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Dea
New York City

San Francisco

Free things to do in San Francisco?

I want to explore the city, but am on a budget! What are the top free (and cheap) things to do in SF? Things to do, attractions to see, food to eat -- go! 


16 Answers

top answer by
Andy from San Francisco

First I'll start with resources where you can find lots of free or cheap things to do. 

The first place I would look is http://sf.funcheap.com/. It's the best resource in SF for free and cheap events around the city. You can often find free shows, concerts, and even free food and drinks! Just go to the date you're interested in and browse. 

Another good resource is http://meetup.com. Meetup has a ton of free events, and many of them are sponsored and come with free food and drinks in addition to the main event. A lot of the technology/startup events will often have generous sponsors. For example, Airbnb hosts a monthly design talk that's catered by their own chefs. 

http://SFcityguides.org offers free walking tours of most neighborhoods of SF. A donation is encouraged but not necessary since the donation does not go to the guide but to the organization itself. 

Free museum days shows you which museums are free on what days: http://freemuseumday.org/sf.html

You can also join my Meetup group where I host a lot of cheap/free events in SF. Check it out here: http://www.meetup.com/San-Francisco-Urban-Adventure-Club/

A simple "Frugal travel San Francisco" search on Google will net you lots of other resources. 

The frugal traveler also has a good piece on SF. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/14/travel/14frugalSF.html

As for specific things and places, here's a short list of things I like:

  • A neighborhood that's pretty cheap to explore is San Francisco Chinatown. The shopping is cheap, and the food is even cheaper. You can eat your fill at many of the dim sum and bakeries there for under $5. You can check out a tour I did of Chinatown, North Beach, and the Embarcadero. I did the whole thing for around $40 (minus the tea). 


That should be enough to get you started. =)


Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Golden Gate Park (attraction)
  2. De Young Museum (attraction)
  3. Japanese Tea Garden (attraction)
  4. Conservatory of Flowers (attraction)
  5. California Academy of Sciences (attraction)
  6. Stow Lake Boathouse (restaurant)
  7. Koret Children’s Quarter (attraction)
  8. Sharon Meadow (attraction)
  9. Bison Paddock (attraction)
  10. Rose Garden (attraction)
  11. Ocean Beach (attraction)
  12. Presidio (neighborhood)
  13. Baker Beach (attraction)
  14. Yoda Fountain (attraction)
  15. The Wave Organ (attraction)
  16. Goldsworthy Spire (attraction)
  17. San Francisco National Cemetery (attraction)
  18. Golden Gate Bridge (attraction)
  19. Palace of Fine Arts (attraction)
  20. Crissy Field (attraction)
  21. San Francisco Chinatown (attraction)
  22. Mission District (neighborhood)
14 thanks


answered by
C from Austin (Texas)

You can get to the Presidio for free Mon-Fri (check times) using the shuttle bus Presidio (picks up in two places downtown), then you can get to the Golden Gate Bridge, Ocean Beach, etc from the around the park free shuttle. A great hike/trail to follow is the one that starts at the Bridge and follows the ridge line over to Ocean Beach (lots of stairs/ups and downs, great views, WW2 bunkers) and then you can take the shuttle back. Stop at Presidio Social Club for a drink/meal if it's in your budget.

Favorite freebie is taking the stairs up to the top of Coit Tower (start on Montgomery) It's a workout, but you walk by these amazing gardens and homes that are hanging on for dear life to the side of the hill, views are great and you can get into Coit for free, see the cool murals. Then you can meander down the hill into North Beach on Columbus Ave(lunch Mario's Bohemian Cigar Store Cafe-- not really a cigar place, right next to the park) and through San Francisco Chinatown-- walk along Grant Ave for souvenir shopping (same stuff as everywhere else, but cheapest prices, best deals are closer to Columbus Ave, prices go up as you head back towards downtown) or Stockton St for the real feel


Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Presidio (neighborhood)
  2. Golden Gate Bridge (attraction)
  3. Ocean Beach (attraction)
  4. Presidio Social Club (attraction)
  5. Coit Tower (attraction)
  6. Columbus Ave (attraction)
  7. Mario's Bohemian Cigar Store Cafe (restaurant)
  8. San Francisco Chinatown (attraction)
  9. Grant Ave (attraction)
  10. Stockton St (attraction)
5 thanks


answered by
Gloria from Ventura

Walk Pier 39, walk across the Golden Gate Bridge, visit City Lights Bookstore on Columbus Street in North Beach, go to Haight-Ashbury, Cha Cha Cha on the corner of Haight-Ashbury has great sangrias and Caribbean food.


Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Pier 39 (attraction)
  2. Golden Gate Bridge (attraction)
  3. City Lights Bookstore (attraction)
  4. Haight-Ashbury (neighborhood)
  5. Cha Cha Cha (restaurant)
5 thanks


answered by
Marie from San Francisco

Some banks like BoA have free museum days for SF museums like the De Young Museum http://deyoung.famsf.org/deyoung/announcements/bank-america-museums-us

Also if you enjoy being near the water, Treasure Island (San Francisco) has a fun outdoor "Flea" http://www.treasureislandflea.com/#!august-29th--30th-2015/csxy

Hope you have fun!


Mentioned in this answer:

  1. De Young Museum (attraction)
  2. Treasure Island (San Francisco) (metro area)
4 thanks


answered by
Cara from San Francisco

San Francisco can be pricey, but it's also an incredible place to explore on a budget. If you're up for walking, you can cover a lot of the most popular areas on foot: the Embarcadero Center up to North Beach(the "little Italy" neighborhood) and around through Fisherman's Wharf to the Marina District. Public transportation is pretty easy to navigate and an inexpensive way to get around. 

If you want to get a little farther afield and away from the more touristy areas, you can find rental bikes and hit Golden Gate Park and Ocean Beach, or across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito (a bit of a workout!). Or catch the ferry across to Angel Island, which is fantastic for hiking & biking. 

The Mission District is great for funky shopping and eats. You can stroll around window shopping and wander through some of the popup galleries, and make your way to Dolores Park for some of the best people watching in the city. Dogpatch is another up & coming area with some neat shops & galleries, and you can wrap up your day with a beer on the patio at The Ramp.

 Enjoy!


Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Embarcadero Center (attraction)
  2. North Beach (neighborhood)
  3. Fisherman's Wharf (attraction)
  4. Marina District (neighborhood)
  5. Golden Gate Park (attraction)
  6. Ocean Beach (attraction)
  7. Golden Gate Bridge (attraction)
  8. Sausalito (city)
  9. Angel Island (attraction)
  10. Mission District (neighborhood)
  11. Dolores Park (attraction)
  12. The Ramp (attraction)
4 thanks


answered by
Caroline from San Francisco

Park sitting: Dolores Park, Fort Mason, Golden Gate Park; Presidio; Alta Vista (Full House)

Hikes: Lands End; anything in the Marin Headlands

Food trucks: Off the grid. Sundays are best, but Thursday nights are great if it's not too cold

Drive bars: NorthStar Cafe; The Black Horse London; Church Key

Best resources for finding fun SF stuff:


Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Dolores Park (attraction)
  2. Fort Mason (neighborhood)
  3. Golden Gate Park (attraction)
  4. Presidio (neighborhood)
  5. Lands End (attraction)
  6. Marin Headlands (attraction)
  7. NorthStar Cafe (restaurant)
  8. The Black Horse London (restaurant)
  9. Church Key (restaurant)
3 thanks


answered by
J from San Francisco

Bike across Golden Gate Bridge, go up to Sausalito and take the ferry back.

Stroll around Farm Market at Ferry building. Surprise to see such a wide variety of unique goods you can hardly find around the city. Plenty for you to try and taste.

Hike to Lands End and have a drink at historic, mysterious Cliff House. The view is stunning. It is very different from Southern California.

Climb up to Coit Tower via Filbert Street Steps and down via Greenwich St Stairs for parrot-spotting. Very unique SF neighborhood.

Sea-lion-watching or people-watching at Pier 39.

Free City Guides Walking Tour from www.sfcityguides.org

So many for now.


Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Golden Gate Bridge (attraction)
  2. Sausalito (city)
  3. Lands End (attraction)
  4. Cliff House (attraction)
  5. Coit Tower (attraction)
  6. Pier 39 (attraction)
3 thanks


answered by
Patrick from Denver

Go to the top of Twin Peaks for incredible views.

Hang out in Golden Gate Park.

Go to Dolores Park and check out the Painted Ladies (the houses from the opening credits of Full House). 

Learn about the history of cable cars at the Cable Car Museum (which is free).

You can get a free tour and samples on a tour of Anchor Brewing Company (make reservations in advance).

Drop by the Musée Mécanique where there are lots of cool antique arcade games and things. 

Wander through the Ferry Building and get free samples of delicious gourmet foods. 

Don't miss the murals at Balmy Alley Murals and/or Coit Tower


Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Twin Peaks (attraction)
  2. Golden Gate Park (attraction)
  3. Dolores Park (attraction)
  4. Painted Ladies (attraction)
  5. Cable Car Museum (attraction)
  6. Anchor Brewing Company (restaurant)
  7. Musée Mécanique (attraction)
  8. Ferry Building (attraction)
  9. Balmy Alley Murals (attraction)
  10. Coit Tower (attraction)
3 thanks


answered by
Fritzi from San Francisco

I highly recommend you purchase a Muni pass. Passes are available at one of the kiosks in the San Francisco Ferry Bldg - San Francisco Pier 48. Once you have your pass, you can ride up to the Golden Gate Bridge and around the city. The muni is the public transit system, which runs both on the streets and underground. Some of the routes are quite scenic. Consult with the Tourist office at the Powell street Bart station to figure which parts of the city you want to see. I love to visit Land's End and Ocean Beach on the west side of the city. Have fun and enjoy your trip.


Mentioned in this answer:

  1. San Francisco Ferry Bldg - San Francisco Pier 48 (attraction)
  2. Golden Gate Bridge (attraction)
  3. Land's End (attraction)
  4. Ocean Beach (attraction)
3 thanks


answered by
Bailey from Aledo, Illinois

Hike! Check out the Sutro Baths, but keep walking north, there are some cool paths that lead you to views of the Golden Gate Bridge.


Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Sutro Baths (attraction)
  2. Golden Gate Bridge (attraction)
2 thanks


answered by
mary

Lots of free things to do! My two favorites are going to Golden Gate Park and Walking Across the Golden Gate Bridge! It's also fun to walk through San Francisco Chinatown


Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Golden Gate Park (attraction)
  2. Golden Gate Bridge (attraction)
  3. San Francisco Chinatown (attraction)
2 thanks


answered by
Ernst from Long Island (New York)

I like the Squat & Gobble Cafe & Crepery. The food is good and comparatively cheaper than a lot of other places in San Francisco.  They have 5 locations: Squat & Gobble Cafe & Creperie, Squat & Gobble Cafe, Squat & Gobble Cafe & Creperie Squat & Gobble Cafe & Creperie, and Squat & Gobble.  http://squatandgobble.com/  


Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Squat & Gobble Cafe & Creperie (restaurant)
  2. Squat & Gobble Cafe (restaurant)
  3. Squat & Gobble Cafe & Creperie (restaurant)
  4. Squat & Gobble Cafe & Creperie (restaurant)
  5. Squat & Gobble (restaurant)
2 thanks


answered by
Sandra from Portland

There are three Diego Rivera murals that are fabulous. One at the art school, one in the old stock exchange building and one at San Francisco city college, if I am remembering correctly. Easy to find on line.


1 thanks


answered by
Nitin from Copenhagen

Search for free (tips-driven) guided tours. It's fun


1 thanks


answered by
Lauren from California

In addition to the other answers, I will suggest the Ferry Building Marketplace. You can browse the stores there, and on Farmers Market days, there are additional vendors. 

Japan town is also somewhat interesting.


Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Ferry Building Marketplace (attraction)
1 thanks


answered first by
Peter from Munich

Check out one of the many parks like Golden Gate Park. walking the Golden Gate Bridge is also for free. Walk along Fisherman's Wharf or go to Union Square. At the top of Macy's is a Cheesecake Factory, where you have a great view over the whole area.

The Cable Cars has free admission. http://www.cablecarmuseum.org/info.html

Hope that helps a bit. Other than that just stroll through the streets and enjoy this beautiful city...


Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Golden Gate Park (attraction)
  2. Golden Gate Bridge (attraction)
  3. Fisherman's Wharf (attraction)
  4. Union Square (attraction)
  5. Cable Cars (attraction)
1 thanks




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