Sometimes, it seems you need to have deep pockets to have a good time, but if you play your cards right, you can find something new to do for free every day during a visit to San Francisco. We check out the walks, beauty spots, free music festivals, museums, and unique activities that you can enjoy for a price tag of exactly $0. With so many free things to do in San Francisco, your budget break certainly won’t be boring!
In this guide...
Take a Walk
Whether it’s fascinating neighborhoods, iconic sights, beautiful gardens, or a back to nature experience, San Francisco has plenty to offer. Plus, you’ll be getting the best free exercise of all: walking!
1. Cross the Golden Gate Bridge
Even if you do nothing else on your visit to San Francisco, crossing the Golden Gate Bridge is an absolute must. Be sure to bring your camera along. The Fort Point National Historic Site is right there beneath the bridge, and you can visit it for free too. Spend time watching the surfers who take advantage of the waves thrown up by the rocky point that gives the site its name.
2. Spend Days Exploring Golden Gate Park
Beautiful gardens, magnificent walks, and fascinating finds await you in Golden Gate Park. There’s something new at almost every turn. Admire modern architecture, the Victorian-style conservatory, the Dutch Windmill, and the Japanese tea garden or immerse yourself in greenery. Pack a picnic lunch and enjoy yourself for free.
3. Walk or Cycle Crissy Park and Go Crabbing
Crissy Park was once an airfield, but now it’s a stunning spot for a day out. Walk, cycle, enjoy fabulous views of the Golden Gate Bridge and go crabbing. You don’t even need a license. Just follow the park’s advisory signage.
4. Walk the Waterfront to Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf
You’ll be tempted by a lot of paid activities, but you can still enjoy the atmosphere and the sights for free. Take along some small change for the street performers – you’re bound to see someone you like. As for the sea lions, they’ll frolic for you for free!
5. Take a Walk Through Chinatown
Chinatown attracts more visitors than the Golden Gate Bridge, and you’ll feel like you’ve been transported straight to the Far East. Take yourself off the main tourist drag for a taste of real authenticity in Stockton Street. If you’re in the area around Chinese New Year, don’t miss out on the festivities.
Visit a Museum
Even the museums where you’d usually have to pay an entrance fee often have special days when you can get in free. So, if you don’t see the museum you’re interested in on this list of always-free spots, be sure to double-check before assuming you’ll have to pay entry.
6. The Cable Car Museum
Don’t expect the typical hush of a museum. Those cable cars are running, and you get to see the works in action. Just about everyone loves the display of old cable car gondolas, and the more serious history buffs will enjoy the collection of historic photographs that detail the history of San Francisco’s cable cars.
7. The San Francisco Fire Museum
San Francisco has suffered several devastating fires during its history. But every time, the city rose like a phoenix from the ashes. This museum honors the brave firemen who fought those fires, saving many lives, and sometimes losing their own in the process. This is a truly interesting museum for anyone who is fascinated by the history of the great city. Entrance is free, but donations are welcomed.
8. Free Museum Days to Suit Every Interest
Whether you fancy art, history, or want to learn more about the many cultures that make up San Francisco, you’re sure to find a free museum or a free museum day to match your interests. Check out the Mexican Museum, the Italian American Museum, the Asian Art Museum and more.
Performing Arts for Free
There are tons of musicians, dancers, and other performing artists in San Francisco who are willing to perform for free – and there are free festivals too. Check out these opportunities for entertainment!
9. Golden Gate Park Concerts
All summer long, Golden Gate Park features free concerts on Sundays. Check out the website to see what’s on and relax on the lawns as you listen and enjoy! Apart from the local brass band, there are many visiting performers to choose from.
10. The San Francisco Mime Troupe
See mime with a difference when you watch this award-winning troupe of mime artists. They visit various venues around San Francisco, and you should definitely expect to see something that goes beyond the typical street mime performance. Hey, it’s free! Check it out!
11. The Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival
If you’re visiting San Francisco in the autumn, you’re in for a treat with this free music festival. As you’d expect, the venue is none other than Golden Gate Park, and the line-up is always excellent. The festival even has its own app to help you plan your listening times.
12. The Filmore Jazz Festival
If brass bands and bluegrass aren’t your style then time your visit to coincide with the Filmore Jazz Festival. Independence Day weekend is the time to enjoy Filmore Street as it hosts some truly excellent jazz artists who’ll play for you at no cost!
13. Film Night in the Park
Dolores Park, Washington Square Park and Union square host free movie nights in summer. Bring a picnic blanket and enjoy your movies for free. Hey, it’s way better than Netflix! It’s not just the movies – it’s the experience!
Weird and Wonderful Stuff You Can Only Do in San Francisco
San Francisco is a fun place to be, and there are some weird and wonderful things you can do here and nowhere else in the world. If you’re up for something completely different, try these free activities.
14. The Wave Organ at High Tide
In San Francisco, the sea plays its own music on a specially-made “organ” consisting of pipes that resonate with the movements of the sea. It’s not the most obvious feature ever, so be sure not to miss it in passing. There are even locals who haven’t been to this spot, but it’s not to be missed.
15. The Steward Street Slides
Did you ever slide down hills on a cardboard box when you were a kid? Well, Seward Street offers you the urban equivalent of this country pastime. Grab a box and go sliding! Who said all the best rides are going to cost? Just beware of the concrete burn.
16. Shipwrecks and Ruins at Land’s End
It’s wild, it’s wonderful, and you get shipwrecks AND ruins to check out. The Sutro Baths were once an ambitious recreation center with seven swimming pools all kept at different temperatures. Today, all that’s left are the ruins, but it’s still a popular place to visit.
If you’re at Land’s End at Low Tide, you’ll still be able to see three shipwrecks representing three of the more than 300 ships that foundered here.
17. Cross the Exploratorium’s Fog Bridge
Cross the fog bridge between Piers 15 and 17 and disappear in a dense fog made from desalinated sea water pumped through special nozzles. It’s a great way to cool off on a hot day. Enjoy!
18. Make a Bonfire of Muir Beach or Ocean Beach
Go on; you know you want to. Or choose a pleasant evening and see if someone will share their bonfire with you. And yes, it’s perfectly legal. The National Park Service even provides the fire pits where you can build your blaze. Just pay attention to the regulations – not all beaches have this option.
19. San Francisco Pride
The message is serious, but the atmosphere is all fun as San Francisco’s world-famous gay pride parade hits the streets. It happens during the last weekend in June, and it’s not to be missed! Get out there to show your support and enjoy the spectacle. Yes, other cities do have them, but nobody does gay pride on quite the scale of San Francisco.
20. Clarion Alley for Some of the World’s Best Street Art
San Francisco artists have created an incredible space out of what could easily have been one of the dingiest alleys in the world. It’s like an outdoor art museum for street art. There are more than 700 highly-colorful murals to see – only in San Francisco and completely free
From free Shakespeare performances to book readings and air shows, there are always free activities in San Francisco. Check the local press, ask residents to recommend their favorites, and enjoy yourself. The question isn’t whether you’ll find free stuff to do in San Francisco – it’s whether you’ll have time to fit it all in!
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