San Francisco is quite an expensive city to visit, especially when it comes to eating and drinking. Therefore, when we visited we looked for ways we could save a few pennies along the way to ensure we could make the most of our time in the city. Here’s our list of 10 great things you can do in San Francisco for free!
Walk across the Golden Gate Bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge was opened in 1937 and is one of, if not, the main thing that people think of when San Francisco is mentioned. Originally, it was to be painted in grey like it’s sister bridge the Bay Bridge. However, it was eventually painted ‘international orange’ (although it looks red) to ensure it could be seen in the fog that San Francisco is often subjected to. Tolls apply to vehicles, but not to pedestrians so why not walk the 1.7 miles across it and marvel at the great views over the Bay Area. Just pick your day wisely because as mentioned above the fog in San Francisco can be crazy, so much so one day you may not be able to see the bridge at all, yet the next the visibility can be crystal clear, as we experienced.
See the sea lions on Pier 39
Pier 39 is a great place. It’s full of great local and chain restaurants, including our favourite – the Hardrock Cafe, together with lots of shops and stalls. There is something there for all the family and if you do visit over lunch or dinner time you will be spoilt for choice. Whatever you decide to do at Pier 39 whether that be to eat, drink or shop, don’t forget to head to the end of the pier, it is signposted, to see the resident sea lions. Although to be honest, you’ll probably hear them before you see them. With tens, if not hundreds, of the cute creatures vying for a spot on one of the many pontoons, the noise and fighting between them can be extreme.
Walk/drive Lombard Street
Lombard Street is crazy, it is in fact the most crooked street in the world, not just San Francisco. People flock to it every day to walk it. My brother-in-law walked up it a couple of years ago and having now seen it for myself, I’m very glad we walked down it, because it is VERY steep. It is a residential street so it’s important to remember not to infringe on anyone’s property or pick the flowers from their front garden as I saw one person doing – tut. If you have a car, you can also drive, albeit very slowly, down the street. The queue to do it was quite long but the experience looked great, if not a little nerve-wracking.
Enjoy lunch in a POPOS
POPOS – Privately Owned Public Open Spaces are nifty places which are free for everyone to use. They are located all around the city on the rooftops of buildings. Most have tables, chairs and benches where you can sit and watch San Francisco go about its business below you, or simply escape from the throng of people for an hour or so. They are extremely popular, especially over lunch time with local office workers who want a breath of fresh air. So why not grab a bite to eat from a food truck and head to one before the rush and enjoy your lunch in the open air with some of the best views in the city?
Take a free walking tour
Yep, that’s right – FREE, well sort of. We took a walking tour with Wild SF Walking Tours which departs 10.00am daily from Union Square (corner of Post and Powell). You take the tour and then decide how much it was worth and pay your guide directly (typically between $10 and $20 per person). The guides are a collective of creatives who take it in turns to lead the tour. Our guide was Maz who was very knowledgable and answered all questions thrown at him easily as he lead us through the streets of San Francisco as he played his ukulele. It was a great introduction to the city and really helped us find our feet and also places to return to later during our trip. The tour lasted around 2 1/2 hours but it flew by. In reality there wasn’t that much walking, if you are not the most athletic, I’m certainly not and managed no problem.
Free chocolate who can say no to that? Definitely not me that’s for sure. Ghirardelli is an American chocolate chain, which I wasn’t familiar with, but it is now my favourite chocolate EVER. We visited one of the many stores in San Francisco on the walking tour and we were handed a milk chocolate caramel square upon arrival. I thought it was because we were on a tour but NOPE, every Ghirardelli store gives every customer that walks through the door a free chocolate – it’s the small wins, right? We did buy some to bring home, but you are of course under no obligation to yourself.
Wander around Fisherman’s Wharf
I’ll be honest, Fisherman’s Wharf didn’t really float my boat, it was very busy and reminded me of a dodgy English seaside town. However, I don’t believe you can visit San Francisco without experiencing it for yourself. I’d just advise taking it on face value. There are a lot of restaurants, especially sea food ones and bars which are great if you are looking for good locally caught fish washed down with a beer or two. However, the only other things you will find here are souvenir shops and I personally wouldn’t prioritise a trip here. There are nicer areas of San Francisco to see, especially if your time in the city is limited.
Hang out in Union Square
Someone had put the fear of god in me about Union Square, warning me not to wear anything valuable or carry cameras and to certainly not walk through it after dark. All I can say now having worn valuables, carried my camera and walked through it after dark is – eh? Now maybe the undesirables were having a few days off whilst we were there but we certainly never felt unsafe or threatened. Yes, there are a lot of homeless people who hang around in the square, most of which ask for money, but if you politely refuse, they don’t become aggressive. It’s also a great place for people watching, or should I say character watching – every evening we saw a guy walking his cat on a lead who loved nothing more than people fussing over it, and him. Also, an old guy on a mobility scooter blasting out dance music as he shot across the square backwards and forwards, you could certainly hear him coming before you saw him.
Have you been to San Francisco? Do you have any further amazing free things to add to our list?