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Trip List by buonafortuna

Free, Cheap & Unusual Finds From a San Francisco Local

5 Jun 2006  I LOVE this city! I've lived here for 9 years (originally a Boston native) and love all the quirky, eclectic, delicious, memorable, original things it has to offer - the people, food, wine, music, art, shopping, architecture - we have the best of everything! I chose to write about some of the cheap, little things I enjoy and places in my own 'hood I thought you would enjoy! You can best view the city by walking most places or taking the bus, which is very convenient and inexpensive.
4.5 of 5 stars based on 115 votes

San Francisco is a such a diverse city in so many ways! From the
people that live here, to it's natural beauty, great food/wine, culture and history. Everyone loves a good deal - but a good deal is not a bargain when the quality is bad - so here are some GREAT deals and many free things I've discovered over the years - many are not the typical "touristy" places you always read about - these are the true gems - ENJOY!

  • Category: Perfect weekend
  • Traveler type: Culture, Sightseeing, Shopping, Active/Outdoors, Never been before, Repeat visitors
  • Appeals to: Couples/romantics, Singles, Budget travellers , Active/adventure, Tourists
  • Seasons: Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall
  • 1. FREE - Golden Gate Bridge Tour, Tan and Workout all-in-one!

    Who wants to spend time and money scheduling expensive tours and spa treatments while on vacation? This walking tour of the Golden Gate Bridge will have you toned, tanned and stress-free in no time! AND THE SCENERY IS TO DIE FOR!

    Start your self-guided tour at Marina Green walking towards the Golden Gate Bridge - this will lead you to Chrissy Field, a wild, nature preserve full of all different kinds of trees, plants and birds. Continue walking to the windy, coastal shoreline - a mile long stretch of beach where you have unsurpassed views of the San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz and the GG Bridge. A the very end, you can hike up the lush, green hills to actually stand and walk on the infamous bridge - WOW - talk about world's greatest photo-op!!! Smile and get ready for your close-up! The view doesn't get any better than this - with all that fresh air, scenery, sun and exercise you will be tanned, toned and relaxed - just like a good day at the spa!

    From there you can board the 28 19th AVE bus ($1.50) down to Lombard Street - get off at Steiner St. walk a block down to Chestnut and have lunch at Lucca Deli (see below).

  • 2. CHEAP - 'Cause there's no such thing as a free lunch!

    But you can get a pretty damn good Italian sandwich (sub, grinder, hoagie - depending on where you're from!) at Lucca Deli. Just ask for the ITALIAN COMBO, a mere $5.75 - filled with Italian cold cuts, provolone cheese and roasted peppers. They have several different kinds of freshly baked rolls, including 5 versions of the infamous "San Francisco Sourdough Roll" - a must-try for visitors. This old Italian deli is still family-owned and run after 76 years - a local favorite. Mangia!

    Lucca Deli - 2120 Chestnut Street
    BUS ACCESS: 30 STOCKTON

  • 3. CHEAP - Lombard Street Motels

    This is the cheapest area to stay in San Francisco. A mile-long street lined with local businesses, restaurants, bars and motels. No frills, affordable, clean accomodations, close proximity to all the tourist destinations and they all have FREE parking (hard to find in SF). My 3 top pics are the Buena Vista Motor Inn, Chelsea Motor Inn and the Coventry Motor Inn - prices range from $75 - $100.

    BUS ACCESS: Lombard Street is one block away from the 30 STOCKTON - this bus goes to Fisherman's Wharf, North Beach, Chinatown, Union Square (downtown) and the AT&T Ballpark.

  • 4. CHEAP - World Renowned Napa Valley Wines & Ghirardelli Chocolate!!

    Okay, the secret is out. The place is called Cost Plus World Market - a local favorite. They have a fantastic selection of Napa & Sonoma wines at the best prices (cheaper than the wineries and grocery stores). They also carry a large selection of imported wine, champagne and beer and microbrews. Huge selection of Ghirardelli chocolate - all at prices cheaper than the main Ghirardelli Square store. Plus unique, little gifts from all over the world and a large, gourmet food section. They have everything!!!!

    Cost Plus World Market - 252 Taylor between Bay & Northpoint
    BUS ACCESS - 30 STOCKTON to 47 VAN NESS, going towards wharf

  • 5. UNUSUAL & FREE - View the Famous Wild Parrots In Their Very Own Natural Habitat

    Yes, these parrots truly are famous and such a rare delight to see these creatures wild in the city! Just see the documentary "Wild Parrots Of Telegraph Hill" before you visit and you will fall in love with these fascinating birds. Take the 39 Coit bus (transfer from the 30 Stockton/47 Van Ness going towards wharf) up to Coit Tower - another amazing "must-see" city view. On the right hand, side there will be a staircase that brings you down the hill - take the steps halfway down the hill - and just listen for their loud squaking noises or look up to see the flocks of beautiful, bright green parrots living in the trees - such a sight!!!!!!!!!!!!

    BUS ACCESS - 39 COIT TOWER

  • 6. FREE - Calling All Starving Artists! (and others who enjoy free wine & art)

    Plan your trip to visit around the first Thursday of the month and you will get to experience an event called "First Thursday" - most of the galleries and art venues in the city offer a night of FREE wine and all the art you can ingest ! (some places offer food and snacks too!) Such a deal and a fun night out! Check out the downtown area galleries - Geary Street, Sutter Street, Post Street.

    BUS ACCESS - 30 STOCKTON to Geary Street

  • 7. CHEAP & FREE - Half Price Art Museum Tix

    Here's the insider scoop on when to visit these museums on the cheap :)

    DeYoung Museum - Friday nights - $5.00 admission after 5pm
    (also featuring special live performances, concerts, lectures and cash bar)
    BUS ACCESS - 38 GEARY TO 44 O'SHAUGHNESSY

    Museum Of Contemporary Art - Thursday nights 6-9pm - 1/2 price admission
    (also first Tuesday of each month - FREE!)
    BUS ACCESS - 30 STOCKTON

  • 8. FREE - WiFi Internet Access/ Coffee House

    This is how a coffee house should be - relaxing atmosphere, comfortable seating, paintings on the walls, laid-back crowd. No obnoxious "coffee lingo" or wired Yuppies here - just good coffee, awesome omelettes and breakfast bagels - they also serve good sandwiches and salads at VERY reasonable prices!!! Nurse your hangover and sip a coffee, as you email your friends about your late-night partying last night. Free WiFi for laptops, low rates for internet access. Who needs Starbucks?? :)

    Notes From Underground Cafe - 2399 Van Ness @ Green
    BUS ACCESS - 47 VAN NESS

  • 9. CHEAP - $1.25 Trip To Paris!

    You will feel like you are ! when you step into this local boulangerie specializing in French baked breads and pastries. For $1.25 the price of a seriously, authentic, very large baguette, you too can experience the best loaf of French goodness the city has to offer (pick up a wedge of cheese and voila! another cheap lunch!) Toasty brown, crunchy on the outside, delightfully chewy on the inside - a carb lovers delight - oui oui!!

    Boulangerie Bay Bread - 2310 Polk Street
    BUS ACCESS - 19 POLK

  • 10. CHEAP & UNUSUAL - Trendy Gifts For The Girls

    Okay, you know you have to pick up some cute, trendy things for your girlfriends to take back with you! Try Kiss-Met on Polk Street - a modern, boutique-y store selling all kinds of colorful, cool jewelry - bracelets, necklaces, earrings, trendy pins, makeup bags, barrettes - they even have this cool FREE gift wrapping - printed cello bags with cute stickers!

    Kiss-Met - 2354 Polk Street
    BUS ACCESS - 19 POLK

  • 11. CHEAP & UNUSUAL - Nick's Crispy Tacos

    At this nightclub-by-night, taqueria-by-day, Nick's Crispy Tacos are original and outrageously delicious. Not your typical taqueria - atmosphere displays mirrored walls, funky red velour banquettes and couches, glass chandeliers hanging above along with a variety of Mexican pinatas. Order the fish tacos done "Nick's way" - deep fried, tons of guacamole and jack cheese. YUM!!!!!!!! - Oh yeah, they serve beer & margaritas too and have wonderful agua frescas!

    Nick's Crispy Tacos - Polk & Broadway
    BUS ACCESS - 19 POLK

  • 12. CHEAP - One Half Store

    The name says it all - half priced stuff, this interesting, little discount store has a bit of everything - discount books, candles, home furnishings, toiletries, stationery products, kids toys, magnets, baskets etc - Great for gifts or finding something unusual for yourself. Oh and if you happen to visit in June or July when the owners take a month off - everything in the store is HALF OFF THE HALF OFF PRICE! :)

    One Half Store - 1837 Polk Street
    BUS ACCESS - 19 POLK

  • 13. UNUSUAL & CHEAP - Handmade Books

    Way in the back of this great, local bookstore, City Lights in North Beach, is a section of small, obscure and fascinating, handmade books by local and nationwide writers and artists. Short stories, poems, thoughts, ideas, drawings - some by small publishing houses, most handmade/printed by the authors. Prices range from $2 - $15.

    City Lights Bookstore - 261 Columbus Ave.
    BUS ACCESS - 30 STOCKTON to Stockton & Columbus/ Walk down Columbus Ave.

  • 14. CHEAP - Italian Opera For 25 cents? Bellissima!

    Get transported back in time when you step into the Tosca Cafe. Two enormous, antique espresso machines grace both ends of the long wooden bar. Dark and clubby, red leather booths and chairs. An "old school" jukebox (and I mean OLD, OLD SCHOOL!) is filled with beautiful, Italian Opera songs for 25 cents a play - rare finds like Enrico Caruso, Franco Correlli, Pavarotti, and Maria Callas - as well as plenty of your favorite Frank and Dean songs to croon to. Sit back, relax with an Irish coffee or glass of wine and take it all in. Local tip: Smokers rejoice!! When one of the owners tends bar, they can legally allow smoking for the evening.

    Tosca Cafe - Columbus Ave
    BUS ACCESS - 30 STOCKTON to Stockton & Columbus/ Walk down Columbus Ave.

  • 15. CHEAP - The Best Under $10 DInner You Will Eat in SF!

    I am talking about the most flavorful, mouthwatering, charbroiled 1/2 chicken dinner at Il Pollaio on Columbus Ave. in North Beach. It also comes with these incredible, homemade, steak fries (so hot and crispy!) a side salad - they have 4 different kinds - I love the kidney bean/ garbanzo mixed bean salad or house salad with blue cheese dressing and plenty of Italian bread. Big portions - you won't leave hungry! Again, I'm talking quality here, kids - they also have delectable grilled rabbit, Italian sausages, big pork chops and juicy burgers. Beer and vino. Casual atmosphere, great service - and another one of my favorite family-owned places.

    Il Pollaio - 555 Columbus Ave.
    BUS ACCESS - 30 STOCKTON

  • 16. UNUSUAL & FREE - Exotic Chinese Tea Tasting

    WOW - This place is really cool! I just recently discovered it in Chinatown on Grant Ave. Hundreds of varieties of teas are displayed in large, glass jars on the right and a "tea bar" with barstools set up on the left side - for you to sample any kind of tea you want. They brew it fresh right there in front of you. If you have no clue, that's okay because they do - and are so helpful with recommending something you will like. The teas also are known to have many health benefits as well and the staff can help you with selecting something to soothe your ailments (hangover, energy loss, weight gain etc).

    Vital Tealeaf - 1044 Grant Ave. off Columbus
    BUS ACCESS - 30 STOCKTON to Stockton/ Columbus, walk down Columbus Ave. to Grant

  • 17. CHEAP - $1.50 Microbrews!!

    Enough said! Get 'em at the San Francisco Brewing Company at the corner of Columbus and Pacific. That price is for a 10 oz. glass or you can get a pint of their deliciously brewed-on-the-premises beer for $2.50 during their two daily happy hours - 4-6 pm and 12pm -1am. (you just gotta love a place that has two happy hours) My personal favorite is the Shanghai IPA. Old, historic, "Barbary Coast" building - laid-back crowd, some outside tables too, so you can people watch.

    San Francisco Brewing Company - 155 Columbus Ave @ Pacific
    BUS ACCESS - 30 STOCKTON/ Get off @ Pacific, walk down to Columbus

  • 18. CHEAP - Incredible Deep-Fried Dumplings $4.50!

    Ah yes, what is a trip to North Beach/ Chinatown without stopping at Brandy Ho's for their addictive, deep-fried dumplings?! They are stuffed with pork and minced veggies, served with a choice of soy-ginger or sweet and sour sauce - 6 huge dumplings per order. Or try their light and flaky, green onion pancakes ($2.50) with peanut sauce. I especially love their Hot and Sour Beef, Braised Fish Fillet and Shrimp Chow Mein. Excellent, spicy, inexpensive Hunan food in a clean, unpretentious space. Attentive, fast service - try an ice cold Tsingtao beer to wash it all down nicely. And dont worry if you have some "wimps" in the bunch - they can also make the food non-spicy for the novice :) Another great perk - they are open late!

    Brandy Ho's Hunan - 217 Columbus Ave.
    BUS ACCESS - 30 STOCKTON to Stockton & Columbus/ Walk down Columbus Ave.

  • 19. UNUSUAL & CHEAP - China, Peking and Canton Bazaars

    You can find just about everything in Chinatown, even if you aren't looking for it. An excellent place to pick up last minute, inexpensive gifts - chinese silk robes, pj's, slippers and journals, imported lace pillowcases and napkins, wooden snakes and back scratchers, toothpick holders, sports stuff, incense, postcards ($10 for $1!) t-shirts, souvenirs, toys, joke gifts, etc etc the list goes on and on - a great way to spend and afternoon, just walk down Grant Ave. from Columbus Ave. and hit them all - you won't be disappointed.

    China, Peking and Canton Bazaars - all on Grant Avenue
    BUS ACCESS - 30 STOCKTON/ Get off @ Columbus, walk down to Grant

  • 20. UNUSUAL & CHEAP - Polk-A-Dot Stationers

    This funky, little store has an eclectic assortment of cards, giftwrap, party supplies, stickers, craft items, MANY vintage items from US & Japan, mini-toys, alphabet letters, old game pieces, rubber chickens, small, plastic dolls etc - ya just gotta go! Great selection of stuff. You'll find something cool and unique to take home with you!

    Polk-A-Dot Stationers - 1742 Polk Street
    BUS ACCESS - 19 POLK