San Francisco is known as one of the most expensive cities in the United States, but you can enjoy everything the city has to offer for free, including many iconic tourist attractions. We, personally, love to save all our money for food, so we like to find good ways to balance what we spend on our bellies. Today we’ve rounded up some of the best free things to do in the city.
25 FREE THINGS TO DO IN SAN FRANCISCO
1. VISIT THE LARGEST CHINATOWN OUTSIDE ASIA
Not only is it the largest Chinatown outside Asia, but it is also the oldest Chinatown in North America. An excellent starting point is the iconic Dragon Gate. Then you can walk the streets, look at people or look at trinkets.
Dragon’s Gate is on Bush St & Grant Ave, map
Travel Pro: if you need to pack your luggage while exploring the city, look for luggage hero to find a safe and convenient place.
2. GOLDEN GATE FORTUNE COOKIE FACTORY
Did you know that fortune cookies were not invented in China? It was first made in California in the 1890s or early 1900s, and there is a dispute as to whether it was first made in San Francisco or Los Angeles. If you’ve ever wondered how they’re made, you can stop by the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory in Chinatown to learn more about the process and snack on a few samples. They’ve been making fortune cookies since 1962, so they know a few things about it.
3. PICNIC BY THE PAINTED LADIES
This iconic row of Victorian homes has probably been most famous since the intro of Full House. There is a park across the street where you can admire the view. If you like famous movie locations, you can also visit the Full House, Sister Act 2 Church, and Mrs.Doubtfire’s house.
4. FERRY TO FARMER’S MARKET
This farmers market is known as one of the best in the country for its diversity and the freshness of its products. On weekends, you can even catch a glimpse of some of the city’s best-known chefs at the market.
5. ACROSS THE GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE
If you cross the bridge by car, you will only experience it for a while, but if you cross the bridge on foot or by bike, you can stop as many times as you want to admire the view. There is also a small open-air museum that will tell you more about the history of the bridge. This is not for inexperienced motorcyclists. It gets pretty scary on the Sausalito side. Jacob has done it, but does not recommend it to me.
Departure from the Golden Gate Bridge Visitor Center, map
6. LOOK AT THE BAY LIGHTS
Head to the Embarcadero at dusk to see the Bay come to life with light sculptures. They stay until dawn.
7. SEWARD STREET
Don’t throw this cardboard box away! Instead, take him to the Seward Street slide, sit on it and slide one of the two concrete slides.
8. CLIMBING BEAUTIFUL STAIRS
San Francisco is certainly known for its steep hills, but there are also beautiful stairs (which lead you to beautiful views). The stairs of Filbert Street are very popular and take you to the Coit Tower. You can also take a look at the steps of Lyon Street for a view of the Bay, the tiled steps of 16th Avenue for artwork, and the steps of Vallejo Street for stunning views of the city.
9. DRIVING OR WALKING ON THE MOST WINDING STREET IN THE WORLD
This famous street is considered the most crooked street in the world (in fact it is Vermont Street which is also in SF). It is so popular that there are lines of cars waiting to get off. You can also walk on or down the street so you can go at your own pace and stop whenever you want. From the top you have a beautiful view over the city.
10. GETTING PUMMELED AT THE FOG BRIDGE
Imagine that water is pumped under high pressure by more than 800 nozzles along a bridge. Allow yourself to be sprayed by the fog that rains on this permanent installation.
11. VISIT TO FORT POINT
Fort Point is a National Historic Landmark. It was built to protect the bay from strikes. They take a free tour to learn about the history.
12. HOTELS NEAR HYDE STREET PIER
Discover five historic boats along the pier. There is a fee to enter, but you can still enjoy the beauty of the exterior.
13. GO SAILING WITH CAL SAILING CLUB
The Cal Sailing Club offers free sailboat rides once a month. Hop on one of the keelboats or dinghies and admire the city from the water. Check out their open House schedule here.
14. 49-MILE SCENIC DRIVE
Technically, you spend money on this thanks to gas, but it’s still a relatively free activity. The route was laid out in 1938 and has taken various forms over the years, but it offers you an excellent tour of the city and takes you through all the emblematic places.
Just keep in mind that SF is not the best city to travel by car. If the steep hills do not scare you, you may have to look for a parking space for an hour.
15. LISTEN TO THE SEA LIONS AT PIER 39
One of the most popular places in Fisherman’s Wharf is Pier 39. Swarms of people visit every day to see and listen to the sea lions. P.S. they stink.
On the days you want to get inside, you can visit one of San Francisco’s free museums, such as the Cable Car Museum, The San Francisco Railway Museum, The Randall Museum, and the San Francisco Center for the Books. Other museums have days off (see below).
Galleries and temporary art exhibitions keep all art lovers busy.
Most popular area: 49 Geary Downtown where there is a large concentration of galleries. You can also check out Ratio 3, The Diego Rivera Gallery, and the Luggage Room Gallery. If you prefer murals, go to Clarion Alley in the mission or the murals in the Rincon Annex post office.
18. PALACE OF FINE ARTS
Originally built in 1915, it is a beautiful structure and lagoon to explore. Guests can explore the grounds throughout the afternoon.
19. EXPLORE LANDS END
Lands End offers you some of the best views in San Francisco, but there’s also plenty to explore in the area. Start at the Lands End Lookout Visitor Center to find out what you can find, then check out old shipwrecks, the Sutro Baths, busy beaches, and more.
20. HOTELS NEAR GOLDEN GATE PARK
Modeled after Central Park in New York City, Golden Gate Park is 1,017 acres and 20% larger than Central Park. This can keep you busy all day. Check out the boats on Lake Stow, take a walk in Queen Wilhelmina’s tulip garden, or watch bison at Bison Paddock. You can also climb Strawberry Hill, the highest point in the park. If you go on Monday, Wednesday or Friday before 10.00 am, the Japanese tea garden can also be visited free of charge.
21. THE CALIFORNIA COASTAL PATH
Hike or bike from Lands End to the Presidio for 9 miles of stunning coastal views.
22. HOTELS NEAR BAKER BEACH
If you’re looking for one of the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge, head to Baker Beach. There is a kilometer of coastline to explore and many places to photograph.
23. HIKE FOR BREATHTAKING VIEWS OF THE CITY
Twin Peaks or Bernal Heights are known for their spectacular views of the city! If you want to avoid the crowds, go to Sunrise instead of Sunset.
24. VIEW OF THE COAST FROM THE PRESIDIO
The 1500-hectare national park is located on a former military post. There are 12 panoramic walks that offer you everything from spectacular views of the coast to a beautiful walk through the forest. A good starting point is The View parking below.
25. CRISSY FIELD
Crissy Field has something for everyone. You can spend the day at the beach, kite flying, bring your four-legged friend, or even go crab and unlicensed fishing at Torpedo Wharf. Take a look at The Wave Organ! These strategically placed pipes use waves and water to make music.
TAKE A FREE WALKING TOUR
The easiest way to see many monuments is to take a walking tour. San Francisco city guides organize free walking tours of the city with different goals. Run by volunteers, learn from passionate local residents about everything from the 1906 fire to learning about specific neighborhoods. All these tours are based on donations or pay what you want.