San Francisco on a Budget

A list of free things to do in the City by the Bay

You’ll find countless ways to spend your money in San Francisco, with all the tempting restaurants, bars and shopping, but you could also fill a whole trip with activities that don’t cost a thing. Here are 10 free ways to explore the city. 

1. Presidio Officers’ Club

Heritage Gallery in the Presidio Officers' Club

This cultural center in the former military post turned national park opened in 2014 inside the oldest building in the city. It’s home to a multimedia West Coast history gallery and hosts craft activities for kids, special exhibits and music performances. It also offers a chance to interact with working archeologists and admire the art installation “Earth Wall” by Andy Goldsworthy. 50 Moraga Ave., Presidio, San Francisco, 415.561.4400.

2. Hawk Hill 

Hawk Hill

Arguably the best view of the city, this vista point on a nearly 1,000-foot-high peak is worth the trip across the Golden Gate Bridge. After your photo session, explore the Marin Headlands Visitor Center and the 150 year-old Point Bonita LighthouseGolden Gate National Recreation Area.

3. Palace of Fine Arts

Palace of Fine Arts

Stroll around the lovely swan-filled lagoon outside this iconic Beaux-Arts structure (built for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition) in the Marina District.
3301 Lyon St., San Francisco, 415.563.6504.

4. Pier 24 Gallery 

Pier 24 Gallery

Contemplate fine art photography in this airy warehouse space that juts into the water under the Bay Bridge. The rotating exhibitions often feature big names. Call ahead. Pier 24, Embarcadero, 415.512.7424.

5. Point of Interest at the Transamerica Pyramid

Transamerica Building

Visitors aren’t allowed to go up to the top of this once controversial building (the city’s tallest) that now defines the city’s skyline. But this visitor center at ground level offers history exhibits, a video and a 360-degree camera feed from the top. 600 Montgomery St., San Francisco.

6. Grace Cathedral and Yoga on the Labyrinth

Grace Cathedral

The Notre Dame in Paris inspired the architecture of this landmark church on Nob Hill. The free restorative yoga class held on the labyrinth on Tuesday evenings draws hundreds of locals. 1100 California St., San Francisco, 415.7496300.

7. Leica Store

Rotating photography exhibitions in the Leica Store

This stunning store selling new and used photography gear displays rotating photography exhibitions by the likes of Peter Turnley. 463 Bush St., San Francisco, 415.801.5066. 

8. Hikes

Coastal Trail at Lands End

San Franciscans are as obsessed with outdoor recreation as they are with food and drink. You’ll find walks with postcard-worthy vistas in the Presidio, at Crissy Field, along the Embarcadero and in Golden Gate Park. If you can only take one walk, head to Lands End Trail for dramatic perspectives of the Pacific Coast and Golden Gate Bridge framed by windswept cypresses. 

9. Staircases

Lyon Street Steps

Throughout history, San Francisco’s hills have necessitated the construction of stairways. Some of them are attractions in their own right, like the palatial Lyon Street Steps, the 16th Avenue mosaic tiled steps and the Filbert Steps climbing Telegraph Hill.

10. Murals

Mission District murals

Take to the streets to marvel at art beyond the confines of gallery walls. In the Mission District, you’ll find a high concentration vibrant of murals with activists themes in Clarion and Balmy alleys and along 24th Street. Visit the Precita Eyes Mural Arts and Visitor Center for a free map.