Free Things to Do in San Francisco on Vacation

Planning a vacation to San Francisco? Our insiders put together a list of our top free things to do in San Francisco.

The City by the Bay can be a pretty pricey place to explore (and an even more expensive place to live!), but that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of high quality free attractions for you and your family to enjoy.

From the great outdoors to art galleries and educational institutions, there’s something to appeal to every taste. So explore San Francisco without breaking the bank by checking out a few of these free things to do in San Francisco.

Looking for more things to do, check out the Go San Francisco® Card, which includes admission tickets to top San Francisco attractions for one low price.

The Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco's most iconic attraction.

The Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco’s most iconic attraction.

Art Galleries

If you’re interested in any aspect of the arts, why not stroll through one (or more) of San Francisco’s many famous art galleries?

Most are free to tour (with no pressure to buy!) and it’s a great way to explore the most recent developments in various artistic media. Some highlighted galleries include Ratio 3 and 47 Geary.

Cable Car Museum

A visit here is a great way to learn about the history of San Francisco’s famed cable cars. Housed in still-operational Washington-Mason carbarn and powerhouse, the museum contains no fewer than three 1870s cable cars, a series of fascinating historical photographs, and a number of mechanical artifacts.

Admission to the museum is totally free, although you may want to set aside a little cash for their fantastic gift shop.

Fort Point

This historic Civil War fort, perched above the Golden Gate Bridge, didn’t actually see any action during the conflict. However, it was intended to protect the harbor against Confederate forces and potential foreign attack, so it’s an impressive example of defensive fortifications, crafted in beautiful master brickwork.

It has since become famous as the setting for scenes a number of films, including Vertigo. Today it’s a National Park and is a great free thing to do in San Francisco.

Golden Gate Park

With a size to rival the more famous Central Park, this urban oasis is filled with cool green meadows, stately redwoods, and a great selection of fine cultural institutions.

Spend a day lounging on the grass with a picnic and tossing a frisbee, or take advantage of some of the periodic free events like weekly concerts and Shakespeare in the Park performances. Welcoming more than 13 million visitors each year, this part is a must-visit destination for any traveler to San Francisco.

Musée Mécanique

This unique institution is located on Pier 45, so it’s easy to pop in during a day of strolling the waterfront neighborhoods.

Why visit? Well, where else can you see such a collection of bizarre and creepy artifacts? It’s a vintage arcade that specializes in weird games, housing more than 300 artifacts like antique slot machines, coin-operated pianos, and unnerving puppets.

Some games are actually playable (for a few paltry quarters), but you can stroll through the museum free of charge.

Randall Museum

This totally free art-slash-nature museum is a great place to take the kids for an educational afternoon. The Randall Museum houses over 100 live animals, most of which have been brought there for rest and rehabilitation.

Since their collection of critters varies over time, you never know what to expect! As far as the artsy side goes, visit the “Creativity & Discovery Hand in Hand” exhibit for an in-depth look at the many programs and interactive events the museum offers.

For the littlest kids, the “Tree House Toddler Exploration Zone” is a must-see.

San Francisco Center for the Book

Literary types or fans of history will love a visit to this specialized institution. It’s a place dedicated to the preservation and celebration of this marvelous piece of technology – past, present, and future.

You’ll be able to scope out exhibits on the history of the book, participate any of their hundreds of annual workshops, and attend exciting events like book release parties, gallery talks, and exhibit opening receptions.

Most exhibits and gallery shows are totally free!

Stern Grove Festival

If you happen to be visiting San Francisco during the summer, be sure to check out the performance schedule for this popular outdoor festival.

Housed in a beautiful outdoor amphitheater, the Stern Grove Festival offers a diversity of events and performances like Rufus Wainwright, the San Francisco Opera, the San Francisco Ballet, OK Go, and the San Francisco Symphony.

All performances are totally free and a really fun thing to do. So bring a blanket and a picnic dinner and enjoy some quality music.

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