How to explore and survive in San Francisco during few hours with $9 in your pocket (October 26th – October 28th 2018)

How to explore and survive in San Francisco during few hours with $9 in your pocket (October 26th – October 28th 2018)

Once I´m in America, let´s make it worth it!

This time I decided to make my dream come true – I went to visit one of the most expensive cities in the US, San Francisco.

Despite I like to plan everything into the very last detail and have everything under control in this trip I didn´t want to be in a rush anywhere and wanted to just enjoy the city. But then after I was talking to my friends I came to a conclusion that at least I should type down a list of things to see. And as I was typing everything down, I had created a completely detailed itinerary. Oooops….

Expected date and time of landing in SF: October 26th 2018; 8:33am

Expected date and time of leaving SF: October 28th 2018; 7am

Tip for travelers:

If you decide to visit Alcatraz, book tickets online in advance. What happened to me was that Saturday´s tickets were already sold out and there were only few tickets available on Friday morning. I booked the last possible entrance at 1:30pm.

Alcatraz – tip Nr. 2:

If you´re booking tickets through their official website and after you type down your credit card details the webpage turns off, before anything you do, check your bank account to find out if the payment has been processed. If it is so, then you´re good and you can expect tickets coming on your email. What happened to me was that the webpage turned off, so I was refreshing it over and over again until it was back on with an announcement saying that I don´t have enough money on my credit card. I got pretty surprised so I logged into my bank account and after 30 minutes I found out that every time I refreshed the webpage, I bought one ticket. So at the end I bought seven tickets to Alcatraz and I got broke! I called them immediately and they said that they´ll refund me but it might take few days. Few hours later I got an email about cancelling six out of seven tickets and they also needed me to call them again because they lost my credit card details…
As I said, after 24 hours I was still broke with $9 on my credit card… I was also thinking that maybe I told them wrong bank account details. But I didn´t think that my English was that bad… And what was more stressful was a fact that within few hours I was leaving to the San Francisco and I was grateful to me that I had everything already booked and I just needed money for food.

Small victory was also my Slovak VISA card that I can use at some stores (I don´t know why it doesn´t always work). I also forgot the pin code from that card but my little brother Prcek was awesome and he spent his whole evening trying to find a folder with my bank details and pin codes. Also this Slovak card is connected to my UBER and Lyft so that was a great solution of my airport shuttle.

— 11 hours before my departure —

Expected date and time of coming to the SF: October 26th; 8:33 has changed

We Slovaks like to say: One is aiming but the Lord is changing. Yes… I received a text message that my morning flight has been cancelled and that they rescheduled it on 3pm. I was glad that at least the day remained the same. I could have torn apart my Friday itinerary with Alcatraz visiting on the top. Even if they were able to let me go there on another time, the last entrance there was at 6:30 and I was just supposed to land at 5:12pm. So it was impossible to make it. I still had my hopes high and I told myself that I will somehow solve all this mess and enjoy San Fran! At least my food problem got solved a little bit since I didn´t have to care about it for the half day of Saturday.  

Day 1: October 26th 2018 San Francisco      

I slept pretty good, packed my things, prepared some food and protein snacks (that was supposed to be my whole trip food) and left to the airport. I got surprised that everything went well and around 5pm I landed on the San Francisco airport!

After we landed (and also during the whole staying in San Fran) I was so lucky that I brought my Slovak VISA card with me, because it literally saved my butt. Thanks to it my transportation problems got solved but I paid pretty much for: drive from the airport to Pier 39, from Ocean Beach to my hostel, on Sunday from my hostel to the Downtown and back and then to the airport. I know I could have use public transportation but since I didn´t have a lot of time to spend here, I decided to invest into transfers and see as much as possible. I paid around $100 for all of these transfers.

I have also noticed that the sunset is very early (it was at 6:30pm) so until we came to the Pier 39 it was already dark. My first stop was at Alcatraz tours. I told them what happened to me and they told me that my money are already on a way to me and that I can come to their tour tomorrow (since I missed it today). They also let me choose the time! I decided to come for the first morning tour at 8:45am. Then I went on a walk to Pier 39 (sea lions were already gone) and I took a bus to Alamo Square. There I sat down on a bench in front of the Painted Ladies, ate my dinner and went for a walk to the Ocean Beach. My first plan was to go there through the Golden Gate Park but it was after 9pm until I made it there. And the park is so big! It was dark and foggy and my whole life was in my backpack on my shoulders so I decided to rather take a bus to the beach. On Sunday I found out that the Golden Gate Park is bigger than I expected and you can spend here a whole day!

But back to the Ocean Beach. It was amazing! Just ocean, sand, shining moon on the sky and fresh autumn air. I was watching the Pacific and imagining how it would be awesome to be there, swim there and lay on the water. Beautiful! Then I took an UBER and left to my hostel. I fell asleep hoping and imagining better tomorrow.    

By the way I hope you like my unique quality of my pictures! I had two phones and I was trying all the settings but this is the best I got!

Day 2: October 27th 2018

I woke up at 7am and had to get ready for today. The morning wasn´t tragic at all. I “just” clocked the toilet and as I was trying to fix it, I made it even worse. Water in the toilet was at the top of it, I had to find the receptionist and let her know what I´ve done. I was so ashamed! I don´t know if this was good or not but the girl who was there wasn´t an owner – it was their friend since they left for a weekend vacation.

I told myself that even when my day didn´t start the best, it still can be a good day. Few minutes after 8am I was already at the Alcatraz Cruises and around 9am we landed on the place which I wanted to visit since I was 12! By the way the cruise lasted for 15 minutes only. But during those 15 minutes I´ve created a new Ultimate plan vol.2:  

8:45am-12pm Alcatraz

12pm-1:30pm Hop on Hop off tour (stops 13-18):

Palace of Fine Arts

Marina / Cow Hollow

Lombard Street (dvakrát som okolo nej išla a ani raz som nespozorovala jej krivky…)

Union Square North

Chinatown Gate

Portsmouth Square / Chinatown

2pm-3pm Walking tour in Chinatown

3pm Finish Hop on Hop off tour (stops 1-17 and end up at the Golden Gate Bridge):

San Francisco Visitor Center

Holiday Inn Fisherman´s Wharf

Washington Square / North Beach (I wanted to make another walking tour here – they show you places where movies and TV were recorded)

Embarcadero Center

Ferry Building

Union Square South

Hilton Hotel

Civic Center (complex of buildings with state and cultural organizations) 

Alamo Square (I was excited that I will see those houses also during the day but the bus doesn´t go around it. It goes by the next street and they just let you know that you can leave the bus here and walk on the other street to see it)

Haight Ashbury (hippie neighborhood)

Golden Gate Park

North Vista Point (Golden Gate Bridge)

And then to die at the end of the day.

9am-11am Alcatraz tour

As I´ve already said… During few minutes you appear in a different world. Welcome to the Alcatraz Island!

Around 5000 people come here daily to see the place which was a thread to all the gangsters of that time. There was a sign on one board that says: “Break the rules and you go to prison, break the prison rules and you go to Alcatraz.” After that there was another: “Alcatraz was never no good for nobody.”  – Frank Weatherman (last man who left Alcatraz).

After landing you get a map of a complex of buildings that are here. Then you move to the main building – the prison where you get an audio commentary that leads you around those buildings. I really enjoyed it and I´d come again! It was told in a very interesting way and it was so authentic that sometimes I had goose bumps. It lasted around an hour and then you can just walk around. Let´s say you can spend 2-2,5 hours here. The best thing is that ferry to San Francisco leaves every 30 minutes and your ticket isn´t connected with a certain one. So you can leave anytime. During the day they make a lot of different theatre shows that shows how it used to look like here back in the days. I would love to see that but I had to hurry up for my Hop on Hop on bus. At 11am I was already back in the city trying to figure out how to make it to the Palace of Fine Arts as fast as possible.  

11am-1:30pm Hop on Hop off

At 11am I left the port and optimistically went on a “short” walk toward to the Palace of Fine Arts. After an hour I realized that something that looks to be pretty close on a map doesn´t necessarily mean that it is close in real life too. That is a good advice! After an hour and a half I finally made it to bus stop that was probably the one I was looking for. There was no guide, no board, no information about the Hop on Hop off so I wasn´t sure. And it was on a way straight from a highway so I was confused. But patiently waiting for my bus… which actually came! By the way I really wanted to see the Palace but I couldn´t make it. Next time I have to take an UBER…   

Talking about Hop on Hop off I´ve already mentioned that the bus will not show you the Painted Ladies and you have to get off the bus if you want to see it. The same applies to a Lombard Street (it is the most crooked street in the world) and Palace of Fine Arts…

On the other side I really liked this tour. I appreciated the live guide who was interactive and funny. Those buses leave every 15 minutes and the whole tour lasts around 2 hours and 20 minutes (depending on the traffic). Also I chose for the company Big Bus who dispose by 22 buses.  

If you want to see the highlights of San Francisco I think Hop on Hop off is a perfect way how to do that and how to move between all the places. I paid about $40 and in the price there are 4 walking tours included which you can attend also during the following 7 days:

North Beach Walk

Barbary Beach Walk

Fisherman´s Wharf Walk

Chinatown Walk

2pm-3pm Chinatown

I told myself that despite everything is so far away here I can make it from Portsmouth Square to Union Square in 30 minutes. And I made it! Talking about those walking tour if you want to attend all of them it is actually possible to make them in one day. Difficult but possible. Each of them lasts around an hour and they are scheduled that way so you can attend all of them in one day.  

During this one you´ll see the biggest Chinatown in the world (out of the Asia of course) and the only American influence I´ve seen was celebration of Halloween. You won´t find there anything American, not even a Starbucks.

When I´m talking about those walking tours, in San Francisco there is something similar like Be Free Tours in Bratislava (and all around the Europe) – every day at 10am and 2pm on Union Square you can attend a Free SF Tour.   

Satisfied and completely exhausted I sat down on a bench because there was one final task I had to do today – fill out my postcards! I don´t think they are popular in the US because I bought 10 postcards for not even $3 which is almost the same price as in Sri Lanka!

And by the way, I think I forgot to mention that in the morning I decided that into my water bottle I should rather pour coffee than water, because I will need it more. I didn´t think that I might be thirsty and actually even more if I drink coffee. And one water bottle was almost the same price as all of my postcards! I was lucky when I went to one restaurant and I desperately asked them if they can give me some water (at that time I didn´t know you can get water for free in the US!). Later, in Chinatown I found a water fountain that saved my butt and I had to pour out my coffee and change it for water.

3:30-6:30 pm Hop on Hop off pt. 2

What was next thing to do? Finish my Hop on Hop off tour! I had to walk through beautiful small streets with Victorian houses down to the ocean to the San Francisco Visitor Center. I was assuming that I will catch the last bus. And I was very lucky (you´ll read pretty soon why) that I caught the one before the last one at 4:45pm. Also if you wonder how many steps I made today, it was more than 26 100.

I was so happy as I was already sitting in the bus. And when we moved I couldn´t wait to finally come to my Golden Gate Bridge. And as it was almost 6pm and we were just at the Civic Center, I realized that it was already almost the sunset! And I also remembered that around 6:30pm is already dark here!

There you go, here is what happened next:

6:10pm               I came to the point view Golden Gate Bridge

I ran out of the bus and looked around me. This was not the place where everyone is making pictures! But where it is then? I looked around me and there was a hill in the distance and I saw some people there. I was thinking that maybe that is the spot! I was just about to go there but I stopped and decided to make some pictures here as well – just in case that was not the place I was looking for. Or what if the sun falls down before I´d make it there?

6:15pm               I made about 20 pictures and in a panic attack I almost felt off the fence I was standing on. I left to that hill.

6:15-6:23           Some people might say easy hike, I´d say fight Me vs. Time. Completely covered by sweat and out of breath I finally came to my dream place. The sun was still shining a bit and I was asking people if they can make me few pictures of me. Then I finally took a break, sat down on a rock and with an amazing feeling of satisfaction I was watching the sunset. I closed my eyes and told myself: “You made it and you nailed it girl!”   

Few minutes after it was a completely dark outside and my phone battery was showing me last 16%. Then I realized that I need to finish my romantic moment and get an UBER back to the hostel.

When suddenly… I found out that I had no service up there. So I repeated my hike down the hill and then tried to get an UBER again. I failed. Three of the UBER drivers refused my drive and after several more long minutes of getting nothing either on UBER and Lyft, when my phone was just about to die, I sat down on the curb. I sat down and was trying to convince myself that I can walk at least on the other side of the bridge and then get an UBER from there. If my phone doesn´t die meanwhile…

And then… some kind of a bus parked at the parking lot. It looked just like a tourist bus so I went there to ask the driver if he can take me anywhere on the other side of the bridge. It turned out that it was a party bus! For my good luck the honored person had no problem with that and the driver was so kind that he let me charge my phone. It was such a relief! Around 9pm completely KO but satisfied I came back to the hostel and got ready for a night during which I couldn´t fall asleep because I set my alarm clock to 4am to catch the plane to Seattle. And as I was on the board I was so sad that this adventure was already over…

And at the end are you wondering what happened to the clocked toilet? Well… since the owners were gone, it just stayed clocked. At least they have two bathrooms there!


– Flight ticket       203 EUR

– Accommodation 94 EUR

– Transfers          41 EUR

– Sightseeing       44 EUR

– Alcatraz tour     34 EUR

– Food                5 EUR