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  • A Cruising Couple | November 12, 2015 11:00 PM ET

    15 Free Things to Do in San Francisco

    15 Free Things to Do in San Francisco

    Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

    San Francisco is often thought of as an expensive city, but with a bit of planning and research, visitors will find there are plenty of ways to stay entertained for free. Here are a few of our top recommendations for exploring many of San Francisco best off-the-beaten-track attractions (as well as a few iconic must-see sites) on a budget:

    Café Royale’s Free Entertainment

    Café Royale is a Parisian-style café that hosts a wide variety of free entertainment. Participate in karaoke or enjoy the various performances including live jazz, open mic poetry, film screenings, and sometimes even belly dancing. Alternatively, grab a drink from the café and wine bar and join in on a game of pool. It’s no wonder why this is a popular hangout for locals. 

    Golden Gate Park


    Photo by Analiese via Flickr

    The famous Golden Gate Park offers 1,017 acres of redwoods and luscious green meadows. Many of the attractions within the park do charge a small fee (such as the MH de Young Museum and the San Francisco Botanical Gardens) but just wandering around the park is often enjoyable enough. For something extra unique, the Golden Gate Park offers free lawn bowling lessons every Wednesday at noon.


    San Fransisco, Ashbury Haight

    Photo by Luc Mercelis via Flickr

    Amoeba is a giant record and CD store located on Haight Street, which welcomes all ages to any of their scheduled free live performances and signing events. They have three different store locations, so check out their website to find out when they are featuring performances.

    Art Galleries

    San Francisco is a city that sure loves art. You can find tons of free art galleries that feature local artists. 49 Geary, Ratio 3, the Diego Rivera Gallery, and Luggage Store Gallery are some of the best.

    Wave Organ

    Wave Organ

    Photo by Lisa via Flickr

    The Wave Organ is a giant musical instrument made of PVC tubes and concrete pipes. It’s built into the tip of the Marina Boat Harbor Jetty and creates sounds that vary depending on ocean waves, the wind, and the tide. This idea was developed by Peter Richards and built in collaboration with sculptor George Gonzales. It’s free to visit, and you’ll love hearing the different sounds caused by ocean waves.

    Bike The Wiggle

    This totally free biking route starts from Market Street and brings you to the Golden Gate Park. It’s great because you won’t have to lug your gear up any of San Francisco’s steep hills with this totally flat, zigzag route. It’s apparently such a popular route, it’s even got its own jingle.

    Free Guided Tour

    City Guides is a nonprofit with more than 200 trained volunteers who research and develop tours for the public. They’re sponsored by the San Francisco Public Library and the San Francisco Parks Alliance. You can join in on a free tour led all year long, rain or shine. They focus on San Francisco’s history and legends, and usually last about two hours.

    See the Sea Lions at Pier 39

    Sea Lions

    Photo by Liaka ac via Flickr

    After the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989, a few sea lions decided to make their home at Pier 39’s K-Dock. By 1990, so many sea lions came to the dock that they basically took over. With a little wisdom from the Marine Mammal Center, the Marina Staff at the K-Dock decided to let them stay. The number of sea lions making their home at the dock rose to a record 1,701 in November of 2009. The famous sea lions are now a must-see for tourists and locals alike. 

    Hike the Twin Peaks


    Twin Peaks at Dusk

    Photo by Shutter Fotos via Flickr

    At 922 feet high, the Twin Peaks are second only to Mt. Davidson in height. You can hike these peaks for completely free and get amazing views of the Bay Area. Alternatively, drive or take a tourist bus up to the North Peak parking lot for 180-degree views.

    Take a Self-Guided Tour Through San Francisco’s Japantown

    In the heart of Japantown, you’ll find a 10-block route with 16 signs guiding you along the way. You can learn about this community’s hundred years of history in the area, their story, and their legacy in San Francisco.

    Fortune Cookie Factory


    Back to the cookie factory

    Photo by Chris Chabot via Flickr

    Chinatown’s Fortune Cookie Factory has been making cookies since 1962. Walk right in and learn how fortune cookies are made by the best. You’ll definitely want to buy some fresh goodies of your own after watching them bake!

    49 Mile Scenic Drive

    49 Mile Scenic Drive

    Photo by Ian Brown via Flickr

    This route is a popular 49-mile scenic drive taking you through all the best parts of San Francisco. It was first created for visitors of the Golden Gate International Exposition in 1939-1940 and remains an iconic San Francisco experience. Just avoid the loop during peak traffic times when driving downtown can be a nightmare.

    Ghirardelli Chocolate Square

    Spend an evening celebrating the rich history of Ghirardelli chocolate. This complex filled with shops and restaurants used to be a chocolate factory. Here you’ll find beautiful views and picturesque fountains. And of course, plenty of decadent free chocolate samples.

    Clarion Alley

    The crowd

    Photo by Bhautik Joshi via Flickr

    This ongoing collaboration between artists has revamped a once-dingy alley to a beautiful tunnel of artwork.  You can walk through for free, or contact the nonprofit directly for a guided tour.

    Cable Car Museum

    Cable Car Museum

    Photo by Justin Ennis via Flickr

    Great for mechanic junkies and history enthusiasts, this free museum is your chance to learn all about the history of the famous San Francisco cable cars.

    San Francisco has a reputation for being an expensive city, but if you look in the right places, you’ll find plenty of ways to entertain yourself for free!

    Have you been to San Francisco? What other great free attractions can you add to this list?


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A Cruising Couple A Cruising Couple's Column

A Cruising Couple Dan and Casey are the two lovebirds, world travelers and adventurers extraordinaire behind the popular travel blog A Cruising Couple - adventure travel with a dash of class. Their stories and photographs feature that special place where experiential and stylish travel meet. Find out how you can spend less money, live more adventurously and travel more luxuriously on their blog,
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