Travel to San Francisco on a Budget

Travel to San Francisco on a Budget

This year, as Spring arrived holding the hand of its younger brother, Baseball Season, my partner and I had the itch to take a trip  — Oh, San Francisco! Reveal to us your glory! Give us baseball! Give us food! Please don’t rain!

I began looking for an affordable place to stay, but it seemed all I could find was a list of overly expensive hotels or completely rundown, poorly located flophouses, and I wondered, “Wait, am I googling Tokyo?” “Is the yuppie takeover complete?” “IS NOTHING SACRED?!”

Budget Travel Is Possible

Despair not, fellow shallow-pocketed travelers.  My partner and I were able to enjoy a three day, two night San Francisco trip for under $500 and it didn’t even feel strained.  If you’re traveling solo you could do it for even less.

Keep in mind this travel budget is biased to my preferences–where I may spend $90 on food and $140 on entertainment, you may prefer to invert the two.  This is simply a platform from which you can plan your own trip.

  • Getting there: $100
  • Staying there: $170
  • Eating & Drinking: $90
  • Things to Do: $140

Getting There

Round trip:  two tanks of gas, two toll booths, one In-n-Out stop (it’s the law)  = $100.

Given my current location in the isolated northern reaches of California (approximately 300 miles north of the city), driving is the most convenient and economical option to get to San Francisco.

Depending on your location, one of the many buses, planes, or trains which serve the San Francisco area may be a better choice.  This kind of transport may be the wisest option, as you don’t need (nor do you want) a car to heave around while in the city.  San Francisco’s public transportation is excellent, wide-reaching, and cheap. Driving is a pain in the ass and parking can easily add $50 or more to your trip.  We were able to park the car and not touch it again until we were ready to leave.

Okay, if you live across the country, transport will clearly be the biggest expense when traveling to San Francisco.  Plan ahead and keep your eye out for cheap flights to SFO.  If you have an economical vehicle, consider making it a road trip, or take the train cross-country.

Staying There

2 nights in one-bed Mission apartment = $170 

Cheap hotel in San Francisco
Our Room in Mission Dolores

As mentioned previously, the hotel situation in San Francisco is dire.  However, the AirBnb situation is off-the-hook.  There are options for any location and any budget, just set the maximum amount you want to spend and take it from there. Our $85/night room in the Mission was gorgeous, clean, and close to public transport, bars, and food.

Spend Less: Do you have a friend or family member in San Francisco? Hit them up, perhaps you can crash on their floor.  Try Couchsurfing, stay at the Green Tortoise Hostel, or look for hotels just outside the city, but close to a BART station for easy access.

Eating and Drinking

Various places = $90

I have some friends who love to visit San Francisco specifically for the food.  Their trip revolves around wining and dining, and their spending reflects that.  I am more of a hole-in-the-wall kind of ingestor, and my  budget here, reflects that.

I wanted to eat everything, and we almost did.  In Chinatown, we had green tea and plate full of Dim Sum from Dol Ho ($15), and we walked away from Garden Bakery with a bag full of baked buns for breakfast ($5); in the Mission, we had crispy carnitas tacos from Taqueria El Buen Sabor ($15), foot-long servings of lamb shawarma and falafel from Truly Mediterranean ($20), and beers from the 500 Club ($40).

Spend Less: We brought sandwich and snack supplies with us so that we didn’t eat out every meal; we also purchased beers from the grocery store to enjoy whenever we damned-well-pleased.

Things to Do

There are countless things you can do in San Francisco — museums, theaters, parks, galleries, bookstores, coffee shops, neighborhoods.  We passed on the popular Fisherman’s Wharf, Ghirardelli Square, and Union Square tourist attractions.  We had both been there before, and were more interested in seeing some other parts of San Francisco. Here is what we did, all for around $140. 

Walk Across Golden Gate Bridge (Free):

Walking across the Golden Gate Bridge is a charming way to check out the northern views of the peninsula,  Alcatraz, and the Bay Bridge.  You can also get a closer look at the Art Deco design on the international-orange-painted towers and feel weird when you look over the edge into the water and contemplate the number of people who have jumped off (1600).

Walk Across the Golden Gate Bridge
Photo Courtesy of Ramiro Checchi

There are a few free parking areas on the northern and southern ends of the bridge.  While there is a clearly marked “vista point” and parking area on the North Side, it is only accessible when driving north on the 101 and is often full of cars and tour buses. We found two great places to park: North Tower Golden Gate Parking (Conzelman Rd), and down the hill at Fort Baker.

Golden gate bridge free parking
1. North Tower Golden Gate Parking (Conzelman Road) 2. Fort Baker

Directions to Free Parking: If you’re driving south on the 101, you can get to the first location, (1) North Tower Golden Gate Parking (Conzelman Road) by taking exit 442 towards Sausalito, and then following Alexander Ave and Conzelman Road to the end (or, simply punch North Tower Golden Gate Parking into your GPS).

The second location, (2) Fort Baker, is a great spot if you want to sit below the bridge, eat a sandwich and gaze across the water.  The bridge is accessible from there, you just have to hoof it up the hilly, but paved, Conzelman Road for about 1 mile.  To get there, exit 101 South at exit 442 toward Sausalito, turn right onto Alexander Ave (signs for Sausalito), turn left onto Bunker Road, then turn right to stay on Bunker Road, which eventually turns right again and becomes Murray Circle. Continue Straight onto Moore Road and drive until you can’t anymore. Parking is available on the side of the road.  If you want to use GPS, punch in 411 Moore Road, Sausalito.

Chinatown & City Lights Bookstore (Free-$20):

Chinatown San FranciscoOnce we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge into North San Francisco, we were hungry.  We decided to go to Chinatown; I wanted Dim Sum, and we both wanted to peruse City Lights, the landmark bookstore and publisher, which was nearby.  We easily found metered parking  (on Washington Street) and walked north through the streets of Chinatown until we came upon Dol Ho, where all my cheap and delicious Dim Sum dreams came true.  Dim Sum, or cha siu bao, are steamed buns filled with pork, vegetables, shrimp, beans, chicken, et cetera and so forth.   We split a plate of 12 for  about $15, then walked over City Lights to spend about an hour in book heaven.  If you cross Columbus Avenue (the big street on which City Light is located), you’ll be in “Little Italy,” which is denoted by red, white, and green stripes painted on the light poles.  The Beat Museum is there, along with a large variety of titty bars, porn shops, and I’m assuming, Italian food.

Catch a Baseball Game ($10-120):

Even if you’re not a huge fan of the great American past time, spending an afternoon at AT&T Park feels quintessential and cheerful.  The park is beautiful and fun to explore, the fans are notably polite, and almost every seat in the house has a great view.

AT&T Park San Francisco
A beautiful day for baseball at AT&T Park

Ticket costs will depend on where you sit, who the Giants are playing, and what day you go.  We saw the beloved Chicago Cubs on a Saturday afternoon, which was a popular, sold-out game—we spent $50 each for our seats.  I purchased the tickets from StubHub, where you’ll find a lot of season-ticket holders selling their seats for a decent price.  You can often find standing-room only tickets and bleacher seats starting from $10, so, really, there is something for everyone.

Spend Less: Note that beers are $12, a Hot Dog is $6, Garlic Fries are $8, and a bag of peanuts will set you back $5.  To spend less, either buy cheap seats and go crazy with food and drink, or buy better seats and bring snacks.  Priorities.

To Get There:

San Francisco Muni to AT&T Park
Taking the Muni to AT&T Park

AT&T Park was designed with public transportation in mind, so it is easy to get there. From our room in the Mission, we walked about 5 minutes north to the Metro Church Station, where we bought two round-trip Muni ticket for $9.  Then, we boarded the inbound T-Third for Sunnydale.  About 20 minutes later, we got off at the 2nd and King Street Station, right outside of AT&T Park.

Alternatively, according to the Giants Website:

Muni Metro Streetcar service to the Ballpark is available daily on the N-Judah, T-Third and via other Muni Metro streetcar lines on game days. Fans can transfer from any Metro line to streetcars serving the ballpark at Embarcadero Station – look for trains headed to Mission Bay, Caltrain or Sunnydale and get off at the Second Street/Ballpark Station. Muni buses 10, 30, 45 and 47 also stop within one block of the ballpark.

Golden Gate Park/Haight (free-$10)

Walking through Golden Gate Park is a great way to kill a few hours—it’s full of activity and you can just sit on a grassy hill and watch all kinds of people come and go.  There’s a cool botanical garden, along with a couple museums, and various other gardens and attractions.

Map of Golden Gate Park When we were done walking around, we left via Haight Street on the East Side.  We walked through the Haight, got a couple beers (yes, it’s a theme), and then caught the Muni back to the Mission.

Walk Around the Mission (Free):

We probably spent the most time walking around the neighborhood where we were staying.  The Mission offers a first-hand look at gentrification and hipster culture.  It is a weird mix of “super cool” coffee shops, restaurants, and skinny jeans on Valencia Street and family groceries, no-name taquerias, and store fronts on Mission. Walking through Mission fills me with historical wonder and guilt as I simultaneously reap the benefits and judge the pervasive cancer of gentrification.

Dolores Park is a great place to relax and drink a beer, have a picnic, or read a book.  There’s a cast of colorful characters and a slew of people coming and going which makes for great people-watching.  If it’s a nice day, or even if it’s not, don’t expect to have the park to yourself.  It is definitely a destination.

The Murals in the Mission are beautiful, colorful, and worth walking around to see—this also allows you the opportunity to see all parts of the Mission and get some historical context to the area.  Here is a great guide to all San Francisco’s Mission District Murals.

Mission District Mural San Francsisco
Photo Courtesy of Rafael


You do not have to be rich to enjoy some of the joys of San Francisco. There are plenty of ways to stay cheaply, eat cheaply, and still get your fill of that sweet, sweet San Francisco love.

Any other recommendations for places to stay, eat, or enjoy in SF for those on a budget? Share the informational wealth in the comments!





A Guide to Good Food in Colonia Escandón

A Guide to Good Food in Colonia Escandón

Mexico City, Colonia Escandón

Mexico City (D.F.)  is enormous, teeming with history, activity, and people from everywhere.  Despite its massive size, the city’s individual neighborhoods (called colonias) can make it feel more intimate than its 26 million population would have you believe.  That being said, there are hundreds-if not thousands-of colonias in D.F., all with their own distinct essence that sets them apart from the others.  Escandón is one of them.
good food in colonia escandon
Streets of Escandon

History of Colonia Escandón

In the late 19th century, Colonia Escandón was crop terrain, part of a large hacienda belonging to the Countess of Miravalle, and later Dolores Escandón y Arango.  The family Escandón were supporters of President Porfirio Díaz’s regime and enjoyed many bourgeoisie perks because of this; namely, wealth, power, and great real estate.
Everything changed at the end of the Mexican Revolution in 1920; huge swaths of land that had previously belonged to the few were divided up, and Colonia Escandón began its development as a neighborhood.
colonia escandon architecture
Fire Station in Colonia Escandon

Nowadays, Escandón brings a historical and nostalgic feel to the big city.  It has a simple and handsome allure to it, full of colorful buildings, family owned businesses, tree-lined streets, and  20th-century architecture styles.


good food in colonia escandon mexico city
Escandon Architecture

Getting to Escandón

Located alongside Colonia Tacubaya, south of Colonia Condesa and Roma, and a stone’s throw from Parque de Chapultepec, Escandón is well-situated for easy access.
map of colonia escandon good food transportation
(another map will be provided at the end, detailing where to find the Good Food)

It sits between two major metro stations (Tacubaya on the west side and Patriotismo on the north), and is flanked by bus stations and frequented by taxis, while also supporting a healthy collection of ecobici stands.

Escandon Ecobici good food mexico city
Cycling through Escandon

Good Food in Escandón

Taqueria El Paisa: Colonia Escandón, Ave. José Martí

This is a veritable hole-in-the-wall restaurant, with the best birria I’ve ever had.   Birria is a tasty, spicy stew made from goat meat or mutton and hails from the land of Jalisco.

This restaurant, or birrieria, doesn’t have a website nor any yelp reviews, but is always full of locals chowing down.  They have windows that open to the shady street of Ave. José Martí, and you can drink a beer as you watch the cooks prepare giant pots of fragrant stew. It’s cheap, delicious, and spicy.

good food colonia escandon taqueria birria

Leon de Oro: Colonia Escandón, Ave. José Martí 103

Leon de Oro is a famous cantina and probably the most well-known restaurant in Escandón, set dead center in the neighborhood on Ave. José Martí (catty corner from Taqueria El Paisa above).  It was founded in 1954, and still maintains a sense of Mexico past, with live mariachi every Saturday and a great variety of patrons.  Any day of the week you will find most of its 150 tables occupied by families, couples, business folks, and students gathering to enjoy a meal, watch fútbol, or get drinks.

Cantina and food in Colonia Escandon mexico city

The food offered is traditional Mexican fare, Spanish tapas (entremés), and salty snacks like peanuts, chicharrones, shrimp broth, and onion soup to eat with your beer.  Leon de Oro’s pricing is not cheap nor is it outlandsish.  Expect to pay 500 pesos (~50 dollars) for a meal and drinks for two; check out their website for a full menu and pricing.

Tuesday Market: Calle General Salvador Alvarado (crosses Ave. José Martí)

Every Tuesday afternoon in Colonia Escandón, a farmer’s market sets up and sells fresh fruit, cheese, meat, tortillas, spices, and almost anything else you need to keep yourself sated and happy.  My roommates and I would go every week under the guise of buying groceries, but really we were there to gorge ourselves.  I would balance a plate of rajas con crema guisado in one hand, grip a squash flower quesadilla in the other, and eat my way through the eternally red-tinted market. If it wasn’t tacos de guisado, it was mixiotes or licuados or infinite postres.

good food colonia escandon outdoor market
Photos by Eunice Adorno

As mentioned, the mobile market of gastronomical delights is every Tuesday, starting in the late morning and lasting until the food runs out.

Los Pambacitos de Benjamin Franklin: Colonia Escandón, Ave Progresso

This little gem is situated on the small street of Ave. Progresso, in between the streets La Paz and Murguia.  It’s a mom-and-pop operation which has been around since 1947. They’re open in the evenings, though during the day you can see the family  behind the half-raised shop door preparing everything for the evening.

As their name suggest, they’re known for their pambacitos, which are wickedly good miniature fried sandwiches with fillings ranging from pork in green sauce (Chicharrón en una salsa verde) to potatoes and chorizo (papa con chorizo) to sweet mole.  I lived around the corner and feasted on too many pambacitos too many times.

Good food in colonia escandon mexico city
Photos courtesy of el gráfico

Another one of their delicious offerings is pozole (a thick Mexican stew made with hominy and pork), and the warm corn-based cinnamon and sugar drink known as atole.  They have several flavors in rotation (strawberry, chocolate, etc), but my favorite was always the original, straight up.

When I was there (circa 2012) everything was 10 pesos, with the exception of the pozole, which was around 30-40.  All their food can be taken to-go, or you can enjoy it at the counter and watch the family work as they fill orders.  Below is a short video (presented by El Gráfico) about Los Pambacitos; you don’t need to speak Spanish to understand that they’re damn tasty.

La Poblanita de Tacubaya: Calle Gobernador Luis G. Vieyra 12, Colonia San Miguel Chapultepec

I am cheating a little on this one…it is not located in Escandón, but it’s so close and so good, I had to add it (you’ll thank me for my discrepancy once you’ve eaten of their riches). La Poblanita de Tacubaya is a traditional restaurant located where the three colonias of Escandón, Tacubaya, and San Miguel Chapultepec meet.

good food in escandon la poblanita de tacubaya
Photo courtesy of Flickr

I first heard of the place from my boss who lived colonias away in Coyoacán.  When he found out I was living in Escandón, he immediately drew me a map to La Poblanita de Tacubaya.  He told me their mole was the best in the city, and their (seasonal) Chile en Nogada had garnered attention and awards throughout the country and beyond, and that if I did not dine there I was fired.

Though the threat of termination was hyperbole,  I soon found everything else he told me was not.  I went that following Sunday and continued to go almost every Sunday after that.
good food in escandon la poblanita de tacubaya

The interior of La Poblanita

Their decor is traditional, bright, and festive and everything comes on gorgeous blue and white dishes with fresh hand-made tortillas (but, of course) .  The restaurant has plenty of indoor and outdoor seating, excellent service, and a delightful neighborhood atmosphere; sometimes they have live mariachi music.  The food is rich, plentiful, fresh, and completely fulfills its  reputation.  The pricing is reasonable at 100-200 pesos per dish.
good food in escandon la poblanita de tacubaya
Mole on the left, Chile en Nogada on the right
As mentioned before, Chile en Nogada is a seasonal, celebratory dish, typically served around September 16th–Mexico’s Día de la Independencia.  David, writer of the blog I Want Some A That, sums its history up nicely:
The Chile en Nogada is a lively and spectacular feat of culinary and Mexican excellence. Made for its colours of green (the chile poblano), white (the walnut cream), and red (fresh pomegranate kernels), to symbolise the country’s national colours in pride of El Grito. The Chile en Nogada was originally made by the Madres Contemplatives Agustinas of the convent of Santa Monica in Puebla when the General Agustin visited the city after signing the treaty of independence. The nuns of the Santa Monica convent used their freshest ingredients, the walnuts and pomegranates, which both come into season at the end August, along with the best local chile, the poblano, to concoct a dish worthy of the general and symbolic of the newly obtained independence.
I recommend reading the full blog post, as the writer delves further into the construction of Chile en Nogada (and mole!) and even features a little interview with La Poblanita de Tacubaya’s head chef.
 La Poblanita has a website, which gives their menu, hours, location, and history.

In Conclusion, Go to Escandón!

If the hectic cadence of the Big City starts wearing on you (or even if it doesn’t) hop on the metro (or bike, bus, feet) and spend a tranquil afternoon in Colonia Escandón.  Enjoy the small-town atmosphere, walk the colorful streets, and of course, eat all the food.

Good Food Map

As promised, a map for your geographical eating pleasure.

Guide to Good food colonia escandon mexico city

Have you experienced good food in Colonia Escandón? Let me know in the comments and we can expand our feasting territory.