21 Absolutely Free Things to Do in San Francisco

March 22, 2017

When you head out to the home of the Golden Gate Bridge, keep these absolutely free activities on your list of things to do.

While many think of travel and vacation as a luxury, we believe it’s a way of life. However, that doesn’t mean you have to break the bank every time you go on a trip. This rings especially true for those who want to travel to San Francisco, but aren’t keen on shattering their budget. Luckily for them, there’s a ton of free things to do in San Francisco. 21 and counting to be exact.

1) Golden Gate Park

The Golden Gate Park offers gorgeous views of the Golden Gate Bridge. In addition, visitors will find a park teeming with forests, lakes, gardens and museums. Some of the activities, such as the Japanese Tea Garden, does have an admission. However, it offers free admission from 9-10am on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings. The Park also hosts events like Hardly Strictly Bluegrass and Shakespeare in the Park are free to the public too.

As a bonus, be sure to go to the Hamon Observation Tower, located in the de Young Museum, for panoramic views of the San Francisco.

2) Cable Car Museum

One of the free things to do in San Francisco representing one of the city’s icons is the Cable Car Museum. These transport cars are synonymous with the city. As a result, touring this museum is a must.   Highlights include three cable cars from the 1870s.

3) Clarion Alley Street Art

San Francisco is known for its art scene. At Clarion Alley, there is an ever-changing street art scene. New murals pop-up overnight, so there’s always something new to see. Location: Off Valencia St., between 17th and 18th streets.

4) Golden Gate Bridge

Perhaps the most beautiful bridge in the world, the Golden Gate Bridge is one San Francisco landmark you’ll want to experience up-close. You can bike across it—or walk—which is preferable. This way, you can take your time savoring the sights and marveling at this architectural masterpiece. Note: The walkway is on the eastern side of the bridge and it is not open to pedestrians 24 hours a day. Please check the Golden Gate Bridge website for hours.

group of sea lions sun bathing on docs with sea gulls at Pier 39 in San Francisco, California, USA

5) Pier 39 Sea Lions

Something about sea lions just makes a person smile. At Pier 39, you can watch a bevy of these guys frolic and bask in the sun—all at no charge. The best time to see them is January through July.

6) Twin Peaks

The hills of Twin Peaks rise almost 1,000-feet. Accordingly, the views from this vantage point are seriously impressive. On a clear day, the location offers 360° views of the San Francisco Bay. Likewise, visitors can easily see landmarks such as Alcatraz and the Transamerica Building.

7) Art Galleries

If you’re looking for free things to do in San Francisco with a cultural twist, go to art galleries. Dozens of galleries offer free admission, so you can easily pop-in to see exhibits and displays. Some of the best include:

  • 49 Geary
  • Ratio 3
  • Diego Rivera Gallery
  • Luggage Story Gallery

8) San Francisco Giants

Okay, so technically you can’t go to a game for free. (I wish.) That said, you can watch a game for free from the archway along the waterfront promenade on the eastside of the park. It’s a picturesque place to catch a game when you don’t want to pony up the cash for a seat inside the bayfront stadium.

9) San Francisco Walking Tours

The public library hosts volunteer-led walking tours approximately five times a day. With a duration of 1-2 hours, the tours cover different neighborhoods and themes ranging from Chinatown to art to history. There’s sure to be one with a focus that will catch your eye!

Houses lining the street and a city view at Telegraph Hill - San Francisco, California, USA

10) Lombard Street

Known as “The Crookedest Street in the World,” Lombard Street is worth seeing just so you can gawk. Its design, which features eight hairpin turns, boggles the mind. Stand at the top of the street to get a great view of the San Francisco Bay and Coit Tower. Then, walk to the bottom to truly take in the twists and turns of this scenic street.

11) Baker Beach

The mile-long stretch of Baker Beach is pristine. In fact, it’s so breathtaking it’s considered one of the best places to view the Golden Gate Bridge. Complimented by seaside cliffs, surf, and the Marin Headlands, it’s the spot to go for serenely beautiful photos.

12) Film Screenings

Throughout the city, visitors and locals alike can enjoy free film screenings in local parks. Bring a blanket and some snacks, then cozy up to your snuggle buddy at these events:

  • Bernal heights Outdoor Cinema
  • Film Night in the Park (rotates between Union Square, Washington Square, and Dolores Park)
  • Mission Bay Park
  • University of California San Francisco

13) Presidio

Once a military base, the Presidio is now home to numerous visitor attractions, many of which are free. One standout area is Crissy Field. However, the Presidio is also home to a museum with cultural and historic exhibits, hiking trails, and picnic areas. Plus, free concerts and events are held on Presidio grounds, so there's always something to do here.

14) Literary Readings

This city has a thriving literary scene. As such, when you talk about free things to do in San Francisco author talks and readings have to be on the list.  The following stores host events throughout the year:

15) Farmers Market

Head to the Ferry Building to take in the local Farmers Market, which takes place on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday of every week. Walk through the market, savoring the sights and smells—which are all free. Take note, though, you’ll be tempted to buy something!

By Kevin Cole, CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

16) Palace of Fine Arts

As one of the most photographed sites in the city, the Palace of Fine Arts is undoubtedly beautiful. The neoclassical building, which surrounds a lagoon, combines nature and romance for a truly enchanting atmosphere.

17) Coit Tower

Admission to the top of Coit Tower does have a fee. However, you can visit the base of the tower and view its 1934 murals for absolutely no charge.

18) Crissy Field

With a bayfront location, Crissy Field is a top place to go for walking, biking, sightseeing and so much more. The area includes Fort Point, a famous WWII fort, and the Wave Organ, a wave-activated acoustic sculpture.

19) Grace Cathedral

Grace Cathedral is a gorgeous structure with numerous adornments. The Doors of Paradise, found at the cathedral’s entrance, are replicas from the Florence Baptistry. Additionally, the Chartres Cathedral labyrinth, The Life of Christ altarpiece, and AIDS Memorial Quilt are moving works serving to make any visit inspirational.

20) Street Festivals

You can’t talk about free things to do in San Francisco with discussing street festivals. These events pop-up throughout the city, each offering something unique to celebrate. Favorites include:

  • North Beach Festival
  • Fillmore Jazz Festival
  • Union Street Festival
  • Haight Street Fair
  • Cherry Blossom Festival
  • Bay Area Blues Festival

21) Seward Park Slides

Up for an adventure? At Seward Park, there are two very long and super steep concrete slides thrill seekers love to slide down. Many times, there are cardboard boxes handy you can use to sit on but bring your own cardboard just in case. Tip: To go super-fast, use wax paper!

Endless Free Things to Do in San Francisco

The excuse “a vacation to San Francisco is expensive” is no longer valid, especially with so many free things to do in San Francisco. Pack your bags, book your hotel with Tripster San Francisco, and visit San Francisco today.

Written By Ashley


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