Minimalist Packing for 6 Days in San Francisco

Minimalist Packing San Francisco

San Francisco is a gorgeous city with the iconic landmark of the Golden Gate Bridge and other famous sites to see like Alcatraz, Lombard Street and the historic cable cars. The food is also amazing, and there is so much variety!

You might assume that because San Francisco is located in California, that it will be sunny and warm, especially in the summer. But you would be wrong. San Francisco has varying temperatures and weather, depending on what area of the city you are in at any given time. The closer you are to the bay, the more likely it is that you will experience windy and chilly temperatures. September is when San Francisco experiences more typical summer weather with warmer days and less fog and wind. If you are coming anytime in July or August, you will not need shorts, and you can expect temperatures of between 16-20 degrees Celsius during the day. I stayed in the Mission District and it was definitely warmer there, as it is farther away from the water, but not warm enough to wear shorts and a t-shirt most of the time.

Keep in mind, I only travel with a carry-on backpack and I like to pack light, as a minimalist (although I still always manage to bring more than I actually wear/use/need). All of these items fit into my 48 Litre backpack from Mountain Equipment Co-op and my 12 Litre daypack from PacSafe.

Here is what I packed during my 6 day trip to San Francisco in July/August as a female:

Luggage:

Gregory Cairn 48 Litre Women’s Backpack from Mountain Equipment Co-op – I love this backpack. It has so many compartments to be able to organize all of my belongings and even a side zipper to access the main portion of the bag, as well as a drawstring opening at the top.

PacSafe Slingsafe 300 Gll 12 Litre Daypack – This daypack is great for short day trips, and I took it with me instead of a purse when I was exploring the city all day. It has some great security features as well.

Packing Cubes – I bought cheaply made packing cubes on Amazon, but they did the trick! I use a larger one for my clothing, a small one for toiletries, and a small for miscellaneous items. Packing cubes are great for keeping your things organized and separate.

Lewis N Clark Clear 1 Quart Toiletry Bag – I bought this on Amazon. It holds exactly 1 quart, which is the size limit for most airlines. I put all of my liquids under 100 ml in here and make sure it is easy to access when I am in the security line-up at the airport, by placing it on the top compartment in my backpack.

Clothing:

2 long sleeved shirts – I had a thin sweater and a lightweight moisture wicking top

1 sweater – I brought a hooded zip-up sweater

1 light jacket and/or windbreaker – Thin fabric jacket. You will want a jacket in the mornings, if you are near the bay or the bridge, and definitely on Alcatraz Island. Don’t be fooled by the warmer temperatures on the mainland… It is windy and cold at Alcatraz.

1 pair of jeans – Dark wash skinny jeans. I wore jeans almost every day. You could also bring a pair of beige or black pants as a back-up to jeans, if you don’t want to wear the same outfit every day.

1 pair of capri pants – I only wore these once to Alcatraz… Bad idea! That was the coldest and windiest area.

1 pair of black leggings – I wore these once, but they go nicely with a long sweater, dress or shirt.

2 cardigans – Cardigans are a great layering item. I brought solid colours and layered on top of t-shirts, and then put a jacket over top.

4-5 t-shirts or tank tops or dressier tops – I brought a mixture of basic t-shirts in solid colours, tank tops and dressier tops for eating out in the evenings.

1 pair of pajama bottoms and 1 pajama shirt

2 bras – I brought a regular bra and a sports bra

Underwear – however many pairs you think you need.

2 pairs of socks

You could also bring a thin scarf. In the rainy season, you might want to bring an umbrella.

Shoes:

1 pair of comfortable walking shoes – I brought athletic runners and they were comfortable and great for hiking up those San Francisco hills!

1 pair of basic flats or dressier shoe – I brought my lightweight and comfortable slip-on TOM’s, but I never ended up wearing them. If you plan on going out to eat or drink in the evenings, bring a comfortable but dressier pair of shoes.

You could also bring a pair of ankle or tall boots, that would look great with dark wash jeans or leggings.

Toiletries:

Shampoo and Conditioner in Go Toobs – I brought my organic Andalou shampoo and conditioner from home and put them into Go Toobs. These containers are the best! They don’t leak and squeeze so easily. They are very well designed.

Bar of Soap – I put the bar of soap in a plastic ziploc bag to transport it.

Travel sized toothpaste

Toothbrush

Hair Brush and Elastic Bands – I kept my hair pulled back every day, because it was so windy in San Francisco and my long hair would have been so tangled!

Travel sized hairspray

Hair straightener – This is not a must, but it is nice to have, if you have space in your backpack or suitcase.

Natural Roll-on Deodorant – I use naturally made roll-on deodorant from Rocky Mountain Soap Company, and it works great!

Face lotion – I use facial moisturizer in a travel size from Just The Goods (local Winnipeg brand)

Facial toner and cotton balls – I have a travel sized toner from a local Winnipeg company called Just The Goods

Body Lotion – I use an organic coconut lotion by Dessert Essence

Q-Tips – These are not a must-have for short trips, and you can also buy them pretty much anywhere at your destination.

Razor for shaving

Nail Clippers and Tweezers

I no longer wear make-up so I save space by not having to bring that with me when I travel. If you are staying at a hostel or Airbnb that does not offer towels (for showers), I would bring my micro fibre travel towel (roll it up tight and put it at the bottom of my backpack).

Medical/First Aid Kit:

Most of these items you will be able to purchase at your destination. I just take small quantities of some essentials, because if you do get sick, the last thing you probably want to do is make a trip to the store in a foreign country and try to find what you’re looking for.

Small bag or container of Advil/Tylenol

Band-Aids

Miscellaneous:

Eyeglasses and case

San Francisco Lonely Planet Guidebook

Contact lenses and solution

1 pair of sunglasses

Travel sized bottle of sunscreen – I use natural sunscreen from Saje Wellness. You can still get sunburned even if it’s not warm outside. My nose and face got super red!

A few pairs of Ear Planes – my ears do not pressurize on their own while flying, so I have to use these pressurizing ear plugs. They really help, if you have the same issue! You can buy them at Shopper’s Drug Mart in Canada.

Passport – make sure it is valid for at least 6 months

Driver’s License – a back-up ID for my passport

Debit and Credit Cards – make sure to notify your bank before you leave where and when you will be traveling, so that they don’t freeze your card (if they see purchases from another country, they might investigate)

Foreign Currency – I order my currency from my local bank a few weeks before I leave on trips.

Money Belt – for carrying my cash and bank cards when I am in transit (on buses, trains, etc. when I have all of my belongings with me)

Wallet

Watch with an alarm

External Portable Battery – I take this with me when I know that I will be gone for the entire day, so that I can easily plug my phone in and charge it.

Notepad/Journal and pen – Good for making quick notes for future blog posts and jotting down observations and stories along the way

Combination Lock – To lock my backpack and compartments

Eye Mask and Ear Plugs – Good if you are sleeping in hostel dorms, or Airbnb apartments where you can hear the noise of people and traffic outside.

Multiple Plug Adaptor – I use this so that if my Airbnb room or hostel dorm only has a few electrical outlets, I am able to charge all of my electronics at once instead of waiting.

Books to read on the airplane or in your downtime in the evenings

Technology:

Point and shoot digital camera – I use the Canon PowerShot ELPH 340 HS

iPhone or other smartphone – Good for updating social media, checking local transportation schedules, uploading photos and writing my blog posts on the go.

Charging cords and extra batteries for camera and/or phone

Packing Tips:

No matter how long you are traveling somewhere for, only pack one week’s worth of clothing. You can do laundry at a laundromat or wash your clothes in the sink with soap and water, when you are finished wearing them.

Bring solid colours so that you can mix and match different items

Always bring a jacket. You’ll wish you had one when you feel that wind!

Make sure to bring comfortable shoes for walking. You will likely be doing a fair amount of walking in San Francisco, and a lot of it will be up steep hills. You don’t want your feet to be hurting because of your poor footwear choices!

Check the weather during the time you will be in San Francisco before you start packing. Plan your outfits accordingly.

Bring items and outfits that can be layered. When you’re in San Francisco, the weather conditions and temperatures will vary from neighbourhood to neighbourhood and even from block to block, so you need to be prepared to strip down or put it all back on. I would start off the days wearing jeans with a t-shirt, sweater and jacket. As the day went on, I was able to take off and put back on the layers.

If you are going in March, April or May, bring a warm and windproof jacket, a thicker sweater, no shorts, and a scarf.

If you are going in June, July or August, bring a light windbreaker or thin jacket, a sweater, tank tops and long shorts or capris (in case you happen to be there on the odd warmer day).

If you are going in September or October, bring a cute dress and sandals, warmer weather outfits/lighter clothing (September and October are San Francisco’s warmest months), a light jacket (for cooler mornings and evenings), and 1-2 pairs of pants (for cooler times).

If you are going from November to February, bring a warmer jacket (but it doesn’t have to be a full-on winter coat), layerable sweaters and shirts, ankle, mid-calf or knee-high boots, a scarf, and an umbrella or rain jacket. Winter is colder than the other months, but not freezing (compared to Winnipeg’s -40 degrees Celsius!) and it tends to rain more often (the rainy season is from November to March).

Thanks to Her Packing List for the inspiration for this list!

I hope this list has been helpful for your travels to San Francisco! Let me know in the comments if there’s anything I missed.

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Cultural Observations in San Francisco

Culture in San Francisco

I am fascinated by culture and learning about the cultures of the places that I travel to. As someone who pays close attention to detail, I tend to take note of the little things that make certain cultures different from my own.

I recently traveled to San Francisco and noticed a lot of cultural differences in this city.

Here are my observations:

The weather is unpredictable and be completely different depending on the neighbourhood you’re in or street corner you’re standing on – San Francisco does not typically experience warm weather in the summer months. In fact, their warmer weather occurs in September. I happened to be there during, what they would consider to be, a very hot few days (around 24-25 degree Celsius). What I noticed in SF, is that the weather changes unpredictably throughout the course of the day (you will need a jacket in the morning and evening, but will be stripping down to a t-shirt once you start climbing hills and then will need a jacket again at the top of the hill because it’s so windy)! The weather is also significantly different, depending on what neighbourhood you are in (warmer in the Mission, cooler along the water) and even what street corner you’re standing on! One street might be warm, but the next street over could be windy and chilly. When you go out for the day, you should wear layers (tank top/t-shirt, sweater/cardigan and jacket) so that you can easily change depending on your location in the city and on what kind of activity you are doing (hiking up steep hills). Don’t even bother looking at the weather forecast for the day because guaranteed, it will be nothing like that and will change constantly throughout the day.

The people are interesting – You will likely meet and observe some interesting characters of people. Like maybe those two men walking completely naked down Haight Street, that cashier processing your payment at a pipe/smoke shop on Haight who is completely stoned, that man you meet in the alley full of murals who tells you all about the history of the murals, the young homeless-looking backpacker on Haight who is holding his hand out with a clump of weed and openly trying to sell it to passers by, or that homeless woman you meet in another muraled alley who tells you what she believes her key to happiness is, or the multitude of homeless people who can be found sleeping just about anywhere, or the woman on the bus who is loudly yelling gibberish nonsense but not directed at anyone in particular, and many more that I’m sure you will encounter!

There are not many children in San Francisco – I actually didn’t even notice this until I returned home and started thinking more about it. The only place I saw children, was on the cable cars and near Fisherman’s Wharf (touristy area) and they were more than likely tourists and not residents. I did see one child on a MUNI bus who was singing her heart out to that popular song in the movie Frozen! But other than that, I don’t remember seeing any children in the Mission District, where I was staying, or in many of the other neighbourhoods (Haight-Ashbury, Castro, etc.). There are a lot of young people (teens, 20 and 30-somethings) but not a lot of kids.

Every neighbourhood is known for having certain qualities – The Mission District is known as the Latino neighbourhood where you can find taquerias and markets on every corner, lots of murals everywhere, crime and a grittier atmosphere. The Castro is known as being the gay neighbourhood. Here you will find rainbow coloured crosswalks at the corners of 18th Street and Castro, rainbow flags hanging from people’s houses and in local shop windows, and a large independent theatre (Castro Theatre). Pacific Heights is known as the rich neighbourhood, with huge mansions perched on top of the hilly landscape. Haight-Ashbury is known as being the hippie, alternative lifestyle neighbourhood. You will see people smoking marijuana on the streets openly (despite it actually being illegal in California), naked men walking down the sidewalk, tattoo and smoke shops everywhere, and the iconic intersection of Haight and Ashbury Streets, where young people gathered in in the 60s. There is so much variety that can be found in each neighbourhood of SF and they are all so different and unique.

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Brunch is a big deal – San Franciscans love brunch. We went to the restaurant Gracias Madre for brunch and it was packed! It’s the perfect time to go for a mimosa or two.

SF is very bike-friendly – There are designated bike lanes on most streets and drivers are actually courteous and respectful of bikers. This is a big difference from Winnipeg (where I live), where there are no bike lanes and bikers are routinely hit by cars who are not paying attention.

There are gorgeous colourful Victorian houses with detailed architecture – No matter where you go in San Francisco, you will find unique and beautiful Victorian houses. I loved wandering through the different and diverse neighbourhoods, and checking out the houses and how the locals live. Neighbourhoods like The Castro, Mission District, Noe Valley and Haight-Ashbury have the best and most colourful Victorians!

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Public transportation is easy to use and convenient – If you lived in SF, owning a car would probably not be the best idea. There is never any street parking and the hourly rates in some parking lots are upwards of $6 USD per hour! Good thing the public transport system in SF is extensive, relatively cheap and convenient. They have a lot of options including the MUNI city buses, the MUNI trains, the BART underground subway train, the MUNI historic streetcars and the slower moving classic cable cars. Uber and Lyft are very popular in SF, as is Zipcar, a car sharing service. Uber and Lyft are phone apps that facilitate ridesharing, by connecting those who need a ride with drivers who have a car. There are many ways to get around in SF without having a car.

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It is easy to experience nature in and around San Francisco – Wherever you are in the city, you are probably never too far from a park or the water. The landscape is gorgeous and there are beautiful parks in almost every neighbourhood. The Golden Gate Park is the largest, with over 1,000 acres! There are the Mission Dolores Park, Buena Vista Park, Alamo Square, Alta Vista, Corona Heights, Twin Peaks, Bernel Heights, and many more. Stunning panoramic views of the entire city can be found in many of the city’s parks. Outside of the city, you also have easy access to Muir Woods, Napa and Sonoma Valleys, the Marin Headlands, Yosemite National Park and many other beautiful natural landscapes. There is definitely no shortage of nature!

San Franciscans love their outdoor activities and fitness – Wherever you go, you will usually see residents walking, jogging and enjoying their outdoor work-outs. I didn’t see any indoor gym facilities in the city. You see locals running along the Embarcadero, throughout the neighbourhoods and on the trails around the Golden Gate Bridge. Who would want to work-out inside when you have access to such beauty and nature outside? Just walking from place to place and being forced to climb the steep hills, is a work-out in itself, as tourists. The people living here don’t even have to intentionally exercise, it just naturally happens when you are walking around! There are many beautiful parks with great views in the city, along with steep hills and hidden stairways to climb. My legs were super sore after this trip!

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There are diverse cultures living in SF – If you visit Chinatown, you will be surrounded by Chinese people and it actually feels like you are in a different country, with the lanterns hanging from wires above the streets, Chinese architecture in their buildings, Chinese symbols everywhere, local shops and restaurants and outdoor street-side produce markets on almost every street corner. In the Mission District, you will find a concentration of Latino people, authentic Mexican taquerias on almost every street corner, sidewalk produce markets, and lots of restaurants serving various Latin American cuisine. The Mission District is also very diverse and if you visit Mission Dolores Park, you will notice the diversity in the people of various backgrounds, cultures and ages that live there.

San Francisco has amazing food. There are so many options for fresh produce and eating healthy – There’s no question about it, San Francisco has so much delicious food variety. As a Canadian, I was delighted to be able to legally purchase raw organic milk and yogurt here. Both were delicious! I loved visiting Bi-Rite Market in the Mission District and they had so much selection for organic food and produce and they had so many different brands of kombucha to choose from! I fell in love with the Health-Aide California Grape kombucha, and ended up going back to the market every day to buy another one. The Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market at the Ferry Building is also a great place to find vendors selling fresh and organic produce, sauerkraut, breads, jams, salsas and more, grown and made locally from all over California. It was amazing! There are also many street-side produce markets located everywhere in the Mission District, that sold cheap and fresh ingredients, fruits and vegetables. The taquerias (authentic Mexican taco places) in the Mission District were abundant, cheap and delicious. I could live there just for the food selection.

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San Franciscans are not afraid to be different and are very open about engaging in alternative lifestyles – San Franciscans tend to be more liberal-minded than a lot of other places in the USA and Canada. You will see people openly smoking and selling marijuana (despite it being illegal in California), very unique and different fashion senses, naked men walking down the sidewalks in Haight-Ashbury, people singing or playing instruments randomly on street corners, and more. San Francisco is great for people-watching (especially in the Haight-Ashbury neighbourhood and Mission Dolores Park) and you will definitely observe many interesting characters! The people in SF are also very accepting of LGBTQ individuals and sexual orientation is not something that the locals seek to hide from others.

I observed local women walking up steep hilly streets while wearing high heels, and they didn’t trip on anything, seem exhausted or bothered at all. This amazed me and I cannot imagine doing that! It was hard enough to climb the hills in runners, for me.

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San Franciscans always carry a briefcase or a backpack with a change of clothes (ie. most likely a jacket) – They know how unpredictable the weather is. Even on a seemingly warm day, you never know when you might need a jacket at a cold and windy street corner.

San Franciscans are always on their phones and they always have ear buds in their ears – I understand that SF is a very technology-based city. There are a lot of software people, programmers, entrepreneurs, developers, and web designers living here, but they never put their phones away, anywhere! In restaurants, at the parks, and especially on the buses and BART train, the people all looked like they were in a zombie state, just stating down at their phones. I also noticed that a lot of people have ear buds in their ears all the time… especially when using public transport and when walking down the street. It appeared like they were closing themselves off from society, and not interacting with anyone except those on their phones and social media. It felt anti-social. This was very evident on the bus and train.

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There are a lot of homeless people and substance addicts in San Francisco – Pretty much everywhere you go, you will find homeless people in San Francisco. They are mostly harmless and unlike in Winnipeg, they don’t beg you for money and make you feel uncomfortable. They can often be found sleeping at the lower side of Mission Dolores Park, covered in sleeping bags and tarps and with their shopping carts full of their belongings sitting beside them; digging through dumpsters on the street; congregating around the BART train stations and sleeping on the floor in the underground station; sleeping on bus benches on the sidewalk; hanging out in the mural-painted alleyways in the Mission District; and congregating on certain street corners in Haight-Ashbury. The largest concentrations of homeless people seemed to be in the Mission District, Haight-Ashbury neighbourhood, and around Market and Powell Streets. A lot of these homeless people struggle with substance addictions and likely mental health issues as well. My mom and I met a woman named Mercedes in the Clarion Alley in the Mission District. She told us a little about herself, we chatted about life and happiness, and we gave her enough money to buy an ice cream. She was very friendly and open and said that she sees people that are even people that are worse off than she is and that humbles her and makes her grateful for what she does have. It is really quite sad, the amount of homeless people in SF. These people have interesting stories and a lot of them used to be like us (productive members of society) but they fell upon some bad luck in life. It really makes you think, that this life situation could happen to any one of us and we don’t know what may befall us in the future. The homeless people in SF don’t bother other people, and I noticed that they were almost always sleeping.

People are smoking marijuana everywhere, despite it’s illegality – Depending on what neighbourhood you are visiting, you will more than likely catch a whiff of weed at some point during your travels in San Francisco. Mission Dolores Park, Haight-Ashbury, other various public parks and the Mission District in general, are places where you will definitely see people smoking marijuana openly or smell it. Even though it is illegal, the police seem to turn a blind eye. We even walked by a young man holding out his hand to passersby with a clump of weed in the palm of his hand, hoping to sell it to somebody on Haight Street. I don’t mind the smell and people choosing to smoke it really doesn’t bother me, but if you don’t like it, just know that it is everywhere.

Independent and locally owned shops, restaurants, markets and other businesses are abundant and there are hardly any major chain stores – I loved how SF had so many local shops and restaurants! The only chain store that I saw in the Mission District was a medium-sized Walgreens at 16th Street and Mission. It was really refreshing to see that so many local places were still going strong and doing so well, especially in our every-increasing corporate consumerist culture! I will always choose to support a local business-owner over a corporate chain store, and I really enjoyed being able to support the local produce markets and taquerias in the Mission as well as the local farmers at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. The neighbourhoods in San Francisco and the residents living there and supporting local businesses, seemed to be very community-minded, which I also loved.

There are beautiful murals everywhere – You can find colourful and detailed murals everywhere in San Francisco, but with the largest concentration in the Mission District. Murals can be found down almost every small alleyway and on the sides of many buildings through the Latino-influenced neighbourhood. It is fun to explore them. There are different historical and cultural meanings behind all of the murals, that are interesting to learn about.

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I absolutely fell in love with San Francisco and am already planning what to do next time I return! It is such a diverse city with a lot of character and charm. I hope you enjoyed reading about these cultural observations that I made while visiting!

My First Airbnb Experience – Renting an Apartment in San Francisco, California

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I used the website Airbnb to book a private room in a local’s apartment when I visited San Francisco for six nights from July 28th to August 3rd, 2015. Airbnb is a website that allows homeowners and renters anywhere in the world, to list their space (it could be a private room, a shared room or an entire house/apartment) along with a nightly or monthly price. Potential guests can browse through these listings, filtering them to fit your specific needs. Some hosts will have a monthly price listed as well, which gives guests the option of staying in one place for longer and renting for a longer term. Airbnb rentals are similar to hotels in that they are a paid service (unlike Couchsurfing which is based on the same premise of staying with locals, but is free). But they are also very different from hotels, in that every listing is unique in their cancellation policies, the amenities they offer, and check in/out times.

I had read a lot about Airbnb prior to my trip to San Francisco and had heard many good things about it, but this was my first time using the website myself. Overall, I had a fantastic experience and I look forward to using it again in the future!

When I first started my research, I knew that I wanted to stay in a less touristy, authentic and unique neighbourhood with some character in San Francisco. I stumbled upon the Mission District and loved the descriptions and photos. I made the decision that I wanted to stay in that neighbourhood, so I filtered the listings to only include those located in the Mission District. It was overwhelming and there were so many to choose from!

After reading the listings carefully to see what was included and what was not, browsing through photos of the various listings and reading many reviews from previous Airbnb guests, I finally decided on one listing that sounded perfect to me.

I messaged the host, Gina, through Airbnb’s built-in messaging service and introduced myself and explained why I would be interested in staying at her place. She was quick to respond to messages and informed me that a private room in her apartment was available during the calendar dates I was looking at. I confirmed with her that the amenities included in the listing would be available, the cancellation policy, I informed her of the time my flight would be arriving in and departing from San Francisco, and inquired about the check in process, directions to the apartment and how to get in.

After finding out this information, I booked a private room in her apartment and paid using a credit card through Airbnb’s website (always pay through the site and not in cash. This ensures that you are protected if something were to go wrong).

A few days before my flight to SF, Gina messaged me on Airbnb and informed me that unfortunately, something had come up unexpectedly with her work and she would be away on a business trip during my stay, returning on my last night in SF. She wanted to make sure that I was comfortable with this. I had no issues.

The day before my flight, Gina messaged me detailed instructions on directions to her apartment, and how to get into the apartment in her absence (information about keys, codes, etc.). Normally, she would be at home during times when she had Airbnb guests and you would be able to press a buzzer on the apartment complex door and she would let you in. However, since circumstances were different, she gave me enough information to be able to check in on my own.

I had no problems with the keys or codes and everything worked out great! It was actually really nice to have the entire apartment to ourselves (my mother and I), for most of our stay. We were able to watch television, relax in the living room, cook our own breakfasts in the kitchen and sleep peacefully in our private room.

Gina’s apartment has two private rooms (this one and this one), and she rents out both of them on Airbnb. My mother and I stayed in one of them (the first link) and during three nights of our stay, the other room was rented out as well. It was not a problem and the guy that rented the other room was very friendly. We chatted in the evenings when we were both at the apartment, but we also gave each other our alone time as well.

View of the Airbnb apartment from the street

Location:

The apartment was located on the third floor of an old Victorian building, on a quiet residential street (Albion Street) in the Mission District. It was just steps from Valencia and Mission Streets, the two main streets through the Mission with lots of independent restaurants, bars, cafes, thrift stores, ice cream shops, street side markets, small convenience/grocery corner shops and more. The apartment was only 1.5 blocks from the underground BART train/subway station at the corner of 16th Street and Mission, which was super convenient, as we often took the train to SF’s downtown area (Market Street). There were plenty of MUNI bus stops everywhere in the Mission, which made public transport was very easy in this neighbourhood. The Mission District is a grungy, vibrant and eclectec neighbourhood with a diverse population. I loved it! You will find young people, business professionals, addicts and homeless people. Although the Mission has a large population of Hispanic people, there is also lots of diversity in the ethnic backgrounds of the people living there. The Mission is very close to The Castro and Noe Valley neighbourhoods for further exploring.

There is so much to do and see in the Mission. There are beautifully painted colourful murals located down Clarion Alley, Balmy Alley, many other alleyways along 24th Street as well as on the Women’s Building on 18th Street. The Mission Dolores Park is a great place to relax and people-watch, while getting stunning views of the city from the top of the hill. The park gets busy in the evenings and on weekends, and is full of young people smoking marijuana, drinking openly, having picnics, reading, sleeping, playing sports, having family get-togethers as well as homeless people sleeping underneath heaps of blankets and tarps at the base of the park. I loved the multitude of street-side fresh fruit and vegetable markets that could be found everywhere as well as the delicious and authentic Mexican taquerias. I ate tacos almost every day from a few different places and they were also so tasty! The famous Bi-Rite Creamery ice cream shop is located nearby on 18th Street and Guerrero. I also frequented this place almost every day and it’s the best ice cream I’ve ever tasted! There is a line-up around the corner all the time.

Safety:

I felt mostly safe walking around in the Mission District during the day, however, be aware that it can get sketchy at night. The further east you get from Valencia, the seedier it seemed to get. I witnessed a punching fight between a couple during a Sunday morning walk through the Mission, where the police had to show up. After 5 or 6 pm, I definitely wouldn’t feel safe walking anywhere in the Mission. That is the time when you started to hear the police and ambulance sirens going strong all night long. There are a lot of homeless people and drug/alcohol addicts in the neighbourhood, but I didn’t experience any problems with them. You will see them sleeping on bus stop benches, sorting through dumpster and garbage trash on the sidewalks, and hanging out on certain corners and in and around the BART station. The Mission is known to have lots of gang and drug problems, so just keep that in mind. It would get noisy during the weekend nights, and you could often hear loud parties, music and obviously lots of sirens. That being said, none of this would deter me from staying in the Mission on a future visit. I loved the grittiness and authenticity of the neighbourhood and the fact that I felt like we were some of the only tourists there. If you take the general common sense precautions that you would take anywhere in the world, you will be fine. My biggest tip for solo females would be not to go out after 6 pm or so. Valencia was usually fine, but Mission Street and farther east? Not recommended at night.

Cost:

I paid $702 total for six nights to stay at this Airbnb ($117 USD per night). That is the going rate for hotels and Airbnb’s in San Francisco. I thought the price was very reasonable and was cheaper than a lot of the downtown hotels. Staying at this apartment was a very good value for the money.

Accuracy:

The actual apartment looked exactly like the photos in the listing and the description of the listing was bang-on.

Cleanliness:

Upon walking into the apartment, one of the first things I noticed was how clean and spotless everything was! I didn’t want to touch anything to mess it up. The private room, kitchen, guest bathroom and living room were beautiful and tidy.

Arrival and Check In Process: Everything went very smoothly. My Airbnb host provided me with detailed instructions for how to get to her apartment and how to get inside using the key and code, in her absence. I had no issues figuring it out.

Amenities:

All of the amenities outlined in the listing were provided. They included: a kitchen, cable TV, wireless internet, and a guest bathroom with shower and clean towels. The Wi-Fi was super fast which made it enjoyable to update to update social media and upload photos to my blog in the evenings. The host rents out two bedrooms on Airbnb so there is a possibility that you will have other guests in the apartment at the same time as you. It was nice that towels were provided, as I am used to staying in hostels where you have to bring your own! The TV was also great in the evenings and there were lots of channels to choose from to watch movies or shows. I really enjoyed using the kitchen and utensils to cook breakfasts in the morning, and the fridge to store our food.

The kitchen

The Bedroom:

Our bedroom was gorgeous! I loved the red and grey colour theme. Everything was clean and the mattress and pillows were very comfortable. There were plenty of outlets for charging electronics, a nightstand with an alarm clock and lamp, a small table with plants, window, small couch, and a mirror and dresser. It was perfect and provided everything I needed for a good night’s sleep and a relaxing evening inside.

The beautiful bedroom!

Host:

Our host, Gina, was away on business for most of my stay. However, she returned on our last night in San Francisco and we got the opportunity to meet her and chat in the evening. She was friendly, warm and welcoming. It shows that she cares about her guests! It definitely would have been nice if she could have been at home while we were there, so that we could ask for tips and recommendations for places to eat and things to see and do, but I still had an amazing time!

Communication:

Communication with the host before arriving was easy using Airbnb’s messaging system! Gina was accessible and very responsive to messages. Even during our stay, she messaged me to make sure that everything was going alright, since she was away, which was thoughtful and demonstrates her commitment to making sure her guests are happy and comfortable.

The living room

Downsides:

It was overalls very positive experience. On the weekends, be prepared for it to be noisy at night with the sounds of sirens, people partying, yelling and loud music. The walls in the apartment are so paper thin and the apartment buildings are so close together that you can even hear the neighbour’s conversations at times as well as them taking showers!

There was one night when we had just gone to bed and shortly after laying down, we heard someone knocking loudly on, what sounded like, the neighbour’s door. Then this individual started knocking and pounding loudly on our door, or so it sounded! It was freaky and my heart was definitely pounding, especially since we had the apartment to ourselves and were alone. We didn’t know the person’s intentions so we stayed as quiet as possible and waited for awhile. Thankfully, we had locked the doors. It took a little while to fall asleep but everything seemed fine in the morning.

I definitely wouldn’t let this incident deter me from staying at this Airbnb again or from coming back to San Francisco. It was just a product of the neighbourhood and we don’t know who the person was that was knocking, what their intentions were or if they were even knocking on our door. For all we know, it could have been a neighbour who locked themselves out of their house!

Another view of the living room

Here is a link to the Airbnb listing that I stayed at:

Spacious Private Room in Mission

Reasons Why I Love Airbnb:
You feel like a local and have the opportunity to meet and stay with people who actually live in the place you’re visiting – Staying in the Mission District, I was one of the few tourists around. It is not a neighbourhood where many tourists come to visit or stay. I enjoyed wandering around and visiting some of the many locally owned produce markets on the streets with fresh local ingredients, buying groceries where the locals shop, eating at local taquerias and navigating the public transport system. When you stay in someone’s apartment, it almost feels like you’re living there. With Airbnb, you have a greater variety of neighbourhoods to choose from, as opposed to hotels which are often concentrated in certain areas. With Airbnb, you can choose to stay in neighbourhoods farther away from the touristy and crowded areas.

You have access to a kitchen – I loved buying groceries and cooking breakfast in the mornings and fixing up some snacks in the evening. It was nice to be able to use all the utensils and appliances.

The comforts of home and privacy – As I just mentioned, it feels like you’re living in your destination city. It is really nice to be able to have a comfortable place to relax after climbing hills and exploring the city all day long, and to be able to watch TV or use the internet. If your host is home, you have the option of going to your bedroom to enjoy some privacy as well.

Tips:
– When searching for listings, make sure to be specific when you are filtering them. If Wi-Fi is a must-have for you, then check that off in your filters.
– Don’t wait until the last minute to book. The most popular places are usually booked up from one to three months in advance.
– Make sure to read all of the reviews of a listing as well as look at the star ratings.
– Read the listing thoroughly to know exactly what is included.
– Read through the cancellation policy. Each host can set their own cancellation policy from flexible to super strict, so make sure you know if and when you can cancel and the type of refund you would get if you had to cancel.
– Check your host’s profile and verification. Contact your host and ask them questions about the listing before you commit to booking. This way you will know what exactly you are committing to.
– Make sure to look through the photos provided for the listings. If there aren’t many photos, message the host and request that they send you some more photos so you can get a good idea of what the place looks like.
– Always leave an honest review after your Airbnb stay. Hosts also write a review for you, which appears on your profile, so make sure to be a considerate guest and respectful of your host’s home.

I will definitely use Airbnb again. Although it is often more expensive than staying in a hostel, it is a good alternative to a hotel and allows you to choose from a variety of local neighbourhoods in which to stay, instead of just the main hotel/hostel areas that are usually more touristy. Airbnb is worth it if you are staying somewhere for more than just a few days (3+ nights) because of the other fees involved (cleaning fee, Airbnb fee, etc.).

If you are looking for the more authentic experience of living with a local in an often less touristy neighbourhood with more character, and you are comfortable with sacrificing some privacy (if the host is home or if they have more than one room to host guests), then I definitely recommend browsing through the listings on Airbnb!

Click this link to create an account with Airbnb and get a $25 credit on your first stay!

Here are some photos of the Airbnb apartment that I stayed at:

The Costs of Traveling in San Francisco on a Budget for 6 Days

Costs of Travel in San Francisco

San Francisco is definitely one of the more expensive US cities to visit, especially for Canadians at a time right now when our dollar is doing so poorly against the American dollar. Of course, I only realized the value of the dollar after I had booked my flights! But it cost me over $100 extra in exchanging my money and paying for accommodation. Yikes! Next time I will check the dollar first before booking, but traveling to San Francisco was so worth it and I don’t regret it for a second. The really great thing about San Francisco is that most of the activities that I did, were completely free! One of my favourite things to do was exploring new neighbourhoods and checking out the gorgeous and colourful Victorian homes. The Golden Gate Bridge was free, the many scenic stairways, Chinatown, and more. The only attractions I paid for, were Alcatraz and riding the cable cars.

Here is a breakdown of exactly what I spent on my trip to San Francisco, California:

Where I Traveled:

San Francisco, California, USA

Number of Days:

6 days (July 28, 2015 to August 3, 2015)

Type of Travel:

Independent, Budget, Mother-Daughter

Accommodations:

We stayed at an Airbnb apartment rental in the Mission District.

Flights:

I booked my flight with the Canadian airline company WestJet about a month and a half prior to leaving on my trip. I booked on a Tuesday night – I have had the most success of finding cheap flight sales when I book on Tuesday nights (not sure if it’s a coincidence or a trend). My flight was from Winnipeg, Canada to San Francisco, California with one connection each way (Calgary, Canada on the way there and Vancouver, Canada on the way home).

Food:

We ate at local “taquerias” (Mexican taco places) in the Mission District for dinners, usually a Cliff protein bar for lunches on the go, and we would buy groceries from local markets in the Mission District (eggs, yogurt, milk, fresh fruit and kombucha).

Transportation:

We used the BART train and MUNI city buses to get around San Francisco. The BART is a convenient option for getting to and from the San Francisco Airport. We also used BART when traveling from the Mission District to downtown San Francisco (Powell Street or The Embarcadero).

The MUNI buses were also easy to use and a great option for getting around the city.

A one-way ticket with BART costs $1.85 USD and a one-way MUNI bus ticket costs $2.25 USD. Taking the BART to and from the airport costs between $8.60 and $11.65 one-way.

Activities/Sights/Attractions:

The majority of the attractions that I visited during my stay in San Francisco were either completely free or very cheap. The only activity I paid money for ($37 USD) was touring the prison and island of Alcatraz.

Entire Trip Cost Per Person:

$1497.60 USD – This price includes flights, food, transportation, accommodations and the Alcatraz tour.

$959.24 USD – This price includes everything I spent in San Francisco, excluding the cost of flights.

Average Cost Per Day Per Person:

$159.87 USD per day which includes everything spent in San Francisco (excluding flights)

Breakdown of Travel Expenses – How Much Did I Spend?:

Activities/Sights/Attractions:

The only attraction that I paid money to see was a tour of Alcatraz, which costs $37 USD. All of the other attractions that I went to were completely free.

Flights:

I paid $538.36 CAD for my flight from Winnipeg, Canada to San Francisco, CA (with a connection in Calgary, Canada on the way there and Vancouver, Canada on the way back).

I purchased my flights about 7-8 weeks in advance of my trip, using the WestJet airline website. The flights had originally been priced at over $700 CAD, but I was searching the airline website on a Tuesday evening and noticed that they were now on sale. I ended up getting a great deal!

Food:

I spent a total of $162.49 USD for groceries and eating out while in San Francisco. I purchased groceries to make my own breakfasts, protein bars for lunches, ice cream, and tacos for dinners.

My average daily cost for food was $27.08 USD.

Transportation:

I spent $57.75 USD on transportation in San Francisco. This included the $17 one-day pass to ride the cable cars, as well as BART and MUNI tickets for getting around within the city and to and from the airport.

My average daily cost for transportation was $9.63 USD.

Accommodations:

I spent a total of $702 USD per person for six nights for the Airbnb apartment rental, which translates to $117 USD per night. Hotels in the downtown area of San Francisco would have been much more expensive.

Notable Expenses:
Alcatraz Tickets: $37 CAD
Cable Car One-Day Pass: $17 USD
Golden Gate Transit One-Way to Golden Gate Bridge: $5.25 USD

Tips for Budget Travel in San Francisco:

Here are some suggestions for keeping your budget down while traveling in San Francisco:

Travel in the off season:

The high season for travel to San Francisco is in September and early October. This is when the weather is the warmest and the sky is the clearest. The weather is usually foggy, chilly (average of 17 degrees Celsius) and windy during the summer months. You would see the least amount of tourists during the winter and spring months, although it can be rainy during these times. However, when you visit a destination in the off-season, you can expect to pay significantly less for hotels and flights, which would save you money.

Cook your own meals:

If you want to eat as cheap as possible, you can purchase groceries from a local market or supermarket and make your own meals. I made my own breakfasts and bought protein bars to eat for lunches, as we were often on the go exploring the city, with no time to stop and eat lunch.

Find Cheap or Free Activities:

Even though San Francisco is a touristy and expensive city to visit, there are so many free and cheap activities and things to see in the city if you are on a budget. You can check out my detailed guide to these attractions here. If you do a Google search for “free or cheap things to do in San Francisco,” you will get lots of results. The only attraction that I paid to visit was Alcatraz, which was very reasonably priced at $37 USD per person.

The Golden Gate Bridge, Mosaic Steps, Filbert and Greenwich Stairs, Lombard Street, Mission District, Haight-Ashbury, Golden Gate Park, The Painted Ladies, Buena Vista Park, Mission Dolores Park are all free to visit, and there are many more.

Some of the museums and gardens in the city also offer free admission during certain days of the month, or certain times of the day.

Use Airbnb Instead of Staying at a Hotel:

Airbnb is a website that allows homeowners in destinations all over the world, the ability to rent private rooms in their houses or apartments for a fee. Some people even rent out their entire homes. If you sign up for Airbnb using this link, you will get a $25 USD or $33 CAD credit that can be used towards your first booking!

Airbnb rentals are awesome because you can have the comforts of home, stay in a variety of neighbourhoods and not be limited to just the downtown or other touristy areas, and you have the opportunity to meet some of the locals who can provide you with great recommendations on things to do and places to eat in the city. You can find many rentals that are cheaper than the hotels in downtown San Francisco.

I enjoyed staying in an apartment in the Mission District. You can read more about my Airbnb experience here.

Use the Local Public Transportation Instead of Booking Tours:

The local transportation in San Francisco is easy to use and convenient, yet I saw so few tourists actually using it, which surprised me. I suppose the more popular thing to do is book organized tours to the attractions that you want to go to, however, you can save a lot of money if you choose to get where you want to go independently.

San Francisco has the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) which is a subway-like train that take you from the airport to the Mission District and downtown San Francisco, as well to various suburbs. The MUNI city buses can take you everywhere within the city.

You can look up the train and bus schedules online or by using Google Maps.

How Did I Save Money for this Trip?

I have a separate savings account that I created through my online banking, which is my dedicated “travel fund.” On the morning of my pay day from my full-time job, I log in to online banking and immediately transfer $400 every two weeks from my primary savings where my check was direct deposited, into my travel fund. That equals a total of $800 CAD monthly that goes towards my travels. I know this sounds like a lot of money! But you can choose whatever amount you would like, depending on your financial situation, budget and current expenses and obligations.

I live with my parents and pay cheap rent, which definitely helps me save for travel faster. I also sacrifice a lot, in terms of my spending. I rarely go out to eat, I don’t drink alcohol, I don’t go to movies, I live minimally and frugally, I rarely go shopping unless it is for something that I need (and not just something I desire) and I eat a simple but healthy diet of mostly fresh fruits and vegetables. I also live about 5 minutes away from where I work and thus, save a lot of money on fuel for my car that way.

It’s not easy, but if traveling is a priority for you, you will have to find a way to make it happen and fit it into your budget. You will have to make sacrifices to save money. I suggest setting up a specific bank account for your travel fund and don’t touch the money in there, unless it’s for travel! Choose an amount of money that works for you and diligently transfer that amount to your travel savings whenever you get paid or set up your online banking to do it automatically, so you don’t forget.

San Francisco is a gorgeous city with so much charm, character, history and diversity. Although it is an expensive and touristy city, it is still a great destination for budget and independent travelers as well, and there are many ways that can cut down on your budget while traveling there.

Have you been to San Francisco? What was your budget like? How much did you spend?

Let me know in the comments.