Is a safe, budget, solo weekend in San Francisco possible? I tried it recently and found out it was, and it was fun! Read on for the story and tips for your own visit.
I’ve lived within an hour of San Francisco for most of my life. It was a frequent and much beloved destination for my friends and I in our late teens and 20s but I haven’t visited very often since. Sadly after hearing all the stories of how SF has gone downhill recently I haven’t been anxious to visit. But in the interest of making up my own mind and creating fascinating (and possibly useful) content for this travel blog, I booked a Friday and Saturday night.
I must admit I felt more nervous about this trip than any other trip I can remember! Amazing what the news stories can do to you. I was mostly worried about my car being broken into and having my computer stolen. To try to mitigate that I found a hotel with its own parking garage and I brought a backpack to carry my computer with me on my last day when I will have checked out of the hotel.
Driving into the City from the south I did see many unhoused people, most of them looking like they were living in a post-apocalyptic world. As I drove on things returned to our normal pre-apocalyptic state. I think it is very much a matter of which neighborhood you are in.
Table of Contents
- Samesun Hostel
- Cow Hollow – Union Street
- The Ferry Building
- Alamo Square
- Golden Gate Park
- What I learned, so you don’t have to:
- Sue’s SF Summary
- Trip Haul
- Map of Mentioned Places
- Pin Me for later
- More on San Francisco
When looking for a place to stay I was not able to find anything less than $200 per night + $60-$80 each night for parking!
Finally I stumbled across a very highly rated hostel for about $125 per night, parking included! This for a private room, private bathroom, double bed and balcony with a view of the tip tops of the Golden Gate Bridge! I hadn’t stayed in a hostel for 30 years or so, but knew I needed to check this out to see if it was too good to be true.
It turned out to be very utilitarian, but clean with a comfortable bed, and a great location! I’d seen reviews where people complained about the street noise. The hostel supplied free earplugs, but I turned on the AC fan for the white noise and that was fine for me.
The cliental definitly skewed to the under 30 side, but there was a range of ages. I’m happy to say that I was impressed and that the Samesun Hostel was not too good to be true!
Union Street is a great shopping and restaurant area. It is 3 blocks from the Samesun Hostel so it made a great walking distance place for my solo dinners and evening walking and browsing.
Trinity is new to the area, established in 2023. Being Irish I felt compelled to check it out. The entrance was charming. The interior was fine, but did not exactly make me feel like I was in Ireland. There is a nice outdoor dining area with lots of plants.
Happily the food was excellent! I ordered Bangers and Mash, and it transported me back to being in Ireland/ the UK! Delicious!
Bobo’s is right across the street from the Samesun Hostel. After staring at it from my window, seeing its good reviews, and being too lazy to go someplace else I walked over for dinner. Bobo’s features steak and crab. I tried the crab cakes and clam chowder. Both were quite good, though the clam chowder wasn’t quite as hot as I’d have liked. I finished with the molten chocolate lava cake with vanilla gelato. Whats not to like about that?
Bobos has several small rooms with tables and also private curtained booths you can reserve if you want to canoodle with someone or something!
This is a charming market with a bakery, chocolates, charcuterie items, olive and other oils, wine, beer and spirits. Fun to browse even if you don’t buy anything. (I did buy some cookies, of course.)
The Ferry Building features many restaurants, food and goods vendors. It is on the Embarcadero, with wonderful views of the bay and the Bay Bridge. I was there on a Saturday morning when the Farmers Market was going on. It was very crowded!
After searching for a while for a place to eat without a long wait, I finally found a place with a relatively short line, The Grande Creperie. In my hangry haste to order I chose the first thing that sounded vaguely good, a goat cheese crepe. It ended up being fine, the crepe was fluffy and good, but kind of basic and boring. I’d like to try this place again after studying the menu more!
The Alamo Square area has wonderful views and makes a great picnic spot! Fun shops and restaurants are in this area nearby.
The famous Painted Ladies stand next to Alamo Square, with a fabulous view of the city behind them. You probably have seen this view of the Painted Ladies in the opening credits of “Full House”. Click here to read more about the Painted Ladies and their movie/TV appearances!
I went to the restaurant for lunch because of the name, of course! Nice place with seating outdoors in street side booths, skylit room or inside. I got a cheese burger with seasoned fries and a quite good N/A beer!
Golden Gate Park is huge! Bigger than New York’s Central Park. There is so much to see and do here. On the Sunday that I went I first stopped for breakfast just north of the park in the Richmond District.
Though I ended up not able to go here because I couldn’t find parking, I had to include this for you. My nephew, Adam, gave me lots of great SF recommendations after having lived there for many years. Arsicault Bakery was #1 on his list! Adam says this place has the best croissants he’s ever had, including in Paris!
The popularity of the place is evident. I arrived around 11AM Sunday and the line of easily 100+ people was out the door and down the block. Adam had prepared me to expect the line, and said not to worry, the line moves very quickly. Alas, I could not find a parking space after circling for 15 minutes. But I am determined to go in the future!
This popular Russian Bakery and Cafe was also recommended by nephew Adam. It has been around since 1953, run by the current owners since 1988. The food was delicious & abundant, and I was able to find a parking spot only a block away!
Finally I reached Golden Gate Park, 1.5 hours early for my 1:30PM timed entry to an Ansel Adams exhibit. Here is where things got ugly!
The only parking garage I knew of was FULL, with a line of cars 1/2 a mile long waiting patiently to get in as cars left. I drove around the park for half an hour trying to find street parking to no avail. I was frustrated, irritated and pretty much ready to give up and go home! I decided to give it one more shot and drove to the north edge of the park on the outside to see if I might luck upon street parking there and then walk the mile in to the exhibit. Lo and behold I stumbled upon a sign for a North Garage entrance!! Tenth and Fulton St. This took me directly underneath the De Young museum and I was able to enter the museum right from the garage! Hallelujah!
Despite the timed entry the Ansel Adams exhibit was very crowded. A bit rough for me with my 50-something eyes trying to read the information plaques next to the photos. I did elbow my way in for a few of the pieces. The rest of the museum wasn’t as crowded of course.
When you visit the De Young Museum be sure to go to the top of the observation tower for some great views!
What I learned, so you don’t have to:
Please let my discomforts and humiliations save you from the same!
Riding the Bus
In an effort to experience the true tourist POV for you dear blog-reader, I left my car parked at the hostel and got a bus pass. (OK, I was paranoid about parking my car at random places around town, so I left it safe in the hostel’s private garage, and I took the bus.)
My first trip from the hostel area to the Ferry Building went pretty well, though I ended up walking the second half of the trip instead of catching the connecting bus (just felt easier and it was downhill).
However when I was trying to get from the Ferry Building to my next destination, The Castro, I ran into issues. I just couldn’t figure the damn thing out. Seemed like there were buses, trams and trains all going vaguely in that direction and I somehow couldn’t figure out where to catch any of them. Finally I just got on a bus that stopped in front of me. It was going in the general direction I wanted. I ended up getting out near Alamo Square, which was my planned destination after the Castro. (So, Castro visit will be coming soon!)
Anyway, the buses I was on were all clean. If I could understand how to use them better I would have used them more. I confess I resorted to Lyft after this to get back to my hostel instead of getting further frustrated! I recommend reading up on this before you come to SF! Bus transit is very cost efficient and I’m sure time efficient too if you know what you’re doing.
Though I ended up lucking into finding parking in Golden Gate Park, looking back I’d advise two things
- Don’t go to Golden Gate Park (or any touristy destination) on a weekend if you can avoid it!
- If you need to drive, research the hell out of where to park! Seriously, back in my day when we used to always pop up to San Francisco, there was never a parking issue! 😀 I couldn’t believe the number of people there. Apparently they are not getting the memo from the media that San Francisco is not a desirable place to go! I figured I could just cruise on into the parking garage I’d always used and didn’t give it a second thought.
Though I’m usually pretty good at this, I failed this time! Generally I will go into a trip expecting it will be crowded, possibly too cold or too hot (it was freezing!), and that I will be faced with new challenges. However, for this trip I think I assumed I knew exactly what a trip to San Francisco would be like. Heck, I’ve been to San Francisco a million times! Twenty years ago, but still! 😀 If I’d gone in with a better attitude of course it would have been much more enjoyable for me.
Sue’s SF Summary
In summary, my media driven fears of San Francisco seemed pretty much unfounded. Just like always in a big city there are parts a tourist should probably stay away from. Common sense in leaving nothing showing inside your car and parking in a safe garage if possible are key. Mastering public transportation and/ or planning to use ride sharing would probably be much more enjoyable than driving and having to deal with finding parking and worrying about your car being broken into anyway.
San Francisco is still gorgeous, historic and exciting with a plethora of delicious food! Go!
A glimpse of my “haul” from this brief vacation. Only one thing! Some fancy Cinnamon from The Epicurean Trader. The internet tells me that cinnamon is good for you! I’m going to be so healthy, its insane!