San Francisco is one of the nation’s top travel destinations. It offers unrivaled attractions, renowned gardens and museums, and unique neighborhoods. There are so many free things for families to do in San Francisco that you don’t need to go broke while having a great time on vacation. Here are just a half dozen suggestions for attractions that are uniquely San Francisco and free.
Walk or Bike across the Golden Gate Bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most beautiful bridges in the world, and the opportunity to walk or bike across at least part of it should not be missed. The bridge spans 1.7 miles, but most people only walk/bike to the first tower and back again. If you are feeling more adventurous, walk across the bridge and continue under the bridge up to Hendrik Point for a great view of the bridge with the San Francisco skyline in the background.
A new, outdoor mini-museum on the history of the bridge located on the San Francisco side of the span is a fun stop.
Yerba Buena Gardens Children’s Playground
The Yerba Buena Gardens has priceless views of the city. And, best of all, it is full of activities for all ages—ice skating, free outdoor concerts, even a bowling alley. But the jewel of its crown is the Children’s Garden where kids will find a giant playable xylophone, a 25-foot tube slide designed by M. Paul Friedberg, a child-sized labyrinth, and a 100-year old carousel.
Cable Car Museum
The Cable Car Museum in is a good place to learn more about the city’s trademark method of transportation. Located inside the historic Washington/Mason cable car barn and powerhouse, the museum celebrates the city’s iconic transportation. Viewing decks overlook the enormous engines and winding wheels that pull the cables. Downstairs is a viewing area of the large sheaves and cable line entering the building through the channel under the street. Don’t miss the three antique cable cars on display, plus many tools, photos, and other artifacts.
You can also pick up interesting souvenirs at the Cable Car Museum, made from sections of cable car track and cable.
Who doesn’t like a day at the beach? In 2001, Crissy Field was transformed from a former military airfield into a vibrant environmental showcase. This quiet stretch of shoreline is the gateway to San Francisco and it is a stunning place to walk or bike on a flat, hard-packed promenade with iconic views of the Bay and Golden Gate Bridge. A beautiful, and much-loved trail winds through Crissy Field between Marina Green and Fort Point. The West Bluff and East Beach picnic area offer bayside picnic tables.
You’ll find beaches, picnic tables, tidal marsh overlooks, and renowned windsurfing. Enjoy tasty treats at the Beach Hut Café, located on the east end next to the Crissy Field Center, a multicultural urban environmental education center for youth.
Golden Gate Park
San Francisco’s largest park, Golden Gate Park, covers more than 1,013 acres and is larger than New York City’s Central Park. It’s one of California’s most beautiful urban parks and provides a nice respite from the crowded city. Koret’s Children’s Playground and Carousel is a favorite place for local kids. Swing on the toddler swings, crawl through big tubes, climb on the multi-colored structures, whoosh down the long slide, splash water and play in the sand.
The park also offers windmills, lots of open space and it even has its own resident buffalo herd. There are statues, plaques, monuments and trees in Golden Gate Park that commemorate events in American history. A pair of binoculars, good book, digital camera, bagged lunch, or picnic spread are just some of the items that will enhance your time
Sea Lions at “K” Dock on Fisherman’s Wharf
See and smell the sea lions at “K” Dock. It is one of San Francisco’s most popular attractions. The sea lions took over “K” dock in the Fisherman’s Wharf in 1990 and become an immediate tourist favorite. You can see them from Pier 39, or try Pier 41 for a better view.
The Sea Lion Center is now open at PIER 39! The Sea Lion Center is operated and managed by Aquarium of the Bay and it includes interactive displays, educational videos and many fascinating presentations led by Aquarium of the Bay Naturalists. You can touch a sea lion pelt, size yourself up next to a real sea lion skeleton and more.
In summer, don’t be surprised to find the docks almost empty. Sea lions migrate south for the summer breeding season, coming back in August. The Sea Lion Center is free and open daily from 10am – 5pm.
From its famous icon, the Golden Gate Bridge, to the barking seals on Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco has lots of free activities for families.
For more suggestions on more free things in San Francisco check out our post, Another Half Dozen Free Things to Do With Kids in San Francisco.