San Francisco’s undiscovered gems, on the cheap

San Francisco’s undiscovered gems, on the cheap (best breakfasts, crookedist street, wave organ, and much more)

San Francisco, that grand city by the Bay, is not known as an inexpensive destination. With hotels and motels going for $300/night and up, parking almost non-existent and pricey restaurants on almost every corner – the question comes, can you still enjoy it, on the cheap?

Answer, is, yes, you can. There are plenty of both free and low-cost options for families to enjoy this world-class City.

Let’s consider, first, how you arrive and get around. The city is a great place to enjoy, on foot, by bicycle or by using public transportation. It even begs the question do you need to take your car into the city? One option is to park in the parking deck at Jack London Square in Oakland, and ride the ferry across the bay to the grand Ferry Building on the Embarcadero at the foot of Market Street.

San Francisco ferry boats coming, going to the Ferry Building.

The Ferry Building is home to a variety of interesting shops, restaurants and the constant commotion that comes with ferry boats, trolleys, peddle cabs and taxis coming and going. To cruise the Embarcadero, either north to Pier 39 and Fisherman‘s Wharf, or south to AT&T Park or the new Chase Center, use the historic trolleys to navigate the Embarcadero.

The historic San Francisco Ferry Building, home to shops, restaurants and the city’s major ferry terminal. Photo take from the Embarcadero, looking north.

Or, walk the Embarcadero, headed south (you’ll pass grand public art pieces and Fireboat #1) towards AT&T ballpark, and another mile south, the new Chase Center, home to the Golden State Warriors basketball team. Just beyond the new arena, our favorite restaurant, The Ramp, occupies a spot between a large boat yard full of yachts, and a commercial shipyard with two huge drydocks (an old cruiseship lying in one of them).

The new Chase Center arena, home to the Golden State Warriors.

Or, follow the Embarcadero north, passing the waterfront Exploratoreum (offering delightful discoveries for young and old), to Pier 39, Fisherman‘s Wharf, Fort Mason, the Marina District, Crissy Field (an early World War I airfield, complete with museum explaining its history) and all the way out to the Golden Gate bridge.

Next to Fisherman’s Wharf is Pier 45, where the USS Pampanito, a World War II submarine, and the SS Jeremiah O’Brian, last of over 5,000 liberty ships, both lie at anchor. Again, to walk along the pier and see these huge World War II era ships is free, though a fee is charged to tour the individual ships. Next door, the Franciscan Restaurant is always a favorite, with a great view looking out towards Alcatraz and the Bay, lively with ship traffic passing by.

USS Pamponito, World War II submarine (in foreground) with Liberty Ship Jeremiah O’Brien, both tied up on Pier 41 next to Fisherman’s Wharf area.

On the West End of Fisherman’s Wharf, spend some time on the Hyde Street Pier, lined with a variety of historic sailing and motor ships like the huge Balclutha. Walking the length of the pier is free, though a number of the ships require an admission fee.

The historic Balclutha, at Hyde Street Pier.

In the Marina District, find the Wave Organ, at the eastern end of Yacht Road, on a peninsula that includes the St. Francis and Golden Gate Yacht Clubs. Here, wave action plays an interesting melody on the world-acclaimed Wave Organ.

Fort Point, the old Civil War-era fort, anchors the south end of the Golden Gate bridge; it’s worth the time to tour the old fort (built in the same style as Fort Sumter, and designed to protect the bay from foreign invasion) and watch surfers navigate short but stout waves underneath the bridge.

Fort Point, the historic Civil War-era fort, lies directly under the south end of the Golden Gate Bridge. Part of the National Park Service, it’s free to enter!

If you’re looking for a healthy hike, tackle the Filbert Street steps, going down from Coit Tower (with a return on the Greenwich Street steps, a block to the north). Coit Tower itself is a fine destination with one of the city’s best views from the top – the steps make it even more interesting.

To prove your San Francisco roots, when you get near lovely Lombard Street, purportedly “the crookedest street in the world”, you can mention to casual visitors that just a few miles to the southeast, on Potrero Hill, is truly the crookedest street in the world, Vermont Street, which has more curves and is much less traveled than Lombard Street (check it out for yourself).
For a lovely no-cost destination, stop at the San Francisco Art Institute, 800 Chestnut Street – a favorite building in the city, open even at 10:00 at night, full of art like a museum, and, free.

The Vermont Street “crookedest street in the world”, on Potrero Hill.

A favorite breakfast place, in addition to The Ramp, is Boogaloo’s, on the corner of Valencia and 22nd Street. If you go on the weekend, you have to be there at eight sharp, when it opens; during the week, you have a little more slack.

Take the time to tour a portion of Golden Gate Park, featuring a small herd of bison, lovely grounds and walking trails and old Kesar Stadium, once the original home to the 49ers. Literally across the street is our favorite stately hotel, the Stanyan Park Hotel, reconditioned a few years ago and worth the price to spend the night.

From Golden Gate Park, walk the blocks of Haight Street, bustling with people, eclectic shops and food from around the world. It features several huge record stores selling, yes, vinyl records, eight track tapes, CDs and much more.

Haight Street, lined with eclectic shops and restaurants featuring fare from around the world, is also home to dramatic old facades like that of the Wasteland.

Take the time to explore San Francisco’s lovely free or low-cost attractions! For more info,

Write Tim at; or follow him at Happy travels in your world!

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