50 Free Things to Do in San Francisco This Summer

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We all know the Golden City isn’t a cheap place to live or visit as a tourist, but there’s plenty to do here even if you’re on a shoestring budget—you just have to know where to look. Check out 50 of our favorite free things to do in San Francisco, from the most iconic experiences that never get old to some hidden gems that locals might not know about yet. Whether you’re looking to take in the city’s natural and architectural beauty or more interested in arts and culture, there’s something on this list for you…and all your out-of-town guests to do.

10 of the Best Cheap Eats in San Francisco for $10 or Less

1. Listen to live music in a magical forest at the annual Stern Grove Festival (June 18 to August 20), going strong for more than 80 years.

2. Pack up a picnic and spend an entire afternoon with the kids at the new-ish, 14-acre Presidio Tunnel Tops Park.

3. Not a diehard baseball fan? Watch three innings of any SF Giants home game for free from a viewing area on the McCovey Cove side of the stadium.

4. Catch a free Shakespeare in the Park performance at SF’s McLaren Park (September 2 to 10) and see how many of The Bard’s famous lines you can recite.  ​​

5. Get cultured during one of SF’s free museum days. Participating spots include the Asian Art Museum, de Young, Legion of Honor, SFMOMA, MoAD, Contemporary Jewish Museum, Exploratorium and California Academy of Sciences.

6. Channel your inner hipster as you shop artisan wares at Fort Mason’s West Coast Craft Market (July 15).

7. Show your SF Pride all June long at one of many annual festivities and celebrations.

8. Join the fun and meet your neighbors at a Sunday Streets (through October 15) block party.

9. Take in 360-degree views of the city from the Harmon Observation Tower at the de Young, rising high above the trees in Golden Gate Park.

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10. See what’s in bloom at the SF Botanical Garden (free for SF residents with ID).

11. Victorian architecture? Beat generation hangouts? LGBTQ+ history? Whatever your interests, register online for one of City Guides' free walking tours led by knowledgeable local volunteers.

12. Pack up the provisions and spark your own Ocean Beach bonfire just in time for sunset s’mores (fires permitted in designated fire rings from March through October).

13. A top-notch museum that’s always free? It’s not too good to be true. SF’s Institute of Contemporary Art promises cutting-edge work that’s timely, relevant and guaranteed to make you think.

14. One of the city’s most underrated annual outdoor offerings, the Yerba Buena Gardens Festival serves up a packed calendar of live music, dance performances, art, yoga and more every spring and summer.

15. Get a sense of San Francisco in 17 miles by walking all or part of the Crosstown Trail, and find your favorite parks, restaurants, and shopping along the way. 

16. Take a midday break to visit The Midway Gallery and see innovative work that’s intent on pushing creative boundaries.

17. Catch a free flick at the fifth annual Sundown Cinema series — featuring seven films at seven SF parks between June and October.

18. See how many shows you can catch at the annual Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival (September 29 to October 1).

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19. Wind your way through the country’s largest Chinatown and stop for a free tour at the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory.

20. Meet co-workers for lunch and a walk at the transit center’s above-ground Salesforce Park, then stick around for one of many free events, from fitness classes and yoga to rooftop jazz.

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21. Find your zen among native Japanese plants, pagodas, stepping-stone paths and serene koi ponds at the super popular Japanese Tea Garden (always free for SF residents; free for non-residents on Monday, Wednesday and Friday between 9 and 10 a.m.).

22. Watch a wedding in action under the dome at San Francisco’s City Hall and take a free tour of the gorgeous Beaux Arts-style building.

23. See if you can identify the ancient ferns, carnivorous plants and rare tropical varieties at the Conservatory of Flowers (free for SF residents with ID).

24. Stroll through the Ferry Building and its famous Saturday farmers market and fill up on free samples.

25. Spend an entire day in Golden Gate Park without spending a dime and look for the bison, windmills, tulips, rose garden and Shakespeare garden (if you can find it).

26. Test your knowledge at one of your neighborhood pub’s free trivia nights and splurge on a pint or two if you’re feeling spendy.

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27. Walk among the Sutro Baths ruins and along the coast at Land’s End for dramatic views of waves crashing in the Pacific.

28. Wander around the strikingly beautiful Palace of Fine Arts, a classical open-air structure that’s a welcome leftover from the 1915 world’s fair. 

29. Go on a treasure hunt to find all of the city’s colorful mosaic-tiled staircases.

30. Check the calendar at your local library branch for events from children’s storytime to author talks and tech tutorials.

31. Visit a national park without leaving the city. Hike a few of the Presidio’s 24 miles of trails and stop to see British artist Andy Goldsworthy’s natural, site-specific sculptures.

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32. Brave the wind and walk or bike across the Golden Gate Bridge.

33. See the instantly recognizable abstract works by late SF graphic designer and artist Rex Ray at Gallery 16 (through July 22).

34. Learn about the rich history of jazz in the Fillmore district and listen to a lineup of performers at the soul-filled Fillmore Jazz Festival (July 1 to 2).

35. See what gaming was like before Xbox and VR headsets. Musée Mécanique is filled with antique arcades, turn-of-the-century hand-cranked music boxes and good old-fashioned pinball.

36. City Lights Bookstore, the legendary Beat era hangout for writers like Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, still draws famous authors and up-and-comers for regular readings.

37. Catch a free concert at Amoeba Music, but beware that big names like Paul McCartney, Lana Del Rey and Janelle Monae mean lines around the block to get in.

38. Marvel at Grace Cathedral’s incredible architecture. The ornate Gothic-style building has labyrinths, gardens, public art installations and a schedule of free music performances.

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39. Make like you’re in Full House and snap a pic in front of the candy-colored Painted Ladies in Alamo Square Park, with a view of the San Francisco skyline in the background.

40. Find a friend with rooftop access and watch the Blue Angels pull off tricks across the sky during Fleet Week every fall (October 2 to 10).

41. Pick up a flat piece of cardboard and take the kiddos to shoot down the slick concrete Seward Street Slides at Seward Mini Park. 

42. Play a round of disc golf at the 18 “hole” course near 25th Avenue in Golden Gate Park.

43. Get lost in a swirling mass of fog made from desalinated bay water on artist Fujiko Nakaya’s Fog Bridge at the Exploratorium.

44. Enjoy an ever-changing aquatic symphony as the bay’s shifting tides lap against The Wave Organ’s piping to create music along the waterfront in the Marina.

45. Hop on your bike and join Critical Mass for a spirited ride through the city on the last Friday of every month.

46. Grab a partner and get your heart rate going with a 30-minute free swing dance lesson at Lindy in the Park (every Sunday).

47. We’ve all ridden them, but now’s your chance to learn about the history of SF’s iconic cable cars at the open-daily and always-free Cable Car Museum.

48. We love our public murals in SF and they’re on full display in the Mission. Start your self-guided Mission Murals tour at Clarion and Balmy alleys and then see how many others you can spot throughout the colorful neighborhood.

49. Looking for a meetup spot? Head to one of the city’s growing number of POPOS (privately owned public open spaces), many of which also feature public art.

50. See a free comedy show by aspiring comics on open mic nights at Cobb’s Comedy Club and Kozy Kar Bar. You may even discover the next Ali Wong.

BONUS: The Bay Lights may have gone dark, but Illuminate SF is looking to brighten the city this summer with a bold laser light show of beams shooting for miles down Market Street, up through Sutro Tower, out the top of Coit Tower and across Nob Hill to Grace Cathedral.

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allison mccarthy

San Francisco Editor

Allison McCarthy is a writer and editor with 15 years of experience in the industry. She's currently the San Francisco editor at PureWow, where she covers the best of what's...