Budget Guide 2013: San Francisco

san francisco
San Francisco has a well-deserved reputation for being expensive, but that’s not to say you can’t enjoy it to the fullest on a budget. The joy of this compact, walkable city is that you don’t need your own transportation. Remember, though, that food is the soul of San Francisco. That means loads of pop-up restaurants, street food, food trucks, farmers markets and ethnic bites for cheap. The cultural and multi-ethnic focus of the city also means there’s no shortage of art exhibits, festivals and parades, many of which are inexpensive or free.

The number one thing to do on the cheap? Walk! San Francisco is one of the world’s great strolling cities, with dozens of hidden stairways, garden walks, parks, narrow streets and bay views. There are even books devoted to the subject. If you want more of a historical, architectural or culinary focus, spring for an affordable walking tour of specific neighborhoods. Tip: If your feet are tired from all that trudging, one of the city’s best deals is the 60-minute “foot” massage – which includes head, neck, shoulders, back, arms and legs – at Delightful Foot Massage on Polk Street. And yes, it’s a reputable place.

If the weather is cooperating, take the ferry from Pier 41 to Angel Island ($17) and hike to a picnic spot (everything you need for lunch is right there; more on that in a minute). Since this is San Francisco, though, there’s a distinct possibility of crappy weather. No problem – hit the city’s plethora of museums or the Exploratorium (the latter is a must if you have kids with you). Most have free days. Check here for listings.

The way locals prefer to pass the time? Eating! Great food of almost every imaginable ethnic persuasion is so readily available in San Francisco. You can graze your way through the day for less than the cost of a mid-range dinner. Not hungry? Linger over a cup of exceptional – try Four Barrel in The Mission, and don’t forget a Bacon-Maple-Apple donut for later – and a good book. Used bookstores abound nearby.

Hotels

San Francisco has loads of scuzzy motels, but there are plenty of great places to stay, from hostel to boutique, that won’t bankrupt you. Avoid the depressing youth hostels located on sketchy side streets off of Union Square, the main shopping district, and the sad little motels in the Tenderloin (although there are some pleasant exceptions). For a little bit extra, you can have a more secure, peaceful and cleaner place to lay your head. Tip: Lombard Street just off the Golden Gate Bridge/101 is jammed with motels, most of which are decent, and usually offer parking – a precious commodity.

Fisherman’s Wharf Hostel at Fort Mason: This ain’t no ordinary, janky hostel. Situated in the historic waterfront buildings at Fort Mason, this attractive property with a cool, vintage nautical vibe straddles the border of the Wharf and Marina (which has a glorious green for strolling, kite-flying and soccer playing, as well as a beach). Dorm beds and private rooms provide wallet-friendly accommodations for all types, from young backpackers to older couples. There’s a free continental breakfast; clean, attractive rooms and airy common areas; loads of discounts and activities on offer; and a location that can’t be beat for views and convenience. From $28. sfhostels.com/fishermans-wharf 240 Fort Mason

Casa Loma Hotel: This sweet, 48-room, Euro-style hotel is centrally located in Alamo Square. The clean, spare rooms have a Scandinavian, modern aesthetic that gives off a hip IKEA vibe. Close to the park and famed “Painted Ladies” houses (think: title sequence of “Full House”). From $65 standard/shared bath.
casalomahotelsf.com 610 Fillmore Street

Hotel Des Artes: This swank, modern art hotel, a block off Union Square, is decorated with the current works of local artists. The special “Painted Rooms” are all unique (literally, the walls are murals) by emerging global artists, while standard rooms feature washbasins with shared baths. Seekers of San Francisco’s modern Boho scene will feel right at home at this kaleidoscopic boutique property. From $79.
sfhoteldesarts.com 447 Bush Street

Hotel Diva: Describing itself as, “sexy, modern, and fresh from a facelift,” this Union Square boutique hotel reopened last June. And it’s indeed seductive, from the gray and white color scheme with violet accents, to the sleek modernist trappings. Think the “W” with SF flair: nightly sake hour, fitness center, dog friendly and on the fringe of the rapidly hipsterfying Tenderloin. From $140 deluxe Queen.
hoteldiva.com 440 Geary Boulevard

Eat and Drink

Farmers Markets: You’re in Northern California, birthplace of the modern local food movement. That means year-round farmers markets, the most famous of which is the massive, Saturday Ferry Plaza Farmers Market on the Embarcadero (there are also smaller Tuesday and Thursday markets). Hit the market by 10 a.m., before the swarms arrive, and snack your way through the stalls. The Embarcadero itself has undergone a major renovation in recent years; it’s safe day or night, and populated with art installations and trendy cafes and restaurants. It’s also an ideal place for a long, bayside stroll or run on a sunny day.

The Ferry Building is a concentration of farmer- and artisan-owned shops featuring everything from estate olive oil to certified humane meat. Tip: Plan on buying a late breakfast or early lunch at the market. Top picks are the porchetta sandwich at Roli Roti’s stall (get there early or go hungry), anything from La Primavera’s stall, or a sit-down brunch at Boulette’s Larder in the Building (not served on Saturdays). If it’s oysters you want, hit Hog Island’s Raw Bar at the far end of the main hall. Then go stock up on edible souvenirs from Cowgirl Creamery, Miette (pastry), McEvoy Ranch and Recchiuti Confections.
ferrybuildingmarketplace.com One Ferry Building

Off the Grid: Every Friday from 5 to 8 p.m., a fleet of the city’s best food trucks arrives at Fort Mason, down in the Marina. Up to 40 sweet and savory vendors may appear on a given night, featuring street food as creative, multi-culti and adventurous as only San Francisco would have it. There’s music, views of the bay, Golden Gate and Alcatraz, and a seriously local vibe – this isn’t a tourist attraction. It’s simply a raucous, joyous, festival of flavor, San Fran-style. offthegridsf.com

Go Ethnic: Between the Asian restaurants of the Sunset and Richmond Districts (locals know better than to eat in Chinatown) to the diverse ethnic dives of the Tenderloin, you can indulge your inner glutton for less than a ten-spot. Best of all, adventurous eaters have almost every style of cuisine to choose from, as well as menus that boast authenticity (frog legs or sea cucumber, anyone?) Some of the best: Brother’s Korean and King of Thai Noodle on Clement Street (I don’t know why, but this is the only location that does it for me); Wing Lee Bakery and Burma SuperStar (Inner Richmond); and Shalimar, Pakwan, Turtle Tower and Osha Thai (Tenderloin).

The Mission: If you love Latin flavors, you won’t need to venture beyond this Hispanic neighborhood, where you’ll find excellent everything, from El Salvadorean to Peruvian. But the Mission is also the newest hipster ‘hood for craft foods, from coffee and chocolate (such as Dandelion’s “bar to bean” aesthetic) to modern Korean food. Check out the latter at Namu Gaji, or the insane happy hour deals at Wo Hing General Store ($6 craft cocktails to die for, and $5 for a bamboo steamer of shiu mai or plate of pork dumplings, 5:30 -7 p.m., daily). Whatever you do, don’t miss out on the baked goods at Craftsmen & Wolves (yes, you’ll pay $7 for a muffin, but it will have a soft-boiled egg encased within, as well as cheesy, hammy bits and it will fill you up for hours) or Tartine Bakery. Get there early to avoid a wait, and let go of guilt. One look in the pastry case, and you’ll understand.

Get Around

If walking isn’t an option, the bus, MUNI, will get you anywhere you need to go. Sure, it’s a crowded mobile petri dish and full of freaks, but do as the locals do. San Francisco is an easy city to navigate, since it really is a giant grid. Google maps makes things a snap on your phone or computer.

There are also the cable cars, which are just $6 a pop and always fun (they may not admit it, but locals love them, too), the trolley down in the Embarcadero/Market Street area, and BART, which covers the East Bay. It’s also the fastest, easiest way to traverse the Downtown, Financial and Mission districts of the city; otherwise the bus is your cheapest bet.

Budget Tip

One way to save a chunk of cash is to take BART to and from the airport (it services both SFO and Oakland). It will run you around $8, instead of a $50 cab ride, or $17 for a shared van, which can take well over an hour if you’re not the first drop-off. Even if you’re too far to hoof it to your hotel from the BART station, you’ll still save time and money, unless you’re staying out in the hinterlands of the city.

[Photo credit: Flickr user Trodel]

The best airline safety announcement videos

Air travelers have all been there — the plane is about to take off, but first we have to awkwardly look away or bury our noses in magazines to avoid paying attention to the safety announcements. They’re the same every time, so we always know that the closest exit may be behind us. But a few savvy airlines have come up with better ways to grab passengers’ attention. From stripping down to rapping, here are some of the best airline safety announcements you’ll see on board.

Thomson Airways
British airline Thomson Airways knows that cuteness always gets attention. When a plane full of adorable kids tells you how to buckle your seatbelt, you’re sure to listen:

Air New Zealand
If cute doesn’t work, sex always sells. Take this Air New Zealand video, which encourages passengers to “take a second look” at safety — and the body-painted flight crew:

To further prove they have a sense of humor, Air New Zealand released a blooper reel of the clips that didn’t make the safety video. After all, reciting lines wearing body paint can’t be too easy:

Delta Airlines
Delta is a little more subtle with its sexy announcements — but every person in the video is ridiculously attractive, with perfect teeth and not a hair out of place. YouTube commenters have even dubbed the main announcer “Deltalina” for her resemblance to Angelina Jolie:

Virgin America
International airlines aren’t the only ones who get to have fun. Take Virgin America’s safety video, which pokes fun at the various characters found on a typical flight:

Southwest Airlines
Southwest is known for its funny flight crews. This flight attendant brings the entertainment with a safety rap:

This Southwest attendant makes announcements American Idol-style, singing a parody of Beyonce’s “Single Ladies:”

Virgin Atlantic
When in doubt, use flashy graphics. Virgin Atlantic puts passengers at ease with its calming music and intriguing animation:

New York for sale, $35 million

It’s not as cheap as seashells, but New York is on the block for a new low price! Put up $35 million (though I’m sure there’s room to negotiate), and you could own the city free and clear. You can start smoking indoors and decide whether alternate side parking should have a future. And, snow removal will never be a concern again!

Did I mention this is New York, Dubai?

A group of 300 manmade islands has been based on real locations around the world. Grouped together, they form a living map off the coast of Dubai, inviting the wealthy to claim their territory. So far, the likes of David Beckham, Angelina Jolie (and Brad Pitt) and Rod Stewart have expressed interest. So has Michael Jackson, but I don’t think he realizes that he can’t actually set up his own laws there. Prince Albert of Monaco is said to be interested, possibly because buying one of these islands would triple the size of his country. Click to get a sense of who’s already spent some cash.

The $10 billion project began in 2003 by Dubai Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum along with Nakheel, one of the biggest real estate developers in the world. Their new “map” was completed two weeks ago. Already, Ireland, Shanghai, France and Siberia have been purchased. Along with New York, Chad, Mongolia and Saudi Arabia are open … but only if you have $20 million on hand.

Sorry Dubai, the money’s in my other coat. Maybe next time.

[Via NY Post]

[Thanks, Ron @ De La Concha, for the tip]

[Photo by Brian Sayler]

Brad and Angelina Travel in Style on $138million Yacht

How much would you pay to travel the world in complete and total luxury? If you’re Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, and money is no object, designing a boat to fit your needs could run you $138million.

That’s the story according to Mario La Via, an Italian boat builder with Privilege Motor Yacht. Although — while he confirms the order — he hasn’t said for certain that Jolie and Pitt are the buyers.

Regardless of who’s buying the ship, it sounds very impressive. Totally 240ft in length, it’s set to have 6 en-suite cabins with marble and gold bathroom fittings, a swimming pool, a gym — even a helicopter pad — all across 3 enormous decks.

With all the adopting the pair is doing, I guess they need the space.