Money & costs
The cost of living in San Francisco is high, but in general you get what you pay for – inventive, fresh cuisine, stimulating cultural events, plenty of fine art and good strong drink. But many of the best things about San Francisco are gratis: natural beauty, street festivals, park strolls, gallery openings, idle conversation. Others are damn near free, so quit whining and fork over a few bucks for a steaming bowl of Vietnamese noodles, tickets to take the N Judah metro line all the way to the beach, happy hour in Mission dive bars. With some resourcefulness you can live well beyond your means here, with set-price lunches, same-day or standing room only tickets to the theater or opera, and killer sales racks at chi-chi boutiques.
In case you haven’t already heard from some San Franciscan kvetching about the astronomical price of local real estate, accommodation will be your biggest cost in SF. Hostels and B&Bs are best to keep your rates under $100 – be wary of hotels listed ‘in the theater district’ that are actually deep in the hard heart of the Tenderloin and function as live-in hotels for the city’s transient population. Splashing out for a five-star hotel will get you Bay views and kind of an inconvenient perch atop Nob Hill, so opt for a smart boutique hotel if you want to be in the center of the action.
Unless you have places to be and internet deals to broker, car rental isn’t usually worth the price and mental taxation. Basic rental starts at around $40 per day without insurance, plus there are the ever-mounting gas prices to consider. Metered street parking often runs $4 for a couple hours (when you can even find it, let alone free street parking), and $30 fines will haunt you if you arrive even a few minutes past your limit. Overnight parking is often $35, unless you can get it validated by your hotel. By comparison, an average taxi fare runs $12 and Muni ticket costs $1.50 – but a car is essential for excursions along the coast or up to the Wine Country.
US dollars are the only accepted currency in San Francisco, though barter is sometimes possible on CraigsList (www.craigslist.com) and for under-12s at 826 Valencia. The dollar is divided into 100 cents, with coins of one cent (penny), five cents (nickel), 10 cents (dime), 25 cents (quarter), the relatively rare 50 cents (half dollar), and the equally elusive one-dollar coin. Bills can be quite confusing to foreign visitors, because they are all the same size and color; get used to carefully checking the corners for amounts. They come in denominations of $1, $2, $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100.
Debit/credit cards are accepted widely; bringing a combination of cash, traveler’s checks and cards is a good balance. Though there are exchange bureaus located at the airport, the best rates are generally at banks in the city. At the time of writing, the value of the US dollar had fallen against most currencies; for the latest rates, check out www.oanda.com, a handy currency converter site.
AmEx; 415-536-2600; www.americanexpress.com/travel; 455 Market St; 8:30am-5:30pm Mon-Fri, 9:30am-3:30pm Sat; 21, 71, F, J, K, L, M, N, T;
Traveler’s checks are still a handy cash backup in case your ATM card inexplicably stops working; the shop exchanges money as well.
Bank of America
415-262-4760; www.bankamerica.com; downstairs, 1 Powell St;9am-6pm Mon-Fri, 9am-2pm Sat; 5, 6, 7, 21, 31, 71 F, J, K, L, M, N; & Powell St
Though any bank can exchange currency, this branch of the Bank of America is the most centrally located and convenient.
Most banks have ATM machines, which are open 24 hours a day, except in areas where street crime has proved a problem (such as the BART stop at 16th and Mission). For a nominal service charge, you can withdraw cash from an ATM using a credit card; check with your provider about applicable fees.
Following are a list of phone numbers to report lost or stolen credit cards.
American Express (800-528-4800)
Diners Club (800-234-6377)
In the US, traveler’s checks in US dollars are virtually as good as cash; you do not have to go to a bank to cash them as most establishments will accept them just like cash. The major advantage of traveler’s checks in US dollars over cash is that they can be replaced if lost or stolen. For lost or stolen traveler’s checks you can call the following numbers:
American Express (800-221-7282)
Thomas Cook (800-223-7373)
Taxes & refunds
San Francisco’s 8.5% sales tax is tacked on to virtually everything, including meals, accommodations and car rentals. Grocery items are about the only items that are not taxed. Additionally, there’s a 14% hotel room tax to take into consideration when booking a hotel room.