What are the best free San Francisco attractions? You will be amazed to learn how many infamous SF sites are actually free!
SF is an expensive town, but you can save a little on your budget by visiting some of its no cost attractions.
Here are ten of my favorite free San Francisco attractions.
Alamo Square is a beautiful neighborhood with many old Victorian houses. The people that live here take pride in their houses by restoring them to their original, brightly painted colors. These are called 'Painted Ladies'. The most famous are the seven sitting across the street from Alamo Square.
You will also find several other great Painted Ladies all around the district. The surrounding district is beautiful and also has some great places to eat and drink.
I highly recommend a stop here in the afternoon when the sun is shining on these beautiful gems.
Have you ever wondered how the cable cars work? You can learn that and more at the Cable Car Museum. While the history and historic cable cars are interesting to see, my favorite part is to watch the live cable wheels spin as they pull the cable cars around the city.
San Francisco added cable cars to our streets because many of the hills were too steep for the horses to get up and down safely. We used to have more than 8 lines, but this changed after the 1906 Earthquake and Fire. The number continued to go down as cars became a more popular transportation route.
Today, we are the only city in the world that used traditional methods to run our cable car system. Stop by this amazing museum to learn more about them either before or after a ride.
Many people don't realize that San Francisco has thousands of beautifully painted murals throughout the city. Coit Tower is home to some of the most famous ones. The murals cover the entire first floor of the tower.
The murals were painted as part of the Works Administration Project in the 1930s. They showcase life in San Francisco and around California at that point of time. Over the years, many of them have sparked controversy.
While it does cost to head to the top to check out the views, a visit to see the murals is free and well worth your time.
This is one of the free San Francisco attractions that is often overlooked. The Fort Point National Historic Site is an old military building along the waterfront. It sits under the Golden Gate Bridge and has a very interesting history. If you want to learn more about the military history in this area, then you need to visit this site.
It's also one of the best places to for close-up shots of the Golden Gate Bridge. You can climb to the top of this four-story structure for some wonderful views of the bridge and the SF Bay.
It's only open a few days each week, so make sure to check out the opening times before you arrive.
Ah...the beautiful Golden Gate Bridge! This reddish orange bridge is one of the most recognized in the world. It has a walking path on the eastern side of the bridge that is free.
From here, you can get some amazing photos of both the bridge and the surrounding gems. You can walk all the way across (1.7 miles) or do what most people do and just walk to the first tower.
Near the bridge, you will also find a small museum that takes more about this amazing structure. There is also a small welcome center and a few small restaurants/snack shops where you can grab a bite to eat.
The Grace Cathedral is another one of the free San Francisco attractions. This cathedral is landmark with an interesting history.
Your visit begins outside with its massive gold-plated doors. Make sure to spend some time checking them out (early morning is the best when the sun shines on them).
Inside, you will find colorful murals and stained-glass windows. You will also find an AIDS Memorial as well as a wonderful labyrinth.
You can walk around the church at no cost, visit its prized icons and even get a full walking tour. All of this is free, although they do ask for a small donation.
Another one of the busy, but fun free San Francisco attractions is Lombard Street. This flower lined crooked street is worth a stop.
Its tight hairpin curves are paved with bricks. It also has a lovely variety of flowers and plants that make it extra special.
You can drive down or walk from the top at Hyde Street to the bottom at Leavenworth Street. There are steps on both sides so you can easily make your way up and down this gem.
It's free and open 24 hours a day, every day of the year.
The Maritime Museum is another one of my favorites. This is one of the free San Francisco attractions in the Fisherman's Wharf neighborhood.
A trip through the museum provides you with the history of the neighborhood and the fishing community that lived here for decades.
They offer interactive exhibits to help you learn even more.
I also love the working light house light. You can get a close up look to really understand how they work.
One of my absolute favorite free San Francisco attractions is the Mission District Murals. The district has the largest concentration of murals in SF with several hundred on display.
You will find new murals with each visit as the old ones start to peel or get ruined.
The above mural is just one example of what you will find. You will find everything from politically themes to memorials for important people in SF's history.
Two important stops are at Clarion Alley and Balmy Street. Both offer a full block long of murals on both sides.
The Palace of Fine Arts was one of the first free San Francisco attractions I visited. This SF sight was originally built for the Panama Pacific Exposition in 1915.
It's gorgeous all the way around. The details are hard to miss, and you will love its gorgeous dome.
Stop by for a walk around the building and its beautiful gardens. You will also find a free walking tour here offered by SF City Guides, which is part of the SF Public Library.
Alcatraz Island is the most visited SF spot. Although it's not free, it is something you have to see during your visit here. They offer both day and night tours almost every day of the year. Discover the differences between the tours and how to get tickets to this infamous prison.
Learn More: Alcatraz Prison Tours
Disclaimer: I receive a small commission from some of the links on this page.
In addition to the free sites on this list, there are also several must see paid ones. The great news is that there are several ways to save money on these. There are three San Francisco discount passes with a variety of options. Compare the three passes and learn how you can save even more on your visit to San Francisco.
Compare Passes: Discount Passes
In addition to saving on attractions, you can also save money on certain tours and event tickets through Goldstar Events. Search through hundreds of discounts in San Francisco including tickets for Beach Blanket Babylon, wine tasting tours and more.
Find Discounted Tickets: Goldstar Events
Make sure you always know where you are going with one of these pocket maps of San Francisco. These easy to use maps fit easily in your pocket or purse. You can quickly pull them out to find your next stop along the way.
Ratings & Reviews: San Francisco Maps on Amazon
Day in the Mission
Starting on March 16, San Francisco is on a shelter-in-place order through April 7. Learn more on my coronavirus page.
Hi there! I'm Jill Loeffler and welcome to my site. I've been exploring San Francisco for almost two decades and I can't wait to help you find the best things to do here! Thanks for stopping by and please contact me if you have any questions before your trip.