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Top San Francisco Free Attractions

Destination(s): San Francisco

There are plenty of free things to see and do in San Francisco. There are tons of neighborhoods to explore, from the country’s biggest Chinatown to the mural-lined alleys of the Latin-flavored Mission District (Balmy Alley, Precita Eyes, and Women’s Building are the best) to the former hippie enclave of Haight-Ashbury, which happens to be perched on the edge of the natural wonderland of Golden Gate Park. You can also take a leisurely stroll down Lombard Street, of the city’s most famous sights, or challenge yourself by walking up Telegraph Hill’s shady streets to Coit Tower, which affords unparalleled views of the city and bay. In summer months, the Stern Grove Music Festival features free outdoor world music performances every Sunday; we recommend getting there early to stake a prime spot and enjoy a picnic. read more about Top San Francisco Free Attractions

Golden Gate Park

Golden Gate Park

  • Stanyan & Fulton Sts
  • (Great Highway at Fulton St)
  • tel:(415) 831-2700
  • Visit website
  • San Francisco, 94118

Spanning three miles from the edge of Haight-Ashbury all the way to the Pacific Ocean, Golden Gate Park contains so many mini-universes and attractions you'll want to (literally) stop and smell the roses on several occasions. Die-hard nature lovers can check out the Rose Garden, the Conservatory of Flowers, or the famous Japanese Tea Garden, featuring a classic pagoda, cherry blossoms, and landscaping straight out of the Land of the Rising Sun. Golden Gate Park's natural highlight, however, is the San Francisco Botanical Garden, which features a horticultural trip around the world (don't miss the redwood grove and succulents section).
Don't miss Golden Gate Park's two world-class museums, the California Academy of Sciences and the De Young Museum. Both were completely rebuilt in their original locations in the past decade, and are worth a visit for their architecture alone. The park is also the perfect place to get active. There are tons of walking paths, several public tennis courts, an affordable pitch and put nine-hole golf course, sport fields, and picnic grounds. You can even rent a boat and head out for a delightful row on Stow Lake. Spring, summer, and fall bring a number of events to Golden Gate Park, including bluegrass, rock, and hip-hop concerts and Shakespeare in the Park performances. read more about Golden Gate Park

Chinatown

Chinatown

  • Bush St. and Kearny St.
  • tel:+1 415 391 2000
  • Visit website
  • San Francisco, 94108

Red lanterns waving in the breeze. Incense wafting out of small temples. Esoteric medicinal herbs dangling in shop windows. Some aspects of San Francisco's Chinatown, the oldest in America, hardly seem worlds apart from the motherland and haven't changed much from when the neighborhood was first built in the mid-19th century. Enter at the dragon-flanked gate on Bush Street at Grant Avenue and get lost in a wonderland of bustling produce markets, touches of ancient Chinese architecture, quirky gift and houseware shops, art galleries, clothing stores, dim sum eateries, and serene tea houses, the densest concentration of which are on Grant Avenue and Stockton Street. Some hot spots are Portsmouth Square, where you can admire the graceful movements of Tai Chi practitioners and the strategy of elderly chess players, and the Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco, where Sinophiles can take in art exhibits, be led on an informative, guided Heritage Walking Tour (excellent for those wishing to pick up on the area's rich history), or take a brush painting or traditional Chinese music workshop. read more about Chinatown

Coit Tower

Coit Tower

  • 1 Telegraph Hill Boulevard
  • Telegraph Hill
  • tel:(415) 362-0808
  • Visit website
  • San Francisco, 94133

The landmark Coit Tower was built in the 1930's as a tribute to the city's firefighters, at the behest of eccentric local celebrity Lillie Hitchcock Coit, an honorary firefighter herself. Today, Coit Tower stands proudly on the northeastern edge of the city in the scenic Telegraph Hill district. Although Coit Tower is accessed by an entirely uphill climb, visitors who brave it are treated to unparalleled views of the Bay and its bridges, Marin County, the East Bay, and the undulating San Francisco cityscape. Plus there's an incredible Art Deco mural that covers the entire circumference of the tower's interior ground-floor walls. Painted by 26 artists, this masterpiece depicts many aspects of '30's California industry and labor. Remember, the walk back is all downhill; head southwest into the nearby Italian-American enclave of North Beach for a cappuccino and gelato and some fabulous shopping on Grant Avenue. read more about Coit Tower

Haight-Ashbury

Haight-Ashbury

  • Haight and Ashbury Streets
  • tel:+1 415 391 2000 (Tourist Information)
  • San Francisco, 94117

This center of '60s psychedelic activity to this day retains counterculture credentials with a proliferation of piercing salons, bookstores brimming with hippie nostalgia, and off-beat shops set amid Victorian architecture. read more about Haight-Ashbury

Mount Tamalpais State Park

Mount Tamalpais State Park

  • 7665 Redwood Blvd, Suite 150
  • tel:415-388-2070
  • Visit website
  • Mill Valley, 94941

From its exposed 2,751-foot peak boasting panoramic views of the Bay Area to the redwood-, fir-, and oak- sheltered hiking and mountain biking trails meandering down to its base, Mount Tamalpais State Park is a paragon of Northern California natural beauty. Home to over 73 native plant species and a host of wildlife, Mount Tam is the ideal place to bask in the great outdoors. After all, visitors can not only hike or bike, but also go horseback riding or camping; overnight cabins are onsite and two quaint inns are nearby to provide more comfort to those who aren't crazy about tents. Although nature is the main attraction at Mount Tamalpais State Park, locals also hike in with a picnic to attend the annual springtime open-air Broadway revival performance at the Mountain Theater, which has natural-stone amphitheatre seating. read more about Mount Tamalpais State Park

Women's Building Mural

Women's Building Mural

  • 3543 18th Street
  • (between Valencia and Guerrero streets)
  • tel:(415) 431-1180
  • Visit website
  • San Francisco, 94110
Precita Eyes Muralists

Precita Eyes Muralists

  • 2981 24th St
  • tel:(415) 285-2287
  • Visit website
  • San Francisco, 94110

San Francisco's Mission District is known for more than just great Mexican food and offbeat dive bars. It is also home to one of the most impressive collections of public murals anywhere. While many are decades old, new murals are constantly being added to the scene by a flourishing group of professional muralists working out of the Precita Eyes muralist collective. This great resource also helps art lovers by preserving and interpreting these fantastic works of public art. Tours given by muralist members of the collective present 75 murals in just 6 blocks. It's a great way to get to know one of San Francisco's richest neighborhoods.
read more about Precita Eyes Muralists

Lombard Street

Lombard Street

  • Between Hyde & Leavenworth streets
  • Above Ghirardelli Square
  • tel:(415) 391-2000
  • San Francisco, 94133

Famed as the "crookedest street in the world," the swath of Lombard Street between Hyde and Leavenworth streets in San Francisco's Russian Hill district is indeed full of twists and turns. Lombard Street was designed as a series of switchbacks in order to make its steep grade navigable by automobile. Today, you'll almost definitely see Lombard Street congested with cars making the celebrated drive down. Therefore, we recommend hoofing it—you'll be able to admire all the more slowly the lovely, brightly-colored houses flanked with bougainvillea and all manner of flowers, as well as the gorgeous view of North Beach, Telegraph Hill, and the bay. After winding down Lombard Street, head east to nearby North Beach for serious Italian eats, or north to the maritime delights of Fisherman's Wharf and Ghiradelli Square. read more about Lombard Street