Free Things to do in San Francisco
So you’re finally planning that big trip to San Francisco but don’t want to break the bank? You could either Google “San Francisco things to do” or trust that we’ve got you covered. All of the options in the list below are completely free and are good for all types of travelers – the adventurists, the art lovers, the music aficionados, and everybody in between. Keep in mind that we’re not saying we know it all but we are saying that – in no particular order – we know a fun activity when we see one! Ditch those bags and leave it in the capable hands of Vertoe San Francisco luggage storage services and check out our list. The list is separated between indoor and outdoor activities so you’ll be covered in rain or shine, summer chill, or April warmth (you never know in the Bay Area…). Read on for our top suggestions for free things to do in San Francisco.
Best Free Things to do Outdoors – that aren’t just having a look at the Golden Gate Bridge!
- Mission District Murals – you know all of those beautiful graffiti walls you’ve seen on Instagram and in every article about San Francisco? They’re on every list for good reason. Clarion Alley is almost like an outdoor gallery – it’s a strip of graffiti-covered walls that is constantly changing but is always worth checking out if you’re interested in street art or just want a pop of color in your day. Take a stroll down one of its pretty avenues, and marvel at how much this area contrasts with the dull grayness we’re all used to seeing on buildings. Feel free to feast your eyes on what might be the most vibrant area of the Bay Area.
- Fisherman’s Wharf – there is no shortage of ways to spend your time down on Fisherman’s Wharf. Everything from bike rides, to sunbathing yourself or checking out either bridge crossing the San Francisco Bay, you’ll be able to easily find 5-10 fun activities to check out by the bay. Just make sure to check out the view while you’re here. Just a short walk away, check out Pier 39 while you’re here and you may get lucky enough to hear the sea lions snoring. And never take the beautiful view of the Pacific that you’ll see for granted, there are only a select few places in the world where the Pacific Ocean is visible in all of its grandeur. The best part is you will get plenty of opportunities to take that Instagram pic of yourself in front of that gorgeous sunset, one of the perks of a vacation is you get to share the excitement and wonder with all of your friends.
- Walk Across Golden Gate Bridge – speaking of views…this one is an obvious addition to our list but much like the Mission Murals, it’s a cliche because it really is just as good as they say. At just over a mile and a half in length, the bridge has defined the city’s architecture for nearly a century and even though it is a magnificent sight from a distance, it looks even better up close. Don’t miss out on those photo opportunities while you’re at the top of the bridge, because remember, there’s only one Golden Gate Bridge in the entire world. Bold, iconic, and with its famous hue of red, the Golden Gate Bridge is a must-see during your visit to San Francisco.
- Japanese Tea Garden – too many people on the bridge and ready to find some zen? Head over to these quant, lush gardens tucked away in Golden Gate Park. You’ll wonder if you’re actually still in the same city where you awakened. Make sure to get there before 10 am on Monday, Wednesday, or Friday to take advantage of free admission. Keep in mind that San Francisco is an enormous city with endless attractions for you. At some point, you simply need to relax and refresh. There is no place in the city that possibly does Zen better than the Japanese Tea Garden. After all, you are in the Golden City. For a complete zen experience, click here to know about easy bag storage solutions.
- Vallejo Street Steps – we said this list was full of things to do in San Francisco for free but we didn’t say they all came easy. This is one of the exceptions. Climb to the top of this flight of stairs and though your legs might be sore, your eyes will thank you. If you like the idea of this one, keep in mind that there is no shortage of staircases around the city, some of which are works of art in and of themselves. Also, mind that there is a shortage of amazing views, and the view at the top of this particular attraction is worth any amount of steps.
- Free Walking Tour – whether you prefer a guided or self-guided tour, Free Tours by Foot offers several daily tours that are run on a “pay what you wish” basis and cover everything from architecture, social history, and the scandalous lives of former city residents. Stay in the center of the city or go off the map. If you’re more of a bookish person and not so concerned with the views, the history will be more than enough to keep you entertained. There’s really something for everyone on this tour!
- Lands End Coastal Trail – though not even a 3-mile round-trip walk, this trail will take you from the edge of the city, past the Golden Gate Bridge, and to the waters of the Pacific. One main tip? Make sure the weather is agreeable as it’s prone to heavy fog. Maybe save this one as the answer to “what are some free things to do this weekend?” when it’s particularly nice outside. You won’t regret making the trip. If the weather conditions are right, this could possibly be the best hike you’ve ever taken during your travels. It is also a particularly good place to bring a significant other.
- Palace of Fine Arts – another great place to catch your breath and enjoy some peace and quiet, the Palace of Fine Arts and the surrounding lagoon was built in 1915 and might even trick you into thinking you’ve landed in Europe. This is one of the outdoor locations that are great at night, too. If you’re not into breathtaking architecture, perhaps you can appreciate the art and novelty this structure will bring you. As you observe the domed roof and the intricate patterns, you will gain a deeper understanding of San Francisco and begin to appreciate it more.
- Union Square Park – right in the middle of the city, Union Square Park offers various concerts, movies, shows, and events during the year. If you really want to get a feel for San Francisco, just hang around here for a while to really get to know the place. The calendar is constantly changing so keep an eye out for any postings or announcements for what’s going on when you’re in town. Always free to visit regardless of hours or events, you will be entertained regardless of what transpires. And if your bags are prohibiting you from entering any one of these events, simply leave it at a San Francisco baggage storage near you.
- Twin Peaks – another activity for our more outdoorsy travelers, Twin Peaks offers great views of the city and bay but fair warning – it’s a steep hike to the top of the hill! Our advice would be to hike to the top in time to catch the sunrise, getting a load of exercise with a stunning view at the top as to incentivize you. Great way to start the day and avoid the otherwise potentially heavy crowds in the city.
- San Francisco Maritime Park – Military nerd? Good but not necessary. The Maritime Park is full of historic battleships that will excite even the least excitable traveler. In addition to the feet, there is also a museum on-premise, library, and research facility if you want even more information. Sounds like a perfect excuse to get back down to the beach. Okay, it’s not really a beach but if it has water, sand, and a beautiful view, can’t we just call it a beach?
- Tour Fort Point – part of the National Park Service, Fort Point was used as a strategic defense for San Francisco from the Gold Rush until the mid 20th century. It’s a great example of military architecture and is one of the largest of its kind west of the Mississippi River. As there is virtually no person under 12 years old who will say no to visiting a military base, no matter how old it is, this attraction is a great place to bring the kids. Look up Vertoe San Francisco for your baggage storage solutions and have a great time exploring this place.
- Free Sailboat Ride – checked off all of the things to do in San Francisco? Not so fast. Cal Sailing Club offers free sailboat rides around the Berkeley Marina once a month. If you’re lucky enough to be in the city at the right time, then this is an incredible and unique way to see the city from a new perspective. Additionally, who doesn’t love the feeling of sea spray and wind on your face as you coast along the waves? Make sure to email them in advance to check the schedule.
What to do in San Francisco for free – Indoor Attractions
- De Young Museum – for all of our art lovers, this is a must. Also located in Golden Gate Park (but unfortunately, it’s free entry day – first Tuesday of the month – doesn’t overlap with the Japanese Tea Garden), this museum is home to masterpieces from across Africa, Oceania, and America with an additional focus on textiles and photography as well.
- Ferry Building Farmers Market – okay, confession…this inclusion was a bit sneaky. Though technically the farmers market is free, we dare you to not spend a penny after walking through and smelling all of the incredible local goodies on offer. Live like a local and get one of the best cheeses ever at Cowgirl Creamery. And visit here to make the most of your time at the market by storing unnecessary bags with Vertoe.
- Fortune Cookie Factory Tour – always open ‘em and never give it another thought? Now’s the chance! With one of the largest Chinatowns in the US there are clearly a lot of things to see (and taste!) here, but where else can you get up close and see (and taste!) the process of making a fortune cookie? Bonus – it’ll be a fun memory every time you crack one open in the future.
- Wells Fargo History Museum – you’ll find this museum in – no surprise here – the financial district! However, it’s no longer just a place to deposit your money. Instead, you’ll learn about nearly 200 years of San Franciscan history. Keep in mind that the museum is not open on Saturdays and Sundays.
- Comedy Show – tired of all of our outdoor activities suggestions? This one’s for you. There are various places in the city to catch a free comedy show but we’d suggest starting with Bar Fluxus, Murphy’s Pub and Kozy Kar Bar. Make sure to check their schedules in advance.
- Cable Car Museum – so this one goes without saying and doesn’t need much of an explanation other than yes, it is worth it. Admission is free but make sure you get there at least an hour before closing time (5:00 November- March and 6:00 April-October) to really get to see it all.
- Art Gallery Exploring – feel inspired by the Mission Murals and ready to start shopping for art? Or just want to look at it? Head to 49 Geary and you’ll find lots of popular and interesting galleries to explore all different kinds of styles. Whatever your preference, we’re sure something beautiful here will catch your eye.
We know this post hasn’t featured all of the museums or every neighborhood or area, but we hope it’s a good jumping-off point for you as you start to plan your trip to San Francisco. Get your bags sorted and leave them at any one of the conveniently located luggage storage stores in San Francisco before you set out for your activities. And please, if you did something you absolutely loved – famous or not – that isn’t on the list, reach out and let us know. Send us photos, tell us if you preferred Castro, Pier 39, or Presidio (or another neighborhood miles away that didn’t have a location listed above). If you found a great place to play for no cost or have anything you’d like us to share with visitors, email us. We’re also always looking for new suggestions…thanks in advance!