A few weeks ago I realized I had a long weekend off work…with nothing planned! I scampered off in search of cheap flights while convincing Robb the best plan was definitely to leave town. We ended up finding $80/person round trip flights to San Francisco. That’s about as far as my planning went before I hit purchase on those flights.
As soon as I started looking into things to do + places to stay I realized something very important — San Francisco is expensive! It’s not quite as stupid expensive as Iceland is, but it was challenging to find a place to sleep at a ‘budget friendly’ price. I had already naively booked the flights so I had two choices — shell out hundreds of dollars for a place to lay my head or get creative. I opted to get creative, which is how we ended up in a historic hotel one night, followed by two nights in a camper van. It worked, mostly because we’re really good at vacation’ing in campervans!
What did we do when we got to San Francisco? In short, we walked around a lot + ate a lot. We hung out in a science museum, stared at crashing waves, hiked through Muir Woods National Monument + took in miles of beach views from the Dipsea Trail.
California Academy of Science
While I tend to pretend I’m too cool for cities that is sometimes a lie. After a morning of scoping out a few of San Francisco’s must-see sights [Coit Tower, Lombard Street, Golden Gate Park, etc] we talked ourselves into a trip to the California Academy of Science. We were thinking we could kill an hour or two in the museum before we went to pick up the Lost Camper campervan. We ended up spending nearly five hours there!
…just a few photos to prove it was five hours well spent! We saw a show in the planetarium, played with the ‘colors of the world’ display, eyeballed gigantic gemstones, walked through the rainforest, gawked at marine life, watched a coral reef dive, saw penguins get fed + checked out a swamp. All of this + we still managed to miss a section of the museum. Even this anti-city girl in me has to admit this was a pretty awesome stop + well worth the time + money.
After picking up the Lost Camper van we headed to the Lands End National Conservancy to meet a friend for a mini hike + delicious dinner. While we ate at a rather fancy Cliff House restaurant we decided our best bet would be to sleep on the beach…because cool kids eat expensive dinners then sleep in cars next to the beach!
We spent a good chunk of our Saturday driving around. After a massive breakfast [seriously, we had about 7 plates of food!] we headed to Muir Woods…except we didn’t have a reservation. Approximately 10 days before we arrived in California the Muir Woods National Monument started requiring advanced reservations for parking. We got lucky. Robb was able to book us a 1pm reservation while I was driving along the Panoramic Highway. While we waited for the afternoon to roll around we hit up the Dipsea Trail near Stinson Beach.
Our hike was short as we were still chasing after that parking reservation at Muir Woods. We found just enough time sneak a view of the Pacific Ocean + drive out to the edge of Point Reyes National Seashore before we had to head back toward Muir Woods. Highway 1 was closed for construction so we got another go at the Panoramic Highway…which really isn’t all that panoramic at all. It’s really just a very curvy road through a thick forest, but hey…there were some pretty epic view points.
Muir Woods National Monument
I wasn’t sure what Muir Woods would offer, but Robb has never wandered through groves of red woods, so it was obviously a must-visit. Turns out Muir Woods offers up a lot more than just red woods + the red woods are actually pretty lacking. I figured that going in, but now we just know we need to head to Yosemite + Sequoia in the near future!
We opted for a longer hike through Muir Woods, linking back up with the Dipsea Trail, since the first half of our day was a bit on the lazy side of things. Of course, I promised Robb a lazy Saturday then coerced him into about 7 miles of hiking. What can I say…I become a liar when nature tempts me with sunshine + dirt ribbons!
Our ‘lazy Saturday’ also included a stop by the Muir Woods Beach, just because we could. It wasn’t nearly as ‘crashy’ as the beach we slept near the night before, but it was beautiful. We arrived just in time to watch people prime the fire pits for an evening of shenanigans. They were wrapped up in puffy jackets + blankets as they carried cases of beer + bag of food toward the beach. Campfires were already blazing in the fire pits with speakers blasting all sorts of music nearby. Apparently this is what the cool kids do on Saturday nights in northern California…good to know.
Unfortunately, we’re not cool kids. Just before the sunset we headed out to grab dinner [we succumb to peer pressure + got In-N-Out…I don’t get it, it’s not very good!] then went off in search of a place to park for the night. We read that the Bicentennial Campground int he Marin Headlands had free camping until the end of January. That was the extent of the research we did, so we weren’t sure where we were going when we arrived in the dark. Luckily we found a flat parking spot at the campground with this view…
…yup, that’s the sunrise we woke up to on our last day in San Francisco. We opted for an early morning to make sure we weren’t racing the clock to catch our flight home. Once it was all said + done we could have probably lazed around a bit more Sunday morning. Turns out the city isn’t very awake before 8am. We had exactly zero issues returning the van, grabbing an UBER + finding our gate at SFO.
Then, just like that, we were back in Colorado where we spent the evening pretending we would not have to return to reality the next morning.
Want to know more about how we managed to plan a three-day weekend in San Francisco for less than $500?! I created a downloadable PDF with five steps that will help you plan a weekend away…on a budget! You can download it here: 5 Steps to San Francisco on a Budget.
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