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How to Do Weekend Spending Right in San Francisco

April 21, 2015
Loans, Student Loans
How to Do Weekend Spending Right in San Francisco
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When you’re young and living in San Francisco, you might be broke or you might be flush, but you’ll always seek weekend adventures. No matter the size of your wallet, there’s plenty to explore in the foggy city.

Whether you’re looking for rugged outdoors experiences, urban exploration or just love the nightlife, here are some weekend activities for every budget that won’t break the bank.


Learn more in our Recent Grad’s Guide to San Francisco.

For the nature lover

The Bay Area is a gold mine for nature lovers. You can find wooded excursions, ocean views and countless opportunities for walking, hiking, biking and exploring right in San Francisco’s backyard.

Things to do for free:  $0

  • Land’s End Trail for great views of the Golden Gate Bridge. While you’re there, check out the Camera Obscura and the old Sutro Baths.
  • Fort Funston is a favorite hiking trail for local dog owners. It’s also one of the best places in the country for hang-gliding.
  • Twin Peaks offers picture perfect 180-degree views of the Bay Area.
  • Watch the surfers and have a legal bonfire at Ocean Beach.
  • Explore tide pools and hike at Fitzgerald Marine Reserve.
  • Picnic and enjoy the day in Dolores Park.
  • See the buffalo roam at Golden Gate Park.
  • Catch views of the Golden Gate Bridge — along with biking, walking, running and more — at Crissy Field, the opening to the Presidio.
  • Watch the sea lions sunbathe at Pier 39.
  • See the Mount Davidson Cross at the highest point in the city.

If you’re on a moderate budget: $10 to $30

  • Walk the trails at the San Francisco Botanical Garden.
  • Get a ticket for the ferry to Angel Island for a picnic and hiking.
  • Shell out a few bucks for tolls and drive to nearby Rodeo Beach in the Marin Headlands and look for semi-precious stones. Or, go to Stinson Beach and search for sand dollars.
  • Hit the trails at Muir Woods, just 20 minutes from the city, and feast your eyes upon ancient redwood trees.
  • Sail San Francisco Bay.

When you can splurge: $50 or more

  • Take a tour of wine country just north of San Francisco.
  • See the city by helicopter.
  • Charter a boat to sail around the bay.
  • Kite the bay.

For the urban explorer

If you find yourself touring your own city on the weekends, you’re probably an urban explorer. From popular attractions to hidden gems, there’s plenty to experience in San Francisco if you know what you’re looking for.

Things to do for free: $0

  • Go to the California Academy of Sciences on the free neighborhood weekends.
  • Bike ride on Sundays in Golden Gate Park when the streets are closed to auto traffic.
  • Get to the Mission and browse Clarion Alley between 17th and 18th streets off Valencia for its rotating street art.
  • Walk across the Golden Gate Bridge.

If you’re on a moderate budget: $10 to $30

  • Climb to Coit Tower, check out the views then go down to Telegraph Hill and see the wild parrots.
  • Visit Musee Mecanique at Fisherman’s Wharf for the free museum and old arcade games, which range from 1 cent to $1 a pop.
  • Wander around North Beach and check out the famed beat-generation hangout: City Lights Bookstore.
  • Visit art museums throughout the city for less than $20 including the Legion of Honor Museum; De Young Museum; the Cartoon Art Museum; and Asian Art Museum.
  • Thrift for treasure at flea markets around the Bay Area, but especially the Alemany Flea Market in Bernal Heights, open every Sunday from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.
  • Wander the streets of Chinatown and grab some authentic dim sum.
  • Shop at the farmers market at the Ferry Building.
  • Sample food truck fare throughout the city.

When you can splurge: $50 or more

  • Tour Alcatraz.
  • Go to a Giants game.
  • Catch jazz performances at the San Francisco Jazz Center.
  • Get a yearly membership to museums or music centers throughout the city for insider events and free admission.
  • Take a Segway tour through the city.

For the night owl

Night owls enjoy making the most of their nights, then sleeping in until brunch. Luckily the city has a variety of clubs, bars, restaurants and evening events to fuel your nights on the weekends.

Things to do for free: $0

Look for cover-free nights:

  • Blues music lovers should definitely check out the Saloon in North Beach: live music most nights and no cover charge; drinks are inexpensive, too.
  • The Mint Karaoke Lounge has pretty much the biggest and most awesome library of songs you could ever hope for. No cover, just a two-drink minimum on busy nights.

If you’re on a moderate budget: $10 to $30

  • Hit up the all-ages DNA Lounge for the weekly Saturday late-night dance event, Bootie.
  • Start your weekend early at the Academy of Sciences on Thursday evenings for its Nightlife event, or go to After Dark at the Exploratorium.
  • Bar hop in the Mission. Check out El Rio, the Latin American Club, Knockout Room, Make Out Room and more for small covers.
  • Grab a seat at the Castro Theatre for movies, festivals and special events.

When you can splurge: $50 or more

  • Go to Foreign Cinema to eat outside in the courtyard and watch old French films.
  • Catch touring Broadway musicals, comedy, plays and concerts at the Curran, Golden Gate, Orpheum or Palace of Fine Arts theaters.
  • Visit the San Francisco Opera.
  • Hear the San Francisco Symphony at Davies Hall.

Anna Helhoski is a staff writer covering personal finance for NerdWallet. Follow her on Twitter @AnnaHelhoski and on Google+.

Image via iStock.