20 Free Things That Perfectly Capture San Francisco's Spirit
San Francisco may be notorious for its sky-high rent and fine-dining options, but many overlook the abundance of free things to do in this picturesque city. As one of the most walkable locations in the country, it’s also known for having more green space than any other municipality in the U.S.—with fantastic weather to boot. It’s not hard to find its hidden free gems—just get yourself outside.
Stargaze in the Presidio
There’s still time to catch Off the Grid’s popular Twilight at the Presidio campfire party. Every Thursday, from April through October from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., there’s food trucks, cocktail service, live music, fire pits and cabanas illuminated with lanterns that take over the Presidio’s sumptuous lawn for appreciative crowds.
Vinyasa in a Beautiful Cathedral
Every Tuesday at 6:15 p.m., Grace Cathedral floods with urbanites toting neon yoga mats for a soothing, free yoga class that sprawls throughout the entire cathedral (though donations are appreciated).
Catch a Flick, Alfresco
There’s still time to take advantage of the free film screenings that happen in parks across the Bay Area each summer, spanning from the Mission to Napa. BYO picnic and blankets, then kick back beneath the stars. You can still catch films like “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “Selma,” and classics like “Ghostbusters,” through October 16.
Travel the Globe Through Storytelling
Once a month the city’s globetrotting literati convene at the Hotel Rex bar for Weekday Wanderlust, a chance to mingle and swap stories of their travels. But the evening’s highlight is always the stellar lineup, consisting of three notable travel writers sharing their prose.
See a Livelier Side of the de Young
One of the most renowned museums in San Francisco, the de Young is free on Friday evenings. Not only is the general admission gratis, but there are bonus events that tend to be lively and fun. Expect upcoming soirees like a contemporary jazz evening or mixed-media art workshops and plenty of live music.
Hike Inside the City Limits
When you’ve had enough of schlepping it up and down San Francisco’s concrete hills, opt for one of the many urban hikes throughout the city. One of the best, is the Lands End trail, which begins near the ritzy Sea Cliff neighborhood, then winds around the craggy coast along the Pacific, dropping you at the foot of another urban treasure: the Sutro baths.
Scale the City’s Most Scenic Stairway
From Sansome Street, make your way up the Filbert Street Steps, a steep wooden staircase that meanders through fairytale gardens and past candy-colored cottages to the top of Telegraph Hill, where you’ll find Coit Tower and a 360-degree view of San Francisco and the Bay.
Get a Local Art Fix
It’s worth crossing the pond to Oakland for many reasons, but especially for the monthly Art Murmur event, where a dozens of local galleries open their doors to the art-curious, while food trucks and street performers take over the streets. It goes down the first Friday of each month, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Listen to the Waves
Not many people know about the Wave Organ, an acoustic metal sculpture that the Exploratorium installed nearly 30 years ago. You can find it at the end of a jetty stretching out of the Marina Green. When the tide comes in, the waves push wind through the massive instrument, as if the ocean is serenading you.
Take in the Views from Grandview Park
One of the city’s most underrated parks also boasts some of its best views. In the Outer Sunset district, the aptly named Grandview Park provides vistas that span downtown to the Golden Gate Bridge and, on a clear day, even Pt. Reyes.
Sneak into a Giants Game
It’s not really sneaking, but it is the only stadium in the U.S. that offers a designated space where fans can watch the games for free. Slink around the ticket office to the promenade on the east side of the building and you’ll find the “hole,” where security guards allow non-paying patrons to catch an inning or two from a ground-floor viewing area.
Sail the Bay
You don’t necessarily need a friend who just sold their startup to score a sailboat ride in the San Francisco Bay. The Cal Sailing Club hosts an open house almost every month, giving free rides on their fleet from the Berkeley Marina.
Tour the Tenderloin
It’s not for the faint of heart, but the Tenderloin is one of San Francisco’s most storied and fascinating neighborhoods, and local figure Deleano Seymor is famous locally for his immersive and informative free tours of this complex district (by appointment; donations appreciated).
Explore the Presidio’s Interior Art
Buried in San Francisco’s own national park, The Presidio, are stunning works of art crafted from natural materials by famed artist Andy Goldsworthy. Hike up the park’s gentle hills and through eucalyptus groves to find them.
Rub Elbows with Bestselling Authors
San Francisco’s bookstore scene is booming, and they have nearly nightly readings with A-list authors to prove it. You’ll find frequent live readings by best selling authors from across the country (and globe) at City Lights, Green Apple Books, and Book Passage. It goes a step further with the annual Litquake festival (also free) taking over stores, bars, and cafes around the city October 9 through 17.
Catch a Comedy Night
Every second and third Tuesday of the month, Milk Bar, a small trendy bar in the Upper Haight, hosts a free comedy night with local and national comics. There’s no cover or drink minimum, but that shouldn’t stop you from tossing back a few.
Dance it Out
From July to October, the annual People in Plazas festival kicks off at squares across the city. Over the four-month festival, more than 140 free lunchtime micro concerts sound off, celebrating music and culture from around the globe that represents the Bay Area’s diversity.
Sample Local Produce
The best way to see the Bay Area’s bounty of heirloom produce and flowers, and meet the farmers who grow them and supply the city’s top restaurants, is at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market on Saturday mornings. You’re likely to find varietals of vegetables you’ve never heard of, and many vendors pass out free samples.
Grove in Golden Gate Park
Arguably the best music festival in San Francisco is free to the 750,000 people who attend it. Hardly Strictly Bluegrass is coming up October 2 through 4 in Golden Gate Park, the annual festival sets up multiple stages for three days of totally free musical fun.
Learn About the Iconic Cable Car
Get a free crash course in the lore of San Francisco’s most Instagramable transport system at the Cable Car Museum, which houses a trove of cable cars and historic photographs, and you can nerd out on their mechanical displays with their free admission.