The options in San Francisco are endless. It’s a vibrant city with its own unique culture, the laidback-ness of California merged with European city vibes. Visiting can seem expensive as there are a lot of paid-for things to do, but there are so many things you can do for free too! Here are all the free things I did during my three-day stay.
See the Murals of Mission District
I was so excited to see the murals of Mission and I wasn’t disappointed. Stepping off the Muni, art surrounded the streets, pasted on block after block of buildings. What I loved most was that some were created purely due to artistic license, and others carried deeper political messages.
I totally encourage you to wander the streets and alleys, uncovering these kaleidoscopic walls. Start at Balmy Alley and work your way through Cypress Street and on to Clarion Alley, but look out for streets in between: this area is known to have the highest concentration of street art in the world.
Mission itself is interesting to walk around and offers a completely different vibe from the rest of the city too. Set yourself aside a couple of hours to have a wander around this largely residential area.
Hang Loose in Haight-Ashbury
This area was probably one of my favourites. If I were to compare it to anything, I’d say it was a hybrid of London’s Brick Lane and Portobello Market, with Camden thrown in for good luck. Quirky vintage shops, psychedelic storefronts and colourful characters gave this hippy area instant charm. Take a walk down Haight and wander the shops, grab a hipster coffee – I had matcha – and sit outside to people watch, it’s fascinating.
Take in the Golden Gate Bridge
If there’s one free thing on this list that’s basically unmissable, it’s this. To see the bridge in person, is definitely a pinch-me moment. An epic structure backed by breathtaking views, it’s no wonder tourists in their millions flock to see the Golden Gate Bridge. We saw the bridge from several different viewpoints, but heading from Presidio Park (specifically Marine Drive), to see the bridge up close was the best option.
I recommend heading to the bridge about an hour before sunset. Come in low at Marine Drive, and climb up the hill towards the Welcome Centre to enjoy a number of different viewpoints before the sun sets. A truly unique experience and one that will stay with me forever.
Hike Golden Gate Park
If you’re looking to spend more time in this area, consider hiking or simply exploring Golden Gate Park, there’s so much to do that’s free! Have a picnic, visit the Japanese tea garden or spot bison, the options are endless especially when the weather is good.
Go for a Dip at Ocean Beach
Adjacent to Golden Gate Park, Ocean Beach is an idyllic spot to take a walk. All sand and dunes, it’s great for a picturesque picnic or an escape from the city centre.
Take some snaps by the Painted Ladies
San Francisco is synonymous with pretty housing, and the Painted Ladies are the main attraction. Snap a picture next to these iconic buildings with some spectacular city views as your backdrop. There’s also a grassy square nearby, which is great for a pitstop or to just really take in the scenery.
Chinatown in San Francisco is one of the oldest in the US, and is a great spot to grab some food, which is exactly what I did when visiting. For quick access to some highly rated places I recommend jumping on Foursquare, but when I went there we decided to go to a restaurant that a local had said was really popular with people living in the city. Check out the stunning decor, eat ’til your tummy is happy then grab a bubble tea to go for dessert.
Walk the Piers
San Fran is known for it’s super famous piers, and they really are worth seeing (and they’re free to wander!) Check out the famous pier 39 to spot sealions, or wander down any of the open ones. We found some really quiet piers between one and ten, where we were able to walk the length and get some pretty neat city skyline photographs.
Wander Fishermans Wharf
Another area that’s known to be touristy but well worth checking out is Fisherman’s Wharf. We visited on our first day as it was a short walk from pier 33 where you get the boat to Alcatraz. The vibe was very everything you’d expect from a seaside pier, touristy shops, plenty of places to eat, sweet treats and entertainment.
After initially grabbing a corn dog, we wandered around and admired the Christmas decorations before heading onto a trail towards the Golden Gate Bridge, but there’s plenty to see here.