You are currently viewing 25 Free Things to Do in San Francisco CaliforniaPin

25 Free Things to Do in San Francisco California

Visiting San Francisco on a budget? Here are the best free things to do.

San Francisco is known to be one of the most expensive cities in the US, but you can enjoy plenty of what the city has to offer, including many iconic tourist attractions for free. We, personally, like to save all our money for food, so we like to find great ways to balance how much we spend on our bellies. Today, we’ve put together some of the best free things to do in the city.

25 Top Free Activities in San Francisco Bay Area // Local Adventurer #sanfrancisco #bayarea #california

This post may contain affiliate links, where we receive a small commission on sales of the products that are linked at no additional cost to you. All opinions are always our own. Read our full disclosure for more info. Thank you for supporting the brands that make Local Adventurer possible.

Last Updated: February 15, 2024

25 Free THings to Do in San Francisco

1. Visit the Largest Chinatown Outside of Asia

Dragon’s Gate is at Bush St & Grant Ave, map

Not only is this the largest Chinatown outside of Asia, but it’s also the oldest Chinatown in North America. A great place to start is the iconic Dragon’s Gate. You can then walk through the streets, people-watch, or peruse trinkets.

Local Tip: f you need to store your luggage while exploring the town, search Luggage Hero to find a secure and convenient spot.

See More: The Ultimate SF Bucket List – 101 Things to Do

Chinatown in San Francisco is the oldest Chinatown in North America and the largest outside of Asia + More San Francisco Free Things to Do // Local Adventurer #chinatown #sanfrancisco #sf

2. GOlden Gate FOrtune Cookie Factory

56 Ross Aly, map

Did you know that fortune cookies were not invented in China? It was first made in California in the 1890s or early 1900s, and there is a dispute on whether it was in San Francisco or LA. If you’ve ever wondered how they are made, you can stop by the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory in Chinatown to learn more about the process and munch on a few samples. They’ve been making fortune cookies since 1962, so they know a thing or two about it.

3. Picnic Across the Painted Ladies

Steiner St & Hayes St, map

This iconic row of Victorian homes is probably best known from the intro of Full House. There’s a park across the street where you can enjoy the views. If you’re into famous shoot locations, you can visit the actual Full House house, Sister Act 2 church, and Mrs. Doubtfire’s house.

painted ladies alamo square + 101 things to do in san francisco bucket listPin

4. Ferry Building Farmer’s Market

One Ferry Building #50, map

This farmer’s market is known as one of the best in the country because of its diversity and freshness of products. On weekends, you may even spot some of the city’s most well-known chefs at the market.

Farmer's Market at the Ferry Building + 25 Free Things to Do in San Francisco // Local Adventurer #budgettravel #sf #sanfrancisco

5. Walk Across the GOlden Gate bridge

Start at the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center, map

If you drive across the bridge, you only experience it for a moment, but if you walk or bike across the bridge, you can stop as many times as you like to take in the views. There’s also a small outdoor museum telling you more about the history of the bridge. It’s not for inexperienced bikers. It gets pretty scary on the Sausalito side. Jacob has done this but doesn’t recommend the activity to someone like me.


6. Watch the Bay Lights

Pier 14 is a great place to start, map

At dusk, head to the Embarcadero to see the Bay come to life with light sculptures. They stay lit until dawn.

bay bridge lights san franciscoPin

7. Seward Street Slide

30 Seward St, map

Don’t throw out that cardboard box! Instead, bring it to the Seward Street Slide, sit your butt down on it, and slide down one of the two concrete slides.

8. Climb Beautiful Stairs

16th Ave Tiled Steps, map

San Francisco is definitely known for its steep hills, but there are also some beautiful stairs (which take you to beautiful views). The Filbert St steps are really popular and take you up to Coit Tower. You can also check out the Lyon Street Steps for views of the bay, the 16th Ave Tiled Steps for some artwork, and the Vallejo Street Steps for a great view of the city.

See More: 5 Best Climbing Gyms in San Francisco Bay Area

9. Drive or Walk the Crookedest Street in the World

Lombard St & Hyde St, map

This famous street is claimed to be the most crooked street in the world (in actuality, it’s Vermont Street which is also in SF). It is so popular that there are lines of cars waiting to drive down. You can also walk up or down the street at your own pace. There’s a great view of the city from the top.

Drive San Francisco Lombard Street - the crookedest street in the world + 25 Free Things to Do in San FranciscoPin

10. Get SPrayed at Fog Bridge

Pier 15 The Embarcadero, map

Imagine water pumped at high pressure through over 800 nozzles along a bridge. Get sprayed by the mist that rains down at this permanent installation.

11. Tour FOrt Point

Long Ave & Marine Dr, map

Fort Point is a National Historic Site. It was built to protect the bay against attacks. They do a free guided tour to learn more about its history.

See More: Your Complete List of All National Parks in the US

12. Hyde Street Pier

2905 Hyde St, map

Check out five historical boats along the pier. There is a fee to enter, but you can still enjoy how beautiful they are from the outside.

San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park + The Ultimate San Francisco Bucket List // Local Adventurer

13. GO Sailing with Cal Sailing Club

124 University Ave, map

The Cal Sailing Club offers free sailboat rides once a month. Get in one of the keelboats or dinghies and see the city from the water. See their open house schedule here.

14. 49-Mile Scenic Drive

1 Dr. Carlton B Goodlett Pl, map

You technically are spending money on this through gas, but it’s still a relatively free activity. The route was created in 1938 and has taken different forms over the years, but it gives you a great tour of the city and takes you through all the iconic spots.

Remember that SF is not the best city to drive around. If the steep hills don’t terrify you, then maybe having to look for parking for an hour will.

15. Listen to the Sea Lions at Pier 39

Beach St & The Embarcadero, map

One of the most popular spots in Fisherman’s Wharf is Pier 39. Flocks of people visit every day to see and listen to sea lions. P.S. they’re pretty smelly.

16. Museums

On days you want to get inside, check out one of the free museums in San Francisco, like the Cable Car Museum, San Francisco Railway Museum, Randall Museum, and San Francisco Center for the Books. Other museums have free days (see below).

17. Art Galleries

Galleries and temporary art shows will keep any art lover busy.

Most Popular Area: 49 Geary downtown has a large concentration of galleries. You can also check out Ratio 3, Diego Rivera Gallery, and Luggage Store Gallery. If you prefer murals, head to Clarion Alley in the Mission or the Rincon Annex Post Office murals.

18. Palace of Fine Arts

3301 Lyon St, map

Originally built in 1915, it’s a beautiful structure and lagoon to explore. You can spend all afternoon exploring the grounds.

19. Explore Lands End

680 Point Lobos Ave, map

Lands End gives you one of the best views in San Francisco but also has a lot to explore in the area. Start at the Lands End Lookout Visitor Center to learn what you can find, then see old shipwrecks, the Sutro Baths, packed beaches, and more.

Lands End Labyrinth + Your Ultimate San Francisco Bucket List with 101 Things to Do in SFPin

20. Golden Gate Park

75 Hagiwara Tea Garden Dr, San Francisco, CA CA 94118, map

Golden Gate Park was modeled after Central Park in NYC and is 1017 acres and 20% larger than Central Park. It can keep you busy all day. Watch boats on Stow Lake, stroll through the Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden, or see Bisons at Bison Paddock. You can also climb Strawberry Hill, which is the highest point in the park. If you go before 10 am on Monday, Wednesday, or Friday, the Japanese Tea Garden is also free to visit.

Japanese Tea Garden Golden Gate Park + 25 Free Things to Do in San Francisco // Local Adventurer #sf #bayarea #sanfrancisco

21. The California COASTAL Trail

Start at 25th Ave, map

Hike or bike from Lands End to the Presidio for 9 miles of amazing coastal views.

22. Baker Beach

There are a couple of parking lots close by, map

If you’re looking for one of the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge, head to Baker Beach. There’s a mile of coast to explore and plenty of places to shoot.


23. Hike to an Amazing View of the City

Bernal Heights Parking Lot: 3450 Folsom St, map

Twin Peaks or Bernal Heights are known for spectacular city views! If you’re hoping to avoid the crowds, head up for sunrise instead of sunset.

See More: 15 Best Day Hikes in the US to Put On Your Bucket List

Bernal Heights View + 101 Things to Do in San Francisco // Local Adventurer

24. Coastal Views from the Presidio

6302 Merchant Rd, map

The 1,500-acre National Park is on a former military post. 12 scenic hikes give you everything from stunning coastal views to a nice walk through the forest. A great place to start is at the view parking lot listed below. Also, you’ll find the Wood Line by Andy Goldsworthy here.

25. Crissy Field

924 Mason St 94129, map

Crissy Field has something for everyone. You can spend the day at the beach, fly a kite, bring your four-legged friend, or even crab and fish without a license at Torpedo Wharf. Be sure to check out the Wave Organ too! These strategically placed pipes use the waves and water to create music.

San Francisco Free Things to Do - Crissy Field has something for everyone. You can spend the day at the beach, fly a kite, bring your four-legged friend, or even crab and fish without a license at Torpedo Wharf. Be sure to check out the Wave Organ too! These strategically placed pipes use the waves and water to create music // Local Adventurer #sanfrancisco #sf #california

Map of Free Things to Do in San Francisco

Do a Free Walking Tour

The easiest way to see many landmarks is to do a walking tour. San Francisco City Guides run free walking tours throughout the city with different focuses. Run by volunteers, learn more from passionate residents about everything from the 1906 fire to more information about specific neighborhoods. All these tours are donation-based or pay-what-you-wish.

Free Museum Days

Keep in mind these days get crowded

  • California Academy of Sciences (Free Sundays Quarterly) – reserve your free ticket in advance
  • de Young Museum (Free First Tuesdays Monthly)
  • Legion of Honor (Free First Tuesdays Monthly)
  • Exploratorium (Free Events – check calendar)
  • GLBT History Museum (Free First Wednesdays Monthly)
  • Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Galleries (Free First Tuesdays Monthly)
  • Asian Art Museum (Free First Sundays Monthly)
  • Museum of Craft and Design (Free First Tuesdays Monthly)
  • Contemporary Jewish Museum (Free First Tuesdays Monthly)
  • Cable Car Heritage Museum (Always Free)
  • SF Museum of Modern Art (Always Free for 18 and Under)
  • Museum of African Diaspora (Free Third Thursday Evenings Monthly)
  • SFO Museum (Portions Always Free)
  • BAMPFA Berkeley Art Museum (Free First Thursdays)

More Free Things to DO in San Francisco (Seasonal + Special Events)

  • Golden Gate Park Band (April to October)
  • Bay to Breakers (May 3rd Sunday)
  • Stern Grove Festival Concerts (June to August)
  • Yerba Buena Gardens Free Concerts (May to October)
  • North Beach Festival (June)
  • SF Pride Week (June)
  • Shakespeare in the Park (June to September)
  • Salsa Festival on the Fillmore (June)
  • Filmore Jazz Festival (July)
  • Folsom Street Festival (September)
  • Hardly Strictly Bluegrass (October)

Where to Stay

Planning Checklist

Can you think of other fun, free things to do in San Francisco? Did we miss anything?

Did you enjoy this post? Pin it for later

Esther and JacobPin

Esther + Jacob

Esther and Jacob are the founders of Local Adventurer, one of the top 5 travel blogs in the US. They believe that adventure can be found near and far and hope to inspire others to explore locally. They explore a new city in depth every year and currently base themselves in Las Vegas.

Follow on Instagram (E + J), YouTube, TikTok, and Pinterest.