San Francisco: Free Things to Do!
Living in San Francisco is expensive!
CurbedSF reported in "How Much Does It Cost to Live in a Former Cube Farm?" that studios ranging between 439 and 484 square feet will start at $2,600 at 100 Van Ness. I'm betting $2,600 is for lower floors, so floors higher up with better views may be over $3,000. Yikes!
And eating out is great, but restaurants here can also be pretty pricey. There's only so much disposable income to go around. So I decided to compile this list focusing on learning, especially learning about the city's history. After moving as much as I have, I have learned to soak in as much of a city's culture and history as possible because even when you move away that knowledge stays.
I also tried to find free things to do with flexible hours of operation. I like the idea of waking up and having a variety of free activities that fit my mood and the weather. The once-a-month free day at the museum is nice, but it takes planning, the museum is usually crowded on the free day, and it's usually for locals only. I'd like to find free things to do that I could enjoy with guests from anywhere!
My first gem of a find is San Francisco City Guides. This group of local volunteers loves the city so much that they host free walking tours. Every day! In all the different neighborhoods! I know My Person will be excited to go on the Fire Department Museum tour and a new tour of The Fairmont Hotel, which does require reservations. But still free! There's an Alfred Hitchcock's San Francisco tour, a Golden Gate Bridge tour and a tour named Billionaire's Row: Outer Broadway Architecture. These tours are so conveniently scheduled too. Wake up late? No problem. Go to an afternoon tour!
There's a City Guides walking tour that focuses on City Hall and Civic Center, but City Hall also has their own free tour. Just sign up at the Docent Tour kiosk in the lobby. Tours run Monday - Friday at 10am, noon, and 2pm. After watching both the documentary The Times of Harvey Milk and Sean Penn portray Harvey Milk in Milk, I would like to walk the steps of City Hall and see where several of the events occurred. I'd also like to hear the stories about the reconstruction after the 1906 Earthquake. I've been inside City Hall, and the Docent Tour kiosk has adorable pictures from school children thanking their tour guide!
While riding the cable cars is not free, the Cable Car Museum is! They're also open every day except a few holidays. The museum is located in the Washington/Mason cable car barn and powerhouse, so it overlooks the engines and wheels that pull the cables. Kind of cool! Their displays include grips, track, cable, brake mechanisms, photography collections, and three antique cable cars from the 1870s. Hmmm...this adventure could result in the purchase of a souvenir t-shirt.
The San Francisco Railway Museum and Gift Shop is also free for everyone. It's located in the Hotel Vitale building, which is where Market Street meets The Embarcadero, close to the Ferry Building. They're open every day, except for Mondays during the winter months. As a big fan of the historic F-line streetcars, I have to spend some time here!
Close by is the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park where historic ships are docked at the Hyde Street Pier. The visitor's center is free, but touring the ships costs $5...unless you go on one of the free entrance days in the National Parks.
Watching the Sea Lions at Pier 39 and visiting the Sea Lion Center is free too! Check out the Center's homepage to get a count of how many sea lions are on the pier. And if you prefer to just see, not smell, these cuties, there's also a Sea Lion Web Cam.
Technically not in San Francisco, another great find is a $5 ferry ride away in Sausalito. The Bay Model Visitor Center run by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is a working hydraulic model of the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento - San Joaquin River Delta System. Free admission! I found a blogpost over at OurSausalito.com that gave even more information about this model, which is huge! Check out the satellite picture in the blogpost!
Golden Gate Park is free and within the park is the San Francisco Botanical Garden. If you have proof of residency for San Francisco City & County, then admission is free. Non-residents do have to pay a $7 entrance fee. The 55 acres of landscaped gardens and open spaces with over 8,000 different kinds of plants from around the world is open daily. I am envisioning a packed lunch, a book, a blanket, and time with My Person!
Also near Golden Gate Park is The 16th Avenue Tiled Steps Project. Beautiful tile! Beautiful views from Grand View Park! Pack some snacks on a clear day and enjoy the sun!
And finally, whether you're a local or a visitor, if you're looking for something free or cheap to do, then check out FunCheapSF. The calendar is easy to read. The articles with event details have a white background for unique or limited-time events. The events that occur every week, like every Saturday, have a grey background. Love that they help me decode which events are most time urgent!
I love that there are so many free things to do in this ridiculously expensive city!