10 Things For Less Than $10
Just because the price of craft cocktails is steadily climbing doesn’t mean there’s no fun to be had for the budget-conscious traveler. Here’s 10 (or more) fun ways to experience the city without breaking the bank.
1. Cable Cars
It only takes $7 to ride San Francisco’s iconic cable cars, the National Historic Landmark that moves. When you’re done, stop by the one-of-a-kind San Francisco Cable Car Museum to learn more about their inner workings. In the historic Cable Car Barn & Powerhouse, the site where the cable system has operated since 1907, you can see the actual cable winding machinery as it reels 11 miles of steel at a steady pace of 91/2 mph. Antique cable cars are also on display, including the first one, invented by Andrew Hallidie, dating from 1873. Museum admission is free.
2. Awesome Blossoms
Whether or not you’ve got a green thumb, it’s easy to appreciate the art of nature at the San Francisco Botanical Garden. Situated in Golden Gate Park, the 55-acre spread is home to more than 50,000 plants from around the world. If you want to stop and smell the roses (or the orchids, lilies and irises), head to the Conservatory of Flowers in the northeast corner of the park. Tickets for the Botanical Garden are $9 and admission is free on the second Tuesday of the month. Admission to the Conservatory of Flowers is $9 for adults, or get in for free on the first Tuesday of every month.
3. Free Festivals
During the summer and fall, San Francisco’s cultural calendar is packed with amazing cultural events — many of which are free! For music fans, People in Plazas, the perfect pick-me-up at lunchtime, presents more than 100 free concerts featuring all local performers, July-October. Locations are in downtown plazas on or near San Francisco’s main stem, Market Street. There’s also the Stern Grove Festival, which includes free concerts every Sunday from mid-June through mid-August. Or, check out the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, a free weekend of bluegrass, Americana and other traditional styles every October. If you prefer theater, soak up some culture at Free Shakespeare in the Park, which performs in September at the Presidio of San Francisco.
4. Murals Galore
San Francisco is home to plenty of public art, but its inventory of murals is truly exceptional — and free to enjoy! The iconic Coit Tower is home to famed murals completed during the 1930s as part of the first New Deal program for artists. The murals at the Rincon Annex Post Office were painted by artist Anton Refregier around the end of World War II and depict a stylized (and some say overly radical) history of San Francisco. To experience the epicenter of murals in the city, head to the Mission District where Balmy Alley and Clarion Alley have been canvases for public art and social change since the 1970s. Diego Rivera murals are also located in the City Club, City College (Phelan campus) and San Francisco Art Institute; City Guides offers free tours of many mural locations throughout the year.
5. The Presidio
The former military outpost has been under the control of the Spanish, Mexican and American governments since it was first founded in 1776. But nowadays the 1,491 acres of land adjacent to the Golden Gate Bridge have some of the best views in the city. There’s also plenty of free fun to be found, including hiking trails, special explorer guides for kids, bike paths, picnic sites and military artifacts. Be sure to check out the museum housed in the Presidio Officer's Club which delves into more than 10,000 years of history.
6. Bridge Party
There’s a toll (electronic) if you’re driving into the city, but for cyclists and pedestrians, the Golden Gate Bridge is free. It’s one of the most photographed structures in the world, so be sure to bring a camera to capture shots of both the bridge and the amazing views of the city. You might also want to bring a jacket because it can get chilly out there, even in the summertime. For bonus points, wander down to Fort Point, which offers more great views of the bridge. With the completion of the new East Span of the Bay Bridge, cyclists and pedestrians also now have access to the mid-point of the span from Oakland and Emeryville.
7. Locally Made
Get behind-the-scenes to see how some notable local products are made — you’ll likely find some free samples along the way, too. One of the city’s oldest brewers, Anchor, offers beer lovers a walking tour of its facility on weekdays (including tastes for those over 21). Before you hop on over, know that advance reservations are required. For another tasty use of yeast, explore the long, delicious history of sourdough bread in San Francisco with a museum and bakery tour at Boudin.
8. Maritime National Historical Park
Explore the seafaring history that was such a crucial part of San Francisco’s development as a city with a trip to Fisherman’s Wharf and the Maritime National Historical Park. The park’s historic ships include 19th-century vessels like the Balclutha, a square-rigger with three masts, and an early steamboat, eureka, among others. Self-guided tours of the ships cost $10 for adults and are free for accompanying youth ages 15 and younger.
9. Adventure in Curating
Take a trip back in time at the Musée Mécanique near Fisherman’s Wharf. Admission is free to the antique arcade and games range in price from a penny to a dollar, so you can arm wrestle a robot or be serenaded by a mechanical barbershop quartet without breaking the bank. Or, head over to the Dogpatch neighborhood for a visit to the Museum of Craft and Design ($8 for adults, free on the first Tuesday of the month). Explore the intersection between fine art and functionality with exhibits that range from sacred carvings to modern furniture design and beyond.
The new San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is more connected to the city than ever. More than 45,000 square feet of ground floor galleries and the Roman steps off the new Howard Street entrance are free to the public. Admission for visitors 18 and younger is also free.