Are you excited to check out some cool places in San Francisco but not sure which places to visit since you are on a tight budget and don’t want to end up emptying your pockets of spending on going to places that cost you a fortune? Ah! We are here for you to suggest some of the 26 places to go that are free and cheap in San Francisco, and we make sure you also explore the iconic places in San Francisco without worrying about missing out on some fantastic places!
So get ready to strike out the following places on your bucket list and make sure you visit at least half of the places mentioned below according to your convenience! So let’s get started, shall we?
Although the COVID-19 pandemic has reprogrammed our social lives, now that we have a ray of hope and things are getting better, how about you plan a romantic getaway with your partner? Sounds romantic, doesn’t it?
We are here to suggest you a list of Romantic Places to visit in San Francisco, assuming you are living in San Francisco. So what are you waiting for? Go ahead and take a look at our list of things you must do in San Francisco!
SF Bay Twilight or Sunset Cruise
You cannot miss the beautiful twilight view when you are out there in San Francisco during winters. It is a must-watch! Alternatively, if you choose to visit San Francisco during the summer, you will be able to cruise under the golden gate bridge watching the incredible sunset.
Bonus — soft music will be played during the cruise, besides the time the narrator or the guide isn’t talking about the iconic scenic beauties!
What could be more romantic than a cruise trip with your love, watching the perfect sunset together, making a wish under the Golden Gate Bridge! It is irrevocably irreplaceable and romantic!
The ticket cost is around $50-55, and remember to carry a jacket with you! This is one of the few things to do in San Francisco on a budget!
If you and your partner are fitness fanatics and are up for an adventurous hiking trip? Are you looking for mountains near San Francisco with a magnificent view?
You must explore the hidden jungle of San Francisco city ( along Tank and Kite hill), which is about 3 hours long, then Twin Peaks is tailor-made for you!
But once you hike your way up to the top of the Twin Peaks, the view is astounding, and you can’t help but capture the moment! It’s such a fun thing to do with your partner.
You would start your hiking trip at Castro theater, go all the way to the highest point at Sutro tower and return. Your hiking trip would be led by a knowledgeable tour guide to navigate you and talk about the history of the place on your way.
What can you do for free in San Francisco? Hiking in Twin peaks is a free activity to do in San Francisco since tickets are free of cost, although you would be charged for a guided tour, and it is subjective.
SF bay sunset catamaran cruise
Did you know many tourists prefer the Catamaran cruise? So, you may ask, what is the difference between the SF bay twilight/ sunset cruise and the catamaran cruise. Because you will, and there glide through the Bay in a catamaran, and this is San Francisco’s only catamaran cruise. So get on board and enjoy the panoramic view of SF Golden Gate Bridge to Alcatraz Island.
There are a few reasons why tourists prefer the Catamaran cruise, and they are as follows :
- First, you would be traveling along with a few people of 36 or less.
- You can get a 360° view up the top of the whole San Francisco while sailing on this catamaran, and bonus, you will be offered a complimentary drink.
- You get to see sea lions up close and other beautiful aquatic animals along your whole trip.
Lastly, You got to experience all this on a sunset going under the Golden Gate Bridge and layered up with jackets, feeling cozy and content with your beau, and a cheap thing to do in San Francisco!
Napa and Sonoma Wine Country
The scent and the smell of wine are intoxicating, and drinking wine is considered an aphrodisiac as long as it is consumed in minimal amounts.
Enjoy a whole day tour of exploring close-knit family-run estates and vineyards in SF, where you get to see the process of winemaking and barrel rooms in Sonoma and Napa Valley.
Go on and check out the famous Californian vineyards. Get a glass, take a sniff — let the great scent register in your mind, swish it around to let it breathe, and finally sip it and swallow it. It’s quite on the expensive side, though, costing you $150-160 per ticket that approximately includes an 8-hour exclusive tour. But, although the price may be on the expensive side, this is one of the cheap and fun places to visit in San Francisco!
Adventurous places to go in San Francisco
You know, life has become bleak and stressful for the past two years ever since the pandemic happened. We are all looking for ways to de-stress ourselves. What better way to do it if not to go on an adventurous trip with your friends and family? Oh! It will be more fun and liberating if you are looking for some adventure as a lone ranger! This list is a perfect blend of things to do in San Francisco alone!
We present you a list of adventurous things to do in San Francisco, be a darling and make sure you check them all out.
San Francisco Zoo
Don’t you want to enjoy watching Giraffes, zebras, meerkats, prairie dogs, koala bears, penguin Island, Bear Island, Insect-themed zoo, walkabout exhibit? Oh! We are not done here; there are more than 1000 species and many more exhibits, carousels, a petting zoo where you could get up close with the animals in the San Francisco Zoo. Talk about the list of inexpensive and fun activities in San Francisco, and this is one among them!
Apart from the animals, you get to experience a steam train ride, let your kids play in the playground, or take a stroll in the garden and have a slice of pizza or a burger from their Café.
It is quite tiring because you have a long way to go and many exhibits to visit; it is wheelchair accessible, and it costs you around $25-30. So have a great time watching your favorite animal in the zoo and have fun!!!
Big Bus San Francisco Night Tour
Hop on in the San Francisco bus tour and admire the city in the Night light; it is worth it. I mean, what better way to do a tour under the moonlight and stars and explore the beauty of SF? This is ultimately one of the things to do in Union Square San Francisco at night, then stop by to have a great dinner at a famous restaurant at the heart of Union Square!
It is a wonderful opportunity to take this double-decker bus tour, especially if you plan to visit San Francisco between April and October. This tour lasts for about an hour and a half, with live commentary, and the ticket cost is about $40-50 each.
You will get to see Fisherman’s Wharf, Chinatown, Grace Cathedral, Treasure island,
and much more. This is one of the budget-friendly activities to do in San Francisco.
San Francisco Chinatown Walking Tour
The Chinatown enclave was established in 1848 in North America; since then, it has been living up to the ethnic expectations of the native Chinese living in the US.
Check out their Good mong Kok bakery, which sells amazing BBQ pork buns, shrimp Har Gow, and Pineapple buns.
You must not miss the Golden Gate fortune cookie factory in Chinatown, where they show you precisely how they make their signature fortune cookies, and you can also enjoy tasting some melt-in-your-mouth cookies there.
Other places you can check out in Chinatown include Buddha lounge, the Wok Shop, Plentea (Amazing Boba tea), Dragon’s Gate, and many more places if you are not tired and still can visit many places. Chinatown also has fun events in San Francisco, and you can check them out as well!
Aquarium of the Bay
Get ready to explore the underwater creatures in the Aquarium of the Bay, which includes walk-through tunnels and a guided exhibition.
Have a close-up experience of fascinating Jellyfish, Anchovies, leopard sharks, dogfish, and more than 18,000 species of sea animals, including humongous octopuses.
You can enjoy the tour at your own pace, and the general admission ticket costs you around $30 per person. Take a stroll in this aquarium and watch all the compelling and mesmerizing aquatic animals. This is cheap, and they provide offers for children as well, fun thing to do in San Francisco that is budget-friendly and informative at the same time. This place is idyllic, and you might lose track of your time.
Die-hard food lovers Paradise in SF
Awaken your taste buds by going for a food tasting tour in San Francisco! Trust me! It can’t get any better. You will have a variety of cuisine, from Italian to Irish, seafood to Chinese dim sums, Dutch loaf bread to Cannoli, Homemade chocolates to the ultimate cup of coffee and tea, and finally, for dessert, ice cream and Californian gelato. You name it, and you will find everything here. Even the ones you don’t know the name of, what’s holding you back still? Get out of here and keep scrolling to know more about the food tasting and food tours in San Francisco!
San Francisco Food Tour
Who doesn’t love to try some new cuisine and some different food? Especially if you have an affinity for food, then the San Francisco Food Tour is a paradise for you!
The immigrants have turned this place into heaven with their country’s speciality food items. Hence you will be able to bump into German, Italian, and Irish cuisine, which is mastering the whole Mission District of San Francisco.
The pricing of the food tours varies subjectively, so do a background check before you decide on one. Yes, and one more thing! The food here is lip-smackingly delicious! The food tour is a must on your list of things to do in San Francisco!
Small-Group North Beach Culinary Experience
Get yourself warmed up to go for food tasting at four popular restaurants in San Francisco North Beach!
Although this is on the pricier side, if you’re traveling with a bunch of friends, then it wouldn’t be a big issue. The ticket cost is around $100, and you will get a 3-hour tour among other food friends. The tour usually consists of 12-15 people, so it is not as crowded as a museum or aquarium. If you are so concerned about covid and social distance, this is the best right thing to do!
So what food can you expect to taste in this food tour? You get to taste amazing food alongside the best alcohol to go with the dish, making this experience even more memorable. You would be offered to taste some pizzas that are prepared in wooden ovens, Italian seafood, arancini, gourmet food, gelato, and Cannoli, to name a few.
This would be hands-down one of the best food tours you can have in North Beach, San Francisco!
P.S: It’s also one of the best beaches in San Francisco.
Little Italy and North Beach Walking Tour
Attention to all the food lovers! You are most welcome to visit the Little Italy walking tour of San Francisco, and you will be blown away by the variety of food items you can find here; and if you are a cultural fanatic, then this place would be a happy place for you.
Starting at $75, this Walking food tour includes bakery-baked items like Biscotti, Dutch loaf, melt-in-your-mouth chocolates, and Italian sodas. Also, don’t forget to stop by the Café and have a cup of coffee that will get you all hyper for the rest of your walking tour. This place has been voted as one of the best foodie tours in the USA, and it is also one of the best places to walk in San Francisco.
History of making coffee, pizzas, baking loaves of bread, walking, tasting, eating, and walking — I mean, what can be better than this walking tour? Bonus — It is also a fun activity to do in San Francisco! Never miss out on this!
Iconic tourist places in SF
It doesn’t matter if you are a local or a tourist, there are a few things in life you can’t miss out on! One of those includes visiting the iconic places in San Francisco, where they have filmed many movies and have been the ultimate picturesque places. Millions of tourists and locals visit these places every year for their beauty and history.
Check out our list of San Francisco’s iconic tourist places that are the most visited every year.
Golden Gate Bridge
We will start with one of the iconic symbols of San Francisco — the red-orange Golden Gate Bridge. From James Bond to Star Trek, some of the iconic movie scenes were filmed here.
Did you know that more than 12 million tourists and visitors visit the golden gate bridge every year? I know, whether you are a native or a tourist, you can’t miss visiting this iconic place. This suspension bridge is the one that connects the Pacific ocean and San Francisco Bay.
The San Francisco public library has organized a bi-weekly free tour for all the people interested in visiting the golden gate bridge. So, if you are looking for free things to do in San Francisco, then you can visit the Golden gate bridge.
It is fascinating to know that one of the iconic places is also free and cheap to visit. We are talking about the former federal prison situated in Alcatraz Island, and you have to take a ride either choose a catamaran or a boat, whichever works for you, to get over here. You will be spellbound to know the history of the inmates like Al Scarface, Alvin Karpis, George machine gun Kelly, and many more.
Due to high maintenance and the slow corrosion caused by saltwater to the building, the prison was closed in 1963. In 1971, the president of the United States ordered Alcatraz Island to be a part of the Golden Gate bridge tourism and recreational area. In 1973, the island was open to the public, and to date, more than a million people visit here every year.
If you are a tourist and planning to visit some iconic places, you can visit Alcatraz Island on a weekday, preferably one of the things to do in San Francisco on a Monday, since there won’t be too much crowd and you can have a leisure tour here for free!
Fisherman’s Wharf is the all-in-one place to visit which encompasses Bay Cruise, museums, food stalls (both indoor and outdoor), Family attractions, and more.
Rent a bike or hop on a cable car to visit the sportfishing excursion beyond the hills of the golden gate. Of course, the ultimate places to visit in Fisherman’s Wharf with your family are Madame Tussauds, Ghirardelli square, Pier 39, The cartoon art museum, and much more.
Talk about your one-stop shopping hub, you name anything, and you can find it here. But, unfortunately, few of the shopping centers include Pier 39, Ghirardelli chocolate marketplace, a Real old newspaper located at the beach street.
You need a solid one day to visit at least half the places mentioned above, and this would be a place that is budget-friendly to visit in San Francisco.
Muir woods tour and activities – Northern California
Situated in Northern California, the Muir woods are scenic beauty filled with magnificent sequoia trees. This forest is filled with greenery and trees close to the city and is surrounded by Stinson Beach and Fort baker. You can also check out the Hot springs in Stinson Beach – San Francisco, if you get lucky, but most of the time, the waves are too strong, so it depends!
You can hike, walk, or visit this place just to relax. Maybe go to the beach after you visit the forest if that’s in your itinerary. You can choose to go here by yourself or opt for a guided tour. This is one amongst the list of free stuff in San Francisco – minus the guided tour!
Depending upon the guided tour you choose, the cost may vary accordingly. So what can you expect if you’re looking for a guided tour? First, catch up with some insightful, eye-opening commentary about the redwoods and other trees in the Californian forest, followed by a drive-through of the picturesque view of the seaside Sausalito across the San Francisco bay, and finally, the tour ends at Fisherman’s Wharf, where you can buy your loved ones or yourself a souvenir to remember your sweet trip to San Francisco!
Fun adventures in San Francisco
Don’t you all love the Adrenaline-driven, heightened senses? Do you feel like you’re about to throw up? Oh, chill! We are not talking about roller-coaster rides, and this is much cooler. We have enlisted a few places in SF where you get the ultimate chills and also light-hearted fun adventures that you would love to do. These places are not only fun, but they are also affordable. So take a look and do what works for you!
Pier 39 brings your adrenaline rush and thrill to this place via a 7D experience which is a way (double-emphasize) better than a rollercoaster ride.
Talk about fun and inexpensive, and this costs you only $14 per ticket. You get to smash some hideous zombies, robots, escaping some hyenas and dinosaur attacks, and many other themed video games with special effects and motion seats that take Virtual reality to a whole different level.
Trust me! This one is so worth it, and you would be willing to play a couple more rounds of this dark ride challenge along with a bunch of other players in the ride.
Also, don’t forget to check out their Lazer challenge and the flyer! It’s not only fun, but thrilling, and yet totally cheap and free in San Francisco to do.
Big Bus San Francisco Hop-on Hop-off
Are you ready to explore the historic and iconic places of San Francisco?
What better way to do it if it doesn’t include a guided Big Bus hop-on and hop-off ride at your convenience? So brace yourself for something fun and adventurous!
We present you the ultimate tour guide to explore the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, Union Square, North Beach Little Italy, Chinatown, Alamo Square, Pier 39, and a dozen more stops with only $50 per ticket on a double-decker bus which is disinfectant, cleaned every day after each trip, and follows all the safety rules and measures of COVID-19 so that you can take a worry-free ride on this trip.
Enjoy fascinating stories about the city in 10 different languages with a dedicated headphone that’s given to you. Also, make sure you carry your sweater and a hat if you opt for the premium ride to explore the city at Night.
Talk about cheap fun stuff to do in San Francisco at night, and this is it! Hop on! Let’s go for a bus ride!
San Francisco Bay Cruise – Gate access
Who is up for a fun boat cruise? I wish I could count myself in because the view you get when you get under the golden bridge is phenomenal! Be prepared for a narrated cruise of iconic places like Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, North Beach, Angel Island Park, and a few more places.
Enjoy the cruise starting your trip from Pier 43, next stop being Fisherman’s Wharf, Maritime National Park, followed by Fort Mason and under the 4200 feet tall Golden bridge, taking a turn towards Sausalito and back to Pier 43 again.
The cost of a ticket ranges between $35-40 per person. If you chose the top open deck, then carry a jacket with you cause it’s chilly.
This is an inexpensive and free thing to do in Bay area this weekend, so get ready for a cruise trip!
Recreational parks and areas to visit in SF
Are you looking for some places to go hiking or go camping with your family or friends or your partner on a fun and adventurous weekend? Not sure on which one to choose? No worries! We have suggested a list of parks and recreational places in San Francisco that might come in handy for you! So go ahead and check them out.
Hike and Picnic on Angel Island State Park
The Angel Island Californian state park is available for all the locals and tourists looking to explore some recreational parks and areas in the city. Admission to this park is free, and you can visit any time but make sure you confirm it with the officer before visiting; just in case if it’s closed or it’s too crowded, you can go for Plan-B; hopefully, you have one!
If you are planning to put up a camp here, they have several campsites that allow you to have your little charcoal grill to make your food, and you can go hiking in the morning or even go for a bicycle ride!
The Angel Island Park is governed by the California state, so kindly try to abide by the rules and regulations of the park, don’t litter or destroy anything that belongs to the state property.
This is the best place among the list of free and cheap – San Francisco, especially if you are up for an adventure.
Golden Gate Park
Are you looking for ways to have a relaxed and peaceful weekend away from all the traffic? Visit the Golden gate park to reconnect with nature at its best, where you can see Bison, deers, and other animals roaming on the west side of the park. Oh, we are not done yet! We have a long list of things you could do here and enjoy!
The list of activities includes golf, picnic spots, hiking, museums, concerts, exercise with your group of friends, go for a ride on the biking paths, and the list goes on and on. The question is, are you up for an adventure? I bet you wouldn’t want to get out of here once you go there. This place is everything you look for in a peaceful and serene atmosphere!
The 400-acres of the golden state park is open from 10 am to 6 pm to all the visitors and tourists, free entrance, but the activities inside the park are subject to charges! So put on your hiking shoes and get ready to do something relaxing, fun, and cheap. Their exhibits are one of the most famous events ever, so make sure you check out their exhibits in San Francisco! You will love it!
San Francisco — Pier 15 proudly presents you the Exploratorium. This place consists of an indoor and outdoor gallery that holds hundreds of exhibits, artworks, and free workshops.
Let the geek in you explore the new realm of possibilities in the field of science, arts, and many other interesting forms of talents here. Of course, you don’t necessarily have to be a geek to explore this museum, as long as you have the enthusiasm and curiosity to know more about how things work.
Plan your visit to Exploratorium, which is open this labor day (6th of September 2021); people of all ages can visit the place, and the price is affordable. So who is ready to explore the phenomenal artworks in this place? This is one of the free things to do near Union Square in San Francisco!
Golden Gate National Recreation Area
There are more than 400 parks in the United States, and golden gate recreational park is known for its history and its breathtaking scenic beauties.
Although the entrance fee is free, if you opt for a guided tour, the price is subjective but affordable; you will get to walk around the golden gate park with some insightful commentary about the Mexican Republic, U.S military, Spanish colonialism, and much more.
If you want to skip out the guided tour and take a walk or trip along the park all by yourself, then make sure you download the offline digital guide to navigate through the park. Take selfies of the wildlife and wildflowers along your way. Make sure you visit the park in a non-peak hour. Before 8 am or after 3:30 pm.
Suppose you decide to spend the sunset at this park, then enjoy the beautiful sunset by Baker beach. It is known for its phenomenal sunset view. After all this, kindly check out the park website to make sure if they are open.
Enjoy your weekend by going for a hike or bike ride in one of the most famous San Francisco’s cheap and fun places.
Museums and Fine Arts in San Francisco
Palace of Fine Arts
Talk about historic places, and this is one of the famous palaces in San Francisco, which is perfect for wedding events and wedding photography. Few local celebrities and a famous baseball player got married in the Palace of Fine Arts.
So what’s monumental about this palace?
This dome-shaped Palace was originally built in 1915 for the Panama Pacific international exposition. However, the original model was made with plaster of Paris which started to decay after some time, and hence it was renovated with concrete and made more sustainable in the 1960s.
A serene pond surrounds this monumental Palace, and the white swans make the whole place picture perfect. Now you know why many people do wedding photography and get married under the dome! It makes sense!
So if you are a tourist, then you can catch the free shuttle bus ride where you could check out the glorious Golden Gate along your ride. Then, add it to your list of free activities in San Francisco!
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)
The SFMOMA has a 17000m² of exhibition space to showcase the artworks of over 30,000 artists across the world. This museum is a haven for painters, artists, modern arts, sculptors, media and designers, and architects whose work has been showcased here over the decades.
The entry fee is around $25 per person, and you get to explore the artworks of over 30,000 artists, which have been showcased in the seven-storied museum. Of course, you will get tired and have less energy before reaching 4 th floor; that’s why they have a Café and restaurant in the museum to help you regain your strength and finish taking a look at the artwork.
They also offer free online public tours and rotating exhibitions on their website. This is a must-visit place in San Francisco and feeds your inner artist by visiting these places, and the bonus is also one of the things to do in San Francisco for free and minimal.
de Young Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco
This museum is famous for photography, paintings, sculptures, modern artworks, and much more. The general admission fee is between $15-20, and you get a free ticket to the Legion of Honor museum.
Located in the west of Mississippi, this museum is one of the most-visited places in San Francisco. The artworks presented here go way back to the 1600s; if you want to take a coffee break, then do visit their de Young Café with a museum sculpture garden view. Or you can get the ultimate view on top of the 144 feet Hamon observation tower with a view to the iconic red-orange Golden Gate Bridge and the Twin Peaks tower.
This place holds one of the famous exhibits in San Francisco; make sure you visit this place if you get some time off your busy, jam-packed schedule!
Asian Art Museum
Asian Art Museum is a place where you can travel to different countries and learn about different cultures without actually leaving your city. This museum showcases the artworks, sculptures, paintings, cultures, and traditions of different countries like China, India, Japan, and Korea.
They also include Contemporary arts, insightful artwork regional wise and a great live commentary of the best exhibits belonging to this place. Ever since COVID-19, they have offered a virtual tour of their museum with a 20-minutes long tour that covers all the arts, culture, and zesty traditions.
This artwork helps motivate and inspire artists worldwide. Guess what? You get a free admission every first Sunday of every month. On other days, they normally charge $15-20 each for general admission.
This is simply the best free museum in San Francisco!
Hotels to stay
We are suggesting a list of mid-range to budget-friendly and cheap stay in San Francisco.
The list is as follows :
- Courtyard by Marriott Fisherman’s Wharf – A mid-range fantastic hotel which is located few meters away from Ghirardelli square.
- Chancellor Hotel on Union Square – Of course, this mid-range hotel is situated near Union Square.
- Castle Inn – If you are looking for a budget-friendly hotel to stay situated between Fisherman’s Wharf and Union Square, then you must blindly choose Castle inn.
- Herbert Hotel – This is a good and cheap hotel very near to Union Square. If you want to stay near Union Square, then this is the right place for you.
The final takeaway
There are more places to visit in San Francisco besides Golden gate bridge, Union Square, Chinatown, and the aforementioned places.
The abovementioned places are just a curated list of places in San Francisco free things to do, and for those who are planning to have a romantic getaway weekend, adventurous and fun-filled weekend, relaxing, and informative places to swing by.
Most of all, this list of places should be a great guide for not only locals but also tourists who are looking for a penultimate guide to a list of places to visit when they’re having a trip to San Francisco.
This list is an informative guide that encompasses a few must-visit places, museums, parks, and iconic tourist places, to those who are looking for an all-in-one guide about San Francisco!