10 free things to do in San Francisco

All aboard at San Francisco's Cable Car Museum. Photo: Pargon
All aboard at San Francisco's Cable Car Museum. Photo: Pargon

By Spencer Spellman in San Francisco—

While San Francisco may be one of the most expensive cities to visit in the U.S., it certainly doesn’t have to be. Whether it’s eating street food or enjoying an afternoon at one of San Francisco’s many great public parks, there are plenty of things to do for cheap, and even free. While some of these activities are outdoors and only available during the summer months, many are year-round.

Here are 10 of the best free things to do in San Francisco throughout the year:

Sutro Baths

The Sutro Baths, the city’s version of ruins, are one of the most interesting landmarks in San Francisco. Formerly a large swimming complex along the rocky cliffs of the Pacific Ocean, the complex burned down in the mid-1960s, leaving the remains that stand today. This is an intriguing landmark, which offers one of the best views in San Francisco. It’s also the trailhead for the Lands End hiking trail.

Golden Gate Park

Few parks in the U.S. can rival San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. While it has the same shape of New York City’s Central Park, it’s nearly 25% larger. The park features museums, large and open green spaces, and paths for walking and bicycling. The park is convenient to the Haight and Inner Sunset districts, which have great dining and nightlife.

Tour of Anchor Brewing

Anchor is one of the most well-known breweries on the west coast, calling San Francisco home. It’s one of the few breweries that offers a free tour, culminating in a tasting session of Anchor beers. However, you’ll need to book your reservation weeks in advance (months in advance if you want to go on a Friday).

Free museum days

San Francisco features some great museums, including the California Academy of Sciences and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. While many of San Francisco’s museums aren’t free, they have free museum days, which are typically one day per month during the middle of the week. This is also when the museums are often the least crowded.

Cable Car Museum

In San Francisco, cable cars are truly part of the city’s culture. And when you see the hills of San Francisco, you’ll see why; you’ll be thankful for a cable car ride up those steep streets. The Cable Car Museum offers visitors a behind-the-cable look at this fascinating method of transportation.

Shakespeare in the Park

You’ll have to be visiting San Francisco during the summer months to take part in the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival’s Free Shakespeare in the Park. Each summer brings a new weekend afternoon and evening show. Bring a blanket and picnic and make a day of it. The plays take part at a couple of different locations in and around the bay area, but I recommend the Presidio location.

San Francisco Mime Troupe

Don’t worry, we’re not talking about any old mime performing on a street corner. The San Francisco Mime Troupe has been putting on a shows for years. Scheduled performances take place around San Francisco during the summer months, including Dolores Park in the Mission, Glen Park, and Washington Square Park.

San Francisco Maritime National Historic Site

The San Francisco Maritime National Historic Site is located near Fisherman’s Wharf, offers a chance to get close to several types of boats, including tugboats, ferries, and schooners. Self-guided tours of the boats are available for a nominal fee. Visiting the Site also allows for some great photo ops, since it has views of downtown San Francisco, Ghirardelli Square, the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz.

Sea lions of Pier 39

Pier 39‘s sea lions are celebrities in San Francisco. You may have to wiggle and squirm your way past other tourists at Fisherman’s Wharf to see them, but this is a great chance to see some local marine life. You can almost always find the sea lions at the dock at Pier 39; simply follow their smell.

Fort Point

Located on the southern side of the Golden Gate Bridge, Fort Point offers one of the best views of the bridge. While the Golden Gate Bridge is the main attraction, Fort Point also offers great views of the city. The historic site maintains normal business hours Thursday through Monday. Both guided and self-guided tours are available free of charge.

About the author

Spencer is a traveling writer, who currently calls San Francisco home after living on the east coast for most of his life. He writes regularly for Web and print publications. While Spencer has traveled around the world, Europe is his first love, a love that is sustained back home by micro brews, fish and chips, soccer and golf.
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