San Francisco is a very popular destination, especially in the warmer months. While it is the most expensive city in the United States to live in right now, as a tourist, it gives you a lot of bang for your buck.
For those of us with kids, we all know how expensive activities can be and how quickly it adds up so I’ve created a list of 12 FREE things for you to do with or without kids in San Francisco. And although dining out isn’t free, I’ve also included some “foodie tips” because we all gotta eat!
Golden Gate Bridge
There are many lookout points where you can catch a view of the Golden Gate Bridge. But if you want THE BEST view from a high vantage point, cross the bridge and head to Marin Headlands. On Google Maps, type “Best Golden Gate Bridge/SF View“. Make sure you take the route that leads you to Conzelman Rd. There are several lookout points from that road and small parking spots on the left. It can get tough to find a parking space but the farther and higher you go, the less crowded it is. Also, try and go early morning (sunrise) or near sunset (golden hour) to catch the best light (and less crowds). The view is magnificent and your pictures will turn out amazing!
Sausalito, also located in Marin County is located near the North End of the Golden Gate Bridge. Head downtown and dine al fresco at one of the many family friendly restaurants or grab a coffee and just sit near the marina and watch the boats go by. Walk along the bay where you can catch a view of the San Francisco skyline. Check out a blog post I wrote from our most recent trip to Sausalito this summer.
Foodie tip: Located on Harbor Dr. (not in the downtown area) is a casual seafood restaurant called Fish. I highly recommend the fish and chips, clam chowder and oysters. It’s a little pricey but the food is really good and theres a great view of the marina. It is CASH ONLY but there is an ATM there in case you forget to get cash before going! The place has indoor and outdoor seating and it can get a little tough to find indoor seating in the colder months so be prepared for that. It can get very crowded so we try to have an early dinner or late lunch when coming here.
Do you want to get a 360 degree panoramic view of San Francisco? Then make sure you make your way here. Keep in mind that Twin Peaks is on top of a hill so it gets very windy up there. Make sure you bundle up, bring a jacket with a hood because its really really cold! Parking spots are limited like most places in San Francisco so try not to go during peak hours. Again, try early morning or later in the day. There are restrooms there but I’d advise against using them. Especially if you are traveling with kids, try to use a restroom prior to going here. One last tip: grab hold of your kids! Its a scary drop down below.
If you want to head to the beach or have a picnic with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge, then head to Crissy Field. There is ample parking and restrooms on site. It’s a nice place to let loose with your kids for a few hours and just take in the beauty that surrounds you.
If you plan a visit to San Francisco during the holidays, Union Square is a must! There is a huge Christmas tree with an ice skating rink right in the middle that make for great photo ops. The tree lighting happens on November 25th and there’s events going on all the time such as live music and visits from Santa. There is a nominal fee if you want to skate: general admission is $12 (children <8 $7) and skate rental is $6 for 90 minutes.
Foodie Tip: Just a 6 minute walk away is Super Duper Burgers on Market St. Its a casual burger joint thats great for kids and if you just need to grab a quick bite to eat. And the burgers are actually really really good. It’s a great alternative to other pricier yet mediocre chain restaurants in the area.
Sea Lions at Pier 39
Kids and adults alike love watching the many sea lions at Pier 39 and my son can literally stay here for hours if we’d let him. Pier 39 has a lot more attractions though besides the sea lions. Aquarium of the Bay is one of them if you’d like to make a day of it but we’ve actually never been so I can’t comment on our experience. There is an admission fee for the aquarium.
Foodie tip: About a 9 minute walk from Pier 39 is the best fish and chips in San Francisco called The Codmothers Fish and Chips. It’s a food truck/stand located on Beach St. Great service, big portions and reasonable prices. You cannot go wrong with the fish and chips but they serve other seafood items such as oysters and fish tacos as well. There is limited outdoor seating only but people tend to eat quickly here so you shouldn’t have to wait for a table for too long. Oh and don’t forget to get the baja sauce!
Ferry Building Marketplace
I love this place! There is deliciousness everywhere! Blue Bottle for coffee, Gotts Roadside for burgers, Hog Island Oyster for fresh seafood, The Slanted Door for Vietnamese food, and Miette Patisserie for french pastries. And that’s just scratching the surface. There are so many good food and beverage merchants at the Ferry building! There is also a farmers market on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays and it gets very BUSY on those days!
Foodie Tip: Hog Island Oyster is a MUST! They don’t take reservations so try and arrive early. We went on Easter Sunday at 11am and the line wasn’t bad at all. We also asked for an outside table which made it easier with our two kids because we were able to get up and walk around with ease.
But since the topic of this post is FREE things to do, you can still come here. Walk along the pier, people watch and listen to the music by street performers. Best of all, you get a closeup view of the Bay Bridge. At night, the bridge is all lit up and its magical. Make sure you get those cameras out!
Also known as the “most crooked street in the world“, it is a one block section of the Russian Hill neighborhood. Driving down the street is pretty fun as it is literally a very steep and winding road that is smack dab in between homes. I can’t imagine how people live on this street. So many tourists all day! The best photo can be taken at the bottom of the street so park your car and make your way to the middle where you can get a full view of the crooked street. Just watch out for oncoming traffic.
The Full House house is here. It’s iconic so definitely get a few pictures in. The best shots can be taken from Dolores Park across the street. It’s perched up on a hill so you get a nice view of the houses in the background.
Fun Fact: Did you know that the creator of the show Full House recently purchased the actual house in San Francisco?
Palace of Fine Arts
I wrote a post a while back from our visit at Palace of Fine Arts and it still stands to be one of my favorite FREE places to go to in San Francisco. It’s less chaotic than other touristy spots and a great place to walk around and let the kids run free. Parking is across the street on the Marina and is a short walk away.
Mission Dolores Park
This is probably one of the most popular parks in San Francisco. At any given time, you can find lots of people just laying out on the very spacious grassy area, having a picnic or just relaxing. This is also where you will get the best view of the painted ladies (Full House house) from atop of the hill. On the other side is a very nice playground that kept my son busy for quite some time. We had to bribe him to get him to leave, he was having so much fun.
Foodie tip: Before heading to Delores park, grab a coffee and some pastries at Tartine Bakery. If you’re lucky, they may still have some “morning buns”. If they do…get some (get 10!). If they don’t, the croissants are amazing too as well as their other pastries and desserts. There is usually a long line but trust me, its worth the wait. If you’re more in the mood for ice cream, Bi-Rite Creamery is also in the neighborhood.
Joe DiMaggio Park
Located in the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco, Joe DiMaggio Park is the perfect place to let your kids be kids! It’s on Lombard St. so after seeing the crooked street make your way over here to let your kids burn off some energy. It’s newly renovated and gated all throughout so you can put your mind at ease that your child won’t be able to run off on to the busy streets of San Francisco. It has the latest equipment and play structures. My son’s favorite is to ride the rope swing that he thinks is so cool. The slide is pretty awesome too because its fairly long and steep, great for the older kids. One of their best features is the fake grass so if you have little ones (like my 10 month old), you can let them crawl around on the ground. This park has a lot of space so they can roam around freely. Check out more pictures on my previous blog post on Joe DiMaggio park.
Foodie tip: After a busy afternoon, dine at one of the popular restaurants nearby like House of Nanking or Tony’s Pizza.