10 Cheap Things To Do In San Francisco, California

10 Cheap Things To Do In San Francisco, California

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Millions of tourists and United States residents recognise that this northern California gem, the San Francisco bay area has a flavour all its own. Situated on the bay, with Alcatraz, the Golden Gate, Bay Bridges, the Pacific Ocean and parks, shopping and fashion and art – well, there is no shortage of fun, pleasure, or new horizons in San Francisco. The best part of this great place is that much of it is cheap, or even free.

Cheap and Free Things To Do In San Francisco

The best things in life are free! So, for the family on a budget or those who are just looking for great places to visit, here are the top things to do when you decide to visit this perfect place.

10 Cheap Things To Do In San Francisco, California


With a unique mixture of nature and history and a flavour all San Francisco’s own, the city’s parks are the best places to spend a relaxing afternoon. The best time is in the morning when you can watch the fog roll in from the Top of Quarry Hill, where the cascade of surging fog breaks through the only opening in the coastal range for hundreds of miles of ocean beach, Golden Gate Park offers Strybing Arboretum and other nature exhibits. Fort Point, below the Golden Gate Bridge, is a historic army defence built in the 1850s to block hostile fleets from entering San Francisco Bay; also totally free, it’s ideal to visit after a stroll across the bridge.

San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park

Close to the Fisherman Wharf district and Golden Gate Park is a popular attraction – the Maritime National Historical Park where visitors can enjoy free walking tours on the first Sunday of each month. Explore seven historic ships on the Hyde Street Pier and delve into maritime history at this free museum. Walk the pier and enjoy the many activities that are always going on there. Beautiful views of the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge can also be seen from the pier. Plan to spend the day and visit nearby Fishermanís Wharf too.

San Francisco Botanical Gardens

Located in Golden Gate Park are the Botanical Gardens. Here visitors can explore 55 acres of land and view over 7,500 varieties of plants from around the world. The plants originate from places such as Africa, South America, New Zealand, and Australia and some are so rare that they no longer grow in their natural habitat. There are several different garden areas to stroll through with delightful names such as the fragrance garden, Asian Cloud Forest, and the Redwood Trail. Free guided tours are available too. The gardens are open daily and admission is always free.

10 Cheap Things To Do In San Francisco, California


San Francisco is steeped in culture. The Chinese Culture Center offers a continuous array of activities and exhibits for a good time; from art to parades and even classes, the Center allows you to get involved, for free. Grace Cathedral, on Nob Hill, is not only a Gothic beauty and a historic landmark, but a popular, if eclectic, church. Fort Mason, a former military base located in Golden Gate Park, offers a wide range of activities in the visual and performing arts, ecology, and recreation. Stop in to see what is happening on a sunny day – it’s free.

California Academy of Sciences

Located in beautiful Golden Gate Park, the California Academy of Sciences offers a variety of interesting places within its walls to visit. The academy houses an aquarium, a planetarium, a natural history museum, and a 4-story rain forest. Watch penguins being fed and enjoy a 25-foot-deep Philippine coral reef that houses over 3000 exotic fish.

See a white alligator in the Swamp and an Amazonian Flooded Rain Forest filled with live anacondas, piranhas, and other creatures. Move on to the Rainforests of the World featuring vegetation and animals native to Borneo, Madagascar, and Costa Rico. Afterwards, experience the universe at the state-of-the-art digital planetarium which receives real-time information from NASA about our solar system. There is much more to enjoy so plan to spend the entire day. The academy has free admission to the public on the third Wednesday of each month.

Unusual Treasures

From free walking tours up and down San Francisco’s streets to unusual staircases carrying you up and down the hills, San Francisco has the best cheap things, views and unusual treasures waiting to be discovered. A great way to enjoy this is to take a 90-minute tour of Anchor Brewing Company or watch the sea lions cavort and play at Fisherman’s Wharf. Wander over to the Cal Sailing Club Sunday afternoons to enjoy a free sailboat ride, with all-you-can-eat BBQ at the end of the day–a $5 suggested donation for the food.


Visiting museums in San Francisco is an integral part of enjoying everything that this vibrant and bustling city has to offer you. The National Maritime Museum explores San Francisco’s maritime past a little bit, while the Cable Car Museum highlights the quaint history of cable cars, both for free. Mission Dolores is a school, a church, and a historic walk in the past; founded in 1776, the Mission is “both the oldest original intact Mission in California and the oldest building in San Francisco,” according to the website. The Mission is free–but a $2 admission fee in the form of a donation is expected.

10 Cheap Things To Do In San Francisco, California

Chinatown Night Market Fair

Chinatown is an absolute must-see for all visitors to San Francisco and visiting during their Night Market Fair makes it even more memorable. Every summer from late July to late October on Saturdays from 6-11 PM, Portsmouth Square in Chinatown comes alive with over 100 outdoor vendors, Chinese operas, karaoke singers, martial arts, and lion dancing. Every Saturday there is different entertainment and the area fills up with locals and tourists alike. This is great fun for adults and children alike. Admission is always free.

San Francisco City Guides

Visitors can enjoy a walking tour of some of San Francisco’s most famous areas. San Francisco City Guides offers several choices of tours at absolutely no cost. Volunteers who love the city and are knowledgeable of its history take visitors on scheduled walking tours of areas such as Fisherman’s Wharf, Nob Hill, Chinatown, Gold Rush City, the Presidio, and many other places. Hear interesting facts as guides point out key places during the tour. Each walking tour is generally under an hour so it is a good choice for adults and children alike.

The Bridge

Probably one of the most recognizable landmarks in America, the Golden Gate Bridge is central to life in San Francisco, so how can any exploration of the city be complete without it? In addition to the park and public space, the Bridge also offers the ultimate experience, walking the length of the bridge. Both bikes and feet are welcome to cross for free; cars, however, cost around $10.

10 Cheap Things To Do In San Francisco, California

Final Thoughts

San Francisco is one of the most expensive cities there is, But it is a city of beauty and variety from its free events, tourist attractions, interactive exhibits, and glorious ocean views to its hilly terrain, interesting history, cultural attractions and a ton of free activities. It is a place where tourists never run out of fun things, great views, sites to visit and places to explore. And the best part is that many of the city’s best attractions are family-friendly and free to visit.

Image Credit: Depositphotos

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