Discovering the Adventure
Free Things to do in San Francisco

We've Put Together Some of Our Favorite Free Things to do in San Francisco!

Who doesn't want to know about free things to do? Smart people like you and me are always on the lookout for ways to save a dollar here and there - or better yet, several dollars! Especially when the economy is not exactly at its best.

It just makes sense - we all work hard for our money and there are so many ways it needs to be spread around; rent/mortgage, utilities, groceries, savings, retirement - we all need to be careful we're not wasting our resources.

And we all know that cities can be expensive, no matter where they are.

Between the prices of hotels rooms, dining out, admission fees to events and activities - your bank balance can drop significantly with a single weekend spent in The City.

So we're happy to be able to share our favorite free things to do in San Francisco with you!

Free Things To Do in San Francisco:
Ferry Building Marketplace

One of our favorite places in San Francisco is the Ferry Building Marketplace on the Embarcadero!

Although the building itself and the clock tower are historic, there was a major renovation in 2003 which restored the place to its former grandeur, and re-created it as a destination site.

It's at the top of our Free Things To Do list, but it's only free if you can resist buying the farm fresh produce at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market...

...or the gourmet food items at the shops inside, not to mention the antiques at Culinaire or the table-and-kitchen-ware at Sur La Table!

But honestly, you don't have to spend a dime to have a great time at the Ferry Building!

Stroll through the booths and shops, exploring and tasting the wares (there are often free samples)...

...or take a free San Francisco City Guides tour of the Ferry Building,
or just sit on a bench enjoying the views and one of our favorite pastimes: people watching!

And be sure to say hello to our friend, John F. King II, Drummer and Percussionist Extraordinaire, on your way in! He's one of San Francisco's many street performers.

Your eyes do not deceive you - John is entertaining his visitors by performing percussion feats on pots, pans, cans, and plastic barrels! Someone stole his drum set, so he improvises, and he's pretty darned good at it!

Free Things to do in San Francisco: Museums

Wells Fargo History Museum in San Francisco by Wolf RosenbergWells Fargo History Museum in San Francisco by Wolf Rosenberg

There are two kinds of Free Museums in San Francisco - those that are free all the time, and those that have free days.

Museums That Are Free Things to Do All The Time

  • The Wells Fargo History Museum stands on the very spot where Wells Fargo first opened for business in 1852; it's located at 420 Montgomery Street and includes an actual Wells Fargo stagecoach. (The museum keeps bankers' hours - 9 to 5 Monday thru Friday - and is closed weekends.)
  • The North Beach Museum on the second floor of the Eureka Bank Building at 1435 Stockton in North Beach tells the story of this unique Italian neighborhood.
  • The San Francisco Cable Car Museum gives you historic and technical pictures and information about the operation of cable cars; it's at 1201 Mason.
  • The San Francisco Fire Department Museum showcases SFFD history from the days of the Gold Rush (655 Presidio Avenue).
National Maritime Museum in San Francisco by Wolf RosenbergNational Maritime Museum in San Francisco
by Wolf Rosenberg
  • The ship-shaped former Aquatic Park Bathhouse, now National Maritime Museum (2905 Hyde St) at Fisherman's Wharf was closed for a few years for renovation, but it's now reopened and, while planning for new exhibits continues, the lobby murals have been restored and there are several displays in the museum lobby.
  • The SFO Museums at the San Francisco International Airport Terminals - if you're flying into San Francisco, don't just grab your bags and rush off to your home or hotel!

    Allow yourself a little time for strolling through the terminals and stopping for a moment here and there to enjoy the displays. There's a wide range of exhibits, and they change frequently.
  • The Museo ItaloAmericano salutes Italian and Italian-American art and culture in the Fort Mason Center at Marina Blvd and Buchanan Street (located in Building C).

Museums That are Free Things to Do on Free Days

For instance, these museums have free admission on the First Tuesday of each month:

  • The Asian Art Museum celebrates Asian art and history at 200 Larkin (It's also free on first Sunday).
de Young Museum in San Francisco by Wolf Rosenbergde Young Museum in San Francisco
by Wolf Rosenberg
  • The de Young Museum at 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive in Golden Gate Park houses a huge collection of Fine Art in a modern building that was completed in 2005; the original de Young Museum opened in 1895.
  • The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, better known as SF MOMA, at 151 Third Street in the redeveloped area South of Market (SOMA).
  • The Legion of Honor, a Fine Arts museum at 34th Avenue and Clement Street.
  • The Cartoon Art Museum, honoring everything from comic book cartoons to block-buster cartoon movies at 655 Mission (first Tuesday is their "Pay What You Wish Day").
  • The Museum of Craft and Folk Art at 21 Yerba Buena Lane (this one is free every Tuesday during 2008).

First Wednesday:

  • The California Academy of Sciences, which had its Big Bang Opening Gala on September 25, 2008, houses an aquarium, a planetarium and a natural history museum at 55 Music Concourse Drive in Golden Gate Park. NOTE: The California Academy of Sciences' Free Day is now the THIRD Wednesday of the month, not the first Wednesday.
  • The Exploratorium with its hands-on science exhibits was founded by Dr. Frank Oppenheimer in 1969. It's located in the Palace of Fine Arts building at 3601 Lyon Street, in the Marina District.

And first Thursday:

  • The Chinese Historical Society of America Museum and Learning Center in the old YWCA building on Clay Street in the Chinatown neighborhood.

More Free Things to do in San Francisco

Music Concourse in Golden Gate Park by Wolf RosenbergMusic Concourse in Golden Gate Park
by Wolf Rosenberg
  • Visit Golden Gate Park, especially on a Sunday when many of the roads are closed to vehicles and all manner of activities are taking place.
  • There's the Music Concourse, the Garden of Shakespeare's Flowers, free fly-casting lessons monthly at the Golden Gate Angling and Casting Club ponds, Lindy in the Park (swing dancing every Sunday), Frisbee, disc golf - Golden Gate Park has so many free things to do, I can't even list them all!
  • One of our favorite free activities is to hike! Believe it or not, there are many places to get out into nature in and around San Francisco!
  • City Guides is one of the most amazing free things to do in San Francisco; I still can't believe they're completely free! Check out their tour schedule.
  • Visit the Cliff House on a sunny day for the history (the original was built in 1863 - the current one is the 3rd), the views, Ocean Beach, Seal Rock, tide pools, the Sutro Bath ruins, and Sutro Heights Park (1090 Point Lobos).
  • This is probably our all-time favorite free thing to do:
    Pick a San Francisco Neighborhood and meander around window shopping, people watching, and learning about the area.
  • Check out historic Fort Point and enjoy a guided history tour, view the many historic exhibits, and see a cannon-loading demonstration.
  • Take a tour of the Anchor Brewing Company brewery at 1705 Mariposa Street - they give two tours every weekday, and there's a tasting at the end of the tour. Insider Secret: you must make a reservation in advance (like a month in advance) as the tours are very popular!
  • Do the self-guided Barbary Coast Trail or the Gold Rush Trail or both - learn more here: the Gold Rush and San Francisco
  • Walk or bicycle across the Golden Gate Bridge - you'll get a different perspective altogether!

Do you have a favorite NorCal story?
From a family visit from years ago to something
you discovered last weekend,
Share it with the rest of us
- we'd love to learn about it!

Looking for more free things to do in San Francisco? Check it out:

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