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We took a quick family trip to San Francisco recently and were able to visit on the cheap thanks to all of these tips for visiting San Francisco on a budget.
You could easily spend a LOT of money on activities in the city if you aren’t careful, but there’s no need to do that. There are many cheap things to do with kids in San Francisco, and I’m sharing what we did on our visit in this post.
Here’s a rundown of the activities I recommend:
- Trolley ride
- Chinatown visit
- Lands End hiking trails
- Legion of Honor Museum
- Historic ferry building
- Japanese Tea Garden
- Day trip to Muir Woods
I’ll give you a bunch of details below on how you can do these yourself!
1: Ride An Iconic San Francisco Trolley
We rode the famous trolley up steep California street. It was a thrilling ride, especially when we sat on the seats facing outward! In fact, it was a little too thrilling for my 5-year-old – she had her eyes closed for most of the trip!
The cable cars were named a national historic landmark in 1964. You can get information on the three different cable car lines here.
Riding the trolley one-way costs $7 per person, whether adult or child. You can pay via the MuniMobile app (which I recommend downloading before your trip) or in cash.
Though a trolley ride could get pricey for a large family, I think it’s worth it for the unique experience. I can’t speak to the two other trolley routes, but the trip up California street was really exciting for us.
2: Visit Chinatown
Chinatown is a great place to take kids – they will love the sights, sounds, and smells of this special part of town.
Chinatown is centrally located and easy to get to on public transportation.
We spent one whole morning exploring the shops and bakeries here. We each picked out a treat from a Chinese bakery – don’t be afraid to ask what something is!
The many shops are a perfect place for your little one to pick out a cheap souvenir. My daughter came home with a lovely little coin purse that cost $1.50!
You can also grab some cheap eats while you are in Chinatown, such as these kid-friendly pot stickers and bubble tea. It’s overall a really fun place to visit with kids when you are on a budget.
3: Land’s End Hiking Trail & Labyrinth
My favorite thing we did in the city is visit Lands End in Golden Gate National Recreation Area. It is located on the northwestern corner of San Francisco.
We took a 2.5 mile hike along the Land’s End trail, which goes down to a rocky beach. It offers incredible views of the coastline and the Golden Gate bridge.
The trail led to an overlook with a labyrinth that my daughter loved to play in. I think most kids would like this place a lot, and you could definitely do a much shorter hike of only about 1 mile to get to this lookout.
You are rewarded with fantastic views of the Golden Gate bridge throughout the hike.
4: Legion of Honor Museum
Bank of America cardholders get into select museums around the country for free on the first weekend of each month thanks to the Museums On Us program.
We happened to be visiting on the first weekend of November, which meant I could take advantage of free admission to several San Francisco art museums.
The Legion of Honor is an excellent art museum that you can see in its entirety in an hour or two. It is located right next to Land’s End, so it is easy to combine a trip to both of these destinations.
I got in free simply by showing my Bank of America card and youth 17 and under are always free. Adult admission is normally $15, so this was a great bargain.
Admission to the Legion of Honor is also free for anyone the first Tuesday of every month, so check it out if you happen to be visiting then.
5: Historic Ferry Building
Our hotel was located right across the road from the historic Ferry Building. This was the primary portal into the city until the 1930s and is free to enter. You can ask the security guard to allow you to take pictures from the second level.
It has a beautiful interior that’s been transformed into an artisan food marketplace. It is a great place to grab a quick and affordable bite to eat.
We enjoyed empanadas for $6 each and incredible macaroons for only $2 apiece.
There are some displays that explain the role the Ferry Building played in the history of the city.
And of course, you can actually catch a ferry here! Many people commute via these ferries so it’s not just tourists here. We took a ferry to Sausalito as part of our visit to Muir Woods – more on that soon.
6: Japanese Tea Gardens
We didn’t get to visit the famous Japanese Tea Gardens in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, but it is at the TOP of my list for our next visit. The gardens date back to 1894 and are one of the most popular attractions in the city.
You can get free admission to the Tea Gardens if you enter before 10 am on any Monday, Wednesday, or Friday. The gardens open at 9 am daily.
If you visit at other times, the non-resident cost is $9 per adult, $7 for youth 12-17, $3 for kids 5-11, and under 4 are free. So you could potentially save over $25 for a family of four by visiting in the morning hours!
7: Day Trip To Sausalito & Muir Woods
While this isn’t technically in San Francisco, our trip to Muir Woods was the highlight of our visit for me so I had to include it!
We spent one day taking a ferry to Sausalito then a shuttle bus on to Muir Woods to see the giant redwoods. It took quite a bit of work to coordinate the transportation, but it was totally worth it to see these beauties.Our DIY trip saved us $60 compared to what a tour company would charge for the exact same trip. Learn how to put your own day trip to Muir Woods together in this post!
I hope this post gave you some ideas for affordable things to do with kids in San Francisco other than visiting tourist traps like Fisherman’s Wharf or the Ghiradelli factory. We enjoyed our short visit to the city and can’t wait to get back!
And here’s some excellent general advice on visiting California with kids from Tourism Teacher.
Any questions about finding affordable things to do in San Francisco with kids? Please leave a comment below or send me a message on The Frugal South’s Facebook page!
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