If you’re looking for some inspiration about free things to do in San Francisco and the surrounding Bay Area, don’t worry — there are plenty of programs, events, and resources that you can make the most of. San Francisco is one of the most expensive cities in the United States, but it is indeed possible to leave the house without having to spend money! Read on for the best free activities to enjoy in and around San Francisco.
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Recurring free events in San Francisco
1. Weekly activities and events at Salesforce Park
Did you know that Salesforce Park hosts a ton of free activities every week? Free events include yoga classes, bootcamps, live music, bird walks, garden tours, drum circles, and much more. If you have yet to visit this fascinating rooftop escape, consider participating in their events for a one-of-a-kind experience in a beautiful environment.
2. Community events at Grace Cathedral
San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral is one of the city’s most iconic churches, famous for its gorgeous stained glass windows, mosaics, floor labyrinths, and overall French Gothic design. Each month they host both free and paid events open to all, including art installations and concerts. Keep a close eye on their event calendar for some great events, or just stop by for a peek inside the gorgeous building.
3. Art and performances at Fort Mason Center
When’s the last time you paid a visit to San Francisco’s amazing Fort Mason Center? The popular art center hosts numerous exhibitions, displays, musical performances, improv shows, and more throughout the year. Some of them are ticketed, but many are free.
4. Seasonal activities with SF Rec & Parks
San Francisco is full of amazing activities and resources for just about any hobby you can think of – and SF Rec & Parks knows it! If you’re looking to try a new sport or learn a new skill, they have excellent programming every season. Most of the activities require a course fee, but there are always some free ones sprinkled in for group dance classes, drop-in workouts, and more for all ages.
5. Seasonal events and activities at Thrive City
Chase Center’s Thrive City hosts an impressive array of free activities every week, some of which are seasonal. The holiday season brings a glorious winter wonderland with free ice skating, but throughout the year you can enjoy free exercise classes, movie nights, and more.
These open-air markets in San Francisco showcase a diverse range of artists, makers, farmers, and other types of vendors. Whether you’re looking for a nice weekend farmers market to pick up some local produce, or a craft market to buy a unique gift, we’re sure these local open-air markets will put you in touch with the best SF has to offer.
7. Events at East Cut Crossing
Meet The Crossing at East Cut, a giant new community space located in SF’s Transbay neighborhood. It kicked off last year with a beer garden, food truck park, soccer fields, and a giant ground mural on the block between Howard, Main, Folsom, and Beale Streets. Check it out for fun recurring events in San Francisco, some of which are free.
8. Free concerts throughout the year
- Yerba Buena Gardens Festival (April-October): This free festival presents exciting and diverse performances from a variety of artists multiple times a week.
- Golden Gate Bandshell concerts (nearly year-round): Weekly free and family-friendly performances with the impressive Golden Gate Bandshell as the backdrop.
- Due South at McLaren Park (August-October): A free public concert series hosted by SF Parks Alliance and Noise Pop.
- Stern Grove Festival (June-August): FREE outdoor concert series featuring a wide variety of genres bringing an epic lineup every summer.
9. Kite surfing races at Crissy Field
The Presidio’s Crissy Field Beach is a lovely place to visit under normal circumstances, but did you know that they host epic kite surfing competitions in the summer and fall months? The St. Francis Yacht Club organizes these fun races on the waves, which can bring out dozens of competitors for an exciting spectacle.
10. Pop-up acrobatics and more from Circus Bella
Circus Bella is a local circus troupe that puts on free, open-air performances for kids each summer and fall. You can expect to see exciting acts including a clown, juggling and unicycle, contortion, aerial rope, balance board, hula hoops, bottle walking, Chinese pole, and more.
11. Free walking tours from SF City Guides
There are plenty of exceptional walking tours to take in SF, but SF City Guides is one of the best and most respected groups in the city. For 45 years, the non-profit tour group has led gaggles of tourists and history-loving San Franciscans on unforgettable walking tours across the city, free of charge.
Free museums in San Francisco
12. Play with coin-operated arcade games at Musée Mécanique
Musée Mécanique is one of the world’s largest private collections of coin-operated mechanical instruments, and one of the most unique museums in San Francisco. It features over 300 antique arcade artifacts, coin-operated pianos, slot machines, animations, and more. Admission is completely free, but machines cost usually a quarter or fifty cents to use.
13. Explore the SF Cable Car Museum
San Francisco’s iconic cable cars are national landmarks, so it’s only fitting that there’s a museum dedicated to them! See 19th-century cable cars, mechanical displays, photographs and more at this nonprofit museum that works to preserve SF’s long and storied cable car history.
If you’re looking for more background on the cable cars, consider visiting Woods Division Carpentry Shop in the Dogpatch, where you can see master carpenters restoring the cable cars before your eyes.
14. Check out the McElroy Octagon House
Have you seen this bizarre blue home in Russian Hill? The McElroy Octagon House is a famous reminder of the octagon craze of the 19th century, and it continues to turn heads even 160 years after it was built. The house is now a free museum available for the public to visit on certain days of the year.
15. Take a trip back in time at the Society of California Pioneers Museum
The Society of California Pioneers was established back in 1850, when California was recognized as the 31st state. Since then, the society has worked to collect and preserve the memory of California history. Today, the society continues to be under the leadership of descendants of those early pioneers. They display rotating exhibits at the Pioneer Hall museum, and maintain the Alice Phelan Sullivan Library, both of which are open and free to the public.
16. See Coit Tower‘s Depression-era murals
Coit Tower has embellished San Francisco’s iconic skyline since its construction in 1933. In addition to the gorgeous views, it contains 26 beautiful murals, which are painted inside the base. Local artists painted the frescoes, which depict the Great Depression, in 1934. Visitors may view the artworks for free and join guided tours limited to 6 people. If you want to go to the top of the tower, it costs $7.
17. Mark your calendar for free admission days at SF museums and gardens
This list shows museums and gardens currently offering free admission days, plus other free admission tricks using your SF Public Library card and more. It’s a good idea to take a look at upcoming days at the beginning of each month.
18. San Francisco’s new Institute of Contemporary Art
The Institute of Contemporary Art San Francisco (ICASF) opened in 2022 in San Francisco’s Dogpatch neighborhood. It’s an innovative new gallery space that will be completely free to all, working to uplift artists and individuals while promoting equity and representation.
19. Marine Mammal Hospital in Sausalito
The world’s largest marine mammal hospital is in nearby Sausalito. The free, 2,700-square-foot visitor center has been completely remodeled and now features interactive touch screens, a new art exhibit, and more.
20. Free telescope viewings at Chabot Space & Science Center
Make sure to put Oakland’s Chabot Space & Science Center on your radar, as they host free telescope viewings every weekend where visitors may explore the stars through Chabot’s historic telescopes. Weather permitting, the viewings happen from 7:30-10:30pm on Fridays and Saturdays. See more free local observatories here.
21. Catch the view from the de Young Museum‘s observation deck
The de Young Museum has been one of SF’s most iconic fine art museums since it was founded in 1895. The building features a 144-foot observation tower offering 360-degree views of Golden Gate Park, and it’s free for the public to visit whether or not they hold a museum ticket.
Free public art in San Francisco
22. Seek out some lesser-known public art
When it comes to free things to do in San Francisco, you can’t beat the city’s public art scene. SF is a cornucopia of iconic public art pieces, from glowing light art installations to the beautiful murals of Balmy Alley. But have you seen these lesser-known works around the city? Take a look at our list of hidden gems including sculptures, statues, paintings, murals, staircases, and more.
23. Self guided light art tour
San Francisco is absolutely stunning day and night, but some truly incredible art lights up as soon as the sun goes down. SF Travel put together a great map marking 11 of the best light art installations in the city, reaching from the Bay Bridge to the Castro. It will take a few hours to get through the whole thing on foot, but it’s not a bad bike or car ride if you want to hit all 11 stops in one night.
24. Wave organ in the Marina
In the Marina district of SF, you’ll find a unique outdoor sculpturethat’s more than just a cool-looking art installation. The Wave Organ, created by artists Peter Richards and George Gonzalez in 1986, is an acoustic sculpture activated by the waves of the San Francisco Bay. Its haunting music comes from 25 different organ pipes placed at different levels around the sculpture, changing with the rise and fall of the tides.
25. Three Gems at the de Young Museum
Three Gems by artist James Turrell is a free artwork, hidden in a corner of the de Young Museum’s Sculpture Garden. It’s arguably one of the most photogenic and best-hidden locations in SF. Three Gems feels like a blend of secret garden, labyrinth, and futuristic meditation chamber. It’s a surreal journey to the center of the installation, where you’ll find a room that invites you to simply gaze at the sky above.
26. Little Free Libraries around San Francisco
Have you seen these adorable tiny libraries around the city? Global nonprofit Little Free Library (LFL) is a worldwide phenomenon, and we’re lucky enough to have 50 of the tiny libraries here in San Francisco. The libraries stock everything from children’s books to adult nonfiction, and many are operated by local schools, businesses, or private homes. They generally hold between 20-100 books and operate on a “take a book, share a book” system.
Free outdoor activities in and around SF
27. Enjoy a charming picnic at these spots recommended by locals
San Francisco is home to some of the best parks and gardens in the world, so there are plenty awesome picnic spots to enjoy with friends. Whether you want to support a local cafe and get some amazing food to go, or you prefer to pack your own delicious recipe to enjoy out in the sunshine, you’ll love all of these great options. Some are SF staples, and some are a little less well-known.
28. Play pickleball at the Palace of Fine Arts
SF Rec & Parks recently opened new free pickleball courts at the Palace of Fine Arts. Three brand new courts are available Tuesday through Sunday mornings, from 9:30 am to 11:00 am. Players can easily reserve the courts via the Rec and Parks online system.
29. Explore a fascinating local tide pool
If you’re a California native lucky enough to live on the coast, then you know that tide pooling is an awesome way to enjoy the beach. We’ve put together a list of great tide pools to visit around the Bay Area, so put on your best waterproof shoes and get ready to explore. Tidepooling is a fun activity for kids and adults alike, but remember: you’re a guest in these critters’ habitat, so try not to disturb whatever you find and always watch your step! Be sure to visit at low tide, and watch out for sneaker waves.
30. Visit the Japanese Tea Garden at just the right time
San Francisco residents are welcome to visit the Japanese Tea Garden, SF Botanical Garden, and Conservatory of Flowers for free every single day. However if you’re not a resident you can still check out the Japanese Tea Garden if you get out the door early enough. Before 10am on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, it’s free to everyone.
31. Take your bike for a spin on these gorgeous cycling routes
When thinking about bikeable cities, San Francisco isn’t necessarily the first place that comes to mind… but it turns out that there are some very beautiful spots to take your bike for a spin, and the city has some stellar infrastructure for cyclists. Especially if you’re a first-time cyclist in the city, consider planning your next outing on these beautiful routes.
32. Catch a Bay Area sunset at these essential places
There’s truly no shortage of excellent places to see a sunset in the bay, but we wanted to get to the bottom of where locals love to watch the sky light up. We asked our Instagram followers and came up with a great list of must-try sunset watching spots.
33. Have a bonfire at Ocean Beach
San Francisco’s Ocean Beach is open for bonfire season between March and October from 6am-9:30pm. The beach’s 16 public fire pits are available for use between Stairwells 15-20. The National Park Service manages the beach’s fire pits, which are first-come, first-serve. Your best bet to nab one is to arrive before noon and make a beach day of it. Groups of 25 or more must acquire a permit for $60.
34. Spot some local wildlife
Northern elephant seals inhabit the waters from Baja California, Mexico to the Gulf of Alaska and the Aleutian Islands. They generally breed from December to March at Point Reyes, Año Nuevo, the Channel Islands and Piedras Blancas.
California’s coastline is the perfect spot to catch several whale migration seasons – gray whales from January through April, orcas between February and May, and humpbacks between April and December. Even from land, you might see them spouting, slapping their tails (known as “lobtailing”) or even breaching. If you want to see them up close, a whale watching tour will do the trick.
30 years ago, you never would’ve seen so many harbor porpoises in the Bay. But now, you can spot up to 30 an hour from the Golden Gate Bridge.
35. Learn about these famous historical spots in the city
If you’re a history lover living in the Bay Area, you’ll know that it’s full of amazing stories that have fallen through the cracks over time. Although many historic sites have been built over or otherwise erased from the city’s landscape, some of these gems are still around, and you can visit them today! All of the spots on our list are outdoors and free to visit.
36. Natural wonders in the Bay Area and beyond
Northern California is beloved for its dramatic rocky beaches and mountainous terrain, making for some magnificent natural spectacles. Some nearby natural wonders include the Point Reyes cypress tree tunnel and the Black Sands Beach in Sausalito.
37. Oakland’s charming bonsai garden on Lake Merritt
Oakland’s Bonsai Garden at Lake Merritt is an absolute must. Not only is it the only major all-volunteer-run bonsai garden in the country, but it’s also completely free to visit. The garden’s collection comprises nearly 200 meticulously-maintained bonsai, of which about half are on display to the public at any given time.
38. Explore these unique buildings in and around San Francisco
Take a drive around the Bay Area and you’ll surely pass by some breathtaking buildings, whether they’re mainstays of the San Francisco skyline or hidden gems that you can’t quite find your way back to. We’ve rounded up some of the most iconic and interesting buildings in San Francisco and beyond, including both well-known skyscrapers and discreet homes that are off the beaten path.
39. Visit some famous Colma graves
Bay Area history is replete with famous figures whose contributions have echoed throughout the decades. A great deal of those individuals came to rest in local cemeteries, including William Randolph Hearst, Emperor Norton, Joe DiMaggio, and more. You can still go pay your respects to this day.
40. Take a ride down these neighborhood slides
- Seward Street Slides: For decades, thrill-seeking adults and children alike have enjoyed these legendary slides hidden near the Castro. The Seward Street Slides were designed by a 14-year old girl named Kim Clark, who grew up nearby.
- Esmeralda Slide Park: In the late 1970s, Esmeralda Slide Park was officially unveiled in Bernal Heights with two 40-foot metal slides. It’s a hidden neighborhood gem, complete with a sweet garden and great views, created by neighborhood volunteers.
41. Discover the perks of having an SF Public Library card
We are exceptionally lucky to have the San Francisco Public Library system, which serves the community in countless immeasurable ways. Registering for a library card is one of the best things you can do to expand your resources because it gives you free access to more than just books — think online classes, job and career services, museum passes, printing and scanning, and even vinyl record rental, to name a few.