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Budget Travel: San Francisco Romance on Less Than $50 a Day

photo: ground.zero

With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, you may already be planning a romantic dinner or even a full-fledged getaway with your significant other. While a far-away exotic destination may be out of reach for many budget-minded travelers, there are plenty of options available for those willing to spend the day (or weekend) in a big city or nearby resort. In the weeks leading up to the holiday, we’ll focus on several destinations that are perfect to visit this time of year and offer plenty of romantic attractions, dining options and places to stay — without burning a hole in your wallet. First up: San Francisco.

Planning a quick getaway to San Francisco? On a budget? Don’t despair, a fun and romantic vacation in San Francisco can be had for under $50 a-day for transportation, entertainment and food. (Lodging will be extra.)

Just put your creative hat on and see how the adventure unfolds.

Transportation

When you arrive at SFO, avoid the rental cars and taxi stand and head straight to Bart for your trip into the City (only acceptable nickname for San Francisco. Frisco and San Fran are like fingernails on a blackboard to locals). One-way fare is $8.10; if you plan to use other public transportation during your trip (Muni, Bart, Caltrain) consider purchasing a Clipper Card, available online or through retail locations.

Muni is the least expensive option for getting around the City, at $2 a ride with a 90-minute transfer. Check out 511.org to help plan your trip around the city, or use Nextbus on your SmartPhone to find the next Muni bus going your direction.

Attractions in the City

The least expensive way to visit San Francisco is with the San Francisco City Guides tours. And don’t worry, they’re not old fuddy-duddy tours: these are interesting and insightful tours of fascinating parts of San Francisco, including Castro Street, the Tenderloin neighborhood, Telegraph Hill Stairway Hike, and the murals of the multi-ethnic Mission. All regularly scheduled tours are free; if you want to book something special, arrange a private tour for $12 a person.

Did you happen to schedule your romantic getaway on the first week of the month? Take advantage of free first Tuesdays at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, de Young Museum and the Legion of Honor. And through February 24th, enjoy half-price tickets to San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), while they install new exhibits.

Many significant sites in San Francisco are free all the time – Sutro Baths and Lands End have beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean and the Golden Gate Bridge. Speaking of the GG Bridge, walking out onto the span and looking back to the City is a wonderful, albeit, cold adventure. The San Francisco Ferry Building, especially on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, is a fun way to engage with local food and farmers. Window-shopping around Union Square can keep you busy for hours, and if you are looking for an inexpensive souvenir, check out the Candlestick Park Antiques & Collectibles Faire, held the third-Sunday of the month ($10 between 6-8am; $5 8am-3pm).

If you are looking for inexpensive evening entertainment, check out Gilt City for 35% off Beach Blanket Babylon tickets (a San Francisco icon), and Goldstar San Francisco for cheap tickets (staring at $10/person) to Sh*t My Dad Says with Justin Halpern (of Twitter fame, best-selling author and now a CBS sitcom with William Shatner).

Food

San Francisco is a foodie’s paradise, and you might choose to blow your budget on one or two great meals. But, if you are looking for good food at cheap prices, check out any of the many San Francisco Street Food vendors. Follow them on Twitter and discover what is being served next, or use Street Food Finder or Roaming Hunger to find something near you. Personal favorites include Chairman Bao (steamed buns $3.25; baked buns $6.00), Adobe Hobo ($7-10/bowl) and the Crème Brulee Cart ($5/cup). Off the Grid, an organization promoting street food in San Francisco often gets a group of vendors together in one place, along with music and a mini bar. Food, entertainment and nightlife, all in one place!

If eating in one of the City’s fancy restaurants is a priority, do your research ahead of time. Lunch can be less expensive than dinner, and since it is supposed to be a romantic weekend, consider sharing an entrée and dessert.

Dinner at Gary Danko starts at $68/person ($100/person average tab), whereas the Chef’s Daily Small Plate Tasting lunch at Michael Mina’s starts at $39/person. Boulevard, a classic San Francisco restaurant near the Ferry Building, offers lunch and dinner (average $62/person), or Chef Nancy Oakes new place, Prospect, which serves dinner and weekend brunch starting at $20/person. For a deal, check out Marlowe, an up-and-coming restaurant near the ballpark, and the Marlowe burger ($13). That, a side of fries and a bottle of wine makes a nice dinner for two!

Places to Stay

Romance oozes from the Joie de Vivre hotels, with several fun locations in the City. And with Sweet Deals through the month of February, you are certain to find a room within your budget. Sign up for the free email newsletter and receive notification of last minute deals up to 50% off.  The Hotel Kabuki in Japantown has a Feast for Lovers, starting at $99, which includes a sushi platter and sake. Other hotels in the Joie de Vivre group start at $119/night.

Enjoy your trip!