Wednesday, September 30, 2015

San Francisco: more than 80 totally FREE things to do in SF

Time didn't allow me to do ALL these... but it sure gives me a reason to be back again. Let me round it up for you: the incredible free things to do in this expensive city, as suggested by some of my friends on couchsurfing.
image via wikipedia

1. Free events

Check online! SF has a plethora of free events, readings, shows, concerts and festival: Stern Grove Festival, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, Amoeba live show, outdoor movie screenings, Shakespeare in the Park, Glide Memorial Chorus... and many more.
Check these sites:

  • Thrillest
  • SOSH
  • UpOutSF
  • The Bold Itallic
  • FunCheapSF

2. Escape into the green oasis 

Japanese Tea Garden. courtesy of sfrecpark

  • Japanese Tea Garden is free to visit on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday (before 10am).
  • San Francisco Botanical Garden is free to visit from 7:30am-9am daily and also, every first Tuesday of the month.
  • Stow Lake in Golden Gate Park is worth exploring. Highlights: Strawberry Hill and the Chinese Pavilion. Also, don't miss the Rose Garden, Dahlia Garden and Conservatory in Golden Gate Park.
  • Dolores Park is always free to spend an hour or two. Put on your shades and enjoy people watching, or bring a book and act like a local.

3. Visit a museum for FREE 

Free Museum Day
Do check online! Normally happens first Tuesday of the month.
Participating museums including the de Young Museum, the Asian Art Museum and the Legion of Honor.
There are a lot of free museums/galleries in San Francisco on normal days. 

  • Cable Car Museum 
  • Railway Museum
  • Maritime Museum
  • City Hall Art Gallery (basement)
  • Arion Press Gallery
  • Fire Department Museum
  • Wells Fargo History Museum

by appointment only
  • Gregangelo Museum
  • Institute of Illegal Images

4. Join free classes 

  • “Laughter class” at UCSF
    Laughing yoga and Laughing meditation... Laughter is the best medicine! Really!
  • Zumba in the park and free fitness party

5. Hunt for murals

Clarion Alley. courtesy of

  • Coit Tower murals
    The most controversial murals are located on the first floor.
  • Clarion Alley
    Arguably the coolest, most colourful alley in San Francisco. 
  • Rincon Center murals
    Located at 121 Spear Street, these murals tell the history of San Francisco.
  • Precita Eyes Murals around The Mission
  • Presidio Church Murals
    open to public on Sunday afternoons.

6. Did you just say free food?

Boudin. courtesy of wikipedia

  • Reserve an Anchor Steam Brewery tour and get rewarded with free beer samples!
  • Stop by Aroma Tea Shop for free tastings. 
  • What is best about Ghirardelli Square is probably the free chocolate sample.
  • Shop and free tasting at Farmer's market: check online where and when, it’s quite frequent.  
  • Boudin Bakery & Museum tour. This is not exactly  free food activity, but it is food related. Go up to the hidden museum upstairs after watching how bakers knead a lifeless dough into an alligator!
  • Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory tour provides insights on how your fortune cookies are made. 
  • Sample some gourmet treat at the Ferry Building: bread, chocolate, olive oil and all the high-end-goodies you ever dream of.  

7. Exercise to burn all those excessive fat after the free food session 

twin peaks. courtesy of

  • Coastal Trail: do it for the amazing views along the SF waterfront. Some even say that this is the best place to take photos of the Golden Gate Bridge. It starts from Lands End to the Presidio (Or you can do part of it).
  • At least come to admire the 163 mosaic tiled steps on 16th Ave even if you are tired of walking.
  • The Presidio hike provide postcard view over the Golden Gate Bridge.  
  • Twin Peaks or Bernal Heights offers stunning panoramic view of the city.
  • Walk or bike across the Golden Gate Bridgeiconic and scenic, amazing photos opportunities and not to mention walking prevents heart disease.
  • Filbert Street Stairs is a challenging famous walk. It is just on your way to Coit Tower, so if you are feeling fit, why not?

8. Join a Walking tour

  • Public Library City Guides walking tours
    Discover SF history with a local volunteer. At least 5 free tour per day, tour options are available. Reservation not required.
  • Discover WalksSeveral tours to choose from everyday. Guests decide the tips. 
  • Japantown Self-guided tour
    Japantown is equipped with plaque and signs. Enjoy a great self-guided walking tour throughout the neighborhood.

9. A day at the beach

  • Crissy Field
  • Baker Beach 
  • Ocean Beach (fire pits available) 
  • Marshall Beach
  • If time allows, plan a day trip to Lands End
    Highlights: old shipwrecks, Sutro Baths, pocket beaches, Lands End Lookout Visitor Center 

10. Gorgeous architecture 

Painted ladies, courtesy of reddit
  • Tin Hou Temple
    Note that photography is not allowed inside the temple.
  • Grace Cathedral
    beautiful Cathedral, opens everyday. Don't miss the Golden door on your way in!
  • Mansions on Billionaire's Row
    Come and admire two-blocks of largest mansions in the city and secretly wish you own one someday (if you already have one, good for you!) Stop by the Lyon Street Stairs to take in some stunning views of the Bay.
  • Palace of Fine Arts
    Located in the Marina District, the Palace of fine art is originally constructed for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition.
  • Painted Ladies
    Featured in classic San Francisco postcards, these beautiful Victorian and Edwardian ladies (houses) are painted in elegant colors. Most photographed landmark in SF. 

11. Play for free, or watch people play for free.

  • Seward Street slides
    Bring out the child in you as you slide down the concrete curves. Bring your own cardboard box.
  • Watch a baseball game for free
    Watch from the archway along the waterfront promenade on the east side of AT&T park.
  • Three Innings of SF Giants Baseball
    At the McCovey Cove side of AT&T Park, go to the standing room for a chance to watch three innings for free. 

12. Have fun at the Piers

You can easily spend the whole day at the piers... 

sea lions at pier 39. Courtesy of lonely planet 
  • Hyde Street Pier
    Admire the historical boats on the pier costs nothing.
  • Experience the fog bridge 
    Walk the bridge at Piers 15 & 17 to be surrounded by mist (created by high water pressure nozzles.)
  • Musée Mécanique
    A hidden gem in Fisherman wharf. Come to see the vintage arcade games and ancient music box, or spend some quarters to join the fun. 
  • Sea Lions at Pier 39
    These California sea lions started linger around Pier 39 since 1990. Now, they called it their permanent home. 
  • Photography Exhibit at Pier 24
    take part in a two hour self-guided tour for free (reservation needed).
  • Wave Organ
    This is a bit odd: a man-made wave organ with PVCs and concrete pipes. As the waves, winds and tides close in, it creates music (or should I say, it sounded more like a sinister humming). 

12. The best sight-seeings in SF are FREE 

Lombard street.
  • Lombard Street
    Most crooked scenic drive in the world with 8 hairpin turn. Always crowded at the sidewalk.
    **actually the second most crooked street in SF. Vermont Street in the Potrero Hill district is the most crooked street but it is less scenic.
  • de Young Tower
    Ascend to the Observation Deck at 9th floor to enjoy killer-views above Golden Gate Park, the Golden Gate Bridge and downtown. 
  • Fort Point
    Made famous by Vertigo, this military history site was built in 1861. Also, come here to watch surfers show off their skills.
  • San Francisco Center for the Book
    Forget ipads and kindles, welcome to the letterpress and printed world! Appreciate the art of traditional book making with elaborate Coptic binding and wooden typesetting machines. 
  • Transamerica Pyramid’s "fake observatory"
    You can't go up to the observation deck anymore, but you can pretend that you traveled back in time in front of the virtual observation deck!

Thank You for Reading! 
This post is based solely on my honest opinion or personal experience. 
 If you have more suggestions, feel free to share it with us by commenting below!

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