The Ultimate One Day in San Francisco on a Budget: What to See and Do

Looking for a perfect itinerary for one day in San Francisco on a budget? You have landed on the right page. Actually, most US cities have a propensity for breaking your bank and San Francisco is no exception. From expensive hotels, pricey tourist attractions to costly food, it doesn’t take long to understand why San Francisco is not a cheap place in California.

Well, Just because you are on a budget doesn’t mean that you cannot make a trip to San Francisco. With proper research, planning, and applying some tips & tricks you can easily spend a day in San Francisco on a budget.

One day in San Francisco

Budget travel has become very popular nowadays. and if you know how to travel on a budget then you can save a good amount of money while traveling across the US. In this San Francisco travel guide, I will show you how to visit San Francisco in 24 hours along with all of the best things to do for people visiting San Francisco in one day at cheap. Don’t miss the money-saving travel tips for San Francisco at the end of the post.



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Ideally, the best time to fly to San Francisco is in the fall months of August to October when the sky is generally clear with charming weather. Hotel room rates are highest during this time period as it is the peak season of San Francisco.

If you go in the winter months (November to January), rates will be significantly less(except Christmas and New Year week). December may be an expensive month to visit San Francisco, but it is a great time to see the Christmas lights in San Francisco Bay area.

You may also like to read: 12 Best Christmas Towns in California

Hilly Road of San Francisco
Hilly Road of San Francisco

January is the cheapest month to visit San Francisco but the temperature can be very low.

I will recommend visiting in the spring months if you are looking for the best combinations of pleasant weather and low price.

You may also like to read: 9 Most Affordable Places to Live in the Bay Area


No need to rent a car while getting around in San Francisco as the city is relatively small than other major US cities and most of the tourist spots of San Francisco are have very few distances from each other.

The public transportation system in San Francisco is very easy to use, that includes city buses, trolleys, BART train, cable cars, and ferries. The fare of BART is based on distance traveled. They don’t offer unlimited travel pass.

Cable Cars in San Francisco
Cable Cars in San Francisco

I will recommend buying a one-day visitor passport in San Francisco for $13 that offers unlimited Muni rides on the Muni metro, streetcars, and cable cars. The cable cars are very popular among tourists and it looks very cute on the hilly roads of San Francisco.

If you want to visit San Francisco in a day in the most efficient way possible, consider taking a one-day passport.

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San Francisco hotel prices are pretty high. Although finding cheap hotels in San Francisco is not that tough. I will recommend staying in the hotels close to Union Square or in North Beach as the places are safe and you can find some affordable hotels in San Francisco.

If you spend one day in San Francisco, accommodation comfortability shouldn’t be your top priority. However, solo travelers and backpackers can stay in hostels which are way cheaper than hotels.

If budget is not your concern you can check these well-reviewed hotels.

Don’t forget to check if there is any hidden charge while booking your accommodation.


It will be an injustice for San Francisco if I say that one day is enough to visit this beautiful city. You certainly have to skip some landmarks and tourist attractions if you have only 24 hours in hand. So, this 1 day San Francisco itinerary is for travelers who are running out of time and looking for a compact itinerary.    

If you want to get the best of San Francisco in 24 hours, follow this travel guide to plan a San Francisco tour program effortlessly.

San Francisco itinerary | Downtown San Francisco
Downtown San Francisco


San Francisco is full of tourist attractions, it is a safe city for international tourists and one of the best solo travel destinations in the US. As time is short and you want to see the best of San Francisco, you have to choose tourist spots wisely. It all varies from person to person. That’s why I have provided some alternative options too. Here is the list of top things to do in San Francisco in one day.


Fisherman’s Wharf is a great place to start your day in San Francisco. There is an abundance of museums, souvenir shops, restaurants in Fisherman’s Wharf, and the places are always filled with tourists. It is also a favorite place for budget travelers and backpackers as there are some free museums and more than 200 antique musical instruments. Another popular free activity in Fisherman’s Wharf is watching the sea lions hanging on the dock.


One day in San Francisco on a budget | Sea Lions at Pier 39
Sea Lions at Pier 39

You will also be able to get the gorgeous views of Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge from here. Whether you travel solo or in a group you must spend some time in Fisherman’s Wharf, strolling around the pier while grabbing some ice cream or coffee.

One day in San Francisco | Fisherman’s Wharf
Fisherman’s Wharf


Visiting Golden Gate is another free activity that you can do while visiting San Francisco in a day. This iconic bridge is one of the most photographed bridges in the US. In fact, many travelers buy souvenirs from San Francisco related to this iconic Golden Gate Bridge as their memory of the trip.

The bridge looks incredibly beautiful from afar. You have to go from one end to another to get the real experience of this bridge. If you are here with your partner, walking across the bridge can be very romantic in the evening. Unarguably, San Francisco is one of the best romantic places in California.

One day in San Francisco | Golden Gate
Golden Gate Bridge

If you book a hop-on hop-off bus tour, there is a stop where you can get off and see this beauty up close. Click photos as much as you like from different angles.

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Garden lovers can also visit the San Francisco Botanical Garden, a diverse botanical garden in California that features American pine glade, bamboo forest, succulent garden, and plenty of camellias.

Tips: Golden Gate Bridge is a windy area. Keep a windbreaker ready in hand. Crossing the bridge by foot won’t be a good decision when you have a time limit as the bridge is 2732 meters in length.


Union Square is the city center and the busiest place in San Francisco full of shopping options, affordable restaurants, hotels, street carts and music, and many more. Grab your lunch from Chinatown that is within walking distance from Union Square. It is certainly not the prettiest thing in San Francisco, but if you love shopping or want to eat cheap, you must come here.

San Francisco in one day | china town san francisco
China Town in San Francisco


After walking through Chinatown visit North Beach, a traditional Italian neighborhood. Stroll along the street and enjoy the charming vibe of this place packed with local history, which is also known as ‘Little Italy’. It is a lively place full of different kinds of shops and restaurants. Foodies, especially Italian food lovers can find here ultimate peace.


Painted Ladies is another picturesque location in San Francisco which is nothing but a bunch of colorful Victorian houses in a row. These iconic houses are one of the most well-known staples of the city. There is a beautiful park across the street with benches.

Tips: I won’t say it is a must-visit place in San Francisco as you can see the same kind of architectural building throughout the city while getting around San Francisco.
Victorian Houses, Painted Ladies
Victorian Houses, Painted Ladies


The best way to get to know San Francisco and its most iconic sights is the hop-on hop-off Big Bus tour. Sit back and relax while the local guide offers an educational commentary about the fascinating history, culture, and architecture of San Francisco.

You have the flexibility to hop off any of the stops and explore the landmark at our own pace. It is undoubtedly a pleasant experience watching the city from the upper deck of the open-top double-decker bus.

hop-on hop-off Big Bus tour San Francisco
hop-on hop-off Big Bus tour in San Francisco


Alcatraz is one of the most famous tourist spots in California. Locating on a small island in the middle of San Francisco Bay, this historic prison is popular for being inescapable and a must-see place in San Francisco.

With this one day San Francisco itinerary you won’t have time to visit Alcatraz as the Alcatraz tour will take a minimum of 4 hours to get there and to walk around the place.

If you don’t want to miss Alcatraz I will recommend you choose hop-on hop-off bus tour to get around the city. It will take around two and a half hours. After that, you will have enough time to visit Alcatraz. To get to Alcatraz, you have to book a tour and a ferry will take you to the island.

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24 hours in San Francisco | Alcatraz
Alcatraz, San Francisco

Read Next: How to Plan a Road Trip from Portland to San Francisco


San Francisco is known for its seafood and star-rated expensive restaurants, there are a lot of options for cheap food. Head towards Chinatown and North Beach where you can find delicious food at unbelievable prices. Try dim sum and dumpling from Chinatown. They look cute and taste extremely delicious. Some restaurants in San Francisco offer early-bird discounts which can be jackpot to save money on food.

Pan Fried Noodles in China town, San Francisco
Pan Fried Noodles in China town, San Francisco
Tips: If you are a foodie, here are tips for you. You can find the best local food at cheap from the outdoor farmer market which is held on Saturday in Ferry Building Market Place.  


San Francisco is a vibrant city with tons of culture, history, architecture, and popular seafood. Even though San Francisco is not a cheap city in the US, it still has ample cheap, even free things to do. Accommodation and restaurants both are pricey in most parts of the city. However, if you follow this guide and itinerary, you can still make it happen to visit San Francisco on a budget. Here is our suggested cost breakdown for a day in San Francisco trip.

Hostel: $30-40/night

Hotel: $40-70/night

Food: $15-20 per person

Local Transport: $13/day(unlimited travel)

Urban Street of San Francisco
Urban Street of San Francisco


  • San Francisco is a safe city, but like other popular cities in the world, here also you can face a pickpocket problem. Stay alert and keep your money and important documents safe.
  • Beware of the weather in San Francisco. Even in the summer months, the city can be very cold. Bring a windcheater or sweatshirt to fight against the chilly wind.
  • Avoid driving your own car and use the public transport system. San Francisco is a small city where you can easily get around with public transports. It is affordable and it will save your high parking fees.
  • You can use Guides by Lonely Planet app, one of the best travel apps that will help you to find nearby tourist attractions. It also offers offline maps and currency converter features.

If you have more than one day or want to explore San Francisco in a more relaxing way, check out this 48 hours in San Francisco itinerary.

I hope you like this post on ‘how to spend one day in San Francisco on a budget’. If you have any questions, kindly put your comments below and don’t forget to share the blog if you think it’s helpful.

Do you know why so many US citizens are moving to California? Read these posts if you are also planning to move.


One day in San Francisco on a budget
One day in San Francisco on a budget

Happy Traveling… 🙂

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