8 Mostly Free Things To Do in San Francisco

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Looking for some fun in one of California’s most iconic city? Here are 8 Mostly Free Things To Do In San Francisco!

The Golden Gate Bridge

A photo of the Golden Gate Bridge peaking out of the fog, shot from Baker Beach to the West. YOu can see the sand and waves breaking on Baker Beach in the foreground.
The Golden Gate Bridge from Baker Beach. Image source: Depositphotos

The City by the Bay may be known for steep hills and even steeper prices, but for those on a budget, there are tons of free and cheap things to do in San Francisco. Full of quirky neighborhoods and hidden gems, discover some of the best that San Francisco has to offer!

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1. Golden Gate Park

Golden Gate Park.
Golden Gate Park. Photo Credit: DepositPhotos.

Golden Gate Park is one of the largest urban parks in the world and one of San Francisco’s most iconic attractions. And the best thing is that it’s absolutely free to visit. Spanning over 1,000 acres, the park offers recreational activities, public art installations and natural wonders. These are some of the best free things to do in Golden Gate Park.

2. The Japanese Tea Garden

Japanese Tea Garden.
Japanese Tea Garden. Photo Credit: Depositphotos.

The beautiful Japanese Tea Garden is a serene oasis in the heart of the city. Visitors can stroll through the garden’s winding paths, admire the koi ponds and take in the lush greenery and traditional Japanese architecture. You’ll find several historic structures, including a traditional tea house, pagoda, Zen garden and beautiful sculptures like a large bronze Buddha. It’s free to enter on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 9 to 10 am. At other times, the admission for non-residents ranges from $3 to $13 and is free for SF residents. Stop into the Tea House and for a few dollars you can enjoy a matcha tea and sweet or savory Japanese snack.

3. Hippie Hill

This popular spot located just inside the park from the end of Haight Street was known as a hub for the counterculture movement of the 1960s and ground zero for the Summer of Love. That spirit persists and on any given day, you’ll find a diverse group of folks here people watching, picnicking, playing frisbee, participating in drum circles, watching impromptu performances or just relaxing and enjoying the beautiful views. You may want to visit during the annual 4/20 event, when thousands of people gather to celebrate cannabis culture.

4. The Conservatory of Flowers

the conservatory of flowers in Golden Gate Park.
The Conservatory of Flowers. Photo Credit: Depositphotos.

The San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers is a botanical wonderland housed in a Victorian greenhouse. Inside you’ll find some of the rarest and most exotic plants in a range of habitats including a tropical rainforest and a high-altitude mountain habitat. The carnivorous plant room is sure to make your jaw drop. Admission is free on the first Tuesday of every month. The rest of the time, admission ranges from $3 to $13, but admission is always free for veterans and San Francisco residents. 

5. Japantown

Low angle shot of Japantown and the peace pagoda.
San Francisco Japantown. Photo Credit: Depositphotos.

San Francisco Japantown is a great destination for those looking to experience a piece of Japanese American culture. Several temples and shrines, like the Nichiren Buddhist Church, the Jodo Shinshu Buddhist Church and the Peace Pagoda, are free and open to visitors. You can shop for authentic Japanese ceramics, fabrics and other items along Post Street or in the Japantown Mall. Kinokuniya Books is a great spot to check out Japanese literature, comics and other items. If you get hungry, grab some takoyaki, mochi donuts or a steaming bowl of ramen.

6. Chinatown

China Town Gate in San Francisco.
China Town Gate in San Francisco. Photo Credit: Yayimages.

San Francisco Chinatown has some real gems hidden behind the red lanterns and dragon statues. Take a self-guided walking tour. You’ll discover the colorful architecture, historic landmarks and bustling streets. Ff you’re lucky, you might even stumble upon a secret speakeasy or two. 

7. Telegraph Hill

Looking up at Coit Tower from the bottom of Telegraph Hill.
Coit Tower. Photo Credit: Depositphotos.

On Telegraph Hill, you’ll find stunning gardens tucked away in nooks and crannies. Look for the famous wild parrots that inhabit the neighborhood as you hike to the famous Coit Tower. Inside the tower, you’ll see unique murals painted in 1933 as part of the Public Works of Art Project. The murals are considered a National Treasure and offer a fascinating glimpse into the history and culture of San Francisco.

8. Beaches

Beach near San Francisco.
Beach near San Francisco. Photo Credit: Yayimages.

No one goes to San Francisco to sunbathe, but the city actually has some fantastic beaches. They’re great for flying a kite, having a bonfire, people-watching, running the dog, and even, if you don’t mind a little cold water, swimming. You’ll hit Ocean Beach, a 3 ½-mile swath at the West end of the city, if you go all the way to the end of Golden Gate Park. Baker Beach, on the city’s Northwest corner, has a whole different vibe, with cypress trees, sand dunes and close-up views of the Golden Gate Bridge.

The final word

San Francisco is an expensive city, but with there are plenty of things to do and see that cost little or nothing. Whether you’re looking to explore the quaint neighborhoods, take in some culture or revel in the great outdoors, you can do it in San Francisco and still stick to your budget.

Robin Donovan is a bestselling cookbook author, recipe developer, food photographer, and the creative force behind the food blog All Ways Delicious, where she shares easy recipes for the best dishes from around the world. Download her 5 Favorite Chinese Takeout Recipes ebook today to try at home.

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