While the City by the Bay is known for having one of the most expensive real estate and rental markets in the United States, you can still enjoy a budget-friendly getaway there. San Francisco’s no-cost attractions include everything from natural wonders to flea markets.
Here are eight totally free things to do in San Francisco. Each one is sure to make your next visit a memorable (and cheap!) one.
1. Enjoy The San Francisco Botanical Garden
Located in beautiful Golden Gate Park, the San Francisco Botanical Garden is one of the natural gems of the Golden City. And fortunately for budget-conscious travelers, it offers free admission for early birds every day from 7:30 a.m. until 9 a.m. And if you happen to be visiting on the second Tuesday of the month, you’ll be able to enter for free at any time of the day! Regular admission prices are $6 for youth and seniors, $9 for adults, and $2 for children.
The San Francisco Botanical Garden is a natural wonder, with 55 acres of winding pathways, secret gardens, centuries-old redwoods, water features, and more. You’ll find an entire hill of succulents, more than 9,000 types of plants, and rotating exhibits throughout the year, so be sure to get up early and head over to the park to earn free admission to this lovely place in San Francisco.
Pro tip: While you’re in Golden Gate Park, consider participating in disc golf. That’s another free activity available in the area.
2. See The Coit Tower Murals
One of San Francisco’s most recognizable landmarks is Coit Tower. Located atop one of the city’s seven hills, Telegraph Hill, the tower features beautiful murals. You can see the murals from the ground floor of the tower, which is free to access. If you would like a bird’s-eye view of San Francisco, you can purchase tickets for the elevator; they range in price from $2 to $8 and can include a guided tour. The Coit Tower was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2008.
Surrounding Coit Tower is the pretty Pioneer Park. This natural area is also free to access and is famous for its parrot residents. Pioneer Park would make an ideal setting for a lunchtime or sunset picnic.
3. Cross The Golden Gate Bridge
No visit to San Francisco would be complete without a trip to the city’s signature site, the world-famous Golden Gate Bridge. While cars do pay a toll, walking or biking across the bridge is absolutely free. The bridge is roughly 1.7 miles across, so if you’d like to experience the beauty of the bay from the bridge itself, be sure to wear comfortable shoes. Before you go, grab a bite to eat at the café on the city side. Be prepared for the bridge to be busy -- about 10 million people visit it each year!
4. Admire The Painted Ladies
Another signature San Francisco sight is the iconic row of Queen Anne homes in Alamo Square. The opening credits of the sitcom Full House have helped to make the area one of the most photographed in the whole city. You can experience the green space in the square -- and take photographs of the houses with the stunning San Francisco cityscape behind them -- for free. If you’d like to tour the homes, however, you’ll have to pay a fee.
Please note that the home from Full House had a fictional address (1882 Gerard), so don’t try to find it using a map. The home that was used wasn’t one of the famous painted ladies from the show’s opening credits. It sits at 1709 Broderick Street in the Lower Pacific Heights neighborhood, and the show’s producer owns the home now.
5. Hike To Lands End
This northwestern corner of San Francisco boasts stunning sea views and a beautiful rocky landscape. It is free to access and links up to the 1.5-mile Coastal Trail. Be sure to apply plenty of bug spray and put on comfortable shoes before heading out on a hike.
Lands End offers views of old shipwrecks, plus chances to see wildlife like seabirds and otters. The park adjacent to the lookout point features a Holocaust memorial and options for those interested in biking rather than hiking.
6. Browse The Offerings At Fog City Flea
Each Sunday at the Ferry Building, San Francisco hosts a huge flea market. Known as the Fog City Flea, this is another great free activity to enjoy during the summer or fall months. It’s located in the pretty Embarcadero waterfront area, where you can enjoy a scenic walk, see the famous seals, experience the farmers market, watch the cruise ships depart, and see ferries cycle to and from Alcatraz at any time of the year. Obviously, shopping at the flea market is not free, but wandering around and chatting with the vendors won’t cost you a cent!
7. Drive One Of The World’s Curviest Streets
San Francisco is also known for its famous Lombard Street, said to be one of the world’s curviest roads. It’s actually quite a long street, but one specific block in a residential area contains eight hairpin turns. You can drive down this wacky street for a scenic good time. Even if you don’t have a car, you can experience and enjoy the street as a pedestrian.
Please note that the crooked portion of the street can be found between Hyde and Leavenworth Streets.
8. Picnic In The Presidio
Another no-cost San Francisco activity is picnicking in the 1,500-acre Presidio park adjacent to the Golden Gate Bridge. The Presidio Picnic takes place every Sunday from March through October on the Main Parade Lawn. This community event features food trucks plus a host of free activities like yoga, yard games, and a photo booth. You’ll need to bring money if you want to purchase grub from any of the 30 or so food trucks selling cuisine from all over the world, but you’re welcome to bring your own food.
The Presidio itself is both a California Historic Landmark and a National Historic Landmark and offers gorgeous woodlands and beautiful water and bridge vistas.
Even an expensive city like San Francisco offers free hidden gems and famous sites for visitors to explore. Want to eat out in San Francisco while sticking to your budget? Check out our guide to the city’s best budget-friendly restaurants. And if you have more time in the area, consider a day trip or two.