Experience the City by the Bay—without breaking the bank—with this list of free attractions and activities in San Francisco.
There was a time when San Francisco was mostly inhabited by artists, and the city maintains that same charm to this day. Known for its cable cars and counterculture (not to mention high rents!), San Francisco also boasts many free attractions and activities—so bookmark this list for your next trip.
Free Parks and Public Spaces in San Francisco
Fort Point: Built in 1861 to protect the city from Confederate attacks, Fort Point is now best known as the spot where Kim Novak jumped into the bay in Hitchcock’s Vertigo. Come for the great views of the Golden Gate Bridge, stay for the Civil War reenactments. For more information, visit nps.gov/fopo.
Golden Gate Bridge: Walk or bike across the Golden Gate Bridge, one of the seven wonders of the modern world, and arguably San Francisco’s most famous landmark. Opened in 1937, it spans 1.7 miles from the city to the Marin headlands. The walkway is on the eastern side, facing the bay and Alcatraz Island. For more information, visit goldengate.org.
Golden Gate Park: While the primary attractions throughout this 1,017-acre park charge a fee, you can enter the park itself for free. Walk among the sprawling green meadows and splendid gardens, and be sure not to miss the casting pools and American bison (yes, there are bison). For more information, visit golden-gate-park.com.
Free museum days in Golden Gate Park:
California Academy of Science: Free admission on the third Wednesday of every month, and free Sunday admission four times a year on a quarterly basis.
Conservatory of Flowers: Free admission on the first Tuesday of every month.
de Young Museum: Free admission every first Tuesday of the month and the first weekend of every month for Bank of America credit and debit cardholders.
Japanese Tea Garden: Free admission before 10 a.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
San Francisco Botanical Garden: Free admission on the second Tuesday of every month and on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.
Free activities in Golden Gate Park:
Golden Gate Park Band: Free concerts on Sundays at 1 p.m. from April through October, featuring a wide variety of music from classical transcriptions to swing.
Hardly Strictly Bluegrass: A free three-day festival in October featuring over 100 musical artists on seven stages.
Lawn bowling lessons: Free lawn bowling lessons every Wednesday at noon throughout the year, weather permitting.
Lindy in the Park: A free swing dance party every Sunday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park: Learn about San Francisco’s maritime heritage and discover the collection of historic vessels docked at Hyde Street Pier. For more information, visit nps.gov/safr.
Free Museums, Art and Culture in San Francisco
Cable Car Museum: The first cable car was tested on Aug. 2, 1873 on Clay Street in San Francisco. Learn more about cable car heritage at this museum, which is located in a still-functioning cable-car barn. For more information, visit cablecarmuseum.org.
Coit Tower Murals and Filbert Street Steps: There’s a fee to go up to the top of Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill, but you’re really here for the murals that line the lobby, which depict life in California during the Depression. Take the Filbert Street Steps (all 400 of them!) on the way down to see beautiful houses, gardens and perhaps even some wild parrots. For more information, visit sfrecpark.org.
Diego Rivera Gallery: Students at the San Francisco Art Institute present their work or curate exhibits at this gallery, also home to the historic 1931 Diego Rivera Mural, The Making of a Fresco Showing a Building of a City. For more information, visit sfai.edu.
Randall Museum: Got little ones in tow? This family-friendly museum has live animal exhibits and hands-on science and art classes every Saturday. For more information, visit randallmuseum.org.
San Francisco Center for the Book: Discover the history and art of bookmaking at this gallery, free Monday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. For more information, visit sfcb.org.
The following museums waive their admission fees on the first Tuesday of every month:
Free Activities in San Francisco
Ghirardelli Square: Originally a chocolate factory established by Domenico “Domingo” Ghirardelli, Ghirardelli Square was adapted into a specialty retail and dining complex in 1964. Stop by Ghirardelli’s flagship store to receive a free square of chocolate. For more information, visit ghirardellisq.com.
San Francisco Chamber Orchestra: This group presents more than 40 free concerts a year at venues citywide. For more information, visit thesfco.org.
Sea Lions at Pier 39: Sea lions started arriving in San Francisco in January 1990, shortly after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, and now hang out on the docks of Pier 39 from January to July. For more information, visit pier39.com.
Shakespeare in the Park: The traveling players take their performances to various parks throughout the city from late June to late September. For more information, visit sfshakes.org.
Walking Tours: No reservations needed—just show up at the specified location. There are five to 10 tours offered every weekday led by local volunteer-historians who cover everything from historic landmarks to Chinatown alleys. For more information, visit sfcityguides.org.
Wine Tastings: Fat Grape Winery, located in an old Navy Brig on San Francisco’s historic Treasure Island, offers free wine tastings from Tuesday to Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. For more information, visit fatgrapewinery.com.