As any San Franciscan will tell you, the City by the Bay is anything but cheap. Partly, that's because everyone wants to be here. High-paying jobs in the tech industry, combined with the city's stunning natural surroundings and wealth of cultural activities, have made San Francisco one of the most desirable places to live on the planet, and therefore one of the most expensive.
Visiting San Francisco doesn't come cheap. However, there's so much to see and do in the city that you may be surprised to learn that you don't have to spend a fortune here. A little bit of research can go a long way in helping you find free things to do in San Francisco so that you can keep the cost of your trip to a manageable level.
And free things can sometimes be better than paid activities. Downtown San Francisco and the San Francisco Bay Area have a ton of affordable and free things to do. For instance, check out some of the best hikes in San Francisco to see the wilder side of California without spending a penny.
Ultimately, however you like to spend your time, you can save your money and your back by dropping off your bags with our partners for luggage storage in San Francisco. By partnering with local businesses, Bounce makes sure you always have a convenient and affordable place to leave your bags so that you can explore San Francisco unencumbered. Track down a Bounce location and get ready to enjoy some of the best free things to do in San Francisco.
Golden Gate Bridge
Let's get the obvious out of the way first. The Golden Gate Bridge is a true icon of San Francisco, and is known around the world. The stunning red bridge connects the Peninsula of San Francisco to the mountainous mainland, and is a fascinating place to explore. In the headlands that lie beyond the bridge, you'll find a wealth of hiking trails that offer stunning views of San Francisco Bay and the remains of military fortifications that make exploring the area one of the best free things to do in San Francisco.
Just walking across the bridge itself is one of the most fun things there is to do in San Francisco, and it's completely free. While the bridge is often busy with traffic, the sidewalks are protected from cars, and the views over the Pacific Ocean are simply stunning. If you're looking for free things to do in San Francisco, they don't come much more stunning or iconic than walking across the Golden Gate Bridge.
Golden Gate Park
Golden Gate Park is a green oasis in the heart of the city, and is loved as much by San Francisco natives as it is by tourists visiting the city. If you need to take a break from the bustling streets of San Francisco, this is the place to do it. And thanks to its many walking trails, wooded areas, green lawns, and playgrounds, Golden Gate Park is not only one of the best free things to do in San Francisco, but is also one of the best things to do in San Francisco with kids.
Golden Gate Park is an attraction all by itself, but it is also home to some of the city's best things to do. For instance, you could drink in the orderly beauty of the Japanese Tea Garden. Or you can explore the California Academy of Sciences, with its aquarium, science museum, and indoor rainforest. These attractions may cost some money to visit, but they are most definitely worth it. Still, if you'd rather save your money, the park is worth visiting all by itself.
Cable Car Museum
Another iconic thing to do in San Francisco is riding a cable car. Unfortunately, cable cars are not free, and an adult ticket will set you back eight dollars, which can really add up if you're traveling with the family. It's still well worth doing, and makes for an unforgettable experience. But we're talking about free things to do in San Francisco here.
San Francisco city cable cars have been part of the town almost from its very beginning and were once the most used form of transit in this notoriously hilly place. In their own way, they have helped shape the history of San Francisco from its earliest days. You can learn more about the cable cars and through them, the history of San Francisco itself, at the free Cable Car Museum. Located at the corner of Mason and Washington, this museum is still a functioning part of the transit system, and a fascinating place to visit.
Expense aside, San Francisco is a fantastic place to visit with kids. There's so much to do here that families will struggle to fit it all in. And one of the best things to do with kids is also one of the best free things to do in San Francisco: visit the Randall Museum.
This popular institution is an interactive science museum that uses hands-on exhibits to teach kids about the world around them. A family could easily spend hours in here, and the kids will never even realize they're learning something. Best of all, the Randall Museum is completely free to visit for the entire family.
Sail the San Francisco Bay
Part of the popularity of San Francisco as a place both to visit and to live is its jaw-dropping natural environment. San Francisco's setting amid mountains on the edge of the Pacific Ocean could hardly be more dramatic.
There's no better way to see the San Francisco skyline and the wildlife of the Bay by boat. And in this notoriously expensive city, you may be surprised to learn that you can take free sailboat rides thanks to Cal Sailing Club.
Rides take place once a month, with dates that vary, so keep an eye on cal-sailing.org to learn more. If you're lucky enough to time it right, an afternoon sail across the waters of the Bay will be a highlight of any San Francisco trip. Without doubt, if you can make it work for you, this is one of the best free things to do in San Francisco.
Fisherman's Wharf and Pier 39 aren't exactly hidden San Francisco gems. But they are popular for a reason. With its famous sea lions, amusement arcades, incredible restaurants, and family-friendly activities, Fisherman's Wharf is an icon of the city for a reason. So it may surprise you to learn that visiting the Wharf is absolutely free.
At least, there's no admission fee. Of course, to really get the best out of the Wharf, you may want to spend some money on all the fun things there are to do here. Still, you can enjoy the antics of the sea lions and incredible ocean views completely free, so Fishermen's Wharf still makes the list of free things to do in San Francisco.
Free Walking Tour
A walking tour can be a great way to learn more about any city you're visiting, especially if you're pressed for time. And San Francisco has a ton of fascinating history and interesting architecture that is best experienced with the help of a local guide. Usually, a good walking tour will cost you something. But if you look around, you'll find plenty of walking tours run by local volunteers that will give you a free guided tour of the city.
Walking tours take place throughout the city, so whatever you're interested in, there's a good chance you can find a free guided tour to help you explore it. Whether is the alleys of Chinatown or the Japanese Tea garden that interests you most, time your visit right and you'll be able to learn more about it for free. However, you should definitely tip your guide to thank them for the information. And remember that many companies run free tours as a form of advertising for their paid offerings, so consider taking a paid tour if you liked the free version.
Head to the beach
It's hard to beat a day at the beach. And spending some time at the water's edge is easily one of the best free things to do in San Francisco. The waters of the San Francisco Bay may be chilly, that doesn't mean you can't have a fun time taking a dip or just lounging on the sand.
Located in the west of San Francisco near the Richmond district, Ocean Beach is one of the most popular, with a gorgeous beach area that will make you feel like you're a long way from the city. However, if you'd prefer somewhere with stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge, head a little north to Baker Beach. The trail from one beach to the other will give you all the vantage points over the iconic bridge you need. North Beach is also a great place to explore, not so much for the beach itself but for the lively Italian community that has made the area what it is. If you're looking for good Italian food in San Francisco, North Beach is where you'll find it.
This former chocolate factory has become one of the main shopping districts in the city. Just visiting the square is enough to let you soak up the energy and atmosphere. You can wander around the stores and do some window shopping without spending a penny, and don't miss the antique chocolate-making equipment that is still displayed in the square. You'll even get free chocolate in the form of Ghirardelli samples, and who could argue with that as one of the best free things to do in San Francisco?
Lombard Street, located near Russian Hill, is one of the most famous streets in San Francisco. With eight hairpin turns climbing a steep hill surrounded by well-manicured gardens, it's a fantastic place for photos and a truly iconic San Francisco location. Plus, it's completely free to visit. Be warned that if you choose to drive the street, the speed limit is a leisurely 5 mph, and traffic regularly backs up with tourists attempting the many turns. A better option might be to walk, so you can relax and enjoy the incredible views. Either way, it won't cost you a penny.
San Francisco is home to some truly stunning museums. However, all those admission fees can soon add up. Luckily, some of the best museums in San Francisco are completely free to enter. As well as the Randall Museum mentioned earlier, the Yerba Buena Center For the Arts and the Contemporary Jewish Museum are completely free. And if that doesn't scratch your free museum itch, you should note that many of San Francisco's top museums participate in Free Museum Days. Usually held on the first Tuesday or Wednesday of the month, these days are popular with both tourists and locals. Top San Francisco attractions like the Asian Art Museum, the de Young Museum, and even the California Academy of Sciences are completely free to visit on this day, meaning you get to experience the cultural highlights of the city without spending a dime.
They say the best things in life are free. When it comes to visiting San Francisco, that may well be true. There are so many free things to do in San Francisco that you could spend days in the city spending hardly anything at all. World-famous attractions like the Golden Gate Bridge and Fishermen's Wharf are as free to visit as they are spectacular. And if you time your visit right, you can take advantage of other free things to do in San Francisco, such as Free Museum Days. Plus, the many hiking trails and natural areas that surround the city are always free, and are some of the best things to do in the region.
Drop off your bags at a Bounce luggage storage before you begin exploring, and you'll be ideally placed to enjoy so many free things in the city of San Francisco. Traveling light makes it easier to get around and focus on enjoying yourself, so leave the bags behind and concentrate on having fun.