Yes, you can live in San Francisco on a student budget.

Here are tips to explore the city without breaking the bank

It’s no secret that San Francisco is an expensive city to live in. What often does feel like a secret is this: It’s totally possible to live in San Francisco on a budget—even a student one. Below are some things to do that allow students to enjoy the city while not breaking the bank.

Where to eat


Hayes Valley—where SFCM is located—is home to some of the best places to eat. Steps away from the Conservatory on Hayes Street, cafes, restaurants, and a little fusion of both line block after block. Cheap eats aren’t in short supply near campus or when venturing to different parts of the city (which are super easily accessible). When asked to provide a list of spots where they often eat, current SFCM students recommended these:
  • DragonEats, Hayes Valley ($6-$7)
  • Saigon Sandwich, Hayes Valley ($4)
  • Gioia Pizzeria, Hayes Valley ($4 slice-$12)
  • RT Rotisserie, Hayes Valley ($5-$20)
  • Mercury Cafe, Hayes Valley ($3-$10)
  • Alamo Square Cafe, Alamo Square ($2-$7)
  • Teds Market & Deli, SoMa ($4-$10)
  • Taqueria Cazadores, SoMa ($4-$11)
  • La Taqueria/El Farolito/Pancho Villa for Mexican Food, Mission District (Cash only, $10)
  • Breakfast Little, Mission District ($5-$10)
  • Stable Cafe, Mission District ($3-$12)
  • Food @ Manny’s, Mission District ($9-$12)
  • Arizmendi Bakery, Mission District ($4-$12)
  • Liguria Bakery, North Beach (Cash only, $6-9)
  • Anywhere in Chinatown (Good Mongkok, AA Bakery, etc.)

How to get around


San Francisco is one of the world’s most easily accessible cities—especially as a student—because:
  • There’s no need for a car.
  • Public transportation is actually good. MUNI (the bus) and BART (the subway) go most places and…
  • Everywhere else is accessible on foot (daily exercise) or by bike.
  • Bonus: SFCM students get a free MUNI pass, so anywhere in the city is truly theirs to explore.

Where to go


People say the best things in life are free. Well, some of the best things to do in San Francisco are either totally free, the cost of a metro away, or under $30. FuncheapSF and DoTheBay offer lots of resources to check out, but below are some great places to start with:

SF Jazz, SF Symphony, and SF Opera
SFCM students have access to a limited number of discounted and free tickets through the Conservatory’s Box Office. SF Jazz, SF Symphony, and SF Opera also offer student rush tickets that vary in cost starting at $20 for the symphony. Each organization is a five-minute walk from the Conservatory.

Golden Gate Park
Modeled after New York’s Central Park, Golden Gate Park isn’t just any park...it’s huge (twenty percent larger than its east coast counterpart). It’s free to go for a walk, have a picnic, or visit the Japanese Tea Garden—well, sometimes free for the latter, though it’s only $8 to enter on other days. Shakespeare in the Park, observing bison at Buffalo Paddock, and the de Young Museum are some other fun park activities. And there’s so much more. Visit their website for the full list.

Twin Peaks Park
Arguably the best place in town to go for a hike and watch the sunset, Twin Peaks Park overlooks all of San Francisco. It’s also free to enter.

Grace Cathedral
A cultural landmark, the cathedral boasts some of the most gorgeous architecture and is known for its welcoming spirit—as well as a weekly donation-based yoga class.

Musée Mécanique
Located in Fisherman’s Wharf (a quick trolley ride from the Conservatory), the interactive museum holds arcade games from throughout the 20th century.

The Castro Theatre
This iconic theater hosts double-features most every night—as well as popular sing-a-long evenings—for around $14, or in other terms, two films for less than the price of a single ticket at most other big city cinemas.

Where to shop


Casual dress, concert attire, cost-friendly designer, or vintage—there are a variety of places to shop in San Francisco, regardless of budget or taste. Walking distance (or a short bus ride) from campus, students can shop at many clothing stores that offer good deals. Some stores include:

Best Value
  • ROSS
  • Marshalls
  • Burlington Coat Factory
  • Old Navy
  • H&M
  • Forever XXI
Best for Concert Attire
Uniqlo. (It has great, simple, black outfits.)

Designer on A Budget
Cary Lane SF on Haight Street. True to its tagline (designer pieces for outlet prices), this is a good spot to treat yourself after an audition.

Vintage/Thrift
  • Buffalo Exchange
  • Community Thrift Store
  • Crossroads
  • Out of the Closet
Where to Live
The thing to keep in mind when considering living in San Francisco is that for most residents, rent is by far the biggest expense. For students coming to SFCM, however, the Bowes Center provides guaranteed brand new housing, a kitchenette, living room, and views of the city in the heart of the Civic Center arts corridor at a fixed rate.

While San Francisco can be a pricey city to live in, it doesn’t have to be. There are tons of inexpensive places to eat around campus, no shortage of (free!) things to do, and everything is a quick MUNI, bike ride, or walk away. Plus, with nearly 300 days of sunshine a year, it’s more accessible than one may realize and full of inspiration for aspiring artists and musicians.

See what life at SFCM is all about.