San Francisco is the nation’s twelfth and California’s fourth-largest city. Named after Francis de Assisi (a.k.a. Saint Francis) by Spanish missionaries in 1776, The Golden City is renowned for its hilly streets, cable cars, Victorian townhomes, and landmarks such as Alcatraz Island and The Golden Gate Bridge. Given its level of amenities, beauty, and culture, it is no surprise that San Francisco is consistently ranked as one of the most expensive places in the world. Fortunately, you don’t need to spend money to enjoy much of the city’s splendor.
Read on for a brief list of fabulous free things to do in San Francisco!
1. Gaze at the Golden Gate Bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge is by far San Francisco’s most iconic landmark. First proposed in 1872 and open to the public in 1937, the 9,000-foot suspension bridge spans the Golden Gate Straight, which connects the San Francisco Bay to the Pacific Ocean.
To access the Bridge and learn about its history, visit the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center. Other great viewpoints include Baker Beach and Land’s End park.
2. Play in the park
San Francisco is home to more than 220 parks, playgrounds, and open spaces. My favorite large parks include Golden Gate Park (home to a variety of museums and gardens), The Presidio (site of the Golden Gate Bridge, a former military post, and four works by Andy Goldsworthy), and Land’s End (located alongside the Coastal Trail).
3. Discover Fisherman’s Wharf
Fisherman’s Wharf is an extremely popular tourist area located in the northeastern corner of the city. At Pier 39, there a variety of shops, restaurants, and free and paid attractions–such as the Aquarium of the Bay and Sea Lion Overlook.
To avoid extreme crowds, visit Monday through Thursday or early in the day if possible.
4. Take a walk on Filbert or Lombard Street
San Francisco is famous for its sloping, winding streets, and none better illustrate this than Filbert and Lombard. Filbert Street, starting at Lyon Street and ending at Telegraph Hill, has a maximum gradient of 31.5%.
Located in the eastern segment of Russian Hill, Lombard Street features a whopping eight hairpin turns. This street is so recognizable that it was featured in Disney Pixar’s Inside Out.
5. Stare at the Painted Ladies
Anyone who’s ever seen Full House is familiar with the row of colorful townhouses (a.k.a the Painted Ladies) pictured at the end of the show’s title sequence. Although neither the exterior nor the interior of the house was filmed there, the building located directly east of Alamo Square Park is still worth visiting.
6. Descend (or Ascend) the 16th Avenue Tiled Steps
The Tiled Steps, located on Moraga Street between 15th and 16th Avenue, is another popular spot in the city. Started in 2003 as a grassroots effort to connect the neighbors in a community project to beautify Golden Gate Heights, the 163-step stairway is adorned with celestial to aquatic motifs.
7. Read a book at City Lights
City Lights is a landmark independent bookstore and publisher founded in 1953 by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Peter D. Martin that specializes in world literature, the arts, and progressive politics.
Given our heavy reliance on the internet and digital technology, it’s good to sometimes sit back, relax, and read a book.
8. View the city from Twin Peaks
There is something truly captivating about seeing an entire city from above. At 922 feet in elevation, Twin Peaks park offers clear panoramic views of San Francisco. Though beautiful at any time, the vista is especially stunning during sunrise, sunset, and night time.
Know of any other amazing free things to do in San Francisco that should be added to this list? Please let me know in the comments!