There are many must-sees in San Francisco that cost money, here are a few which are entirely free but still offer that unique San Francisco experience.
1. Visit Lombard Street. It’s called the “crookedest street in the world” and when you see it, you’ll know why. It might be fun to drive down it if you’ve got a car, otherwise just stand at the bottom (the best place for a photo) and gaze up. If you’re feeling energetic you could walk up to the top.
2. Watch the cable cars. San Francisco’s famed cable cars are not free and the line of tourists waiting to board them is often ridiculously long. For a free way to entertain the kids, go to one of the cable car turnarounds (the most popular is the Powell Street turnaround at Market Street) to watch the operators push and pull the cable cars to get them turned around.
3. Walk across the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s windy and may be a bit much for young kids, but walking across even part of the span is the best way to experience the sheer size of the structure. Kids will enjoy watching boats pass beneath them, plus the views are spectacular.
4. Stroll through Chinatown. San Francisco has the best Chinatown in the U.S. Kids enjoy poking around the shops looking for little treasures (no charge just to look) and window shopping at the many food markets.
5. Check out the sea lions. While the Fisherman’s Wharf area is undeniably touristy, it’s still worth a trip to visit the large (and noisy) population of sea lions that inhabit the docks in this area.
6. Get into the museums for free. While San Francisco’s museums generally charge admission, they are free on certain days. The San Francisco Zoo is free the first Wednesday of every month, as is the Exploratorium (science museum). The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is free the first Tuesday of every month, as is the famed Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park. And the Cable Car Museum, where you can see the big engines and wheels that power the cable cars, is always free.
7. Watch a sunset at the beach. One of the more popular places to catch the sunset is Ocean Beach, part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Bring a picnic dinner if you like but don’t try to swim here, it’s too dangerous.
8. See Shakespeare in the park. If you’re visiting in the summer with older kids, take advantage of the free outdoor theater programs on weekend nights. See link below for schedules.
9. Get free chocolate. Visit the former Ghirardelli factory to show kids the display of chocolate making equipment, and more importantly, to get a free sample of chocolate.
10. Take a free walking tour. San Francisco’s City Guides offer free walking tours of the Golden Gate Bridge, ghost tours, Union Square, Chinatown, and more. See the link below for more information.