Party or Bust: Surviving the San Francisco Scene on a $20 Budget

Let’s face it, San Francisco is crazy expensive. Between $7 beers, $40 meals, and an average rent higher than all the illustrious hippies combined, partying without going broke can be like The Cure performing at your bestie’s wedding: an awesome, but highly unlikely scenario.
How to Survive the San Francisco Scene on a $20 Budget
Sara Mekinc

Speaking of scenarios, picture this: you find yourself in Fog City with your last $20 bill in your pocket. As a responsible adult, you naturally decide to say: “Screw it, I’ll blow it on some music and drinks.” But in a city of monetized-everything, can this even be done? And if so, where?

Good news: you totally can! We’ve dug out a couple of spots where you might get a bang for your buck. Based on the available info on average cover charges and drink prices, our money is on these 7 stand-outs.

Amnesia is a local favorite, as it combines a fine selection of live entertainment, ranging from comedy to concerts, with an equally solid selection of craft beers. It remains unknown whether that particular combo is what inspired the club’s name. Described as “the little neighborhood music bar that could”, Amnesia hosts regular Bluegrass, Jazz, and Indie Rock events, and get this: often with NO cover whatsoever. With your 20 bucks, you can therefore splash out on 2 craft beers, and still be able to tip. Also, the place is dog-friendly. Bless!

If you’re looking for something more goth- or New-Wave-inspired, check out Cat Club. Welcoming 1980s Pop fans, LGBT crowds and any cool cat ready to party, the club raises the temperature with both intimate venue size and regular bondage events. Talk about “Whip It Real Good”, huh? Pop over a $10 cover charge, and spend the remaining budget on a beer or two.

Don’t just window-shop: Frisco can easily deliver on a budget, if you know where to look.
Source: Unsplash (Chester Wade)

Public Works is a haven for House and Techno lovers that likes to bring events to the next level with a top-tier sound system and impressive visuals. The minimalistic-looking hall is dedicated to “giving the people what they want”, which means a variety of events, ranging from performance art to Electronic bangers, with huge names like Nina Kraviz in the mix. The admission price varies depending on the artist/event (from $13 up to $100), so your $20 might just be lucky and get you in. That being said, you’ll have to rely on the charity of strangers when it comes to buying drinks. Stay safe!

San Francisco knows how to handle money: business was so good during the Great Depression, not a single bank failed there.

Despite its name, Bottom of the Hill tops all the lists when it comes to affordable live gigs and a no-nonsense atmosphere. Blasting with Hard Rock, Alternative, Hip Hop, Soul, you-name-it acts, and serving drinks that pack a punch, this is a venue that has A LOT to offer. Heck, even Marilyn Manson and The Black Keys have rocked this joint! Expect to throw down around $15 for a ticket (cash only!), and, depending on your savings, enjoy your one beer or bottled water.

Live music, comedy, magic, prose, everything goes at The Lost Church. The funky little place promises a fun, friendly and relaxed night out in a unique setting, while their cash-only bar can hook you up with local beer and wine. Admission is usually set at $10, so you won’t go thirsty during the show.

Last but not least: your lucky stars might be perfectly aligned and there might be a festival in town. And if there’s anything better than a music festival, it’s a FREE music festival! The Golden City provides several each year, most notably the Stern Grove Festival in the summer and Hardly Strictly Bluegrass every first weekend of October.

Did you know the Beatles played their last full concert in San Francisco in 1966, but actually lost money on it?

Free outdoor concerts at Stern Grove satisfy every kind of music taste, but never at the expense of the line-up, as big names like Digable Planets or Janelle Monáe are likely to pop up. To complement the outdoorsy mood, the festival even allows you to BYOB. Yay! Mission accomplished!

And later in the year, Golden Gate Park welcomes you and your outrageous budget to Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, the annual non-commercial festival catering to fans of Bluegrass, Contemporary Country and Americana, delighting crowds with names like The Devil Makes Three, Kurt Vile, Calexico, Chuck Prophet, and many more. Here, too, you can bring your beer or wine with you, and visit a food vendor for snacks.

Our verdict: a landslide win for the festivals! Because free admission plus BYOB doesn’t just equal good times, it means you still can scrape together enough cash to grab a famous Mission-style burrito later. Who says money can’t buy happiness anyway?

Here’s how much of your $20 budget each of these items would take in San Francisco.


Cover photo:  Mirza Babic (Unsplash)



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Sara Mekinc

Sara Mekinc

Content Specialist at Viberate
Avid concert-goer, a sucker for creative wordsmithery, and 100 % biodegradable. Google "melomaniac".