FRUGALinSF has information about free things do in San Francisco; whether you live you here or are a frugal traveler just visiting. Check out the Activities area of this site to see free things to do in San Francisco categorized by district. This site also offers specific examples on how to live a frugal, less expensive and less complicated lifestyle. Please drop me a line if you have a favorite thing to do in SF or a frugal tip and I’ll be happy to add it!
Three of My Favorite Things to do in San Francisco – and they’re free!
Yep, San Francisco is expensive – really expensive. The cost of some hotels can make you think twice about coming to this town. Fortunately, I know the truth about the City by the Bay. In truth, it’s the bargain of a life time. You just need to train your focus on the amazing adventures that await you in this city. For free.
Did I say “free”? I know you’re thinking “Crazy lady, nothing is free in San Francisco!” Let me take you on a journey of my wonderful city and reveal to you the true nature of this town and I promise, you will leave a piece of your heart in San Francisco.
San Francisco is built on the idea that everyone is welcome. Differences are embraced and celebrated. This inclusive attitude extends to the accessibility of her treasures. They are accessible to all. Following is just a taste of the adventures that are free of cost and just waiting for you to come and explore. For more amazing free things to do in SF, check out the Activities area of this website.
City Guide Tours
I am guilty of taking Hop-On Hop-Off tours when I visit other cities. They’re easy and convenient. Unfortunately, they are also frequently frustrating when you can’t hear the guide (if there is one) and the timing just never seems to work out. Constantly keeping track of time to catch the next bus and hoping to get a decent seat can distract you from enjoying the priceless experiences you should be enjoying.
Please, please, if you come to San Francisco, I beg you to try San Francisco City Guides. City Guides is sponsored by the San Francisco Public Library and tours are conducted by volunteers. The volunteers go through six months of training and do the tours out of love for the City, not money. In my opinion, these are the best tours you can take in San Francisco, period. Donations are accepted, but there is no pressure to contribute. The best part is that there are several tours throughout the City every day of the year, with the exception of Christmas. Please note that groups if eight or more are not allowed on regularly scheduled tours. If you have a large group, contact City Guides to discuss a tour for your group. Also, there is a list of wheelchair accessible tours on the City Guides’ website.
City Guides offers over a hundred different tours. I have been on several and look forward to taking many more.
Ooooooo! Just writing “Chinatown” makes me want to go. I love the colors – red and gold everywhere. The din of sound coming from the community shopping and chatting with neighbors and the distinct notes of an erhu (a one string violin) playing down the street. The unbelievable bargains to be had for a variety of things from tourist souvenirs (I still buy them when I go, I can’t help myself) to Chinese grocers carrying all sorts of curious ingredients you won’t see in commercial chain stores. The sights and smells of these grocers will transport you to another world. You will be immersed into one of the best parts of San Francisco, its Chinese heritage.
I’ve spent hours walking around Chinatown submerging myself in this uniquely distinct community. City Guides has a few tours of Chinatown that shed light on the storied past of this community, the events that brought them to San Francisco, how this community engages with the rest of the city and the rise of many successful entrepreneurs, professionals and politicians that are important to the fabric, history and future this city.
Take a walk around Chinatown, experience the sights, smells and sounds of one of our city’s most important and certainly most interesting neighborhoods. Be sure to check out Portsmouth square. This is the “living room” of the community where residents come to play, socialize and build the strong relationships that tie them to each other and the rest of San Francisco.
The Cliff House and Sutro Baths are staples on a tourist’s agenda. Lesser known, but oh so much
more beautiful is Lands End. Lands End is a trail that connects the Sutro Bath ruins to China Beach. It is a one and a half mile, well maintained trail that runs along the ocean. The vistas are spectacular. The Golden Gate Bridge, Marin Headlands and Pacific Ocean make this one of the most spectacular views in a city full of amazing sights. They say you can see ruins of old ship wrecks during low tide. I haven’t witnessed these myself, but plenty others have.
The air here is fresh with the scent of Cypress trees and ocean breeze. Surprisingly, this area is often clear of fog and wind. Enjoy the languid trail but, please heed the warning signs along the trail. People continue to go beyond these signs and we continue to have deaths as a result. Enjoy the view, but don’t stray beyond roped areas.
The trail is varied moving from wide to narrow, smooth to rocky and there is an area with steep stairs, but you will be rewarded with amazing views for your efforts.
Grace Cathedral (I know, this makes four things to do, I just love Grace and had to add it.)
Sitting atop Nob Hill is the church of the people of San Francisco. Although it is an Episcopal church, Grace welcomes people of all faiths. To me, Grace Cathedral sums up San Francisco. Although we each have our own beliefs, we love our friends, neighbors and those we have not yet met. In Grace, as in this City, there is a place for everyone.
Grace has a rich history dating back to 1849. The original church burned after the earthquake in 1906. The storied reconstruction of the church spans several decades and was finally complete in 1964. Today, the church holds many treasures deeply meaningful to San Francisco. The murals on the interior walls of the church tell the history of city. The church holds amazing treasures, works of art, indoor and outdoor labyrinths and the AIDS Interfaith Memorial Chapel. A trip to San Francisco is not complete without a visit to Grace.
These are but a few of the delightful sights you can enjoy for free in San Francisco. I haven’t mentioned the Cable Car Museum, Civic Center, Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 39, AT&T Park (with our champions the Giants). I didn’t even touch on St. Patrick’s Church, Golden Gate Park, Golden Gate Bridge, the Painted Ladies, Union Square, Chrissy Field, the Presidio, Coit Tower, the Rincon building and on and on. You can explore some of these in the Activities section of this website. There are so many wonderful things to do and see in this town. Don’t let the cost of hotels scare you (check out alternatives like AirBNB or VRBO). This town is priceless!