Free (or cheap) things to do in San Francisco

   I LOVE San Francisco.  It’s such a cool, diverse and beautiful city.  It can, however, be expensive.  So I’ve put together a list of cool and FREE things to do.  A lot of these are walkable.  Be prepared the hills of San Francisco are no joke but just think of it as a booty workout! However, some of these may require an uber (you can use my code to get your first ride free) or some form of public transportation.
    WALK THE GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE-  This was AMAZING! At the beginning there is a free outdoor museum that gives you a lot of the history and tells you all about the construction of the bridge.  I don’t have an engineering mind so I find things like that fascinating.  We discussed renting bicycles to ride across but I am so glad we didn’t.  The bridge was pretty crowded and the bikers couldn’t take in the views.  It was a lot of fun to stop and look in all directions.  The views of the water, Alcatrez, the city and the Marin County.  It was pretty special.  We wanted to explore Sausalito a bit so we took an Uber into town and had lunch.  Our original plan was to take the ferry back to the city but it was crazy crowded.  I ended up calling us an uber from the ferry line.  It ended up saving us money.  The ferry would have been $25 for both of us and our uber was only $18.  Not quite the same experience but we still got to look out the window at the views.
   COIT TOWER-Our uber dropped us off here.  We didn’t go up because the wait was about two and a half hours but the view from the bottom was pretty phenomenal.  There are several monuments and historical plaques to see.  Not to mention a self cleaning bathroom, pretty interesting.  To the left of Coit Tower are the Filbert Steps.  This is a “street” of steps that connect the homes there.  It was lush with plants, trees and flowers.  It was beautiful, empty of people and unexpected.
   LOMBARD STREET-From the Filbert Steps we walked to Lombard Street.  This is also known as the crooked street.  Fun fact-it started off straight and was made crooked on purpose to stop speeders.  There is definitely no speeding now.  It was really fun to watch the traffic jam of cars trying to maneuver their way through the turns.  I felt bad for the people who live there.  We watched one car trying to leave their driveway for a good ten minutes.  The homes on this street are quite beautiful.
   GHIRADELLI SQUARE-This is a public square of shops and restaurants in the Fisherman’s Wharf area.  There were street performers that were pretty good and it had a great vibe.  We didn’t stay long but it could be worth more time.
   THE PAINTED LADIES-These Victorian homes are beautiful.  They are so well kept and ornate.  It looks just like it did in the opening of Full House.   The downtown skyline is visible behind them.  I read that it is the most photographed location in San Francisco. It’s easy to see why.
   FISHERMAN’S WHARF-It’s a pretty major tourist attraction.  There’s TONS of people watching to do.  There’s an aquarium if you have little ones.  Lots of food vendors for an inexpensive meal (we found a delicious food truck right around the corner) and some cute souvenir shops.
   UNION SQUARE-This is an upscale shopping district with a long history.  There’s a cool plaza in the middle with performers.  An art show was set up when we were there.  The cable car has a large stop there.  I don’t really recommend the cable car unless it’s an experience you HAVE to have.  The lines are outrageous and people can stay on as long as they want.  So the car may pull up and only let three or four people on.  The window shopping in Union Square is fun.  You’ll see brands that aren’t available everywhere.  There are several restaurants to eat in if you don’t mind paying a bit more (keep in mind you are in a tourist area so it can be pricey).
   16TH AVENUE MOSAIC STEPS-These are a bit away from the center of San Francisco but so worth the trip.  The mosaic steps took two years ad three hundred people to put together.  It connects a neighborhood. It is really cool.  There is a view from the top of the bay and the view from the bottom of the complete mosaic is beautiful.
   TONGA ROOM AND HURRICANE BAR-This restaurant/bar is located in the Fairmont Hotel.  You can make a reservation and eat at the restaurant.  We opted to just go to the bar.  Although it might seem a bit cheesy it was a lot of fun. There’s a cover band that plays on a boat in the middle of the pool and periodically it rains.  The cover band was fun and the drinks were good.  There wasn’t an official dance floor but people were dancing and singing along.  Definitely worth the experience.
    These are just a few of the things we were able to experience on our trip to San Francisco.  Do you have any other must dos?  Please leave any info in the comment section.  We will definitely go back. Although, that last picture is my hubby exhausted on the FLOOR of the airport!   Please, join our community of travel minded people and hit the follow button.  You’ll get an email when a new post is up!


48 thoughts on “Free (or cheap) things to do in San Francisco

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  1. I always recommend Crissy Field for a nice stroll and the views of the Golden Gate and city. I also highly recommend The Ferry Building for all the food stalls and people watching. The Water Bar is another frequented and favorite of mine; great view of the Oakland Bay Bridge. Foreign Cinema is another great find (yes, you have to drop some cash, but the meal and movie projection in the courtyard is unique).

  2. I’ve been to San Francisco a few times. My favorite things to do there are Ghiradelli Square, Fisthermans Wharf, and Lombard Street. It’s a fun place to visit!

  3. I thought that the bridge would be reason enough for a visit to SF,]. But glad to know that there are so many more things to do there. Also would love to check out the 16TH AVENUE MOSAIC STEPS. Nice compilation!

  4. I absolutely love San Fransisco. I could spend hours just watching the sea lions sunbathe on the pier. The wax museum was one of our favorite places to visit, next to the aquarium. Plus, there are so many cool street performers making it so that each visit is a different adventure.

  5. I was there about 15 years ago. Way too long. I’d like to get out to the West Coast next summer and drive from Los Angeles up the coast.

  6. I need to get there ASAP! Sadly, I’ve never even been to California 🙁 It’s time!!!!!! I’ll save this info. Thank you 🙂

  7. Love this post! My hometown is about 1.5 hours from SF so I’d visit a bit growing up. I’ve never seen the mosaic steps, though! Have to add that to my list. I highly recommend Lands End. Such beautiful views! (and free!)

  8. My first reaction on seeing your pictures – Oh My God! Those stairs look really steep. And there are so many!! Would love to climb them one day and sit and watch The Painted Ladies.

  9. I’ve done a couple of day trips to San Francisco when visiting family in the area but would to stay there and explore more of the city. Walking across the Golden Gate Bridge is at the top of my list of things to do.

  10. I’ve done maybe half of these and only because my cousin lives there. Next time we’re there, I’d like to check out the other half of this list. We biked the Golden Gate bridge and although that’s not free, I would totally recommend it!

  11. If I go to San Francisco, I will keep the list in mind. US is sofar away and has so many things to see. SF somehow isn\t on the top of my bucket list to be honest.

  12. I was just there in February and you’re bringing back great memories! Bummer I missed out on the mosaic steps though. I love art and love a good view. Guess I must revisit now!

  13. I’m from the Bay Area and I absolutely love this list. Many people think it’s too expensive to visit SF, but there are many options for budget travelers.

  14. San Francisco is such an amazing city. I’ve been several times, and you have a great selection of must-see places. I had forgotten my trip to the Tonga Room many years ago! Your picture brought me right back. 🙂

  15. This is such a nice concise list of things to do. Your descriptions are thorough and really helpful for me since I’ve never been. Thanks.

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