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Frommer’s lists exact prices in the local currency. The currency conversions quoted were correct at press time. Since rates fluctuate, before departing it is a good idea to consult a currency exchange website such as www.xe.com to check up-to-the-minute rates.

The Value of the U.S. Dollar vs. Other Popular Currencies

  • US$ 1
  • Can$ 1.10
  • UK£ 0.60
  • Euro€ 0.72
  • Aus$ 1.07
  • NZ$ 1.16

It’s always advisable to bring money in a variety of forms on a vacation: a mix of cash, credit cards, and ATM cards. You should also have enough petty cash upon arrival to cover airport incidentals, tipping, and transportation to your hotel before you leave home. You can always withdraw money upon arrival at an airport ATM, but you’ll still need to make smaller change for tipping.

The most common bills in the U.S. are the $1 (a “buck”), $5, $10, and $20 denominations. There are also $2 bills (seldom encountered), $50 bills, and $100 bills. (The last two are usually not welcome as payment for small purchases.)

Coins come in seven denominations: 1¢ (1 cent, or a penny); 5¢ (5 cents, or a nickel); 10¢ (10 cents, or a dime); 25¢ (25 cents, or a quarter); 50¢ (50 cents, or a half dollar); the gold-colored Sacagawea coin, worth $1; and the rare silver dollar.

What Things Cost in San Francisco (US$)

  • Taxi from SFO to downtown: $60
  • Inexpensive hotel room, double occupancy: $120–$150
  • Moderate hotel room, double occupancy:$150–$200
  • Cup of small coffee (Peet’s or Starbucks): $2
  • 1 gallon of regular gas: $4
  • Admission to museums: $10–$35
  • Glass of Napa Valley red wine: $10–$15
  • Bus or streetcar fare for adults: $2
  • Cable car fare: $6

Credit cards are the most widely used form of payment in San Francisco: Visa (Barclaycard in Britain), MasterCard (Eurocard in Europe, Access in Britain, Chargex in Canada), American Express, Diners Club, and Discover. They also provide a convenient record of all your expenses and offer relatively good exchange rates. You can withdraw cash advances from your credit cards at banks or ATMs, but high fees make credit card cash advances a pricey way to get cash.

It’s highly recommended that you travel with at least one major credit card. You must have a credit card to rent a car, and hotels and airlines usually require a credit card imprint as a deposit against expenses.

ATM cards with major credit card backing, known as “debit cards,” are now a commonly acceptable form of payment in most stores and restaurants. Debit cards draw money directly from your checking account. Some stores enable you to receive cash back on your debit-card purchases as well. The same is true at most U.S. post offices. Make sure your rental car company accepts debit cards; some require you to have a very large dollar amount available for them to “hold” until you return the vehicle in perfect shape. Other rental car companies do not accept debit cards.

Beware of hidden credit card fees while traveling. Check with your credit or debit card issuer to see what fees, if any, will be charged for overseas transactions. Recent reform legislation in the U.S., for example, has curbed some exploitative lending practices. But many banks have responded by increasing fees in other areas, including fees for customers who use credit and debit cards while out of the country—even if those charges were made in U.S. dollars. Fees can amount to 3% or more of the purchase price. Check with your bank before departing to avoid any surprise charges on your statement.

The important advice is to check with your bank before you travel, to find out about any fees and let them know you're going (so you don't find yourself turned away as a fraud at the ATM).

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.