The Best (Free) Things to Do in San Francisco

So you find yourself in one of the most expensive zip codes in the world. Whether you're a resident or just visiting, how can you save money while still getting to know the city? Check out these 10 activities - free of charge - so you can spend more money on $5 artisanal lattes.

  View of the Ferry Building and Pacific from a hotel hallway - one fun pastime is exploring public buildings in search of a killer view!

View of the Ferry Building and Pacific from a hotel hallway - one fun pastime is exploring public buildings in search of a killer view!

1. FERRY BUILDING

The Ferry Building is, flat-out, my favorite thing the city has to offer. What makes it so special is the farmer's market every Saturday morning that my parents used to take me to as a kid. Though the food itself, though excellent, is not free, you can usually score on free samples from many of the vendors. My personal favorite is Stonehouse olive oil -- you can participate in an olive oil tasting free of charge! This is great for all ages; my eight-year-old self enjoyed the bread, and I've since grown to appreciate the different olives

2. BOTANICAL GARDENS

So, this one is only free 100% of the time if you're a San Francisco resident. However, admission is free every morning until 9am, and "free days" include the second Tuesday of each month and most national holidays. The acres of exotic plants and nearby greenhouse at the Conservatory of Flowers is worth an early morning.

3. CHURCH OF 8 WHEELS

Another hidden gem of the city is this church-turned-roller rink. Skate rental is $10 for adults, but bring your own for a free (and incredibly fun) night out! It's kitschy, cute, and so San Francisco.

  An afternoon at Dolores Park.

An afternoon at Dolores Park.

4. DOLORES PARK

San Francisco is home to over 220 parks, but Dolores is one of the most iconic. Located in the heart of the up-and-coming Mission District, you'll find a demographic of residents ranging from high school kids and underemployed Millenials to eccentric oldies and wannabe hippies. All of this creates an environment that is truly San Francisco. If you're in the mood for a picnic, stop by Tartine Bakery nearby for a loaf of the best bread you've ever tasted (I'm sensing a bit of a bread theme here).

5. HARDLY STRICTLY BLUEGRASS

This is an annual bluegrass festival held by the city each fall, completely free of charge. For three days, residents gather in Golden Gate Park, though the music isn't solely bluegrass (hence the "Hardly Strictly"). Standout acts of years past have included First Aid Kit, Cake, and The Black Keys' Dan Auerbach.

  Point Reyes did not offer much of a view due to the fog, but it made for great hiking weather!

Point Reyes did not offer much of a view due to the fog, but it made for great hiking weather!

6. HIKE IN Point REYES

This isn't technically in San Francisco itself, but it's well worth the hike (no pun intended) over to Point Reyes. Marin has some of the best hikes the Bay has to offer, and the Point Reyes National Seashore offers sights such as looming cliffs, a lighthouse, and a spooky shipwreck. Go in the daytime to catch a glimpse of the grey whales that migrate off the shore, or at night to see the Milky Way.

7. GOLDEN GATE FORTUNE COOKIE FACTORY

San Francisco has the largest Chinatown outside of Asia, so it's worth a visit if you'd like a full San Francisco experience. The smell of freshly baked fortune cookies alone will draw you into this factory where you can watch the cookies being made, pressed and folded. As a child during field trips to Chinatown, I was particularly enthralled by the bags of flat, unfolded cookies available for purchase!

8. CATCH A GIANT'S GAME

Yes, you can watch the San Francisco Giants play for free right at AT&T Park -- for three innings, that is. On the McCovey side of the park, standing room is offered for three innings at a time each game. So if you find yourself in SoMA, stop by and say hello to Lou Seal!

  One of Clarion Alley's many intricate and ever-changing walls.

One of Clarion Alley's many intricate and ever-changing walls.

9. CLARION ALLEY

Located off of Valencia St. in the Mission (a quick walk from Dolores Park), this alleyway is one of San Francisco's hidden gems. Its walls are covered in murals from local street artists, much of the art focused around social justice and current events. If you go one time, don't hesitate to go back as murals are repainted periodically. For a walking tour of San Francisco's street art, Paul is your guy.

10. GRACE CATHEDRAL

This cathedral is beautiful in and of itself, and is definitely worth a visit. However, my real recommendation lies in the free yoga classes offered in the church every Tuesday evening. Can't make it to yoga? Their meditative labyrinths are open to the public every day, and live music performances are held regularly.