Lifestyle

110 Free Things to Do in San Francisco

Living in SF is super-expensive. Between rent and well... rent, it can be a slight bummer to have to throw down a ton of cash to go out and have a good time. Luckily, there are a ton of amazing things to do in San Francisco for which the price is just right. And by “just right,” we mean totally free. That’s right: All of the stuff on this list won’t cost you a penny, which means you’ll have more money for what’s really important: beer.

1. Get lost in Lands End
Well, not literally. But definitely figuratively do with views of old shipwrecks, access to the epic ruins of Sutro Baths, pocket beaches, and a new Lands End Lookout Visitor Center where you can see basically EVERYTHING.

2. The California Coastal Trail
Hike or bike the best nine miles of waterfront views from Lands End to the Presidio.

3. Mount Sutro or Corona Heights
Need to get away, and get back in touch with nature? Take an urban hike at either of these spots.

4. Check out Sutro Baths
Yes, the Sutro Baths are technically part of Lands End, but completely deserving of their own trip. Plus, this is our list, so we do what we want.

5. Walk or bike across the Golden Gate Bridge
There’s a toll to drive across, but walking or biking the iconic bridge is totally free. While you’re there, check out the outdoor mini-museum on the history of the bridge.

6. Fort Point
Fort Point was built during the Gold Rush to protect the Bay against foreign attack and is now a National Historic Site. You can learn all about it during a free guided tour, where they’ll probably also point out that it’s where Kim Novak leapt into the Bay in Hitchcock’s Vertigo.

7. Bike the Wiggle
Or any of these hill-free routes: Valencia St, Polk St, Fell & Oak, or 17th St.

8. Hardly Strictly Bluegrass
Every fall, over 100 musical artists perform on seven stages throughout Golden Gate Park. For free. And you can BYOB and BYO-pups.

9. ‘Fog Bridge’ at Piers 15 & 17
In case you’re somehow not getting enough of the fog, head to this permanent Exploratorium exhibit where water is pumped at high pressure through more than 800 nozzles lining the bridge to create an immersive environment where you’re shrouded in dense fog. So basically, it’s just like going to the Golden Gate Bridge in July. The Fog Bridge does its thing daily at 10am, 12pm, 2pm, and 4pm, and on Thursday and Friday at 7pm.

10. Watch the Bay Lights 
The light sculpture now shines permanently from dusk to dawn. A good spot to see them is along the Embarcadero, but a better spot is at one of the waterfront bars along the Embarcadero... though you’ll have to throw down some cash for your drink.

11. Pretend you’re in Napa at a Fat Grape Winery tasting
Take a mini-escape for the afternoon and head over to Fat Grape Winery on Treasure Island for a free tasting. Visit the tasting room Wednesday through Sunday to sample a selection of Winemaker Patrick Bowen’s local red wines.

12. Go sailing
Once a month the Cal Sailing Club offers free sailboat rides aboard its fleet of keelboats and dinghies.

13.Filbert St steps
So you can proudly tell people you climbed one of the steepest navigable streets in the Western Hemisphere.

14. Presidio pet cemetery
You don’t need to have Santa’s Little Helper actually buried there in order to take a look around.

15. Do a walking tour
No reservations needed. There are 5-10 tours every weekday, and they include everything from underground tunnels to historic landmarks to Barbary Coast dives.

16. The Painted Ladies
Everywhere you look/ Everywhere you go/ There’s a heart (there's a heart)/ A hand to hold onto. Whoops, sorry...

17. Billionaire's Row
You're never gonna be able to buy a $13 million house, but you can damn sure stand outside of one and wonder where it all went wrong.

18. Sea lions at Pier 39
If you think about it, we’re kind of like the sea lions -- we just appeared in San Francisco one day, and refused to leave. Fun fact: male sea lions, on average, weigh 630lbs more than females.

19. Hyde Street Pier
It costs money to go inside five historical boats, but it's totally free to Instagram them from the outside!

20. Crissy Field
Who doesn’t like a day at the beach? Plus, you can legally crab and fish without a license at Torpedo Wharf, cook up your catch on one of the grills, and let your pup run around off-leash.

21. Dolores Park
Who doesn't like to hang out on a Wednesday at 3pm when you’re underemployed?

22. Fillmore Jazz Festival
This is the largest free jazz festival on the West Coast and the lineup is always bursting with incredible musicians playing for two days on four stages. There’s also 12 blocks of arts and crafts from an array of local vendors. It always goes down right around the 4th of July, so plan accordingly.

23. Swing dancing at "Lindy in the Park"
Twist and twirl through Golden Gate Park as you master the art of swing dancing. Free beginners lessons are available every Sunday from 12 to 12:30pm. Then stay and watch (or join in) with the pros until 2pm.

24. Wave Organ
This man-made organ (dedicated to Frank Oppenheimer, 'natch) uses waves and water movement to create music. Super-weird, but super-cool, too.

25. Golden Gate Park’s Rose Garden
Wander through this stunning garden featuring over 60 rose beds. The peak time to visit is during the summer, but there’s always at least a few roses showing off no matter what season.

26. Steward Street Slide
BYOCB (Bring Your Own Cardboard Box).

27. Hike Twin Peaks or Bernal Heights
Dat view, though.

28.  Disc golf ‘fairways’ of Marx Meadow
Play 18 holes or drink a tallboy and watch someone else play 18 holes -- you’ll have to help get a disc out of a tree either way. Oh, and print out this scorecard before you go -- it's got a map on it.

29. Palace of Fine Arts
Packing a picnic to enjoy by the lagoon isn’t technically free, but climbing it totally is!

30. Hike the Presidio
This national park right in the heart of SF is home to 12 scenic hikes (from forests to coastal bluffs), eight epic overlooks, and a bikeway. On a date? Be sure to check out Lovers' Lane, and keep an eye out for Andy Goldsworthy's Wood Line art installation.

31. Lombard St
All of the tourists wait in line to drive down this crooked street, but you’re smarter than that, so you’ll walk down it instead. The best time to go is spring and summer when everything is in bloom.

32. Japantown self-guided tour
Because there's more to Japantown than Ramen Fest and karaoke (there are also awesome gummy candies!!!).

33. Visit the Sister Act 2 church or Mrs. Doubtfire house
Drive-by-fruiting, optional.

34. Yerba Buena Gardens Festival
The Yerba Buena Gardens Festival includes over 75 free events throughout the summer in Yerba Buena Park. The entertainment options are endless, and include everything from poetry readings to circus acts to jazz ensembles. Pack a picnic or stroll over with a coffee and sprawl out in front of a variety of stages assembled in the park. Performances are typically in the afternoon, and are the perfect way to spend a summer lunch break.

35. Take a glass elevator joy-ride at the Westin St. Francis or Grand Hyatt
Who gon’ stop you, huh?

36. Climb Strawberry Hill
Yeah, it costs money to rent the boats at Stow Lake, but wandering around the lake, checking out the artificial waterfall, and climbing to the highest point in the park doesn’t cost a penny. Plus, if you go at dusk, you might even see ghost of The Lady of Stow Lake.

37. While you’re in the Castro, pay a visit to Harvey Milk’s apartment
There’s a gift shop in the storefront now, but if you look up, it's right above it.

38. Take a trip to McLaren Park
It’s the second largest park in San Francisco, and home to Philosopher's Way.

39. Tell time with the giant sundials in Ingleside Terraces
Formerly the “largest and most significant sundial in the world”, it’s been surpassed by one in Hunters Point with a gnomon (the triangular piece that casts the shadow) that's 78ft long -- nearly triple the length of Ingleside’s.

40. 49-mile scenic drive
Totally free... if you can get someone else to pay for gas.

41. Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory tour
Three things you need to know about this place: 1) They’ve been making fortune cookies since 1962, 2) they sell chocolate “adult x-rated” cookies, and 3) every picture you take will cost you 50 cents.

42. Samples at the Ferry Building
Hey! Maybe you will buy that fancy olive oil in the future. They don’t know your life!

43. Aroma Tea Shop
Free tastings, seven days a week. That’s what’s up.

44. Ghirardelli Square
Sit by the fountain after you’ve snagged some free chocolate samples.

45. Tea tasting in Chinatown
Again, if you seem like you’re gonna buy, they’ll let you try. Pro tip: uhhhh, seem like you're gonna buy.

46. Farmer's market
There's one in virtually every 'hood, every single day of the week. Touch all the in-season vegetables or help yourself to some free samples... everybody has their thing.

47. Say hi to the bison
Ride your bike past Spreckels Lake on your way to the ocean and stop at the buffalo paddock where bison have been residing since 1899.

48. Stern Grove Festival concerts
The outdoor concerts at Stern Grove are one of the best things about San Francisco in the summer. The line-up always includes something to please every kind of musical taste, plus guaranteed appearances by the SF Symphony and SF Ballet. Plus: You can BYOB. And while the shows are free, they do ask for a small cash donation as that’s what keeps the festival going year after year.

49. Garden of Shakespeare’s Flowers
This charming and tranquil garden is hidden in plain sight thanks to a foliage-laden fence around the perimeter. Inside, you’ll find more than 200 flowers and plants that Shakespeare wrote about in his plays. At the farthest end is a bronze bust of the bard, but because it’s so valuable, it’s the only statue in the park that’s locked up. If you really want to get a glimpse, crash a party or a wedding.

50. Learn lawn bowling
Regular bowling not only costs money, but you’re stuck inside while you’re doing it. Lawn bowling on the other hand... free and in nature! Learn how to play with a free lesson every Wednesday and Sunday at noon.

51. Three innings of Giants baseball
On the McCovey Cove side of AT&T Park, you can take in America’s Favorite Past Time at America’s Favorite Price, for free. Standing room only.

52. Listen to one of America’s oldest professional concert bands
From April to October, you can enjoy the sounds of The Golden Gate Park Band who play everything from Broadway show tunes to operas at the Music Concourse.

53.  Readings at City Lights or Green Apple
So you don't have to actually read anything yourself.

54. 16th Ave tiled steps
Hand-made by 300 local residents, the 163 mosaic steps lead from sea to sky.

55. Amoeba live show
You never know when you're gonna catch something as awesome as this, but you do know it's gonna be mad free.

56. Outdoor movie screenings in Dolores, Union Square & Washington Square
Snuggle up with a blanket, booze, and a classic film for six Saturdays every summer.

57. Shakespeare in the Park
Dost thou like free-eth Shakespeare performances? There are two every summer at the Presidio Main Post and McLaren Park. Anon good reader!

58. Make a beach bonfire
There’s no need to go camping to roast hot dogs and marshmallows around a fire. Three to six fire rings are available year-round at Muir Beach and 16 can be used at Ocean Beach, March through October. Both locations are ideal for watching the sun set over the ocean and they’re free to use -- although you will need to bring your own wood and other supplies, of course.

59. Free First Tuesdays  
Soak up some culture this summer without breaking the bank by visiting some of the city’s best museums on the first Tuesday of the month. Admission is waved at the de Young, the Legion of Honor, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Museum of Craft and Design, and the Contemporary Jewish Museum. Take a look at the newest exhibits and peruse classic collections.

60. Japanese Tea Garden
Free every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday before 10am.

61. San Francisco Botanical Garden
Free for SF residents, but $8 for everyone else. Also: free docent-lead tours so you can learn a little something while you become one with nature.

62. Free Museum Day
... happens once a month!

63. Ride the free beer bus
On the third Wednesday of every month, there’s a beer shuttle that will take you to five different neighborhood breweries in SF. Yes, you have to pay for your beer, but that’s a small price to pay for someone to shuttle your tipsy ass around for four hours.

64. Practice yoga
Sports Basement, Lululemon, and Grace Cathedral all offer free yoga classes, so you can get your om on without stressing about your checking account.

65. Up Your Alley festival and/or Folsom Street Fair
We like our BDSM-themed festivals so much, we do ‘em twice a year.

66. Mission Sunday Streets
Or any neighborhood street fest, for that matter. They're like pizza -- ALWAYS GOOD.

67. Specs' Twelve Adler Museum Cafe
This legendary watering hole has a treasure trove of memorabilia, including a petrified soda bottle from a shipwreck, old maps of Chinatown, and an oosik (that’s a walrus penis bone, in case you didn’t know). By all means walk in and check everything out for free, but you’re going to want to stick around for a drink or three.

68. Chill in the sun at one of SF’s best POPOS
SF has some pretty sweet publicly open privately owned (POPO) spaces, but the ones in FiDi and SoMa are the coolest of them all.

69. Pride Week & Parade
Duh.

70. Visit de Young Hamon Observation Tower
It’s free to go to this floor of the museum, which is 144ft in the air and has stunning panoramic views of the city. Once your feet are back on the ground, be sure to check out the sculpture garden (also free) and don’t miss the “Skyspace.”

71. Wells Fargo History Museum
Warning: Being among the cool, golden stagecoaches might make you feel a little sad that you can only afford to do free things, but it’s still worth checking out.

72. Good Vibrations Antique Vibrator Museum (Valencia location)
Yeah, really.

73. Take a tour of the Boudin museum
SF may be the home of inventions like denim, popsicles, and green goddess dressing, but those are all, ahem, half-baked ideas compared to sourdough. Take a tour of the museum and bakery, and learn the story of the bread they’ve been making here since 1849. And get some free samples while you’re there.

74. Alemany Flea Market in Bernal Heights
Sundays were made for lazily grazing dusty antiques.

75. Spend a day at the beach
SF might not get stereotypical beach weather, but it makes up for it with stunning views, great surf, and clothing-optional sands.

76. San Francisco Mime Troupe
If mimes don’t creep you out, hit up one of these shows that happen all summer long. You don’t have to pay, but a $20 donation is suggested, subtly, through gestures.

77. Prelinger Library
Hard-to-find and out-of-print books are this privately owned library's speciality. Its schedule is kinda quirky, so be sure to check online if it’s open before you go.

78. Skatin’ Place
Sunday’s in the summer, you’ve got a place to go where people won’t make fun of you for wanting to strap on your skates. Or that you own them to begin with.

79. Go to circus school
Learn how to juggle, walk the tight wire, and be a clown at Circus Center’s free open play session every Friday night. Only interested in throwing lots of things in the air and not dropping any of them? The Juggling Club has a free class every week.

80. Celebrate the cherry blossoms
The Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival happens two weekends during April and includes music, cultural performances, tons of food, and a parade.

81. Ring in Chinese New Year
The Chinese New Year Parade in SF is one of the best celebrations in the world. During the parade, you’ll see elaborate costumes, gorgeous floats, and the 268ft Golden Dragon!

82. Renegade Craft Fair
Bi-annual, free to attend. Put a bird on it!

83. Listen to the Glide Ensemble
Catch one of the best free concerts in San Francisco every Sunday at Glide Memorial Church when the Glide Ensemble and Change Band sing, play, clap, and sway.

84. Coit Tower murals
It costs to go up Coit Tower, but that’s okay, because the most controversial murals are in the first floor lobby.

85.Clarion Alley
What could’ve been another smelly, gross alley is instead the hands-down-coolest alley in SF.

86. Rincon Center murals
The history of California, as told through Russian surrealist murals.

87. Precita Eyes Murals
Started in the '70s, the probability is high that you’ve seen these eponymous Eyes around The Mission, but the storefront has maps to other locations.

88. North Beach Festival
For two days every June, North Beach is filled with arts and crafts booth, gourmet food booths, and three stages with live entertainment.

89. SF Center for the Book
Lots of public programs, and plenty of free ones.

90. Transamerica Pyramid
You can’t ride to the top, but there’s a live feed in their adjacent visitor center, or you can just kick back in their Redwood Park.

91. Randall Museum
Free for kids and adults alike. Yeah, what now, 5-year-olds?

92. Chinese Tin How Temple
Dedicated to Mazu (Empress of Heaven) as gratitude to the Chinese immigrants who came before them, photography is not allowed inside the historic temple, but the birds-eye view of Chinatown is a great place to feel grateful.

93. Cable Car Museum and/or Railway Museum
Both are free. Both will school you on the history of San Francisco street cars.

94. Maritime Museum
Check out murals, lithographic stones, whaling guns, and more in this art deco building (formerly a public bathhouse) that looks like an ocean liner.

95. Musée Mécanique
We're gonna go ahead and still call this free, but technically it’ll cost you a literal pretty penny to futz with the machines.

96. City Hall
Hello, art gallery in the basement.

97. Grace Cathedral
Praying is optional, but never stepping inside the beautiful Grace Cathedral is not.

98. Watch the Blue Angels
OK, so technically you’re paying for this annual airshow when you pay your taxes, but that’s just all the more reason to go out and check out this stunning show in the sky.

99. Fire Department Museum
Wonderful history and rarely seen photos of the 1906 fire, but where’s the fireman pole to slide down?

100. Cal Academy Penguin Cam
It honestly doesn’t get much cuter. Or readily free-er.

101. Golden Gate Park Druid Circles
These were brought to SF from the ruins of a 12th-century Spanish monastery by William Randolph Hearst. Now they form a spiritual circle, which acts as a church for local modern druids.

102. Mount Davidson
At 938 feet, this under-the-radar park is the highest point in SF. It’s also home to a huge variety of birds, and you can trek among the towering trees on the network of trails. When you get to the top, there’s a 130-foot concrete cross to greet you.

103. Pier 24 Photography
Free museums are the best museums and Pier 24 is always free. Just be sure to make an appointment if you want to get in to see the amazing photography exhibitions, which change every six months or so.

104. Land’s End Octagon House
This eight-sided building was once a watch-house for incoming ships at the Golden Gate. Now, it’s abandoned and hidden in a grove of trees.

105. Fort Miley Batteries
Military history is abundant throughout San Francisco, but a lot of people miss the Fort Miley Batteries, where empty guns and one building still remain hidden in a forest of trees.

106. Hippie Hill
If you can handle a drum circle, this hill in Golden Gate Park provides excellent people watching. Hippies have been hanging out here since the late ‘60s.

107. Play tennis
As long as you’ve got the racket and the balls, you don’t need a dime to play at most of SF’s public courts.

108. See a show at Amnesia
This tiny club in the Mission hosts a ton of free shows, ranging from jazz to bluegrass to comedy. You’ll probably want to buy a drink, but if you don’t, you won’t spend a dime.

109. Go to the library
SF has some great public libraries, and you can do a whole lot more than just borrow books and movies. Join a book club, use the internet, read the latest newspapers and magazines, do some work, and take classes in everything from “How to write a resume” to mindful meditation and learning the ukulele.

110. Free email alerts about free and/or sometimes free stuff
So. Much. Free.

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Daisy Barringer is a freelance writer who calls San Francisco home, which means she’s all about the free stuff. Follow her on Twitter @daisy.
Claire Margine is a contributor to Thrillist.