Staying outside San Francisco to Save Money? Don’t. It won’t.

I’ve had guests tell me they are planning to stay at a hotel outside San Francisco to save money. Unless you’re getting a significant break, say $150 bucks a night, it’s not going to be worth it. And if the difference between a moderately priced room in the city and one near the airport is $150, enjoy the cigarette burns in the carpet, low water pressure, and sharing the mattress with bedbugs. That amount you’ll save to stay in a reasonably decent hotel outside the city is between $50 and $80.

There are many reasons people think staying outside the city at cheaper hotel makes economic sense. All but one reason is wrong, and even that reason which might justify staying near the airport instead of San Francisco proper is suspect. If you have an early morning flight which requires that you’re up before the crows, maybe, maybe it makes sense. Other than that, it’s a bargain as false as a payday loan.

Often the decision will be considered because the travelers have a car. They are on a road trip, and the hotels near the airport have usually free parking, whereas hotels in the city will charge up to $60 a day to park. But if you drive into the city it is going to cost about that much to park in a garage for the day. Because a significant source of the city’s revenue is from parking violations, getting a spot on the street is risky. The signage indicating where and how long you can park is confusing as the fine print on a refi document. Driving in the city is not for the uninitiated, and don’t think “But I have GPS.” The GPS goddess doesn’t live here, doesn’t like you, and is usually drunk.  Getting in and out of San Francisco, and in the city itself, is a nightmare because of the thousands of Uber and Lyft drivers clogging the roads like Paula Deen’s arteries.

What about leaving the car at the hotel, and taking public transportation into the city? If you’re taking an Uber, Lyft, or taxi, a round trip is going to cost as much, if not more, than parking in the city. Public transportation is cheaper, but not significantly so.

Even if the savings in money pencils out, and it won’t, but if you’re willing to justify saving $30 day, you’re going to pay with the time and hassle it costs to commute.

At an outside hotel, the first thing that greets you in the morning is the mediocre breakfast. After that disappointment, instead of being able to walk outside and start having fun in the city, you have to get to the city. That’s going to take 30 minutes, providing you go between 10am and 2pm and after 8pm at night and even then that’s only if the travel angels take pity on you, which they won’t, because they’re getting hammered with the GPS Goddess. So assume at least 45 minutes to an hour each way. That’s a lot of time commuting when you could be relaxing. And if you’ve booked your private tour with me, I charge extra for a pickup outside the city, and the clock starts when at the hotel. That can get pricy, and that money can be spent on better things like food and wine bars.

If getting into the city in the morning isn’t a trial, and it will be, going home at night will give you plenty of time to regret you’re spending the last hour of your vacation day on a freeway instead of in a wine bar. Do you really want to spend the day exploring the city, having a nice dinner, a couple of drinks, and at the end instead of a pleasant walk back to your hotel, you have to somehow schlep back to your airport lodging and all the disappointments it contains and is surrounded by.

Staying outside the city makes no sense. The money you might save is spent on crushing your soul. Save your soul, enjoy yourself on vacation, and stay in San Francisco.

2 thoughts on “Staying outside San Francisco to Save Money? Don’t. It won’t.

  1. As a San Franciscan, when I came back, twice I stayed in the city, two other times near the airport or in the area, outside is better, you just got to know where, Of course have fellow classmates who live and work in the area helps.

    • Hi Ernest,
      Thanks for the comment and taking an interest in Small Car Big Time Tours.
      It sounds like you are an expat. I hope you left by choice and not driven out by the insane rents.
      You bring up a couple of advantages you have that most travelers to San Francisco lack.
      You have knowledge of the city. You know your way around. You also have friends in the city. They might have picked you up and dropped you off at the hotel.
      While I’m sure you classmates are fine folks, such as yourself, I doubt they would be willing to pick up strangers from hotels outside the city.
      And regardless of the financial savings and kindness of strangers, there is the time factor.
      Unless someone really likes being on a freeway at the beginning and end of the day, staying at outside hotels is a mug’s game.

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