If you are looking for free (or very, very affordable) things to do in the Bay Area, you’ve come to the right place.
The Bay Area, especially San Francisco, can be a very expensive place to visit, so we have compiled some of the best free things to do while you’re here.
In this article, we will also share some really affordable things you can do after dark that will show you a different side of the Fog City – with no hangover waiting for you the next day!
Top 3 Free Things to Do in the Bay Area
1. See the Sea Lions at Pier 39
The sea lions lounging around Pier 39, near Fisherman’s Wharf, have become one of the most well-known symbols of San Francisco. It’s one of the most fun, free things you can check out here, especially if you are traveling with your whole family!
For a fun morning outing, take everyone for a morning stroll down the Fisherman’s Wharf, check out the sea lions at the pier, and pop into the (completely free!) Maritime Museum.
2. Walk across the Golden Gate bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge is an iconic San Francisco landmark that you just can’t miss.
We recommend you don’t just drive by it – go see it up close and take some classic shots of San Francisco while you’re there. It’s not the most photographed bridge in the world for nothing!
If you are thinking of walking across the bridge in the afternoon, bring a jacket! Once the fog has rolled in, San Francisco becomes rather chilly.
3. Visit a free museum
San Francisco’s list of free museums is pretty extensive. No matter what your interests are, you can find something that suits you and your companions.
Some of our favorites include:
7 Affordable (Nighttime) Activities in San Francisco
San Francisco, or the Fog City, as it has been affectionately nicknamed by the locals, has a completely different vibe after the fog rolls in.
While you may want to do some of the free things on the previous list, it’s definitely worth spending a few bucks on some of the affordable nighttime activities below.
1. Watch a fire spinning performance
Every second Thursday of every month, you can watch Temple of Poi fire dancers perform in various locations in San Francisco.
Attendance is completely free, just be respectful of the performers and keep your distance.
If you have experience in this area and want to participate yourself, make sure to do so responsibly: leave no trace and use a catch tray.
Check out their Facebook page for more details on upcoming events and classes!
2. See the city lights from the San Francisco Art Institute rooftop
From here, you can see the Bay, Alcatraz and Angel Island, Treasure Island, Coit Tower, Telegraph Hill, and the twin spires of Saints Peter and Paul Church… And access to the rooftop of the Institute is free!
Plus, rumor has it, the Institute is haunted… So if you are interested in the dark side of San Francisco (and want to meet a ghost or two), check it out!
3. See a live show at Amnesia
There’s no shortage of live music spots in San Francisco, but the Amnesia Bar is one of the best out there.
The shows are free, but if you want to grab a drink while you’re there, go for it!
4. Go to a book reading at the famous City Lights bookstore
If you are a fan of the Beat Generation, the City Lights bookstore is worth a visit on its own.
However, a few nights per week, they host book readings and author meet-and-greets. If you’ve got a book nerd in your group, they are going to love it!
5. Explore San Francisco’s haunted past
Did you know that San Francisco is actually one of the most haunted cities in, not just the Bay Area, but all of the United States?
Cost: Free (but you may want to hire a tour guide to show you the hidden gems of San Francisco’s dark past!)
6. Go to a Prince & Michael Jackson Dance Party
For just $5, you can spend a whole night getting down to nonstop tracks by the King of Pop and the Purple One at the Madrone Art Bar.
The dance parties happen on the first Saturday of every month. They are open to adults (21+) only, so leave the kiddos at home for this one!
7. Go to the Exploratorium at night
If you’ve got $20 to spare, the Exploratorium After Dark Program is one of the most fun, affordable nighttime activities in San Francisco.
The 650 interactive exhibits exploring perception, art, and science will keep you and your friends busy for hours.
A pitch-black dome, a fog bridge, a large-scale kaleidoscope, dazzling light displays, mind-bending mirrors… What more could you need?
If you want to check out the Exploratorium without spending the $20, they also have a few days per year when admission is completely free.
The Haunt Experience
If you are looking for an unforgettable, yet affordable nighttime activity in the Bay Area (that doesn’t involve bar hopping!), we’ve got another one for you: our Haunted San Francisco Ghost Tour.
The tour will take you on a macabre journey through the streets of San Francisco to show you a different, darker side of our beloved city.
You will visit some of the most mysterious locations in San Francisco and get a haunted history lesson that will leave your skin crawling… If you are brave enough to join us, that is.
Ready to discover the dark side of San Francisco?