108 Free Things to Do in San Francisco
That’s right: All of the stuff on this list won’t cost you a penny.
It’s no secret that living in San Francisco is super expensive. The cost of living here is 94 percent higher than the national average, which is a not-so-fun fact that will probably wake you up with terrifying questions about all of your life choices in the middle of the night. But, it’s worth it. Especially since while it’s normal to see a $20 burger on a menu, there’s a bunch of stuff that’s super fun to do and also priced just right. And by “just right,” we mean “free,” like all of the stuff on this list that won’t cost you a penny. With the minor exception of some of the antique arcade games at Musée Mécanique, which will cost you exactly that: a penny.
1. Lose yourself at Lands End
Get lost, not literally, but definitely figuratively, with views of old shipwrecks, access to the epic ruins of Sutro Baths, pocket beaches, a hidden Octagon house, three turn-of-the-century gun emplacements and more.
2. Explore the California Coastal Trail
Hike or bike the best nine miles of waterfront views from Lands End to the Presidio.
3. Go on an urban hike at Mount Sutro or Corona Heights Park
Need to get away and get back in touch with nature, but don’t have the time or energy to leave the city? Explore the forests of Mount Sutro or take in the 360-degree views from the top of Corona Heights Park.
4. Dive into the history of Sutro Baths
Once upon a time, there was a massive public bathhouse complete with seven pools, a trapeze, multiple slides and high dives right on the edge of the Pacific. Today, all that’s left are the concrete ruins that you can explore on foot. And, yes, the Sutro Baths are technically part of Lands End, but they honestly deserve a trip of their own.
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. And be sure to wear a jacket because that bridge is never not windy. Want to learn more about what you’re seeing? Go on Thursdays or Sundays when you can take a free tour.
6. Go back in time at Fort Point
“The Pride of the Pacific” as it was once called was built during the Gold Rush to defend the Bay against hostile warships that never arrived 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 leaped into the Bay in Hitchcock’s Vertigo.
7. Bike the Wiggle
Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle—it’s the key to biking around SF while avoiding major hills. This is probably the most “famous” one, but other hill-free routes include Valencia St, Polk St, Fell & Oak, or 17th St.
8. Listen to free music at 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. Immerse yourself in the ‘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 evenings at 7pm.
10. Watch the Bay Lights
The magical light sculpture on the Bay Bridge shines from dusk to dawn. A good spot to see them is along the Embarcadero, but you better do it before March 5th because the lights are coming down on that day—hopefully not forever though, assuming Illuminate can raise the $11 million needed to get them back up.
11. Walk 17 miles across SF via the Crosstown Trail
The Crosstown Trail connects SF from the southeast to the northwest and runs through public parks, tiled stairways, community gardens and more. You can walk it or bike it in both directions and though you don’t have to do it in one day, it’s a more enjoyable experience if you did.
12. Find the tree swing in Bernal Heights
And then swing on it.
13. Climb the Filbert Street steps
Sure it’s good exercise, but the real reason is so you can proudly tell people you climbed one of the steepest navigable streets in the Western Hemisphere and hopefully also see some of those famous parrots.
14. Presidio pet cemetery
Though it’s no longer open for new members, this cemetery dates back to 1952 and was the final resting place for the beloved pets of military families who called the Presidio home, including Knuckle Head the parakeet, Woody, “one great wiener dog” and Mr. Iguana.
15. Take a walking tour
There are tours every weekday and they include everything from underground tunnels to historic landmarks to Barbary Coast dives.
16. Take a pic in front of the Full House Painted Ladies
Everywhere you look, Everywhere you go, There’s a heart (there's a heart), A hand to hold onto.
17. Take a stroll along Billionaires’ Row
You're probably never gonna be able to buy a $39 million house, but you can damn sure stand outside of one and wonder where it all went wrong.
18. Say hi to the sea lions at Pier 39
If you think about it, many San Franciscans are a lot like the sea lions—we just appeared here one day and refused to leave. Fun fact: male sea lions, on average, weigh 630lbs more than females.
19. Check out the boats at 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 (or burgers) on one of the grills, and let your pup run around off-leash (in designated areas).
21. People watch at Dolores Park
There’s nothing like grabbing a burrito and heading to Dolores Park at 3pm on a Thursday to remind you that no one in San Francisco maintains any kind of normal working schedule.
22. Listen to live music at the 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 are also 12 blocks of arts and crafts to explore, from an array of local vendors. It almost always takes place around the 4th of July, so plan accordingly.
23. Swing dance at "Lindy in the Park"
Twist and twirl through Golden Gate Park as you master the art of swing dancing. Free beginner lessons are available every Sunday from noon to 12:30pm. Then stay and watch, or join in, with the pros until 2pm.
24. Listen to the Wave Organ
This man-made organ uses waves and water movement to create music. Super-weird, but also super-cool.
25. Visit Golden Gate Park’s Rose Garden
Wander through this stunning garden featuring over 60 rose beds. The peak time to literally stop and smell the roses is during the spring and early, but there’s always something new to discover, no matter the season.
26. Slide down the oh-so steep Seward Street Slides
BYOCB (Bring Your Own Cardboard Box)—although you can usually find one there.
27. Climb to the top of Twin Peaks
Second in elevation to only Mount Davidson, you can now safely access Twin Peaks by foot (the gate next to Burnett Avenue is closed to vehicles). And in fact, if you go by car, it’s considered cheating.
28. Play disc golf on the fairways of Golden Gate Park
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.
30. Hike the Presidio
This national park right in the heart of SF is home to tons of scenic hikes, from forests to coastal bluffs, epic overlooks and a bikeway. If you’re on a date, be sure to check out Lovers' Lane and keep an eye out for Andy Goldsworthy's Wood Line art installation.
31. Walk down the famous part of Lombard Street
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. Take a tour of Japantown
Because there's more to Japantown than really good ramen and karaoke. There’s also awesome gummy candies, arcade games, bookstores and a lot of history.
34. Check out the 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.
36. Climb Strawberry Hill
Sure, 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 the ghost of The Lady of Stow Lake.
37. While you’re in the Castro, pay a visit to Harvey Milk’s apartment
Pop into the artist-led gallery and boutique to see the work of underrepresented, disenfranchised and emerging local queer artists and makers and then look up…his apartment used to be 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: the first and only path built for philosophers in the U.S. with 14 stone markers intended as “musing stations to stimulate contemplation.”
39. Tell time with the giant sundials in Ingleside Terraces
Formerly the “largest and most significant sundial in the world,” the timepiece has been surpassed by the one in Hunters Point with a gnomon (the triangular piece that casts the shadow) that's 75 feet long—nearly triple the length of Ingleside’s. Still, the one in Ingleside is pretty damn cool, or at least the kids who climb up its arm and slide down on their stomachs think it is.
40. Go on the 49-mile scenic drive
Totally free...if you can get someone else to pay for gas or electricity
41. Discover your future at the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory
Three things you need to know about this place: 1) they’ve been making fortune cookies by hand since 1962. 2) they sell chocolate “adult x-rated” cookies, and 3) if you want to take pictures, you either need to leave a tip or buy some cookies but there’s no way you’re smelling those cookies and not buying a bunch, so that part isn’t actually anything to worry about.
42. See all of the cool art in SF’s Central Subway
It’s hard to believe that the Central Subway stretching from Chinatown to South of Market is finally open, but it is. And not only is it making getting around town significantly easier, it’s also full of amazing art.
43. Sip tea at the Aroma Tea Shop
If afternoon tea is very much your cup of tea, then a visit to this “tea-tasting utopia” is a must, where you can sample and learn about all things tea for absolutely free.
44. Ghirardelli Square
Ask nicely at the Ghirardelli Chocolate Experience Store for free samples and then enjoy them by the fountain. If you want to make a wish however, that’ll cost you at least a penny.
45. Visit one of SF’s many, many farmers markets
There's one in virtually every 'hood, every single day of the week and most people will let you sample the goods though obviously, it’s nice if you then buy something.
46. Say hi to the bison in Golden Gate Park
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. Just keep an eye on their tails—if it’s arched, that means you’re annoying it. Relaxed and swaying in the wind? All is well.
47. Listen to music at the 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 acts to please every kind of musical taste, plus guaranteed appearances by the city symphony or the ballet and sometimes both. 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 each and every year.
48. Get poetic in the 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 see a park official, they might show it to you, otherwise, you’ll just have to entertain yourself by reading the plaques that surround it and contain quotes referencing the flowers.
49. Learn how to lawn bowl
Regular bowling not only costs money, but you’re stuck inside while you’re doing it. Lawn bowling on the other hand is free and in nature! Learn how to play with a free lesson, just RSVP to arrange it.
50. Watch three innings of Giants baseball
On the McCovey Cove side of Oracle Park, you can take in America’s Favorite Past Time at America’s Favorite Price. Standing room only though.
51. 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. Walk up and down the gorgeous 16th Avenue Tiled Steps
Hand-made by 300 local residents, the 163 mosaic steps lead from sea to sky and are definitely among some of the most stunning in San Francisco.
54. Watch an outdoor movie at one of SF’s iconic parks
Snuggle up with a blanket and a classic film at eight iconic parks across the city, including Dolores Park, The Presidio and Union Square.
55. See what’s in bloom at the Conservatory of Flowers
If you’re an SF resident, you can enter this Victorian greenhouse—and the oldest structure in Golden Gate Park—and explore the five galleries for free.
57. Make s’mores at 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, from March through October. Both locations are ideal for watching the sunset over the ocean and they’re free to use.
58. Take advantage of free admission days at local museums
Soak up some culture this summer without breaking the bank by visiting some of the city’s best museums. The de Young and Legion of Honor are free for SF residents on Tuesdays and everyone on the first Tuesday of the month. The SFMOMA is free for all Bay Area residents on the first Thursday of the month. The Contemporary Jewish Museum is free for everyone on the first Friday of the month. The Asian Art Museum is free on the first Sunday of the month. And through the Museums for All initiative, those receiving food assistance can get free or reduced admission at more than 1,000 museums in the United States just by presenting their EBT card. Find out which SF museums participate here.
59. Visit the Japanese Tea Garden
The Japanese Tea Garden is an oasis of serenity in the heart of Golden Gate Park and it’s full of wandering paths, zen gardens and tranquil ponds. Tourists have to pay to get in, but residents get in for free.
60. See what’s in bloom at the San Francisco Botanical Garden
Just show proof of local residency to get into this 55-acre botanical garden with over 8,000 plants from around the world for free. Go on Monday, Wednesday, or Friday at 1:30pm or Saturday at 10:30am or 1:30pm. for a free 90-minute walking tour.
61. Take in views of the Golden Gate Bridge from the Presidio’s Tunnel Tops park
It’s a 14-acre park built on top of a highway tunnel, which pretty much makes it one of the coolest parks ever. Add in views of the bridge and downtown, a campfire circle, stunning overlooks, a food truck park and more…well, you get the idea.
62. Discover an enchanted lighted meadow
Every year in the winter (usually from December to March), Peacock Meadow in Golden Gate Park transforms into an illuminated forest with shifting lights and colors.
63. Explore the Ferry Building
Okay, so it’s going be tough to enter this epicurean destination and not spend some money, but many of the gourmet food shops give out samples as do the farmers who work at the famous farmers market.
64. Get a little (or a lot) kinky at the Folsom Street Fair
Celebrate sexual liberation and get weird at the Folsom Street Fair, which takes place every September. The annual BDSM and leather subculture festival is free, but donations are always appreciated.
65. Play in the streets during Sunday Streets
On select Sundays during the summer, miles of our streets transform into car-free spaces where you can rollerskate, bike, skip, dance, skateboard, or just enjoy a leisurely stroll while connecting with local businesses and neighbors.
66. See a walrus penis bone at 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, BTW). 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. Luckily, they’re pretty cheap. And very strong.
67. Chill in the sun (or fog) at one of SF’s best POPOS
San Francisco has some pretty sweet publicly open, privately owned (POPO) spaces and now that far fewer people go to work downtown, you can often be totally alone at the ones in the Financial District and SoMa.
68. Show your pride at SF’s Pride Week & Parade
It happens every June and is always one of the most joy-filled weekends of the year.
69. Visit de Young Hamon Observation Tower
It’s free to go to this floor of the museum, which is 144 feet in the air and has 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 James Turrrell’s Three Gems skyspace.
70. Learn about the Gold Rush at the Wells Fargo History Museum
Warning: Being among the cool, golden stagecoaches and mining artifacts might make you feel nostalgic for the 19th century, saloons, steam trains and dysentery, but it’s still worth checking out, especially since this is the only Wells Fargo museum that remains in the country.
71. See vibrators from the 1800s at the Good Vibrations Antique Vibrator Museum
Buzz on over to Good Vibrations’ Polk Street location to see all kinds of antique sex toys from the late 1800s up to the 1970s.
72. Get that bread, or at least see it being made at the Boudin Flagship location
San Francisco may be the home of inventions like denim, popsicles and green goddess dressing, but those are all, ahem, half-baked ideas compared to sourdough. Check out Boudin’s flagship location and see the bakers busy at work—and ask them questions). Learn the story behind the famous sourdough and much more, but good luck not spending any money; it’s impossible to smell that kind of deliciousness and not want to buy as much as you can carry.
73. Hike along the Battery Bluff in the Presidio
Another new park in the Presidio. This is a multi-use path surrounded by 60,000 plants and picnic areas in a giant, green space with jaw-dropping views that never get old.
74. 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.
75. Swim laps in the Bay
Despite being surrounded by water on three sides, there aren’t many places for swimmers to get their feet wet. But if you’re willing to brave the cold temps, you can dive into the Bay at Aquatic Park, a swimmer-friendly cove near Fisherman’s Wharf.
76. 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.
77. 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.
78. Watch the San Francisco Opera at Oracle Park
79. Go to the largest cherry blossom festival on the West Coast
Nothing says spring in San Francisco quite like the cherry blossoms. The Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival takes place over two weekends during April and includes music, cultural performances, tons of food, a parade and more.
80. Ring in the Lunar New Year
The Chinese New Year Parade is one of the few remaining illuminated parades in North America and one of the largest celebrations of its kind. During the parade, you’ll hear over 600,000 firecrackers and see elaborate costumes, gorgeous floats and the 268-foot Golden Dragon.
81. Get crafty at the Renegade Craft Fair
This craft fair comes to SF every spring and winter and features cool stuff from craft designers, artists, and creatives. It’s free to attend but good luck not buying anything while you’re there.
82. Sing, dance, clap, and sway to the music of the beloved 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 perform during the Sunday Celebrations.
83. See the Coit Tower murals
It costs to go up Coit Tower, but that’s okay, because the (once-upon-a-time controversial) fresco murals that depict California during the Great Depression are mostly on the ground floor. Bonus points if you do #13 on this list to get there.
84. Check out some of SF’s coolest public art in Clarion Alley
What could’ve been another smelly, gross alley is instead the hands-down-coolest alley in the city thanks to colorful socially relevant, and thought-provoking murals.
85. Look at WWII-era murals at the Rincon Center
Learn about the history of California, as told through (more once-upon-a-time controversial) “social realist”-style murals created by a Russian-born artist.
86. Get eyes on the Precita Eyes Murals
Started in the '70s, the probability is high that you’ve seen these eponymous Eyes around the Mission district, but the storefront has maps to other locations.
87. Eat, drink, and dance at the North Beach Festival
For two days every June, the streets of North Beach are filled with arts and crafts booths, gourmet food vendors and multiple stages with live entertainment.
88. Play old school video games for free all day long
Show off your skee ball, Ms. Pac-Man, Super Mario and pinball machine skills at Detour on the first Tuesday night of the month. Okay, so technically you have to buy something (food or drink) from the bar, but all of the machines are on free play all night long.
89. Take a yoga class in a rooftop park
The Salesforce Tower may be useless in a post-pandemic world, but at least the rooftop park is still pretty cool, especially considering you can take free workout classes, including yoga. zumba and bootcamp.
90. Visit the Randall Museum
This is more than just a natural history or science museum, it focuses on the cultures and environments of the San Francisco area and incorporates a program of hands-on learning that is almost certainly guaranteed to appeal to both children and adults alike.
91. Go to one of the earliest Chinese temples in Chinatown
Dedicated to Mazu (Empress of Heaven) as gratitude to the Chinese immigrants who came before them, the Tin How Temple was founded in 1852. Photography is not allowed inside the historic temple, but the birds-eye view of Chinatown is a great place to feel grateful.
92. Learn some cool local history at the Cable Car Museum and Railway Museum
Both are free. Both will school you on the history of San Francisco street cars.
93. Go to a cool museum inside of a historic bathhouse
The San Francisco Maritime Museum sits inside an art deco bathhouse and is full of murals from the 1930s by Sargent Johnson and Hilaire Hiler, lithographic stones, the city’s role during World War II and more.
94. Play antique video games at the Musée Mécanique
We're gonna go ahead and still call this free, but technically it’ll cost you a single, pretty penny to futz with the machines.
95. Wander around City Hall
It’s called the “People’s Palace,” so we might as well take advantage of it. Plus, it’s pretty gorgeous inside and there are all kinds of cool exhibits on display. Go on a Friday at 11am or 1pm for a free tour.
96. Take in the stunning beauty of Grace Cathedral
Praying is optional, but never stepping inside of this cathedral known for its gorgeous architecture, stained glass, labyrinths, and welcoming cultural programs is absolutely not.
97. 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 make the most of Fleet Week and check out all of the boat shows, air shows and more.
98. See the first fire engine built in California at the Fire Department Museum
The only thing that would make this museum full of cool history and rarely seen photos of the 1906 fire would be if there were a pole to slide down.
99. See African penguins swim and frolic on the Cal Academy Penguin Cam
It honestly doesn’t get much cuter. Or readily free-er. Tune in at 10:30am and 3pm for live feeding demonstrations.
100. Find serenity at the Golden Gate Park Druid Circles
These were brought to San Francisco 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.
101. Climb Mount Davidson
At 938 feet, this under-the-radar park is the highest point in the city. 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.
102. 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.
103. Go swimming in one of SF’s public pools
If you want to take a dip without a side of hypothermia, the place to do that is in one of SF’s public pools. Usually there’s a nominal charge to enjoy these facilities, but if you get a “Discover & Go” pass using your SF Library credentials, you can get in for free. Incidentally, the Mission Community Pool is the only outdoor public pool in the City.
104. Hang out at Hippie Hill
If you can handle a drum circle, this sun-drenched hill in Golden Gate Park provides excellent people-watching. Hippies have been hanging out here since the late ‘60s and though smoking is not technically allowed in the park, it’s definitely very 420-friendly.
105. Play tennis
As long as you’ve got the racket and the balls, you don’t need a dime to play at most of San Francisco's public courts, a ton of which are even lit at night.
106. Yoda statue, do visit
If you’re in the Presidio, it’s almost disrespectful not to stop by the life-sized Yoda Fountain in the courtyard of the Lucasfilm offices.
107. Go to the library
San Francisco 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.” Prefer reading on your Kindle? You can even check out ebooks on their website.
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