Visiting San Francisco doesn’t always come cheap, but there are still plenty of fantastic ways to have some fun without spending even a single penny. Here are my top ten tips – read on and discover what you can do for free in San Francisco.
Visit Golden Gate Bridge
Golden Gate Bridge is the city’s most popular tourist attraction, and you can visit it for free. Go to the Golden Gate Bridge Vista Point for some incredible views of the entire landscape. You may also walk along the bridge for a scenic stroll and some amazing photos, or just drive and enjoy the view. Furthermore, there are walking guided tours twice per week, offered for free by San Francisco City Guides.
Watch the Sea lions at Pier39
Since 1990, Pier 39’s K-Dock is the new home for a big and noisy colony of sea lions, arrived here in search of food and protection from storms. The best time to come here is from late summer to late spring, but over the past years, you will always find some of them lying on the docks. Take some warm clothes, because around the docks it can get very windy and chilly, even in summertime.
Don’t miss one of the oldest Chinatowns in North America! After you enter the Chinatown Gate, a new world will reveal its wonders – Chinese wonders. The whole area is not very large – you can see everything in a couple of hours. See the Tin How Temple – the oldest Chinese temple in the US and walk down the Grant Avenue. If you fancy trying some Chinese specialties, go to the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory and delight yourself with their wide range of exotic cakes.
Find out more about Chinatown’s attraction.
Play a game at Musée Mécanique
Musée Mécanique is a wonderful vintage arcade museum, with old coin-operated games, in their original working condition. The museum is the private collection of Edward Galland Zelinsky, who began collecting his games at age 11. All the games displayed here were part of the Playland, a former seaside amusement park at Ocean Beach, closed in 1972. The entrance is free, but you still have to pay a few cents for playing the games inside.
Take a picture of the Painted Ladies
The Painted Ladies, a row of bright colored Victorian houses are known to be one of the San Francisco’s iconic landmarks. They have been built between 1892 and 1896, in an era when painting houses in bright pastel colors was in fashion, and they also survived the 1906 earthquake. Unfortunately, visiting inside is not allowed since they are private homes, but still, it’s worth coming and take some beautiful pictures. Take time in admiring these beautiful houses and, for the perfect Instagram shot, come at the Alamo Square, where the houses are located, at sunset, to catch the beautiful glow over the city.
Discover San Francisco beaches
Definitely, they’re not as sunny as the southern California beaches, but the Bay Area beaches have their own charm, offering breathtaking views and great opportunities for surfers. Many of them are located in town (Ocean Beach, Baker Beach, China Beach), but there are some others within 30 – 60 minutes drive of San Francisco (Pacifica State Beach, Seal Cove, Black Sands Beach).
Wander around the Mission District
If you’re looking for a neighborhood with a cool vibe, Mexican influences, and a hip eating scene, you should wander around the Mission District. The whole area is filled with interesting street art and many cafes, shops and restaurants to choose from. Don’t miss visiting Mission Dolores (the oldest surviving structure in San Francisco) and the two mural projects: the Clarion Alley Mural Project and Precita Eyes Muralists. And before you go, try the Mexican cuisine – go at La Taqueria or at Taqueria Cancun for the best burritos.
Sample delicious food at Ferry Building Marketplace
The Ferry Building Marketplace is a vibrant gathering of local farmers, artisan producers, and independently owned and operated food businesses, located on the Embarcadero, near the waterfront. Go there for more of a local experience and a delicious snack; for sure you will find something to your taste – seafood, Mexican food, cheese, burgers, empanadas. Some of the stalls sample their food for free, so take your empanadas and enjoy the scenic waterfront with ferries that come and go.
Visit the Cable Car Museum
Visiting San Francisco museums can be an expensive venture, but fortunately, there are still some of them you can visit for free. For example, the Cable Car Museum. The Museum is an ode to the cable cars, the iconic San Francisco’s symbol, and houses a collection of historic cable cars, from the 1870s, photographs and mechanical displays. Inside the museum, there is the cable car power house, which drives the cables, and also the car depot.
Take a walk through the Golden Gate Park
Another free activity you may want to add to your San Francisco itinerary is visiting the Golden Gate Park, a large green area with gardens, playgrounds, lakes, monuments and cultural venues. One of the standout sites to discover is the Japanese Tea Garden, the oldest Japanese Garden in the USA. A hike on the Strawberry Hill or a fascinating insight into contemporary art at the De Young Museum are as well interesting things you can do while in Golden Gate Park.
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