20 Secret Bargains of San Francisco

With its dramatic topography, ethereal fog, appealing architecture, bodacious dining, and adventurous outlook, the City by the Bay would seem to have it all -- and in the 1990s, that came to include some of America's highest prices. Fortunately, Silicon Valley's dot-bomb crash has lowered food and lodging prices without seriously damaging the city's spirit (in fact, plenty of folks are just tickled pink). Take a look at the following, and you can leave your heart in San Francisco without leaving your nest egg.

1. No-Cal combos

Air/hotel combination packages can save you a bundle right from the start. An example: For departures on selected Mondays in August, America West Vacations (800/356-6611, americawestvacations.com/) offers airfare plus three nights at the San Francisco Hotel Cosmo beginning at $461 from Philadelphia or $475 from Miami. They also offer a three night air-hotel package at the San Francisco Drake Hotel for $515 from Philadelphia, $529 from Miami. A five-night package in March at the Clarion Bedford starts at $430 from Phoenix, $593 from Colorado Springs, or $596 from Newark. Other package purveyors include United Vacations (800/328-6877, unitedvacations.com/) and Delta Vacations (800/654-6559, deltavacations.com/).

2. Passing through 

Manic museum-goers may want to avail themselves of the CityPass, which for $36 includes a seven-day Muni Passport (see below) and admission to the Museum of Modern Art, the Exploratorium, Palace of the Legion of Honor, California Academy of Sciences/Steinhart Aquarium, and a one-hour bay cruise. But you'll need to do all four far-flung museums, or the cruise plus two museums, just to break even compared with full-price admission. Buy the pass at the first attraction you visit, or online at citypass.net/. Call 888/330-5008 for more info.

3. Down under--or halfway to the stars

At $3, a ride on a cable car is still one of the city's cheapest thrills. But they're just a tiny part of the city's extensive transit network, known as Muni. Bus and streetcar fares are $1.25 (exact change); transfers are free (upon request when fares are paid) and can be used for any two more rides within 90 minutes to two hours. For unlimited rides throughout the system, buy a Muni Passport -- $6 for one day, $10 for three, or $15 for seven (if you're in town Monday through Sunday, consider buying the weekly Muni pass the locals use -- only $9, plus another $1 per cable car ride). Buy it at the airport information booths near the baggage claim, the Visitors Information Center at Hallidie Plaza, and the cable-car turnarounds, among other places. Get yourself a system map for $2 at the info booths or most bookstores. Details: 415/673-6864, transitinfo.org/muni

4.Virtual visitors bureau

Get invaluable free orientation information before you leave at www.sfvisitor.org, which offers an overview of attractions and downloadable self-guided walking tours. Or download free "Diverse City Destinations" touring itineraries at destinationsf.com/ (or request them from the San Francisco Convention & Visitors Bureau at 415/391-2000 or P.O. Box 429097, San Francisco, CA 94142; you pay postage). Upon arrival, pick up these brochures, along with maps, transit info, and more, at the Visitor Information Center at Hallidie Plaza; Powell and Market Streets (next to the cable car turnaround).

5. Bay area beds

Yes, Virginia, there are affordable hotels in San Francisco, including the charming San Remo Hotel near Fisherman's Wharf (2237 Mason St., 800/352-7366 or 415/776-8688, doubles $65 to $95, all sharing spotless bathrooms) and the Mosser Victorian Hotel near the Convention Center (54 Fourth St., 800/227-3804, 415/986-4400, doubles from $59, with bath from $89). The motels lining Lombard Street west of Van Ness often have rooms for less than $100; ask for one facing away from the busy highway; amiable standouts are the Mediterranean-style Marina Motel (2576 Lombard St., 800/346-6118 or 415/921-9406, doubles from $75 in winter, $109 summer) and the Marina Inn (3110 Octavia St., 800/274-1420 or 415/928-1000, doubles from $65 winter, $85 summer). Two delightful (and economical) bed-and-breakfasts in the colorful Haight-Ashbury district are the Red Victorian (1665 Haight St., 415/864-1978, doubles from $86 with shared bath, discounts for three days or longer) and Inn 1890 (1890 Page St., 888/466-1890 or 415/386-0486, doubles from $89 with bath). Also try contacting Bed and Breakfast San Francisco (800/452-8249 or 415/899-0060, bbsf.com/), which arranges stays in private homes starting at $65 a night.

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.

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