Once you get to the three days and beyond it becomes a real bargain. Especially, since there are some great attractions on their list, such as the Gray Line Wine County tour that has a regular price of $68. There are a number of "hop on, hop off" tours on the list, so you can get around to the different attractions with out much trouble.


Go Card details.


Fisherman's Wharf Pass

Fisherman's Wharf Pass's Web Site


The Fisherman's Wharf Pass gives you six attractions for the flat rate of $67. The advantage of the Fisherman's Wharf Pass is that all the attractions on their list are within walking distance of each other. The card is good for two days, but you can do just about everything in a full day committed tourism. There are several hop-on-hop-off city tours to chose from, so, if you want one day of hitting the pay-to-get-in attractions and a day of city sight seeing this card is a good fit.


Fisherman's Wharf Pass details.


Food and Drink

Deli in a neighborhood market


Finding inexpensive food just about anywhere in the US is not a problem – just head for the nearest fast food joint. But finding inexpensive good food is another matter. Luckily, San Francisco is not necessarily an expensive city to eat in. The city has about 3,500 restaurants and a city population dedicated to living the good life, so you can find just about any kind of food you want and at all budget levels.


At the budget end of the scale and well above the fast food on the nutritional scale, there are deli counters in just about every neighborhood corner market. Also the city is filled with coffee houses, such as Maxfields House of Caffeine in the Mission District, that can put together a healthy sandwich and provide relaxed, friendly atmosphere and loads of local flavor to boot. And another advantage to coffee houses is that most provide access to wall plugs so you can charge your batteries while you eat.


If it is a hot sit down meal you hunger for, ethnic restaurants are often very good and good budget choices. Chinatown is a very inexpensive neighborhood in which to dine. We like the old Chinatown institution, Sam Wo, but follow the link first, it is not for everybody. There are good Mexican food restaurants in the Tenderloin and SOMA neighborhoods that are not expensive. If in the Haight Ashbury neighborhood, give Rosamunde Sausage Grill a try. The locals are willing to stand in line to get in, when up and down the street, the surrounding places are all but empty.


A basic travel food strategy is to eat a heavy breakfast and a large late lunch, taking advantage of the lunch menu that most restaurants offer and then something light for dinner, perhaps a drink and h'orderves at happy hour. The happy hour at McCormick & Kulito's is famous for being a good deal – it comes with a decent view too. So does the happy hour at the Empress of China, where you can sit at the bar and watch the city lights come on as dusk turns into night.


Fine Restaurant Discounts



Restaurant.com offers fantastic bargains for eating in better restaurants. They sell restaurant gift cards at a 60% discount off of the face value. Many people find the fact that they are gift cards and not coupons make it a little nicer to redeem, since it is not clear to the staff if the card was a gift or if you are the bargain hound that bought it for yourself. The cards only cover the food portion of the bill and a 18% gratuity is added.


You have to check the terms of cards to find the best deals. For example, Extreme Pizza requires a minimum $45 food purchase to use the card. That is a lot of pizza and unless you are with a group, I don't see how you could use it. But there are many truly great deals in very fine restaurants. A typical deal would be a couple eating in a nice Italian white linen restaurant, the food bill comes to $50 and it is paid with a $20 card.


Definitely check out their web site: Restaurant.com



The lobby of the Farmont Hotel on Nob Hill in San Francisco


Usually the single most expensive item when traveling is lodging. On our lodging page we explain how to get the best room at the best price for your desired price/comfort level. I know it is a little bit long, but if you follow its strategies, you can save hundreds of dollars - thousands, if you travel a lot.




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