Top 10: Best Free Things to Do in San Francisco

Like A Local Guide • 18 Jan, 2016

Travelling doesn’t always have to be costly, even in some of the world’s more expensive cities. Camille, our local ambassador for San Francisco, proves that her city is no exception by sharing a list of 10 wonderful things visitors can do and see for free.

1. Walk the length of the Golden Gate Bridge

The Golden Gate Bridge is San Francisco’s most famous landmark and one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World. Its iconic red colour makes it literally unmissable. You should definitely walk the entire length of this 1.2-mile-long structure and admire the scenic views it offers of the Bay and Alcatraz Island, whatever the weather.

The East Sidewalk is open from 5 am to 6:30 pm for pedestrians. Walking along the world’s most famous bridge is a unique and free experience; you just need to bring layers as it can get chilly up there.


Photo credit: Camille Doue

2. See the sea lions on Pier 39

Observing the city’s loudest and funniest inhabitants at the far end of Pier 39 is a must-do. The sea lions love to sunbathe on the docks in large numbers to the delight of locals and tourists alike. It’s hard to believe that they settled there only 25 years ago after the 1989 earthquake that shook San Francisco. Ever since then, they have been a very famous local attraction. Take your time there – it’s a lot of fun to watch these playful mammals push one another off the pier, pick fights, sunbathe and just swim around.

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Photo credit: Camille Doue

3. Enjoy a sunset at Lands End

Lands End is a park and wild coastal trail located at the northwest corner of San Francisco in the Golden Gate National Recreational Area. It offers stunning views of the ocean and leads, among others things, to the ruins of the Sutro Baths and a hidden labyrinth formed out of rocks. There’s no better location on a non-foggy day to enjoy the sunset and appreciate the true beauty of San Francisco’s wild coastal landscape. The sunset at Lands End is an unforgettable sight and an experience to be had when visiting the City by the Bay.

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Photo credit: Camille Doue

4. Dip your toes in Baker Beach

Baker Beach is a tiny public beach located in the northwest part of the city. Well known for offering amazing views of the Golden Gate Bridge, it’s a gorgeous place to relax, hang out and enjoy the Bay scenery. The Pacific Ocean is rather cold, even in the summer, so if you want to swim it’s best to wear a wetsuit.

On weekends it’s usually packed with locals enjoying picnics, listening to music and sunbathing, with or without clothes! Note that the hidden northern end of the beach is mostly frequented by nudists.

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Photo credit: Camille Doue

5. Discover San Francisco’s urban art scene

San Francisco’s street art scene is extremely lively and constantly evolving. Wall murals are mainly found in the Mission and Tenderloin districts, often highlighting social issues or critiquing the city and society.

Mission’s Clarion Alley and Balmy Alley have the highest concentration of murals. Both are covered from head to toe with myriad styles and subjects ranging from human rights to local gentrification, and they’re constantly changing. New murals are appearing all the time, making each visit a different experience.


Photo credit: Camille Doue

6. Enjoy 360° views in Corona Heights Park

Corona Heights Park is a true hidden gem and one of the city’s best vantage points. The entrance is hidden within small neighbourhood streets, and the trek up is a short but steady climb. The top offers one of the most unobstructed views of the city. On a clear day, the 360° view is simply breathtaking. And if you climb up the giant rock, you’ll feel like the king of the world.


Photo credit: Hae Eun Park

7. Explore the city’s many secret stairways and pathways

San Francisco has lots of secret stairways and pathways that are only accessible by foot, leading to private gardens, hideaways and observation points. For example, the Vallejo steps (at the end of Vallejo St. and the corner of Jones St.) offer panoramic views of San Francisco, with Alcatraz Island and the Bay on the horizon.

Walking along peaceful Macondray Lane, you’ll feel a world away. This lush cobblestone lane is a true haven in the heart of the city, with flower gardens and fruit trees, little zen fountains and lazy cats wandering around.

The city’s most famous steps, however, are the Filbert Steps that lead to the top of Telegraph Hill. As you navigate the series of wooden stairways and narrow private lanes, you’ll encounter lush greenery and enjoy the scent of the residents’ gorgeous gardens, which are filled with rose, hydrangea, honeysuckle and jasmine bushes. You may also have the opportunity to spot some wild parrots during the summer, when they literally invade the city.


Photo credit: Camille Doue

8. Spend hours browsing the aisles of of Amoeba Music

Amoeba Music is an independent music chain with several stores throughout California, the largest being located in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district. It occupies a 2200-square-metre former bowling alley and is filled with thousands of new and used CDs, LPs and DVDs. Entire aisles are packed with half-price records and $2 CDs. You can lose yourself for hours hunting for the perfect CD to bring back home.


Photo credit: Camille Doue

9. Enjoy some people watching in Dolores Park

Dolores Park offers incredible views of San Francisco’s skyline, but the most interesting sight there is the people themselves! Every Saturday and Sunday, hipsters, hippies, singles and families with all kind of pets (dogs, cats, parrots…) meet there to hang out, play drums, smoke joints or drink beer. In a totally carefree way, locals do literally whatever they feel like doing: sunbathing, cosplaying, baton twirling, hula hooping, playing music, blowing bubbles, playing volleyball and more… It’s free and you don’t want to miss it!

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Photo credit: Camille Doue

10. Relax in a rooftop garden

Not many people know that there’s a rich network of privately owned spaces open to the public (parks, plazas, terraces) scattered throughout San Francisco’s downtown area. Finding them is fun, free and very rewarding.

The rooftop deck of 343 Sansome St. is one of these secret places. Located on the 15th floor of a building in the busy heart of the Financial District, this sun-flooded terrace is a great spot to eat lunch and catch some rays. It has tables and chairs, benches, charming olive trees and ledge seating along granite planters, and offers nice views of the surrounding buildings.


Photo credit: Camille Doue

For more local recommendations read:
What locals like to do in San Francisco
Where locals like to eat in San Francisco
Where locals like to party in San Francisco

Special tip: For a more authentic San Francisco experience, get the Like A Local mobile app

Like A Local Guide
Like A Local Guide is about stepping off the tourist trail and finding cool and cosy spots where locals like to spend their time. We built a website and mobile app to bring insider recommendations from around the world to your fingertips.

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