San Francisco Sans Funds – Free Things to Do in the Golden Gate City

Tourist trips are a blast. There’s nothing more simply exciting than pulling yourself out of your normal routine and shaking it up in a new city. However, tourist areas often come with a hefty price tag. Skip the credit card bills and check out these 10 free and fun things to do in San Francisco.

  1. Landmarks: The two most arguably iconic landmarks of San Francisco are the Golden Gate Bridge and Lombard Street. While driving across the bridge is going to cost you in tolls, it’s free to stroll across the 1.7 mile bridge. You can also take a drive down Lombard Street, dubbed “The Crookedest Street in the World” and experience this icon firsthand.
  2. The Beaches: While San Francisco beaches don’t exactly boast balmy waters, there are still a number of stunning beaches you can visit. The six most popular are Ocean Beach, Baker Beach, Aquatic Park, East Beach, Stinson Beach, and Bolinas Beach. Definitely hit up Lands End on your trip as well to see the old shipwrecks, the abandoned Sutro Baths, and the pocket beaches.

    Photo Courtesy of SPBer

    Pier 39. Photo Courtesy of SPBer.

  3. Pier 39: In the same vein as the beaches, just with less unavoidable sand, Pier 39 is a can’t miss. This area is rife with attractions like shops, restaurants, street performers, and a waterfront park where you can get the best view of the sea lions.

    Photo courtesy of Ed Bierman

    16th Avenue Tiled Steps. Photo courtesy of Ed Bierman.

  4. The Staircases: Due to the landscape nature of San Francisco, where most cities would have sidewalks, San Francisco has a lot of staircases. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous or want to knock out a month’s worth of cardio in a day, try tackling some of the Bay Area’s best staircases.
  5. Photography Galleries: San Francisco is well-known for its arts, not the least of which is photography. The Harvey Milk Photography Center, established in the 1940s, and Pier 24 are both free to the public, but Pier 24 is open by appointment only.

    Photo courtesy of Steven Pavlov

    The Palace of Fine Arts. Photo courtesy of Steven Pavlov

  6. The Palace of Fine Arts: Opened in 1910 just 4 years after the devastating earthquake and fire, this palace was built to honor and celebrate the completion of the Panama Canal. It’s a beautiful site that’s steeped in San Francisco history.
  7. Walking Tours: San Francisco City Guides, a volunteer-based organization, leads walking tours around various parts of the city as many as 10 times a day.
  8. Billionaires Row/Pacific Heights: While you might never spend millions of dollars on a house, you can certainly see the way the other half lives along San Francisco’s very own Billionaires Row in Pacific Heights. As the most expensive neighborhood in the United States, these mansions sell for over $3,200 per square foot.

    Golden Gate Park Conservatory of Flowers. Photo courtesy of DaveOinSF.

    Golden Gate Park Conservatory of Flowers. Photo courtesy of DaveOinSF.

  9. Museums: Whether they’re free year-round or only during specific times, there are numerous museums in the Bay Area that offer visitors free admission at some point or another. Some of these include the Cable Car Museum, San Francisco Railway Museum, Contemporary Jewish Museum, Conservatory of Flowers, Asian Art Museum and many more.
  10. Street Festivals: If you visit between April and October, there’s a good chance you’ll end up in the city during one of their numerous street fairs or festivals. Do some research and find out what festivals are happening during your visit.

As a bonus, here are 3 great free things to do with your kids when visiting San Francisco.

  1. San Francisco Zoo: You have to plan your trip accordingly for this one, but the experience is well worth it. If you’re a San Francisco resident, you can visit the zoo for free each month on their free day and Steinhart Aquarium for free on two designated weekends a year. The zoo offers free admission to the general public once a quarter.
  2. The Randall Museum: Free from Tuesday through Saturday, this museum offers a healthy ocean exhibit, live animals including pelicans and honeybees, a ceramics studio and more.
  3. The Bay Area Discovery Museum: At this museum, kids are encouraged to touch the displays with a number of hands-on activities and exhibits for kids both young and old. It’s free to the public the first Wednesday of each month.

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