One of the most popular places to visit in California is San Francisco. San Francisco is also known as one of the most expensive cities to live in in the world.
That doesn’t mean traveling and exploring this incredible city has to be expensive. Fortunately, there are a ton of free things to do while you visit San Francisco.
Quick tips to save money in San Francisco:
- Use Airbnb in San Francisco. Here is the code to get $55 on your first Airbnb stay.
- Save money on flights with Ebates, a (legit!) cashback website. Create an Ebates account here. Make an online purchase of $25 and get $10 as a welcome bonus! So easy.
- Read this list of budget travel tips.
Here is a list of the 10 best free things to do in San Francisco.
1. Golden Gate Bridge
The Golden Gate bridge is an absolute must-see when you visit San Francisco. Also known as one of the most photographed landmarks in the world, the Golden Gate Bridge opened in 1937 and was once the longest and tallest suspensive bridge.
From this bridge, you can see incredible views of the San Francisco Bay meeting the Pacific Ocean.
You can walk across the 1.7 mile long bridge or bike across. There’s also a free walking tour on Thursdays and Sundays at 11AM lasting about 1-2 hours ran by volunteers. Make sure to bring a jacket as it can get a bit chilly on the bridge.
Make sure to visit the Golden Gate Bridge at night as the Bay Lights light up the bridge and create a stunning view.
2. Visit the sea lions at Pier 39
Viewing the sea lions at Pier 39 is free and is a great time to visit the wildlife in the area. The sea lions hangout at Pier 39 for most of the year, but peace out in the summer and migrate to the south.
Besides seeing the sea lions at Pier 39, you can also walk around and visit different shops, restaurants, and take in the sights. There is much to do here including visiting the musical stairs, which is an interactive art exhibit, the San Francisco Carousel, which was carved and painted in Italy, street performers, Theater 39, and Magowan’s Infinite Mirror Maze.
3. Lombard Street
You may have seen photos of Lombard Street as it’s highly recognizable as being one of the most crooked streets with eight really sharp, steep turns. This 600-foot long red brick board is a popular site for tourists and can be seen by walking to it or driving down the street, although it’s very busy and has quite a bit of traffic.
Walking Lombard Street lets you take everything in and watch the cars driving down *very* slowly at a sloths pace.
There are so many hikes to choose from in the San Francisco area, so make sure to pack some comfortable walking shoes.
Here are a few hikes to choose from that are in the beginner to moderate level of difficulty:
- Lands End
- Bernal Heights Summit
- Glen Canyon Park
- Muir Woods (easy on some parts)
- Hike to the Coit Tower
A hike is a great way to take in the natural scenery of the area and see San Francisco from a different perspective.
Related: 12 Jobs For The Passionate Traveler
5. Visit Full House
If you were a fan of Full House growing up like I was, you must visit this iconic area and sing the Full House theme song while you’re there. (LOL).
Besides taking in the views, you can relax and have a picnic across the street at the park. There are incredible views at the park it and is a great time to visit any time of the day. The Full House picnic scene in the opening credits is at this park and it’ll definitely give you some nostalgic vibes.
This street is a private residence, so please be respectful to the people that live in the area.
San Francisco has one of the largest Chinese populations outside of Asia and because of that, Chinatown is a must-see. Chinatown is eight blocks long on main streets, including Grant Avenue and Stockton Street.
Soak in the incredible architecture, restaurants, and landmarks like the Dragon’s Gate. Other hotspots in Chinatown are the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory (Fun fact: San Francisco is home to the fortune cookie).
San Francisco’s Chinatown has a couple of festivals you don’t want to miss, such as the Chinese New Year festival and the Autumn Moon festival.
7. Free museums
There is a huge list of free museums to choose from when you’re in San Francisco. It really depends on what your interests are.
- Cable Car Museum
- Chinese Historical Society of America
- The Streetcar Museum
- San Francisco Maritime Park
- Musee Mecanique
- Asian Art Museum: free first Sunday of each month
- Exploratorium: free five Sundays each year
- SF Botanical Gardens: second Tuesday of each month and Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years Day
- Conservatory of Flowers: first Tuesday each month
- Cartoon Art Museum: first Tuesday each month (pay what you wish)
- Walt Disney Family Museum: free days on special occasions
8. San Francisco Giants Game
A really neat thing about San Francisco is that you can see a free baseball game at Oracle Park.
There’s a special viewing area for visitors where you can see up to 3 innings of a baseball game. This area has security guards to make sure visitors don’t stay for an entire game, so don’t even attempt to.
The viewing point is along McCovey Cove, right off the Promenade that borders the water.
9. Walk around downtown San Francisco
One of the best ways to experience a new city is by walking around and exploring the different streets and districts.
If you have a few dollars to spare, taking a ride on the cable car is definitely worth it and can make the steep San Francisco hills less painful if you’re already doing a ton of walking on your trip. Tickets for a single ride are $7.
10. San Francisco City Hall
The San Francisco City Hall building is known as an incredible architectural piece of art. Taking up two city blocks and 550,000 square feet, this building will leave you in complete awe once you see the building from both the exterior and interior.
Make sure to view and gaze at the dome, marble staircase, and sculptures all around the City Hall building. If you enjoy learning about history, visiting the San Francisco City Hall building is a must.
Related: $1000 Travel Savings Plan
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What’s your favorite part of San Francisco?
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