San Francisco is a bustling area that draws the attention of millions of visitors and tourists every year. They come for the iconic sights, the rich history, the eclectic mix of cultures and ideas, and the sublime California scenery and weather. For travelers on a budget, San Francisco may seem out of reach, but SF (or ‘The City’ but never ‘Frisco’) offers a wealth of venues and activities that are absolutely free. Even better, these venues take full advantage of the much-acclaimed California weather. Here are my picks for free outdoor activities in San Francisco!
San Francisco Gardens and Parks
For those looking for a beautiful place that is one of SF’s most famous free outdoor activity to the Botanical Garden is the perfect venue. Visitors can take a walk or simply a quiet place to read a book or rest a bit in this gorgeous spot! The 55-acre park contains over 8,000 varieties of plants, including some that are no longer found in their native habitats, and complimentary docent-led tours through the garden. There is also the redwood trail through redwood trees that were planted around the turn of the 20th century. The Garden is open daily, and admission is free.
San Francisco’s Japanese Tea Garden is the oldest public garden of its kind in the United States. Originally built as a temporary exhibit for the 1894 California Midwinter International Exposition, it soon became a permanent addition to the already scenic Golden Gate Park. Bridges, ponds, sculptures, and a tea house populate the pristine 5-acre park. Visit in autumn to see the garden flushed with reds and oranges or during the spring to see the cherry blossoms bloom. Admission is free on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays before 10 am, so go early to take advantage of the opportunity.
The Yerba Buena Gardens are located within downtown San Francisco, covering two square city blocks and situated above the Moscone Convention Center. On one block, there is a grassy meadow, a 120 thousand gallon waterfall, a memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, and various works of public art. The other blocks are designed for children and includes an art and technology museum, a carousel, a bowling alley, and an ice skating rink. The activities like the carousel and the ice skating rink at Yerba Buena Gardens will cost a little money, but the park area is completely free.
San Francisco Beaches
Beaches may not be the first thing that comes to mind about San Francisco, but there are a number of beaches along with San Francisco that are easily accessible by public transportation and free of charge. SF Travel ranks the top beaches in San Francisco as Ocean Beach, Baker Beach, Aquatic Beach, East Beach, and Stinson Beach. A word a caution, though, San Francisco’s beaches are not sun-blasted resorts and can actually be downright cold. Most people do not go to these beaches to swim, but rather; to relax, to take a walk, or to have a bonfire or a picnic.
For those interested in the history of San Francisco and its local stories and legends, the non-profit group City Guides provide free walking tours through San Francisco’s famous neighborhoods and landmarks. The tours are led by trained volunteers who are passionate about the city and come prepared with knowledge about the architecture, history, and lore of San Francisco. Walking tours are free, and no reservation is necessary. Private tours, however, carry a fee.
The San Francisco Weather- Don’t Get Caught Unprepared!
Despite how California is portrayed in the media, San Francisco is not always sunny and beautiful. In fact, San Francisco is described as a mild Mediterranean climate because it is heavily influenced by cold currents in the Pacific Ocean. Because of the cold ocean water and the heat from the mainland, heavy fog is a regular feature in San Francisco weather, typically during the summer and autumn months. Winters in San Francisco are mild and wet while summers are dry.
San Francisco is known to be a city of microclimates, which can vary from block to block. So be sure to pack appropriately if you plan to visit San Francisco and enjoy its free outdoor activities.