If you're a millennial, you probably spend way too much on avocados and that's why don't have enough money to buy a house (said a millionaire) or take a big, fancy trip.
But life goes on and I had a four day weekend approaching as fast, contrary to the speed of my paychecks. So I sat down with a freshly made avocado toast, a fully charged laptop, $500 and a mission. I gave myself a travel challenge - to stay, see, eat, drink and do things in a city in just $500.
I picked San Francisco for my travel challenge for two reasons. As you can tell I am a rational person with great deductive reasoning skills. Or because the cheapest tickets from Southern California would only take me as far as Northern California.
☝🏽 San Francisco is USA's second food capital (which means FANCY AVOCADO TOAST FOR BRUNCH).
✌🏽 I wanted to tick one thing off my bucket list - to bike the Golden Gate Bridge.
Now I am going to give you the secret itinerary that I carefully planned and successfully fit in the budget. INCLUDING STAY. Yes, you read that right. Here is a breakdown of all recommendations for food and activities with how much it cost because I was dead set on that $500 challenge.
(💡Images enlarge if you click on them!)
Landed in SF around dinner and since I was super hungry I ate ramen at the airport. Took a train from the airport to Powell Street Station which was a 5 minute walk to the hostel and saved me the uber money.
Checked into HI Hostel, Downtown SF. It is bang in the middle of Union Square, which is the most convenient location to stay at in the city. The hostel is right out of your wildest hipster dreams and gives free breakfast (saves you $ that you can now use for wine) - I was sold.
After checking in I went to my favourite rooftop bar, The View, to have creme brulee and red wine as a personal ritual. The view as its name suggests has a 360 view of the city with french windows and looks breathtaking at any time of day or night.
Cost of dinner - $10
Cost of train ticket - $8
Cost of stay for four nights - $210
Cost at The View - $25
Balance at end of Day 1 - $247
Woke up all early and excited for breakfast with strangers. My extremely friendly-self scared two potential friends so I targeted my dorm roommates - they had no option, they had nowhere to run. After breakfast they actually ran, so I went on to do the most important thing on my list - biking the Golden Gate. I took an uber to Blazing Saddles on Hyde Street to rent a bike. It is right by Fisherman's Wharf which is right next to the giant Ghiradelli Square which means I fuelled up for the ride with a big hot chocolate.
Now let me tell you I am not a fitness freak, I cannot run for more than 5 minutes at a time and I had just committed to bike 8.2 miles uphill and downhill ONE WAY. And 8.2 miles back. The feeling of biking on the Golden Gate while looking at the ocean, mountains and the bridge itself was beautiful. Tip - make sure you queue your songs because I didn't and then I had Eminem's Lose Yourself play right after The Piano Guys. At the end of the bridge, a friend I made on my fitness journey and I decided to go all the way down to a very expensive, elite small town called Sausalito to get food. Sausalito was all quaint cafes, pizzerias, wineries, dream oceanside mansions and expensive boho boutiques a.k.a your Pinterest travel board come alive.
We decided to eat at this Italian restaurant which has been one of the best I've had in California called Aurora Ristorante Pizzeria. A large pizza, gnocchi, garlic bread, a bottle of wine and a creme brûlée later we decided to bike all the way back. Best 18 miles I've ever worked so much for. We had a fun night back in our dorm then called it a day...after I ate onion rings. All that biking really gave me an appetite and more food means more happiness.
Cost of uberPool - $3
Cost of bike rental - $65
Cost of hot chocolate - $5
Cost of giant meal - $60
Cost of uberPool - $5
Cost of onion rings - $6
Balance at end of Day 2 - $103
Now I was running tight on the budget (tbh I absolutely forgot about it). Had to get my head back in the game but first, brunch. After a lot of back and forth on Yelp, we picked Brenda's. It was walkable and had only $$ signs but 4.5 stars. If there was a movie on millennials brunching, this was the set to shoot it. I cannot recommend this place enough, YOU HAVE TO GO TO BRENDA'S even if its all you do in SF. And if you have to eat just one thing - PANCAKES. I have never ever had pancakes that were fluffier and melted in your mouth. I think I was just one more pancake away from Nirvana. I honestly recommend everything on their menu, the eggs are great, warm soft biscuits, and tofu hash (vegan but WOAH).
After brunch, we walked and saw some iconic buildings of the city like the City Hall, Opera House across the city hall and Painted Ladies. This walk was basically from the east of the city to the west, we covered a lot of it on foot and that's why ended up seeing so much of SF that we might have missed out on in a cab. There is a park across the Painted Ladies on a small hill with a view of the entire city, I suggest going there for sunset. All of these were good spots for some photography. We then walked back in the general direction of our hostel through an area called Hayes and it was lit with the quirkiest bars and cutest eateries. Stopped there for a quick scoop of honey lavender ice-cream from the famous Salt and Straw and then continued walking towards our hostel. For dinner, I compromised with Chinese take-out so I could spend on a drink later. I recommend trying Mensho Tokyo Ramen, its supposed to be the best in SF. I was too hungry to wait in the line but I am sure it must have been worth it. For the night we found a speakeasy bar called Bourbon and Branch with a cool cocktail range to choose from.
Cost of brunch - $20
Cost of ice-cream - $6
Cost of take-out - $15
Cost of cocktail - $10
Balance at the end of Day 3 - $52
It was the last day and I had to go back to Brenda's for pancakes, I don't think you can have enough of it. So I did exactly that. A large cappuccino, pancakes and a glimpse of heaven is what I was served. Given the budget challenge, I chose to do an art walk on Balmy Street. If you are a photographer, prepare to stop at every two steps to click some of the most beautiful murals that truly do tell a story of the city's diverse culture. While you are on that culture trip, take a tram to the Buena Vista Cafe (est. 1916) for their exceptionally famous Irish coffee - that warm drink seriously seeps into your soul, its witchcraft. After some 15k steps, I went for a quick mandatory stop at the iconic Pier 39 where we watched the sun set over the Golden Gate Bridge. For dinner I got a quick bite from Swingers diner across our hostel and then my roommates and I went to Cityscape at the Hilton Hotel, Union Square to celebrate our last night in SF. Cityscape also had a 360 view of the city and has a little more seating space than The View so it is convenient if you are going out with a group on a busy Saturday night. I couldn't have picked a better set of strangers to annoy and live with for those four nights, they were the true highlight of my trip.
Cost of brunch - $16
Cost of sandwich - $8
Cost at Cityscape - $20
Balance at end of Day 4 - $8
Time for my last breakfast at HI Hostel before checking out and heading to the airport. I
had exactly $8 left, which was the exact change I needed for the train to the airport. Which means - I SUCCESSFULLY TRAVELLED AROUND A CITY FOR ALMOST FIVE DAYS IN $500 all inclusive. But that did not happen. Before I left SF, I had to meet someone who has inspired me, pushed my creative boundaries and really truly been a great mentor. So I decided that the challenge could have one free pass and I was going to use mine for this. We had coffee at Precita Park Cafe - a SF local's suggestion and I then proceeded towards to airport. I made my last stop at Boudin Bakery (est. 1849) to have a slice of toasted sourdough with butter and that was the most 'Friscan end to my trip.
Cost of uberPool: $6
Cost of coffee: $4
Cost of toast: $4
Cost of train ticket: $8
Balance at the end of Day 5 - $0
💡 Not including the $14 free pass because I made this challenge, I make the rules and I'm also the winner.