San Fransisco is anything but cheap for tech-savvy millennials interested in home ownership. Just visiting? You can find yourself some fun for the price of pretty-much-free if you know where to look!
When I was planning my trip to San Fransisco two years ago, most of the people that I told quickly responded with “isn’t it expensive there?” This cancelled out in my mind because I was staying with a friend (free accommodations, hooray!) but I still wasn’t looking to break the bank on doing fun things.
San Francisco is one of the most vibrant and interesting cities in California – perfect for adventure lovers, site-seeing, a romantic getaway, and definitely anyone that loves food.
On my first morning in the city, one happy coincidence led to another and I discovered a whole host of things to do that are completely free. I did not travel full-blown budget, and opted to buy a City Pass and splurge on a 24-hours bike to see the Golden Bridge, and kayak rental to see the bay. The rest of my 7 day adventure? Absolutely free, so pack up your bags and put your wallet away!
Here are 11 of the best free things to do in San Fransisco.
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- Here are 11 of the best free things to do in San Fransisco.
The Japanese Tea Garden
Tragic history and beautiful gardens, anyone? The Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park was my first stop in San Fransisco. I arrived at 9:25AM and discovered that admission is free before 10 a.m., and that a free walking tour runs at 9:30a.m. every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
The tea garden tour moved me to tears. Over 100 years of heart-wrenching history is contained in that garden. You’ll have an opportunity to see the stunning gardens, and learn it’s truly remarkable past.
The DeYoung Art Museum Look Out
I met another young solo traveller on the Japanese Tea Garden tour who was off to the DeYoung Art Museum next. It turns out that DeYoung Art Museum has an observation tower, that you can go up for free without paying entry to the galleries. The Hamon observation tower gives you an incredible 360 degree view of the city of San Fransisco, the nearby ocean, and the surround Golden Gate Park. The tower is open year-round, and it’s always free to go up.
Explore San Fransisco’s China Town
One of the most famous China Town’s in the world, San Fransisco’s China Town is definitely worth exploring. Join a free walking tour or explore on your own! I spent an entire afternoon walking up and down the busy streets, popping in to interesting shops and accepting samples of foods that I can’t pronounce. Most of them were pretty good!
The Crookedest Street
Lombardo Street is known as the crookedest street in the world, and it’s worth the walk to see it for yourself. The street is exceptionally busy with tourists trying to snap photos of the street. While there are signs that clearly say not to climb on anything… that’s how you get the best photos, so I opted to take my chances, take a photo, and bolt on up the street. Lombardo Street is a short walk from Pier 39, one of the main tourist areas in San Fransisco.
The Mosaic Staircase
The Mosaic Staircase is one of the top Pinterest-hits when you search San Fransisco, so I was excited to find it. It took some looking around, but I finally discovered that it was at the other of the same street that I was staying on! I visited pre-using Instagram so I definitely missed out on an incredible Insta-worthy photo opportunity. The staircase is a 6 story masterpiece of tiles in dozens of colours, and if you follow it all the way up you will find a fantastic look out.
Sample San Fransisco’s Food
Many large cities are famous for food, and San Francisco is no exception. How to experience the best food around when you’re on a budget, though? Rather than sitting down for full meals, explore and try some samples. Candy in Little Italy, teas and cakes in China Town, breads, oils, and (my personal favourite) chocolate almond brittle in the Ferry Building are just a few of the delicious things that I tried on my trip. Many of the most-visited tourist neighbourhoods in San Fransisco.
Tour of City Hall
My trip happened to fall on the City Hall Centennial! I showed up for a tour and discovered that City Hall was preparing for a massive party. Instead of a tour, my visit later that night included acrobats, a silent disco, a light show, sining, dancing, and community collaboration art pieces. City Hall tours are Monday to Friday at 10,12, and 2.
The Cable Car Museum
This was one of my favourite parts about my trip, I went to the Cable Car Museum 3 times. Of course, you have to ride the cable cars, and this museum is along the route. Inside they’ve opened up the floors so that you can see the enormous gears spinning the cables that the cars use to move down the street. Bonus: the best gift shop in the city.
Victorian San Francisco
The old neighbourhoods of San Francisco are rich with history and interesting architecture. I took a walking tour through these neighbourhoods that even took us inside a home that had been restored to Victorian era decor.
When it’s free: always. More info on the tour below!
Going to Land’s End is a what I imagine it would be like to step inside a post card. This is a beautiful park with a wide view of the Golden Gate bridge and the bay.
I was fortunate enough to see whales in the bay when I was there, and June was definitely the right month to visit because the fog is low. Land’s End was the perfect, picturesque end to an incredible trip.
When it’s free: always.
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Last of all, the most important free travel tip for San Francisco.
Free San Francisco Public Library Walking Tours.
The Walking Tour that I happened on in the Japanese Tea Garden on my first day was hosted by a volunteer from the San Francisco Public Library.
On my visit, I also took their tour of Victorian San Francisco, Public Spaces, and China Town, and there were so many other tours I would have loved to do.
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