A Cruising Couple | November 12, 2015 11:00 PM ET
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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?
More San Francisco
More by A Cruising Couple
Get Travel Deals and Travel News
Latest Travel News
Hotel & Resort
Destination & Tourism
Cruise Line & Cruise Ship
Features & Advice
Airlines & Airports
Destination & Tourism
- Features & Advice
- Impacting Travel
- Cruise Line & Cruise Ship
- Hotel & Resort
- Airlines & Airports
- Car Rental & Rail
- Destination & Tourism
- Tour Operator
- Vacation Packages
- Travel Technology
- Travel Agent
- Host Agency & Consortia
- Business Travel
- Travel Tribe
- Digital Events & Seminars
- Hotel Rewards
- Travel Agent Academy
- Agent Studio
- RSS Feed
- Daily Newsletter
- Subscribe Agent@Home
- Subscribe Vacation Agent