Cheapskate traveler: San Francisco

Cheapskate travelers can tour exotic cities like San Francisco on $30 or less. That's 30 bucks — not the shopworn phrase used in tour books of $30 a day.

Many books estimate savvy travelers can venture around the Golden Gate city for $30 per day.

I'm fudging a bit on my $30 figure. The journey began in San Jose, Calif., where I was attending a seminar, and the $30 didn't include air fare to San Jose or lodging since it was a day trip to the Golden Gate.

I was stuck in San Jose, the 11th largest city in the United States, during a weekend so I wouldn't have to pay an enormous air fare. Many business travelers face the same problem of staying over a weekend in a less-than-exotic spot so they can afford to make the trip.

San Jose, near the hordes of nerdy computer developers who populate Silicon Valley, is not the greatest place to spend a Saturday before taking the redeye back to Daytona Beach.

The entertainment choices in San Jose include the weird Winchester home, which was perpetually under construction by the demented Sarah L. Winchester who lived there. I chose to skip the manse built by the heiress to the Winchester firearms fortune and its thousands of doors that lead nowhere.

It's an easy drive to the wine country or Monterey and the Big Sur. But that meant renting a car or taking a tour bus. I was in San Jose without a rental car because my hotel was near the convention.

Using a little ingenuity, I planned my trip to San Francisco using public transportation. CalTrain's fare from San Jose to San Francisco is $4.25 each way. But on weekends cheapskates can get a pass good anywhere along CalTrain for $8. I saved 50 cents.

The 90-minute trip brings you to the CalTrain station within an easy walk of the Moscone Center. I chose the downtown loop Bus No. 42 and headed for Market Street. Cab fare would have been about $5 compared to $1 on the bus. I picked a stop near the Bay City's waterfront and walked to the Embarcadaro, the area between the waterfront and the financial district. I strolled through the farmer's market and couldn't resist a pint of bright red strawberries, which was placed carefully in a canvas shoulder bag I got free at the convention. It probably wasn't any cheaper than those found in a store, but much fresher.

Strolling down the waterfront, I headed for Fisherman's Wharf. It was nearly time for lunch and I wanted to see my friends the sea lions who have turned boat slips near Pier 39 into a permanent home. They were busy sunning themselves and napping. That was free. You can't buy that kind of scenery.

Hunger called. I moved on to the Boudin Pavilion for a bowl of chowder served in a hollowed-out loaf of sourdough bread with a side of steamed shrimp. Lunch was $8.73, a little more than what it would cost at the places at the end of the wharf.

At the foot of Hyde Street I walked up the hill to Ghirardelli Square. It would have meant instant death at the hands of my chocoholic wife to return without chocolate. The cheapskate was in luck. Chocolate squares were on sale. Bags of chocolate squares were $1.79 each. The same item in designer plastic boxes was $4 more. And the bags had more chocolate.

In all I saved $8 on what would have cost $16.

Next I walked back down the hill and around the Hyde Street Pier for a view of the bay. Across the bay, fog wrapped around the early afternoon view of the Golden Gate Bridge and beyond to the Sausalito Mountains.

The wind churned up white caps on the bay as sailboats crisscrossed. I sat on a concrete bench for more than hour. And, yes, I polished off those strawberries.

I walked back down the wharf towards the closest Bus No. 42 stop and headed around the downtown loop along Van Ness Avenue to California Street, where I got off the bus again.

It was fairly long walk up California to Nob Hill and Grace Episcopal Cathedral, home of the labyrinth, a draw to the faithful around the world. I walked the labyrinth contemplating the mysteries that God has not chosen to share with us. And I thanked Him for not sharing some of them.

My trip to San Francisco came on the 30th anniversary of the Summer of Love. I had no clue at the time that the real Summer of Love actually took place.

Had I wandered in another direction I would have been near the famous intersection of Haight and Ashbury streets.

Haight-Ashbury is now a little on the trendy side. The corner now hosts a Ben & Jerry's ice cream shop. That's a little too yuppified for those who were drawn to Haight-Ashbury during that famous summer.

It was a quick walk past some of the city's colorful row houses back to the closest loop station. Another dollar and I was headed back to the CalTrain station for the ride back to San Jose.

The cost of the day was $29.73.

I spent the trip reading the rest of a good book, John Steinbeck's "Cannery Row," set in Monterey. The trip to Monterey is another story.

For more information, contact your travel agent or the San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau, (415) 974-6900