This story is a contribution from Miss Sarah Vella-Labrador! See her portfolio and other work HERE.
Header photo by @MelissaDeMata!
First off, people, let’s be honest here. It’s hard AF to plan a weekend trip in San Francisco when the budget is tight. Or if you’re in a spot where you’re just trying not to be too spendy. Everything is more expensive here. Everything. 8 times out of 10, Uber is surging. Happy Hours may as well be called “what would be normal drink prices anywhere else” hour… and oh- you get towed here? Think you’re out maybe $350? No. Try $700. This city is not cheap. Ever!
But as a San Francisco loving girl on a budget myself, I’m here to offer my insight on some of the hoods I love so much and how you can fully experience them without overspending! Just gotta be both creative and strategic.
If great food, awesome photo opportunities, and soaking in some of the city “culture” sounds like what you’d want to do while here… check out my recommendations:
Basic keeping on a budget survival tricks:
-Discover the districts. Seriously, look em up. You will see the city is broken up into a ton of them, each with their own flavor.
-Walk. It. OUT. If you can! Renting a a car or even having your own here is kind of a bitch… namely because finding parking here is akin to winning the lotto. So dig out your comfy flats or sneakers and hit the hills (yay for burning calories anyway!). If the distance is too far to walk, take BART, the affordable way to get from point A to point B. It’s not that intimidating! There’s always the Muni too.
Now let’s break down a few of my favorite hoods and how you can experience them without spending much:
Okay, sure… it’s a little yuppie. But don’t disregard it too quickly (if preppy isn’t your thing.) There’s one main reason I love this neighborhood: it has one of the CUTEST streets in the city. It has clothing shops, cute delis, great restaurants, mostly sat below some classic SF apartment buildings. It definitely has some vintage charm to it. Chestnut is a great place to window shop and wander. Budget wise… here’s the beauty of experiencing it (when you’re broke haha)…. while this street is flanked with upscale eateries on either side, you can walk down a few blocks to find Safeway near the water. Just whip up your own food! Take something to go and park it at a cool people watching spot. Or near the bay. If you have a crisp $10 take it to Lucca Delicatessen (2120 Chestnut Street). I’m tellin’ ya! You can’t miss this old school Italian Deli with it’s black tile known for its affordable and hearty sandwiches. Get there before lunch time, as it is a popular spot for locals. Then go ham on that sando!
If you want to have a beach day in SF… the Marina is the place to do it. Take your food and walk towards Marina Blvd. Here you will you find EXQUISITE city architecture and…. the most BEAUTIFUL view of the Golden Gate Bridge. Once you cross the street towards the yachts, you’ll see the bridge. Chrissy Field is a good place to set up. Cost nothing and views are awesome. You’ll see tons of locals on runs, walking their dogs, living the life…. etc.
At Chrissy Field, you can sink your toes in the sand and enjoy your sandwich by the ocean. Go ahead and dip your toes in the water but don’t expect it to be warm- just FYI! For those of you who want to take it a step further (literally), walk towards the bridge to Fort Point. Here you can spy on hot surfers and relive a bit of the city’s past. The Marina is the perfect posh district that feels laid-back at the same time.
2. FISHERMAN’S WHARF / THE EMBARCADERO:
This could make for a fun Saturday– stop by the Ferry Building before 2 pm to catch the farmers market. Here, you can find herbs, flowers, fresh produce and more from local farms. (SFers love anything and everything local!) Even if you don’t buy anything, it’s fun just to sample certain goods and people watch and also take that gorgeous bay.
If you wander inside the Ferry building… you will find some great restaurants and upscale markets. Perhaps not budget friendly… but you can grab a coffee and a (gluten free optional) cupcake from Mariposa, and then head out back for the bay views. You’ll feel like you’re living large in that setting. 😉 This is an amazing spot to snag a picture or two of the Bay Bridge and an #OOTD pic by the way.
A great change of pace is trip to Japantown. You’ll know you’re in the right place when you see this beautiful, tall stupa. Pop into Japan Center Kintetsu Mall (1737 Post Street) for authentic Japantown knick knacks. Once you have worked up an appetite, head over to Mifune (1737 Post Street, lower floor) for great udon and bento boxes. After that, stay on the first floor and you will stumble upon Kinokuniya Bookstore- another fun place to get lost in. This bookstore is packed with comics, collectibles, and magazines galore. It’s a really unique shopping mall!
4. NORTH BEACH
North Beach is a district known for it’s Little Italy and Chinatown. You can get a serious cultural fix here. So many unique tastes and experiences all within blocks of each other. North Beach is also home to many iconic spots such as: Coit Tower (you can ride to the top for only $7), the Filbert Steps, Saints Peter and Paul Church, and the City Lights book store.
For my book worms out there… seriously, stop at City Lights Bookstore (261 Columbus Ave). You’ll find that you can easily waste away an hour or two in there. (The poetry room is my favorite!) Keep your eyes open for all the little signs sprinkled throughout the bookstore that contribute to the funky culture. You’ll see what I mean. 😉
If cracking open a book is the last thing you want to do during vacation, don’t worry, I get it! North Beach has awesome nightlife and will cost a smidge less than the bars downtown. But if bars aren’t your thing, what about…. Gelatooo!? Gotta love gelato. Visit my favorite hole in the wall, Gelato Classico (576 Union Street)… it’s open until 10pm!
MAJOR KEY ALERT…do NOT leave town without a proper brunching experience! In the city, brunch is an experience defined by flavor. One day, I’d recommend visiting Mama’s (1701 Stockton Street) for the best damn brunch you will ever have. Arrive hungry and early as Mama’s usually has a line out the door and they’re only open until 3 pm. But don’t let that discourage you! While Mama’s might be a tad bit more than an iHop breakfast, this place is worth a tiny splurge. Once you are ushered in you’ll find yourself in a cozy restaurant with fresh fruit and freshly baked breads. It’s so homey! I am partial to the French Toast with fresh fruit, but any dish that comes out of Mama’s is delicious and will be a point of envy on the gram. #FoodPorn
Another thing about North Beach… the atmosphere in Washington Square is very relaxed. On any given day you can find a good amount of people practicing Tai Chi (a calming Chinese form of martial arts) on the lawn, people sitting out there on blankets, reading… picnicking. On Sundays people are bustling out of the grand Saints Peter and Paul Church and it’s fun to watch people in their fresh getups all happy and enjoying the day. Washington Square is in the heart of North Beach, and is a great place to spend a few hours with friends and loved ones. Or solo!
These are just a few districts to get your adventure started in the city. Stay open minded about where you and your gang plan to spend the day, as any district will not disappoint. Enjoy the sun and soak up all the energy San Francisco has to offer… you don’t need a giant bank account to do that. 😉
Guide by: Sarah Vella-Labrador || Portfolio HERE