≡ Menu

Best Free Things To Do In San Francisco

While San Francisco is known for being an expensive city it is also full of fun and interesting attractions that are completely free.

Golden Gate Bridge

San Francisco is one of those places that is on every traveler’s bucket list when visiting the United States. This city on a beautiful bay on the west coast is right up there with New York, Los Angeles, and the Grand Canyon as far as being a prime US travel destination. However, the look, vibe, and history of San Francisco is very different than anywhere else in the country, and spending some time there is a must for anyone looking to experience everything the United States has to offer.

While San Francisco is known for being an expensive city, don’t let that deter you as their are plenty of attractions that don’t cost anything to go to. What follows is a list of the top five free things to do in San Francisco to discover what the place is really made of on a shoestring budget.

Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge

The Golden Gate Bridge is THE iconic attraction of San Francisco. This suspension bridge crosses the one mile wide straight between San Francisco and Marin County, and is without doubt one of the most famous — and most photographed — bridges in the world. It was first opened in 1937 and became an instant classic.

What is really cool about the Golden Gate Bridge is that travelers can easily access it by foot, for free. It is not only an incredible piece of infrastructure to take photos off but to take photos from, so walk its mid-point and take that classic selfie!

Be sure to also check out the bridge’s informative welcome center and, if you’re inclined, sign up for one of the free walking tours.

Pier 39

Pier 39 San Francisco

Built on the rubble of the 1906 earthquake, Fisherman’s Wharf is one of the biggest attractions that San Francisco has to offer. It is a vibrant community and commercial center right on the coast. Within Fisherman’s Wharf is Pier 39, a place full of entertainment, dining, and shopping.

But what is really of interest about Pier 39 are its seals. These friendly and social sea creatures climb up onto the shore here, play, and lounge around in the sun. It’s the perfect place to get some photos of wildlife in action — and get yourself some seafood too while you’re at it.


Dragon Gate San Francisco Chinatown

San Francisco’s Chinatown is the oldest in the United States and one of the biggest in the world. Established in the 1850s, it is said to be the most densely populated urban area west of Manhattan, with 15,000 residents living within a mere 20 blocks. What’s of essence here is that with demographics ranging from 81% to 100% Chinese depending on what street you’re on, this is a real, living Chinatown, not a Chinatown in name only to attract people looking to eat Chinese food.

Within San Francisco’s Chinatown is an entire array of Chinese services, products, and, yes, restaurants.

Be sure to visit the iconic Dragon’s Gate, which was designed by Chinese-American architect Clayton Lee and built in 1970. It features stone pillars, green tiles, dragon sculptures, pagodas, and stone lions, and is the only authentic Chinatown gate in the United States.

After that, go to the Sing Chong building. After the 1906 earthquake, the city of San Francisco attempted to relocate the city’s Chinese residents to the outskirts, but the community refused to budge. To solidify their position they hired American architects and builders to reconstruct the Sing Chong building in traditional Chinese style as a tourist attraction in their district. Rooted by this stronghold, Chinatown stayed put. Today, the Sing Chong building is maze of bazaars, tea houses, and restaurants. It is truly ground zero in San Francisco’s Chinatown.

If you still haven’t had your fill of Chinatown, go and watch how fortune cookies are made at the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory. It’s free to enter but you have to pay 50 cents to take photos.

Go to the beach

Ocean Beach San Francisco

As San Francisco is surrounded by water on three sides it is a place that’s replete with beaches. And what’s one of the best thing about beaches? They’re free!  Ocean Beach in Richmond district is a 3.5 mile stretch of white sand and is right next to Golden Gate Park. While China Beach is kind of small it has a stunning view of the bridge and is ideal foe picnics. If you’re looking to get out into nature a little more, Mountain Lake Beach is full of hiking trails.

Go to the Really Really Free Market

No article about free things to do in San Francisco would be complete without mentioning the Really Really Free Market. Starting in the early 2000s, this market in Dolores Park started as a place where people could exchange goods, skills, and entertainment without the use of money or the need for reciprocity, and it is still going strong today. It happens on the last Saturday of the month, and is a good place to pick up some new travel clothes, get a much needed haircut, or have those aching legs massaged after a long day of walking around to all of the other free things to do in the city!


The only way I can continue my travels and publishing this blog is by generous contributions from readers. If you can, please subscribe for just $5 per month:


If you like what you just read, please sign up for our newsletter!
* indicates required
Filed under: Travel Guide

About the Author:

has written 1070 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

0 comments… add one

Leave a Comment