25 Free Things to Do in San Francisco
San Francisco is a city where you can definitely choose to enjoy an extravagant lifestyle if you so desire. You can fill your time with champagne cruises on the bay, limo rides to wine country and dining at the most expensive restaurants in the city. However, it’s also a city where you can find endless entertainment without spending much money at all. Want to enjoy San Francisco on a budget? Book yourself a room at an affordable San Francisco motel and then fill your itinerary with these free things to do in San Francisco:
- Free days at the museums. Almost all of the city’s most popular museums offer a free admission day once each week or month. Many of these are the first Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday of the month. The city also has several museums that are always free including The Cable Car Museum, Musee Mecanique, Museo ItaloAmericano and The Wells Fargo History Museum.
- Neighborhood street fairs. Each of San Francisco’s many neighborhoods has its own annual street fair where you can enjoy free music, food samples, window shopping and people watching. A few of the favorite street fairs are Haight Street, Union Street, North Beach and Fillmore Street but there’s something going on somewhere nearly every week, especially in the summer.
- Other annual events. Similarly there are numerous other free annual events to enjoy people watching, music, live performances and other activities at no charge. How Weirde Festival in May, Pride Weekend in June, the SF Theater Festival in September, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in October, and the Union Square Tree Lighting at Christmastime are just a few examples.
- Walk along the beach. Each of San Francisco’s best beaches offers a little bit something different so find the one that sounds best to you and enjoy a breezy walk on the water.
- Art Walks and Open Studios. There are ample opportunities to enjoy free art at the galleries and studios in San Francisco. The First Thursday Art Walk and the twice-yearly SF Open Studios are good events to start with but you can find a free opening night gallery reception in the city almost every day of the year.
- Find the city’s many murals. If you enjoy art then San Francisco also offers the opportunity to see a lot of it in the form of both indoor and outdoor murals throughout the city. There are murals depicting the city’s history inside of Coit Tower, the Beach Chalet and Rincon Center. Popular outdoor murals include those in Clarion Alley and Balmy Alley in The Mission Neighborhood.
- Farmers’ markets. San Francisco’s farmer’s markets are a great place to buy affordable food but you can also enjoy browsing them for free. Talk to the vendors, listen to the music and check out the other performances that often take place at the markets. The most free entertainment can be found at the Ferry Building Farmer’s Market which happens several times per week but there are many other markets to check out, too.
- Free comedy shows. San Francisco has a large stand-up and improv comedy scene and you can often find free shows at local bars. For example, there is a monthly free multi-artist comedy show at Café Royale called Tickled Pink. This café also hosts other funny events like a Drunken Spelling Bee.
- Dueling pianos and other karaoke-style performances. Hit up the dueling pianos show at John Foley’s near Union Square for great free performances on Wednesday and Thursday nights. Or stop in any night at Martuni’s on Market Street to hear Broadway-caliber piano-accompanied karaoke performances.
- Concerts at Stern Grove. Every summer the beautiful nature at Stern Grove is enhanced with free concerts from a diverse array of performers. Pack yourself a picnic and enjoy the tunes.
- See how fortune cookies are made. Visit the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory at 56 Ross Alley in Chinatown to quickly see how fortune cookies are made. This small shop is open daily 9-7.
- Public walking tours. SF City Guides hosts daily free walking tours throughout the city. Learn about San Francisco’s art, history and culture.
- Spend the day in Golden Gate Park. There are many wonderful free attractions in this huge city park including the rose garden, the AIDS Memorial Grove, the windmills and Tulip Garden and the bison paddock.
- Hang out in the city’s many other parks. Golden Gate Park has the most to offer in terms of free attractions but San Francisco is a city that is filled with parks to enjoy. Many of them also offer varied free entertainment; for example Dolores Park has free movie nights in the summer and hosts annual events like an Easter celebration. Others have special small attractions such as the Seward Street Slides in a small Castro park.
- Relax in the city’s public spaces. In addition to the parks of San Francisco there are numerous other restful public spaces including rooftop gardens and urban parklets. Did you know that there’s actually a rule in San Francisco that every time a building of a certain height is erected there needs to be a public space put up as well; this started with the building of the Transamerica Pyramid, which is why you will find a public Redwood Grove garden right next to that landmark.
- Visit Sutro Baths. The historic ruins of the magnificent Sutro Baths cost nothing at all to tour and are a unique attraction to see. They also offer a beautiful view of the Pacific Ocean. From here you can walk along many hiking trails and make a full day out of the trip if you so desire.
- Other hiking trails. The hiking trails at Lands End near Sutro Baths present just one opportunity for free beautiful hikes in the city. Other options include Mt. Davidson (check out the 100’ tall cross here!), the Bluffs Trail in the Presidio and Twin Peaks.
- Climb the staircases. Another great way to get exercises, see unique things and catch those great views of the city is to climb the staircases that are all over the city. Popular choices are The Filbert Steps and the Lyon Street Steps (which are both garden-lined) and the Tiled Steps of 16th Avenue.
- Check out the churches. Nearly every corner in this city has a church of some kind and many of them have beautiful architecture and lots of history. Some of the favorites for people to visit are Grace Cathedral, St. Mary’s, Mission Dolores Parish and St. Patrick. The latter is one of the oldest buildings in the city, having survived the 1906 earthquake.
- Free factory tours. See the inner workings of various factories in and around the city at no charge. In the city you’ll find free tours at Anchor Brewing, TCHO Chocolate Factory and the Federal Reserve Bank. Popular free tours in the surrounding area include The Jelly Belly Factory and Hangar One Vodka.
- At the library. The San Francisco Public Library system offers an amazing array of free events at all of its locations, particularly in the beautiful main library. Movie screenings, book readings, lectures, demonstrations, classes and more are all on the calendar to enjoy.
- Walk out to the Wave Organ. The Wave Organ is an acoustic sculpture located in the bay on a pier that you can walk out onto. You put your head against the pipes of the organ to hear the music of the water while enjoying a view of the water and the city skyline.
- Experience history at the forts. San Francisco is an old military town with a lot of history and a great free place to learn about that is at the forts still left here. Check out Fort Point, on the southern end of Golden Gate Bridge, as well as Forts Baker, Barry and Cronkhite, and Fort Funston.
- Free food and drink tastings. There are several opportunities to taste some yumminess at no charge by going to free tastings. You can taste olive oil at We Olive, chocolate at TCHO and wine at Fat Grape. A walk through the Ferry Building will often also result in free food samples.
- Visit San Francisco’s most popular attractions. Many of the things on this list are off-the-beaten path but if you think about it it’s also free to check out many of the city’s most popular tourist attractions. It’s free to walk along the Embarcadero and stop inside the Ferry Building, see the sea lions at Pier 39 and watch the street performers at Fisherman’s Wharf. It’s free to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s free to climb up Telegraph Hill to the base of Coit Tower or walk along Lombard Street, the crookedest street in the world.
By: Kathryn Vercillo Copyright SFTRAVEL LLC