A good base

San Francisco for Less: Day One

Our hotel was the San Remo, a 1906 European-style pension decorated with ferns, flowery comforters, and wood armoires, and located in North Beach. The lively neighborhood is packed with pastry shops and trattorias, an inheritance from the district's Italian settlers of a century ago.

The San Remo Hotel is one of the best deals in the city―if you don't mind sharing a bath. At $75 a night, the inconvenience was worth it; other North Beach hotels we checked out ran close to $200 a night. Two nights, including 14 percent hotel tax: $171. (Another good choice in North Beach is the Hotel Bohème; though rooms are pricier, they have a funky Beat-era charm.)

On our first foray, we jogged northwest up Columbus Avenue to the San Francisco Maritime Museum (free) for a peek at ship artifacts and a nice view of the bay. We strolled past the piers and museums at Fort Mason and the St. Francis Yacht Club all the way to the city's wave organ. San Francisco Bay plays this natural musical instrument through pipes that amplify the waves' sound. We gazed out at the water, listening to the groan of the pipes, and spotted two sea lions offshore peeking at us.

The long walk back covered several neighborhoods: In the gardens of the Palace of Fine Arts (free), we peered up at the muscular maidens atop architect Bernard Maybeck's columns built to resemble Roman ruins for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition. Nearby, the Marina District's Chestnut Street was lined with upscale boutiques that made for fun window-shopping. After climbing the Chestnut stairs, we popped into the San Francisco Art Institute, where edgy student paintings and sculptures are displayed in the Spanish mission-style courtyard and works by international artists are exhibited at the institute's Walter and McBean Galleries (free). Plus, the back patio has incredible views of North Beach and the bay.

Several locals had recommended L'Osteria del Forno for its big plates and small prices. They were right: The little Italian eatery in the middle of North Beach has delicious homemade ravioli and tasty soup, which revived our tired legs. The tab for two appetizers and two entrées (including tax and tip) was $39.43.

DAY ONE
$359 in pocket

Two nights at the San Remo:
$171 ($188 remaining)

Exploring the waterfront and San Francisco Maritime Museum:
FREE

Marina District shopping and San Francisco Art Institute galleries:
FREE

Ravioli and soup dinner at L'Osteria del Forno: $39 ($149 remaining)