San Francisco is the commercial center of Northern California and can be an expensive place to visit. If you want to stay in San Francisco but are on a limited budget, there are ways you can get free or cheap accommodations. There are many websites, like Airbnb and Hostelworld.com, that offer reservations for affordable rooms. If you're really strapped for cash, you can try to stay with a friend, camp out, or use a hospitality exchange like Couchsurfing to stay somewhere for free.
EditGetting Discounted Rooms
- Compare room rates on a variety of booking sites. Search for hotels or motels on a variety of different booking sites to find the best deal. If you find a room that you want to stay in, look it up on competitor websites and see if you can get a better deal.
- Popular websites to use include Booking.com, Priceline, Hotwire, Orbitz, and Expedia.
- Use discount websites to find deals. Sites like LivingSocial Escapes and Groupon Getaways sometimes have discounts on places to stay in San Francisco. After looking at the traditional accommodation websites, take a look at these discount sites to see if you can find any good deals.
- Read the fine print and take note of additional fees before finalizing your reservation.
- Call the hotel or motel directly instead of booking online. Ask the hotel if they have any deals or promotions on rooms. Most hotel and motel chains will match a price that you found online. If the rooms they offer are more expensive than what you found online, ask them if they will match the price. 
- Hotels and motels are most likely to offer deals on non-peak seasons and on weekdays.
- Non-peak seasons are November through April while peak seasons are May through October.
- Purchase someone else's reservation if you don't mind last-minute booking. Sites like Roomer allow people to sell room reservations that they can no longer fulfill. Typically, these cancellations are made due to last minute travel changes. Though you can find high-quality rooms for cheap using this method, you might be cutting it close when you book your room.
- Stay at a hostel instead of a hotel or motel. Hostels are like hotels or motels but are cheaper and have shared living and cooking areas. Popular hostels in San Francisco include HI San Francisco, USA Hostels San Francisco, and Amsterdam Hostel. A night’s stay typically ranges from $30 - $100 USD.
- Find hostels in San Francisco on websites like Hostelworld.com and USA Hostels.
- Book your room 2 months in advance to save money. Booking last-minute is more expensive than getting your room in advance. Try to plan out your trip and book your accommodations 2 months in advance to avoid peak booking fees and overpriced rooms.
- Booking further than 2 months in advance won't typically save you more money.
- Consider staying outside of San Francisco to find cheaper accommodations. If you can’t find cheap accommodations in San Francisco, consider staying right outside of the city. Use Bay Area Rapid Transit, or BART, to cheaply travel from outside of the city into San Francisco. You can use tools like Google Maps to plot your trip before you leave.
- Affordable towns outside of San Francisco include Oakland and Berkeley.
- Taking the BART from Oakland to San Francisco costs under $3 USD.
- Once in the city, use public transportation like Muni buses or the Metro train to save money.
EditRenting an Apartment
- Rent an entire apartment instead of staying at a hotel. People can put their apartments up for temporary rentals on websites like Airbnb, Wimdu, and Roomorama. You can rent their apartments and have access to an entire apartment in San Francisco. Renting an apartment is typically around 1/3 the cost of booking a hotel room.
- As an added bonus, you’ll also have contact with a local who can tell you about fun things to do in the area.
- Get a private or shared room instead of an entire apartment. If you want to spend less money, you can rent a private or shared room instead of an entire apartment. Single rooms are typically around 1/2 to 1/3 the cost of renting an entire apartment or house. While it's a smaller space and you won’t have access to amenities in the house like the kitchen, it’s a good option if you’re trying to save money.
- Visit San Francisco during the off-season for cheaper options. Instead of traveling to San Francisco between May and October, try traveling there November through April. The city receives fewer visitors in these months, and therefore will be offering cheaper rooms!
- You can typically find rooms for 15%-30% cheaper during the off-season.
- Many Californians take weekend trips to San Francisco. If you can, try planning your trip during the weekdays for cheaper deals.
EditFinding Free Accommodations
- Stay with family and friends who live nearby. If you have a friend or family member who lives in or around San Francisco, you can ask if you can stay with them. Ask them well in advance, and try offering to help with chores or errands while you stay. If they say yes and let you stay at their place, make sure to respect their space and their belongings when you stay there.
- You can ask by saying something like, “Hey, I planned on coming to San Francisco from December 11th to the 15th. Do you think I could stay at your place? I’ll help with chores while I’m there.”
- If you have the money to spare, you should offer to help pay the utility bills for the time that you spent there.
- If your friend or family member says no, accept their decision and find other accommodations.
- Find a free bed on a hospitality exchange website. Hospitality exchanges can connect travelers with San Francisco residents that are willing to let someone stay at their place for free. Websites like Couchsurfing, Global Freeloaders, and Hospitality Club offer listings from places all around the world.
- Before committing to a place, read customer reviews to make sure that the person is a good host.
- The listing that you select should be verified by the website and their profile should be completely filled out.
- Use an online home exchange program if you own a home. Sites like Homestay, Love Home Swap, and Home Exchange, allow you to swap homes with another family for a period of time. Search these sites for listings in San Francisco. Then, contact the homeowner and sort out the details for the exchange.
- Some home exchange programs have a monthly fee associated with the service.
- The monthly fee can range anywhere from $2 USD to $25 USD per month.
- Camp at a free campsite. The Bicentennial Campground is free during certain times of the year. When you camp, you'll have to bring your own tent, sleeping bag, and camping equipment.
- To reserve your spot, visit https://www.nps.gov/goga/planyourvisit/camping.htm. 
- Other campsites like Angel Island, Kirby Cove, and Anthony Chabot only cost $20-$25 USD for a night of camping and can accommodate larger groups of people.
- Don't book a place just because it is cheap. Remember to read user reviews and avoid staying in places that have negative reviews regarding safety.