Avoid These Common San Francisco Travel Mistakes

01 of 08

Driving Into the City

People waiting to board trolley in San Francisco

Tripsavvy / Mark D. Kahler  

One of the iconic pleasures of San Francisco travel is a cable car ride. Tourists line up along the streets and hop aboard. The system that runs cable cars, street cars, and buses within the city is known locally as MUNI.

This system serves popular attractions such as Fisherman's Wharf, Union Square and the Alcatraz Ferry. A one-day visitor passport is $15, with a three-day pass available for $23 and a five-day pass for $29.

Bay Area Rapid Transit options cover more ground in the region. BART offers 44 stations, and most of the one-way fares are less than $5. The lengthy ride from Embarcadero to San Francisco International Airport is about $9.

BART does not offer any visitor pass options, but it still saves money over trying to operate a car or taking taxis. Parking in San Francisco tends to be a budget-killer, so avoid driving into the city if possible.

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02 of 08

Paying Too Much for Meals

a plate of crabs
Mark D. Kahler

When you visit Fisherman's Wharf, you'll discover a host of dining options. Most cater to visitors who are willing to pay top price to say they ate along this prime waterfront.

The place is a tourist attraction, and most people who come to San Francisco will walk through the trails of food stalls, souvenir shops and attractions. You might want to dine elsewhere. People who live here don't typically eat at Fisherman's Wharf, and that should tell you something.

San Francisco boasts a huge selection of small cafes and family-owned eateries that provide much better value than you'll find in the tourist districts. Do some homework at the wonderful SFGate database and plan on getting the best value for your dining budget.

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03 of 08

Paying Too Much for Hotel Rooms

San Francisco skyline
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images News

Some budget travelers will look for rooms near SFO, where nightly room rates often are lower than those found downtown.

But keep in mind that these airport-area hotels are some distance from the attractions that many visitors want to see. Your modest savings could be eaten up in transportation and wasted time.

Bidding for a San Francisco room can result in some significant savings if you can nail down the best destinations. When you find such bargains, keep in mind that parking at downtown hotels often costs about $50/day.

Again, it will take some research to uncover the best location and price for your stay. Don't neglect this homework. Many do, and in San Francisco, it costs them significant money.

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04 of 08

Missing Nearby Attractions

Redwood Forest
Mark D. Kahler

Have you ever experienced the majesty of a redwood forest? In the midst of a city visit to San Francisco, you're just a short distance from Muir Woods National Monument, which is 11 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Admission is only $7 (and free at various times during the year), but those without a car will have to arrange transportation at additional cost. From April to October, the Muir Woods Shuttle picks up passengers at the Highway 101 parking lots or at the ferry dock in Sausalito and on weekends and holidays and runs to the Muir Woods entrance for $5 round-trip.

A trip to Berkeley is easier, using BART tickets for just a few dollars. Walk the campus of the University of California and peruse the quirky bookstores and eateries on Telegraph St.

There are scores of short trips like this in the Bay area that can add value to your trip. Don't miss them.

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05 of 08

Getting into Long Lines for Attractions

Alcatraz ferry
Mark D. Kahler

One of San Francisco's prime attractions is Alcatraz, the island prison that for decades held some of America's most notorious criminals.

No admission fee is charged to visit Alcatraz, but it costs money to take a boat to the island. If you arrive at peak visiting time, you'll wait in lines to board the boat.

Another common mistake is to frequent cable car stops that are the busiest and wait a long time for a ride. Find a cable car route and climb aboard somewhere outside the busiest places.

Waiting in lines is something budget travelers always must avoid or minimize. Wasted time is wasted money during a trip. If you plan to visit one of San Francisco's popular attractions, plan your visit for off-peak times.

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06 of 08

Forsaking Independent Travel

Dolores Park, San Francisco

TripSavvy / Melissa Zink

There are plenty of guided tours of San Francisco, and most come at prices that could affect your budget. Still, many visitors consider such trips a necessary expense.

San Francisco offers a variety of attractions in relatively close proximity, and they're connected with excellent mass transit options. For many visitors, independent travel makes sense.

There are ways to minimize admission costs. The GO San Francisco Card to 30 attractions at up to 55 percent off the standard fees. The cost of a one-day pass is just less than $60 for an adult and about $50 for children. As always, add up the admission fees for the places you want to see and compare to the pass price prior to purchase.

If you do want a guide, consider the offerings of San Francisco Walking Tours, a group of volunteers who offer free tours of various neighborhoods and attractions. Although it's free of charge, a gratuity is appropriate and appreciated.

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07 of 08

Bypassing Free Attractions

street in San Francisco
Mark D. Kahler

Chinatown is one of San Francisco's most famous places to visit. Walking through it and experiencing the businesses and the people costs nothing.

Union Square frequently hosts art exhibits and other outdoor events. Many of these are rewarding and free. It always pays to find local listings for events that will be hosted during your stay.

Also, consult lists of free San Francisco attractions and plan a visit to those of interest. A few free activities mixed in with your sightseeing can do wonders for a travel budget.

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08 of 08

Misjudging Changeable Weather

Golden Gate Bridge
Mark D. Kahler

This Golden Gate picture was taken in windy but sunny weather. In San Francisco, those conditions can change quickly.

More than a few planned walks across the bridge have been ruined by a sudden change that brings cold rain upon unprepared visitors.

The Bay area has what meteorologists call micro-climates -- small pockets where the weather can vary significantly from the rest of the area. It always pays to wear layers and be prepared with rain gear.

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