10 Best Things To Do For Free In San Francisco, California - Updated 2021

things to do in san francisco free

San Francisco is located in Northern California and is surrounded by the Pacific Ocean and the San Francisco Bay. It’s one of America’s most populated cities and is a large tourist destination. The city is known for having steep hills and for being foggy, and it’s home to plenty of tech giants including Twitter and Reddit. In terms of attractions, there’s plenty to explore. Visit Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary, the famous now-closed prison which sits on an island. Or head to Fisherman’s Wharf, a waterfront area full of restaurants and shops. If you like art, you can explore the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. But sometimes you want to save some money while on holiday, and San Francisco isn’t exactly known for being cheap. So, to help you out, we’ve created a list of the best things to do for free in San Francisco, so you can save yourself a few bucks. Read on and check out the options.

1. Visit the Ferry Building

San Francisco Ferry Building (cropped)
Source: Photo by user JaGa used under CC BY-SA 4.0

The San Francisco Ferry Building was designed in the late 1800s and is a terminal for the area’s ferries as well as a food hall. Designed with the Beaux-Arts architecture style, it features a tall clock tower that can be seen in parts of the city. The building itself is lovely to look at, and will certainly provide you with some great photographs. Of course, you can also do some people watching and peruse the stalls in the market area. There are benches where you can sit and enjoy beautiful views of the bay. It’s the perfect place to take in some architecture while also enjoy the natural beauty surrounding San Francisco.

Ferry Building

Address: One Ferry Building San Francisco, California 94111

Website: Ferry Building

Opening hours: Mon - Fri: 10am - 6pm; Sat: 9am - 6pm; Sun: 11am - 5pm

Price: Free

2. Check out the Coit Tower murals

The Coit Tower is located in the Telegraph Hill neighbourhood and offers panoramic views over San Francisco from its tower. Inside the tower, you’ll be rewarded with an excellent sight as well. On the first floor are 27 murals painted during the Great Depression. Painted by a number of artists, these murals were the pilot for the Public Works of Art Project, a Depression-era programme aimed at employing artists. The murals reflect life in San Francisco during the 1920s and 1930s. It is suggested that you follow the murals in a clockwise direction as each mural tells a story which leads to the next. If you’re an art lover, this is a free way to immerse yourself in modern art history.

Coit Tower

Address: 1 Telegraph Hill Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94133, USA

Website: Coit Tower

Opening hours: 10am - 6pm (daily)

Price: Free

3. Take a walk across the Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge as seen from Marshall’s Beach, March 2018
Source: Photo by user Frank Schulenburg used under CC BY-SA 4.0

The Golden Gate Bridge is perhaps the most iconic landmark of San Francisco, and of course, it’s free to walk across it! Construction of this famous suspension bridge ended in 1937, and at the time it was the tallest and longest of its type in the world. When walking across this orange bridge, you’ll have views over the San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean. And there are plenty of photo opportunities. Get some excellent shots of the surrounding waters during sunup or sundown. Or point your camera upwards and get some pictures of the towers and cables. You’ll be walking across part of the city’s history!

Golden Gate Bridge

Address: Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, CA, USA

Website: Golden Gate Bridge

Opening hours: 24/7

Price: Free

4. Watch a free show at Amoeba Music

Editor's Note: There's no photo available at the time of writing

Amoeba Music is a staple of San Francisco. This independent music store opened in 1990 on the Haight-Ashbury neighbourhood and has stores in Berkeley and Hollywood. They sell new and second-hand vinyl, CDs, and cassettes. In addition to selling music, they also have a regular schedule of musical acts performing live shows for free. The shows are open to all ages, and the lineup changes regularly, so do be sure to check their website for an up-to-date schedule. It’s a great way to catch both new and established acts — and better yet, it’s free!

Amoeba Music

Address: 1855 Haight St, San Francisco, CA 94117, USA

Website: Amoeba Music

Opening hours: 11am - 8pm (daily)

Price: Free

5. Explore the Cable Car Museum

If you’re intrigued by San Francisco’s famous cable cars, then look not further then the Cable Car Museum to learn more. This free museum shares information about the history and technology of the cable car. You’ll be able to view antique cable cars dating back to the 1870s, and there mechanical displays which teach visitors about the tracks, cables, and breaking mechanisms. The museum also is home a collection of historic photographs. It’s the perfect place to visit if you’re interested in transportation — and of course, if you’re itching to spend a bit of money, you can visit the gift shop.

Cable Car Museum

Address: 1201 Mason St, San Francisco, CA 94108, USA

Website: Cable Car Museum

Opening hours: 10am - 6pm (daily)

Price: Free

6. See the Sea Lions at Pier 39

Pier 39 SF
Source: Photo by Flickr user Olivier Dionne used under CC BY 2.0

Animal lovers will definitely enjoy checking out the sea lions on Pier 39, a former pier which is now a popular shopping centre. These cute creatures started congregating on the pier following an earthquake in 1989. And Pier 39 is the perfect home for them: they have plenty of food and they’re protected from predators. The number of sea lions on the pier fluctuates, with recent numbers suggesting 150 all the way up to more than 1700. Either way, there are plenty of sea lions to spot! So grab your camera and be prepared to admire these cuties.

Pier 39

Address: The Embarcadero, San Francisco, CA 94133, USA

Website: Pier 39

Opening hours: 10am - 10pm (daily)

Price: Free

7. Take a slide at the Seward Street Slides

If you’re a kid at heart, sliding down the Seward Slides is a must-do during your trip to San Francisco. These steep concrete slides are situated in Seward Mini Park, a neighbourhood park that features a community garden. Built in the 1960s, the slides run down one of the city’s legendary hills. There are two slides side-by-side, so race a friend to the end! Take a moment before you slide down to enjoy a beautiful view of San Francisco before you speed down. An insider tip: slide down on a piece of cardboard to go faster! Sometimes you’ll be able to spot some at the park.

Seward Street Slides

Address: 30 Seward St, San Francisco, CA 94114, USA

Website: Seward Street Slides

Opening hours: 6am - 10pm (daily)

Price: Free

8. Tour San Francisco City Hall

Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Cabe used under CC BY-SA 3.0

San Francisco City Hall as it stands today was built in 1915, being rebuilt after the Great Earthquake and Fire of 1906. With a large dome, grand staircase, and marble floors, it’s certainly an imposing and beautiful building. As it’s a public building, you’re free to enter and roam around. You can spend some time checking out the beautiful architecture. If you’d like to learn more, you can also join a tour. The tours are free and last 45 minutes to an hour. It’s a great way to learn more about the city’s history.

San Francisco City Hall

Address: 1 Dr Carlton B Goodlett Pl, San Francisco, CA 94102, USA

Website: San Francisco City Hall

Opening hours: Mon - Fri: 8am - 8pm (closed on Sat & Sun)

Price: Free

9. Go picnicking at Dolores Park

Dolores Park, also called Mission Dolores Park, is one of San Francisco’s city parks. The park sits on a slope, providing park-goers with beautiful views of downtown San Francisco and the Bay. It’s the perfect spot to enjoy a picnic while taking in the city’s scenery. In addition to lush greenery, you’ll find sports facilities, a playground, and a dog play area in the park. It’s a popular spot to enjoy some fresh air, so on a sunny weekend, you can expect to share the park with thousands of San Franciscans.

Dolores Park

Address: Dolores St &, 19th St, San Francisco, CA 94114, United States

Website: Dolores Park

Opening hours: 6am - 10pm (daily)

Price: Free

10. Head to the Rose Garden at Golden Gate Bridge Park

things to do in san francisco free | head to the rose garden at golden gate bridge park
Source: jun_ying_jun on Instagram

We’ll end our list with a tranquil spot in San Francisco. The Rose Garden at Golden State Park features more than 60 rose beds. From rows of rose beds to lattices with climbing roses, there’s plenty of natural beauty to take in. The garden dates back to the 1960s and is maintained by a group of locals. It’s a must-see if you love flowers and plants.

Rose Garden at Golden Gate Bridge Park

Address: Golden Gate Park, John F Kennedy Dr, San Francisco, CA 94117, USA

Website: Rose Garden at Golden Gate Bridge Park

Opening hours: 6am - 10pm (daily)

Price: Free

Save some money in San Francisco

When travelling to San Francisco, you don’t have to spend money on everything. There are plenty of free things to enjoy. Learn about the city’s history at City Hall if you’re a history buff or take in a gig at Amoeba Music if you’re a music lover. There’s a little something for everyone. So start planning your trip to San Francisco today.

Disclosure: Trip101 selects the listings in our articles independently. Some of the listings in this article contain affiliate links.

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Nicole is an American expat living in London, England. When she moved from the midwest to London in 2012, it was her first time leaving the US. She has traveled steadily since then, making trips...Read more

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