Free Things to Do in San Francisco – 18 Must-Try Activities

A west coast oasis of art deco architecture, sprawling parks, and unparalleled art museums, the Golden Gate City has long captured the imagination of intrepid travelers.

However, San Francisco is far more than Michelin-starred restaurants and luxurious catamaran cruises. This bustling metropolis is home to heaps of gratis attractions, activities, and landmarks. Follow along to discover the 18 best free things to do in San Francisco.

Let our experts act as your San Francisco city guide to complementary fun. From sea lions to the radiantly orange Golden Gate Bridge, there’s so much to explore.

Achieve your zen in the Japanese Tea Garden, or work up a sweat as you climb Twin Peaks.

From enjoying the spooky tunes of a wave organ concert to learning about the history of the ubiquitous cable cars, San Fran delivers tons of tourist entertainment for a steal.

San Francisco Hotels

Ready to preserve that vacation budget? Before we dive into all of the free things to do in San Francisco this weekend, we suggest you sort out your accommodations. While we’ve yet to find a way to procure free hotel suites, we can offer sizzling savings with a variety of our San Francisco Hotels.

From elegant rooms just moments from Union Square to nautical theme rooms serving up sweeping Bay views, our hotels offer up the ideal spot in which to tackle the city’s top attractions.

a photo of a bedroom
photo credit: Hotel Abri via Facebook

Things to Do in San Francisco for Free

Wander around a quaint wharf, score some epic bridge photos or check out live animal exhibits at the Randall Museum. Whether you are in the mood for windswept self-guided walking tours or want to hang out with some barking mammals this Northern Californian haven delivers!

California Welcome Center

Is it your first time visiting ‘Frisco? If you feel like you could benefit from the 411 on this mecca of Fog, wine, and more, then swinging by the Visitor Center would be advisable. The California Welcome Center is located at Pier 39 and features city guides, tourist information, and maps.

Pop in for a chat with the knowledgeable staff who are always offering free advice and city guides. In addition to helping you plan your gratis itinerary, visitors can also take advantage of internet access, luggage storage, and both wheelchair and stroller rental services at the center.

Pier 39

While there are rafts of retail and restaurants to explore at Pier 39, what really captures our hearts are the gang of world-famous Sea lions who have made this marina their home.

Related Post: 12 San Francisco Hidden Gems You Don’t Want to Miss

Since 1990 hoards of these barking, whiskered pinnipeds have made the dock their home. Sneak on by to score some photos of these boisterous marine mammals as they soak in their daily vitamin D.

sea lions laying on pier 39 at sunset in san francisco californiaExplore Fisherman’s Wharf

Pull on that favorite cable knit sweater and pack up a thermos of coffee or hot cocoa to accompany your coastal exploration of Fisherman’s Wharf. Located in the northern waterfront area of the city, this charming neighborhood is a popular tourist attraction.

Known for its fishing fleet, quaint shops, and seafood, it’s well worth an early morning stroll. While window shopping is free, we suggest squirreling away a few bucks to taste some creamy chowder or fresh sourdough boudin.

Golden Gate Bridge

Complete your sojourn to San Francisco when you marvel at one of the world’s most recognizable bridges. Clear out that memory card as you’ll want to snap endless photos of this architectural marvel of design and engineering.

Constructed in 1933, the Golden Gate Bridge delivers a moody, panoramic vista of San Francisco Bay. Vibrantly colored in International Orange, you can cross the 1.7-mile bridge by foot or bike.

ground view of Golden Gate Bridge with bay at sunset in San Francisco, California, USAGolden Gate Park

Sun-soaked picnics, free museum visits, and drum circles oh my! Golden Gate Park’s over a thousand acres of green space contains a plethora of free attractions for both tourists and locals alike. Revel in the blooming bulbs of the Tulip Garden, catch a boat race, courtesy of the San Francisco Model Yacht Club, or tackle the trail to Rainbow Falls.

Related Post: 13 of the Most Entertaining Things to Do in San Francisco with Teenagers

Plan for a free museum day when you visit the de Young Museum as a San Francisco resident. Or, work on achieving inner peace in the company of koi ponds, pagodas, and regal lanterns at the Japanese Tea Garden.

Flowers and People sitting on a blanket at the Conservatory of Flowers at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, California, USAAsian Art Museum

Ready to travel east? Explore works of staggering cultural beauty and significance without ever leaving the Bay Area when you swing by the Asian Art Museum. Conveniently located across the plaza from City Hall, the museum houses a collection of over 18,000 works.

Discover masterpieces more than 6,000 years old, or admire Hindu deities sheathed in bronze. From exhibits that explore art inspired by Bollywood, to treasured Japanese ceramics, and the oldest known Chinese Buddha there are diverse collections to admire. For complimentary admission come by on the first Sunday of every month.

Wave Organ

Unlike any concert you’ve ever attended, a performance by the Wave Organ manages to strike the perfect balance between weird and wonderful. Be sure to visit at high tide for an optimal display of sounds from this system of PVC tubes and concrete pipes.

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Built into the tip of the Marina Boat Harbor jetty the sounds will vary depending on the time of day you visit. Factors such as the wind, the waves, and certain tides will all make the organ’s bellows, splashes, and trickles more pronounced. Get as close as you can to a pipe for a personalized concert for one!

concrete structure built at the end of a pier with ocean and Alcatraz island in the background
Photo Credit: Marc Gadelin via Facebook

Fort Point

Calling all Hitchcock fans! Feel free to geek out over this Vertigo throwback when you visit this National Historic Site. While the fortification was initially built in 1861 to ward off Confederate attacks that never came, today this infamous spot is best known for its sweeping Golden Gate Bridge views and its appearance in Vertigo. Head here early in the day to scope out the scenery or enjoy a guided Park Ranger tour of the site.

Hike Twin Peaks

Who says you can’t stay fit while on vacation? Change gears from museums to mountains when you plan to hike the nature trails of Twin Peaks. Not to be confused with the noir TV program of the same name, San Francisco’s Twin Peaks tops out at 922 feet in elevation.

Originally called ‘Los Pechos de la Choca’ by early Spanish settlers, today this park and subsequent climb offers visitors a unique opportunity to observe how San Francisco’s landscape looked prior to development.

Observe lush areas of grassland, coastal scrub, and more as you keep your eyes peeled for the endangered Mission Blue Butterfly, brush rabbits, and coyotes. Take in the peak’s staggering 360 views when you hike the .7-mile trail or combine it with additional trails on the southern and eastern slopes of the park for more vigorous exercise.

view of San Francisco, California USA skyline from the Twin Peaks subdivision

Legion of Honor

Sculpture, Greco-Roman architecture, and cutting-edge art exhibitions entice visitors with an artistic eye to the Legion of Honor. Take some time to explore the outdoor grounds of this stunning art museum and you’ll be blessed by Joan of Arc statues, Rodin’s the Thinker and more.

Related Post: 5 of the Best Museums in San Francisco

Don’t forget to enjoy the opulent Salon Dore inside, or take a peek at temporary installations such as the works of John Singer Sargent or prints gifted by Crown Point Press. Score gratis tickets are available on the first Tuesday of every month or every Saturday for Bay residents.

City Lights

Bookworms unite! If you’ve ‘forgotten’ to pack those hiking boots, don’t fret. There are still plenty of free ways to occupy your time in SF without breaking a sweat. Get lost in the stacks at the legendary City Lights as you browse through staff picks, best sellers, and more.

This iconic bookstore was founded back in 1953 by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti and instantly became a hangout for the Bay Area’s literati. Check out their famous Pocket Poets Series or peruse their events schedule to sit in on a poetry reading, book discussion, or debate.

Wide shot of the exterior of City Lights San Francisco in the evening with their lights on inside and you can see books through their tall large windows in San Francisco, California, USA
photo credit: City Lights Booksellers & Publishers via Facebook

Cable Car Museum

All aboard! Discover the story behind the infamous cable car when you stop by 1201 Mason Street. The Cable Car Museum offers an intriguing look behind the history of this ubiquitous form of San Francisco public transportation. In addition to uncovering the mechanics behind grips, breaks, and tracks, visitors will also be privy to a collection of historic cable cars, photographs, mechanical displays, and more.

Just one of the many museums in San Francisco that is free-to-visit, Cable Car enthusiasts will be able to peek at three antique cars from the 1870s and the only surviving car from the city’s first cable car company!

Tourists on Cable Car in San Francisco in San Francisco, California, USARandall Museum

Seeking shelter from a rainy San Fran afternoon? Don’t let a little fog damper your plans. Swing on by the Randall Museum in Central San Francisco for hours of biology, mechanics, and art. Little ones will love playing in the Toddler Tree House, while nature enthusiasts will be in awe of the museum’s live animal exhibits.

Get to know the distinct ecosystems of California from rich Riverlands to dry deserts. Admire the downy feathers of the Barn Owl, or try to count the scales on a slithering rough green snake. For some more underwater adventure, take part in ocean exploration as you watch deep-water footage from submersibles interact with ocean plankton, or touch a sea star.woman in coat and boots walking by the Painted Ladies houses with green trees in front in San Francisco, California, USA

Leisurely mornings filled with Fog, cafe au lait, and freshly baked sourdough bread, followed by afternoon strolls across the Golden Gate Bridge.

There’s something simply cinematic about a San Francisco vacation. Unfortunately, we are not all blessed with a blockbuster budget.

Thankfully, the Golden City is packed to the gills with free attractions, activities, and sights.

Soak in the seaside ambiance when you visit the picturesque Fisherman’s Wharf or develop a new appreciation for Buddhas and Hindu goddesses when you frequent the Asian Art Museum.

Get lost in the pages at City Lights, or channel your inner Kim Novak when you visit the stunning Fort Point lookout.

From towering Redwoods to cascading Golden Gate Park falls, there’s no end to the simple pleasure of San Francisco.

Tell us, What Are Your Top Free Things in San Francisco?

Did we miss any of the best free things to do San Francisco?

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Written by Isis Maya Nissman

A New York native, Isis-Maya spent most of her professional life working in TV production until a vacation whisked her away to Central...

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