San Francisco is known by many names: The City by the Bay, for obvious reasons. Paris of the West, for its magical blend of fortune-seeking, mystery, intrigue, and seafaring and landlubbing adventures.
Baghdad by the Bay, for its prolific number of cultures, peoples, religions, cuisines, traditions, and dreams. And, of course, Fog City … for the fact that you must always, always dress in layers when you pay your respects to good old SF.
Yours truly was born in the Bay Area, so I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve strolled Pier 39, driven down topsy-turvy Lumbar Street, indulged at Ghirardelli, ridden the cable car, or traversed the Golden Gate Bridge.
Believe it or not, even such familiarity can’t dull its alchemy. Established in 1776 – the same year as American independence – it has had plenty of time to accrue its share of love stories, ghost stories, and myriad other stories.
Such a wealth of color and people makes it a wonderful vacation destination, where the food and fun are endless, the architecture is romantic, nature is surprisingly abundant, and destiny calls.
Curious whether a trip to Paris of the West is right for you? That starts with understanding the basics of budget, which is exactly what we’re here to help with today.
Average Trip to San Francisco Cost in 2024
An average one-week trip to San Francisco for two people will cost around $3,100:
- Average Accommodation Cost: $125 per night
- Average Flight Cost: $300 per person
- Food, Drink & Activities: $100 per person, per day
- Transportation: $200 total
- Total Cost: $3,100
Not too bad, right? That’s probably why SF is such a popular destination. If the wealth of monikers doesn’t clue you into San Francisco’s cherished place in American and international hearts alike, then the tourist figures probably will.
According to the San Francisco Travel Association, the city “reported a significant increase in visitors in 2022 – with 21.9 million visitors to the city, up 29% from 2021’s 17 million.
Visitor spending was $7.4 billion in 2022, more than double the 2021 visitor spend of $3.56 billion.” Only 1.7 million of those were international, says the Travel Association, meaning that more than 20 million people came from within the United States.
There’s good reason for that, given the amazing number of activities, restaurants, hotels, and sightseeing destinations this city of 815,000 has to offer.
All that tourist traffic has done nothing for the price of goods, unfortunately. According to RentCafe, “The cost of living in San Francisco, CA is 28% higher than the state average and 79% higher than the national average.”
That gets passed on to you with “food costs that are 31 percent higher and transportation costs that are 38 percent higher” than the rest of the country, says Bankrate.
But never fear! We’re here with a list of budget-slaying tricks that will ensure you still have a fun and affordable trip to Baghdad by the Bay. Read on!
San Francisco Trip Cost: Average by Item
Everyone’s idea of a great vacation looks different, which is why there’s no one budget for a trip to San Francisco (or anywhere else).
The following figures are estimates, averaged out for the time of year, the area you’ll stay, how you like to eat, and what you like to do on vacation. Use them as a starting point, then employ our handy tips below to help you save where it makes sense to you.
The average hotel in San Francisco will run you between $100 and $200, assuming you’re looking for a 3-star or above experience. A 2-star hotel without onsite parking will sit at the lower end of that spectrum, while a 4-star hotel with parking and near main attractions is at the higher end.
Are you the type who enjoys meeting other people? A new trend on Airbnb is bunk rooms, where you get a hostel-style room but with more personalized treatment.
Because the room is in a cute home, you’ll get a more intimate experience and get to meet hosts and other travelers while staying in neighborhoods as opposed to big hostels.
This often costs about $75 a night per bunk, so it’s not necessarily more affordable for a couple, but it certainly can be for a single or friends who don’t want to sleep in the same bed.
Overall, you should plan on spending about $125 a night if you want to stay in the city, and more like $150 if you want to be within a popular neighborhood. Assuming you price shop, plan ahead, and are okay with a 2- or 3-star experience with WiFi, you can get away with $125 for the entire trip.
If you’re traveling from within the US, good news! It’s almost always affordable to get to San Francisco. Flights from a major hub (Chicago, for example) are around $200, while from a smaller destination (Myrtle Beach, say) is about $400.
Budget an average of $300 per person and call it good.
Food, Drink & Activity Costs
On average, a meal out in San Francisco will cost about $20. That’s assuming you eat relatively light at cheaper places. A nice dinner can easily cost closer to $75 or $100 per person, once you total up drinks, desserts, and tips, so choose your meals wisely.
Eating from the grocery store will save you lots of money! If you love architecture, sights, and sounds, and lots of walking, you can see San Francisco for very little.
Its amazing public transportation system, pedestrian-friendly layout, and many parks mean it’s the ideal place to escape for walkers. Those who prefer attractions might consider a CityPASS. With it, you can shave significant amounts off of entrance fees.
For instance, a four-attraction pass costs $84 and is good for 9 days, getting you into four destinations that each cost, on average, closer to $30 or $35. If you’re traveling as a couple or a family, that represents serious savings.
One of the best ways to save money on your daily expenses is to get good deals while traveling to and from your destination. If you live on the West Coast, this isn’t that big a deal when traveling to SF.
However, if you’re coming from across the country or have connecting flights – often the best way to save money on airfare – you might be looking at an all-day affair. That means feeding and watering yourself for many hours.
You can save money by availing yourself of an airport lounge pass. This is usually only worth it if you travel quite a bunch. If so, though, you can save lots of money on food and drink by using your lounge pass instead.
Plus, with WiFi, a calm atmosphere, and even showers and gyms, you can have a spa experience while en route.
If the costs are right – usually around $99 per year and about $35 per visit – then sign on up! Overall, expect to pay about $100 for food and activities while in SF, presuming you choose only a few activities and eat smart.
Renting a car will cost you about $20 a day in San Francisco. If you want to see a lot of the surrounding area – Oakland or Berkeley, Sacramento, or the Redwoods, for instance – it might behoove you to rent one.
If you’re only there to do city-slicker things, you can skip the extra cost or just get a rental for a few days to get you out of the city. If you want to save money in San Francisco or other big cities, one of the smartest things you can do is pack light.
If you fit everything into one small carry-on and one personal item, you’re a lot more agile.
It also means you can avoid checked bag fees. To nail the Pack Light game, pick items that mix and match so you can make different outfits for less. Choose light, synthetic fabrics you can wash in a sink and hang to dry.
And opt for two pairs of shoes – one for city walking, dinner out, and airplane travel, and a sturdier pair for hiking if needed. Overall, you should budget about $25 a day for travel.
This assumes a ride from the airport for red-eye fliers, lots of public transportation, and a few days of rental car use. Overall, plan for about $200, rounded up.
Things to Consider
Here are a few other things to consider when planning your trip to San Francisco:
- Pack snacks. San Francisco is known to be spendy when out and about, and if you let yourself get hungry, that’s a sure recipe for a $9 smoothie or $13 sandwich. If you want to indulge, by all means, but you can avoid hypoglycemic bad choices by bagging almonds, dried fruit, cheese sticks, or crackers from the grocery store and stashing them in your bag.
- Worried about the city’s hot weather? Tiny travel coolers are helpful – and adorable to boot.
- There are always flights to SFO, so if you have the flexibility, consider buying your tickets close to the date of your departure. Worst case scenario, you’ll arrive late from a red eye. Best case, you could save quite a bit.
- San Francisco is a moody mistress. She’s usually foggy in the morning, trending toward drizzly, and summer is often no exception. If you’re staying outside the city, you might want to wait till afternoon to head in. If you’re within city limits, though, bring LOTS of layers!
Frequently Asked Questions
When is the best time to visit San Francisco?
The best time to visit San Francisco is when the weather is nice but not too hot. California gets rainy in the winter, so if you’re looking for bare shoulders and sunglasses, wait until April or so to pay a call.
If you don’t like the heat, however, come before June. Fall is also a nice time to visit, when the fall clears off by afternoon and it gets nice down by the bay.
Best of all, since summer is peak tourist season, you’ll save money avoiding the June through August stretch. Just know that the weather isn’t quite as reliable, so it’s best to pack accordingly!
How should I pack?
Wear a light bottom layer, a button-up or zip-up middle layer, and bring a light raincoat unless you’re traveling in high summer. If you have a foldable rain hat or travel-sized umbrella, that also works.
Wearing pants whose bottoms zip off, or a skirt with tights you can remove, is a smart idea. The main point: San Fran starts out cold and foggy and ends up warm, sometimes blistering, so come prepared.
Is San Francisco expensive?
Unfortunately, many aspects of San Francisco are pretty expensive. That said, it’s not as hard as you might think to turn an otherwise spendy trip into a budget vacation.
See our above tips, such as bringing grocery store snacks in mini coolers, packing light to save on transportation and checked bag fees, and staying in bunk rooms where you can meet other people.
Is it safe in San Francisco?
If you stick to highly trafficked areas, don’t walk alone at night, and are smart about your valuables, San Francisco is generally considered safe, with low rates of violent crime.
Where should I go?
Um, everywhere? But if you need an itinerary, check out the Golden Gate Bridge (you can walk across it), Pier 39, Fisherman’s Wharf, the aquarium, Alcatraz, the Museum of Modern Art, the Japanese Tea Garden, and Ghirardelli.
So, What Is the Average Cost for a Trip to San Francisco?
|🛎️ Average Accommodation Cost
|$125 per night
|✈️ Average Flight Cost
|$300 per person
|🍽️ Food, Drink & Activities
|$100 per person, per day
|💲 Total Cost
The average cost of a one-week trip to San Francisco is around $3,100 for two people. That’s pretty good for a city that offers romance, adventure, food, and fun, all in a beautiful setting within easy reach for anyone in the United States!
So, with so much to see and do and the ability to travel to this picturesque destination on nearly any budget, what are you waiting for — book your trip today and experience all that San Fran has to offer. Happy travels!