20 Free Things You’ll Actually Want to Do in SF
Janelle Monae approves
Let’s face it: This city is expensive. Luckily, there are plenty of free ways to entertain yourself around town. Here are 20 amazing things that won’t cost you a penny--and unlike the typical tourist fare, this is stuff you probably haven’t done 8 billion times. See you at the top of Bernal Hill.
1. Get Zen with a leisurely morning stroll through the Japanese Tea Garden before tackling a hectic day of work--admission is free Monday, Wednesday and Friday between 9 and 10 a.m.
2. See a free show at Amoeba Music. The Haight Street institution is your go-to spot for vinyl but touring bands often stop here for a quick pre-show concert.
3. Take in a baseball game at AT&T Park. Nope, don’t purchase tickets--see the Giants in action at the free viewing pit just off the waterfront promenade on the east side of the park.
4. Sniff the fragrant air at the San Francisco Botanical Garden, which is free for all city residents as long as you can show some ID.
5. Start your weekend with a free session of yoga in the park--every Saturday at 11 a.m. Meet at the grove next to the tulip garden out by Ocean Beach and Namaste away.
6. Get your fix of street art by taking yourself on a self-guided tour of the Mission’s many murals. Start at Clarion Alley, the epicenter of colorful artwork.
7. Up your heart rate up by ascending the Filbert Street steps and taking a detour on the wooden boardwalk called Napier Lane. Soon you’ll come upon quaint North Beach cottages, secret gardens, views of the Bay Bridge and the famous parrots of Telegraph Hill.
8. Locals and visitors alike adore City Guides walking tours, one- or two-hour strolls led by volunteer historians and organized by neighborhood and theme. May we recommend Alfred Hitchcock film sites or Haight Ashbury lore?
9. Listen to spooky sounds at the Exploratorium’s site-specific Wave Organ--waves, wind and tides generate shifting tones through a sculpture of PVC tubes and concrete pipes.
10. Do some sun salutations at dusk out at the Land’s End Labyrinth, a short hike from the Sutro Baths, for a meditative end to your day.
11. See Leo Villareal’s sparkling lights on the cables of the Bay Bridge anywhere along the Embarcadero from dusk until late into the night.
12. There’s no admission to the vintage arcade known as Musée Mécanique, and a pocketful of quarters equals a few rounds of Ms. Pac Man.
13. The city’s independent bookshops are a dying breed, but the mainstays (like City Lights, Green Apple, Booksmith, Books Inc.) still host regular author readings--always free--and some even offer drinks and snacks.
14. Play hooky and take advantage of Free First Tuesdays at a handful of museums, including the de Young, Contemporary Jewish Museum, Legion of Honor, Museum of Craft & Design and YBCA.
15. Every June through August, the magical eucalyptus forest, Stern Grove, hosts a series of free summer concerts. This year kicks off with a bang-up performance by Janelle Monae on June 19.
16. Set your sight on million-dollar views at the top of Twin Peaks and Bernal Hill, both with towering views of the city and bay, without spending a penny.
17. Warm yourself over a bonfire at one of a handful of Ocean Beach fire pits. Plan to snag one early in the afternoon--they’re all first-come, first-served.
18. So you can’t afford a $13 million mansion on Broadway in Pacific Heights’ Gold Coast neighborhood, but no one’s stopping you from ogling one from the outside.
19. Tour the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory, which has been churning out these treats since 1962.
20. Play some disc golf in the Marx Meadow area of Golden Gate Park.