Free things to do in San Francisco


By Brittany Snow, San Fran-based travel writer.

Photography by Stickney Design

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January 2018

Thanks to its natural beauty, colourful neighbourhoods and thriving cultural scene, San Francisco has an abundance of things to do if you’re on a budget. Local writer Brittany Shoot shares her tips on how to do the city for free.

Best for: urban explorers

Walk this way

San Francisco City Guides offers free two-hour historic walking tours led by knowledgeable volunteer guides, which – although donations are welcome – are completely free of charge.

Dance on air

In sprawling Golden Gate Park, you can discover plentiful groves, gardens and activities all for free. One notable local favourite is learning how to Lindy Hop from the guys at Lindy in the Park, who offer free lessons every Sunday at noon – no partner required.

In sprawling Golden Gate Park, you can discover plentiful groves, gardens and activities all for free. One notable local favourite is learning how to Lindy Hop every Sunday at noon – no partner required.

Secret gardens

POPOS – Privately Owned Public Open Spaces – are outdoor gardens, courtyards, and seating areas tucked into alleys and on top of office buildings around the city. Free and open to the public, though hours for each vary, use the handy POPOS map from San Francisco Planning and Urban Research (SPUR) to find one nearby.

Run for the hills

Explore San Francisco’s Mount Sutro Forest. The public park offers miles of hiking trails that wind through redwood and fern groves, perfect for a brisk morning walk or jog. On a foggy day, the towering misty trees have earned it the nickname the “cloud forest”. Alternatively, stretch your legs along the flat gravel path at Crissy Field all the way to the base of the Golden Gate Bridge – the views are utterly priceless.

Find a San Francisco Hotel

  • Get clued up on conceptual art at San Fran’s Museum of Modern Art © Henrik Kam.

    Modern mapping

    Download the SF MOMA app to listen to guided narratives as you wander from exhibit to exhibit – the app’s tracking map will adjust the audio depending on where in the museum you are.

    Find a San Fran hotel
  • Indulge the bookworm within, at the San Francisco Public Library.

    The cultural calendar

    From martial art workshops to photography exhibits, check out San Francisco Public Library’s website for all scheduled talks and events.

    Book flights to California
  • Discover neighbourhood art at 16th Avenue’s creative mosaic steps © Alamy.

    Stairway to heaven

    A hotspot for posing tourists, climb to the top of the famous steps at 16th Avenue to uncover incredible views of the Golden Gate Park.

    Book a Golden Gate Bay Cruise

Best for: fitness fiends

Good for a laugh

They say laughter is the best medicine. Even if you don’t need a cure, you’ll have fun trying laughter yoga classes, held every other Wednesday at the University of California San Francisco’s Osher Center for Integrative Medicine.

Step on it

Take the stairs! Whether you pick the steps up Filbert Street, Lyon Street, or 16th Avenue, walkers and runners alike can enjoy a free workout with views of San Francisco’s hills and the bay beyond.

All is calm

Want to unwind and experience an iconic SF ritual all at once? Yoga on the Labyrinth is held every Tuesday in the darkened calm of Grace Cathedral, and is certain to have you feeling zen.

  • Sample artisan goodies in the iconic Ferry Building marketplace © nat & cody.

    Home grown

    Open Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, head to the Ferry Building for their farmers market, where famous chefs and farmers come to buy local produce.

    San Francisco shopping guide

Best for: culture lovers

Travel back in time

The free San Francisco Cable Car Museum is open daily to visitors wanting to learn the history of the city’s iconic streetcars. Watch the giant cable lines in action, pulling the cars up and down the city’s steepest hills.

Museum view

Most museums offer free days for families, including the Asian Art Museum and Exploratorium, meaning you can save pennies while you ponder. The SFMOMA offers free admission, every day, for youth under 18 and also has free days for all ages throughout the year.

Share the joke

HellaFunny Sundays is a weekly no-cover improv show at Richmond district neighbourhood bar Neck of the Woods, where you can catch San Fran’s best up-and-coming comedic talent.

Habit of art

The San Francisco Public Library Main Branch hosts rotating art exhibits throughout the year, all free of charge. Explore the library beautiful stacks too – ideal for a rainy day.

Budget bites

Snag samples from local produce sellers and cheese mongers every Sunday at the Ferry Building Farmers Market, you’ll get to try true tastes of the San Francisco and California country.