The Aquatic Park in San Francisco

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January 23, 2019

10 (More) Things for Less Than $10

The first edition of 10 Things for Less Than $10 has been so popular, we thought you’d like to entertain a few more suggestions for fun in San Francisco on a budget. Here’s 10 (more) fun ways to experience the city and return home with some priceless memories.


Visitors never tire of watching the sea lions at PIER 39. These rowdy pier crashers showed up more than 25 years ago in 1990, shortly after the Loma Prieta earthquake and although they occasionally wander off (in search of herring, or so they said), they always return. In January 2014, Aquarium of the Bay opened the free Sea Lion Center, a hub for all things sea lion. Overlooking the hangout of these charismatic mammals, the Sea Lion Center features interactive displays, educational videos, fascinating presentations, and one-on-one interactions with naturalists. Touch a sea lion pelt, compare your size to a real sea lion skeleton (they can be up to eight feet long) and more. Once you get to know the California sea lion, step outside to the K-Dock overlook and see (and smell) them for yourself.

Tower Power

The de Young Museum’s Hamon Education Tower offers an unobstructed, 360-degree view of San Francisco’s western neighborhoods and beyond. It is a view that isn’t often experienced by visitors who tend to gravitate towards more famous elevations such as Coit Tower and Twin Peaks. The 144-foot tower gently spirals from the ground floor of the de Young and aligns at the top with the grid formed by streets in the Richmond and Sunset neighborhoods adjacent to Golden Gate Park. Access is free; however, the tower closes one hour before museum closing. Free on Friday evenings? So is the de Young. From the last Friday in March through the last Friday in November (subject to change) the de Young Museum’s popular Friday Night series offers an opportunity to enjoy art, live performances and hands-on arts activities during extended hours at the museum. Scared of heights? Check out the Rodin sculpture in the courtyard of the Legion of Honor. Alma Spreckels acquired The Thinker from Rodin in 1915. Later that year, it was included in the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, and at the close, the monumental figure was installed in Golden Gate Park. When the museum opened in 1924, The Thinker was transferred from its perch in Golden Gate Park to the Legion of Honor.

Illuminate SF

Dozens of dramatic light art installations transform San Francisco nights into a citywide gallery of light. During San Francisco’s annual Illuminate SF Light Art Festival November-January there are additional temporary installations. Some installations are larger than life – like The Bay Lights and Bayview Rise. Others offer a more intimate human-scaled experience, like Three Gems and Ocean Mirror with Fragments. Created by renowned light artists including Jim Campbell, Ned Kahn, James Turrell and Leo Villareal, the installations are a tribute to the power of inspired collaborations that span disciplines, media and all expectations.

F-Line Streetcar

Take a sentimental journey down Market Street from the Castro all the way to Fisherman’s Wharf aboard one of the historic F-Line streetcars. Exact fare for adults is $2.50. Up to 20 of these “museums in motion” are in service every day and include cars that have transported generations of San Franciscans for decades as well as a diverse collection of trolleys, trams and streetcars from around the world. The free San Francisco Railway Museum tells more of this “moving” story.


Admission is just $5 (kids $12 and under are free) to TreasureFest. This monthly event held on the last weekend of every month (except December) is considered one of Northern California’s largest monthly gatherings of artists, collectors, designers, crafters and food trucks. The market also features local musicians and entertainers. Dubbed “the Festival of the Bay” it draws an average attendance of 15,000 to Treasure Island, site of the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition.

History Lessons

From the rich heritage of Chinese Americans to the story of how California came to be California, San Francisco has an abundance of museums dedicated to the pursuit of making history come alive. The Chinese Historical Society of America is free (donations requested) and is always bustling with special programs (check out the second Saturday event series). The California Historical Society is gearing up for the centennial of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in 2015; until then revel in their current tribute to Yosemite, which is celebrating its 150th anniversary. Admission is $5, free for kids. You can’t miss the Wells Fargo Museum walking down Montgomery Street. There’s an authentic Concord stagecoach used by Wells Fargo in the 1860s right in the window. Located at 420 Montgomery St. on the site where Wells Fargo opened for business on 1852, exhibits include real gold from the Gold Country, works of art by noted Western artists and a working telegraph. This free museum is open during normal banking hours, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. and closed on banking holidays.

Oracle Park Portwalk

Home of the World Series Championship San Francisco Giants, Oracle Park is just a short walk from Union Square or along the Embarcadero. While it’s great to watch a game from inside the stadium, there’s a nice option for the simply curious who want to take in an inning or two when the Giants are at home. The Portwalk, located beyond the outfield wall, is one of the ballpark’s most unique features. Guests can take in sweeping views of the bay while strolling along the water’s edge. Or they can stop to take an occasional peek at the ballgame, free of charge, for up to three innings. It’s a tradition that harks backs to the old Knothole Gang.

Pink Boxes

It’s not unusual to see folks in San Francisco toting pink boxes tied up in twine. They are often filled with goodies from Chinatown. The contents can range from pastry tarts with a light lemon custard filling (daan taat) or dim sum (which literally means “touching the heart”). The latter includes a variety of rolls, steamed buns, dumplings and sweets. Prime pink box territory includes Stockton Street and Grant Avenue or if you’re out in the “avenues” of the Richmond and Sunset Districts, prowl Clement Street or Irving (easily reached on the N-Judah streetcar). Or opt for Yank Sing’s “2 Go” mini-menu option and get a complete meal for as low as $7.

Ghirardelli Square

Ghirardelli Square in Fisherman’s Wharf is anything but square. Considered the first successful adaptive reuse project in the U.S. the building was originally a chocolate factory established by Domenico “Domingo” Ghirardelli. Be sure to visit the Original Ghirardelli Ice Cream & Chocolate Shop, where you can view chocolate manufacturing equipment, indulge in hot fudge sundaes, and sample one of their famous Squares™ chocolates. Order a Sea Salt Caramel Quake Shake ($7.25) or sip a Nob Hill Chill ($8.95) which is like a sundae in a glass.

Tenderloin Museum

Celebating the 31 blocks of the Tenderloin district, the relatively new Tenderloin Museum celebrates the history of a San Francisco neighborhood that many are unfamiliar with. From its rebuilding after the 1906 earthquake and fire, the Tenderloin has been fertile ground for everyone from the Grateful Dead to Dashiell Hammett. Admission is $10.

Photo by Chris Chabot / CC BY-NC

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