10 things to do in San Francisco for less than $20

Yerba Buena has grown into one of America’s great cities: nowhere else offers the same blend of American optimism, technical innovation and far-out hippydom.

We caught up with our friends at ILSC San Francisco to get some insider tips for enjoying the city on a budget.

Treasure Island Flea Market

On the last full weekend of each month, this flea market is Northern California’s largest regular gathering of artists, collectors, designers, crafters and food trucks. Dig through the stalls to find the gold!

The monthly event has become so popular that a new weekly Friday Night Market now runs every Friday at the UN Plaza in downtown. (www.treasureislandflea.com)

Hanging out with local San Francisco Hipsters at Dolores Park

If beards are still hip by the time you read this, Dolores Park is the place to find them in SF. There are six tennis courts, one basketball court, two football pitches (“foot” football, not “shoulder pads and cheerleaders” football), a playground, and a clubhouse… but most people just chill out on the grass.

Or the sea lions at Pier 39

San Francisco’s real superstars aren’t the 49ers or the zillionaires of Silicon Valley, they are the sea lions of Pier 39. The noisy pinnipeds arrived in 1990 for the herring and have stuck around more-or-less ever since. At the time of writing, they are currently on holiday. One night in July 2014, they flopped into the water and swam off into night. Last time they did this in 2009, locals threw a party when they returned months later! You can see if they are back yet via this webcam.

Food trucks

It might look like something from Mad Max, but each of these trucks is providing tasty food. San Francisco is home to about 150 food trucks, which come together regularly for events like “Off the grid” at Fort Mason  (pictured). You can enjoy flavours from all over the world with the added benefit of an excellent view of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Chinatown and the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Company

San Francisco’s Chinatown is one of the most vibrant in the world. The streets are great to roam, but be sure to visit the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Company, where you can watch fortune cookies – if not fortunes – being made.

Get the best view in town at the De Young museum

In amongst the fragrant eucalyptus trees of Golden Gate Park, the De Young Museum’s Hamon Tower offers incomparable views across the city. Founded in 1895, the museum is home to a diverse art collection, with an emphasis on US artists.

The beaches

Swimming in San Francisco Bay is only really an option for Alcatraz escapees, masochists or sea lions but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the beaches. Particularly during the summer months, Rodeo Beach is a popular spot for surfing: the Pacific waves can be spectacular.

Baker Beach, meanwhile, offers an iconic view of the Golden Gate Bridge. It was the birthplace of the Burning Man festival and is glorious around sunset.

Mexican food in the Mission District

Many Latin traditions live on in a city that has only belonged to the English-speaking bit of America since 1848. Mexican food is among the most popular. The taquerias of the Mission District are the place to go for tacos, enchiladas, burritos, carnitas, carne asada and all the rest. Qué rico!

Street murals

San Francisco’s murals make the streets into works of art (see our San Francisco guide). Two of the most popular spots are Clarion Alley and Balmy alley.

Watch the buskers

You don’t even need to visit a gig to enjoy live music in San Francisco. The streets are lined with buskers, many of whom are first class. The San Francisco Arts Commission assigns busking spaces via a lottery: popular spots include Point Lobos, Market Street, The Cliff House, Union Square and The Castro. If the music is good, show some love by tipping!

What are your tips for enjoying San Francisco on a budget?

More about an English course in San Francisco.

Images: Dolores Park by Steven Damron via CC; Off the grid: Circle the foodtrucks by David McSpadden via CC; Pier 39 Sea Lions by Evo Jansch via CC; Handmade Fortune Cookies by Karen Neoh via CC; Gateway to The Bay – San Francisco, CA by Ian Miller via CC; Clarion Alley by Sean Davis via CC;

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