Five Fun and Free Must-See Spots in San Francisco
San Francisco is one of California’s largest cities, and a hot spot for tourism. Whether traveling on a budget or just looking for some fun and free things to do in San Francisco, here are five of the top-rated activities with free entry:
Walk Through Historic Chinatown
San Francisco’s Chinatown is one of the area’s most visited neighborhoods; it is home to one of the largest Asian communities outside of Asia, and one of the first in the US. Discrimination and restrictive legislature drove early Chinese immigrants (who came to California during the Gold Rush) out of the mines, and they began what is now Chinatown.
The sometimes-crowded streets are lined with souvenir shops, herbal stores, temples and restaurants, but a walk through the city’s traditional Chinese architecture and numerous large murals is free. The southern and official gate to Chinatown is home to the iconic Dragon Gate, with two large stone lions, hanging lanterns, and jade green roof tiles, it is one of the most photographed locations in San Francisco.
If you decide to shop, try bargaining! Some stores have set prices, but in many others, you can negotiate with shop owners.
There are a lot of hills throughout the 25 blocks that make up Chinatown, so be sure to wear comfortable shoes.
Spend a Day at Land’s End
Land’s End is packed with places to explore and things to do. Home to hiking trails with gorgeous views of cliffs jutting into the Bay, the Golden Gate Bridge, Baker Beach, downtown San Francisco, and the Marin Headlands, Land’s End is known for providing some of the most stunning sunset views San Francisco has to offer. Simultaneous sights of the expansive downtown area, along with stunning natural land and water formations, provide a quintessential California experience.
The Land’s End Visitor’s Center can be found by the Land’s End Lookout, where there is typically plenty of parking. A steep flight of stairs leads from here to the remains of the Sutro Baths, a saltwater pool opened originally in 1890; the Sutro Baths were closed in 1966 and burned down in June the same year. The Baths are now a rough collection of explorable crumbling walls and rusting metal with a great view over Seal Rock and the ocean.
Land’s End is also home to the memorial to the USS San Francisco, a WWII cruiser that sustained 45 hits and 25 fires during the 1942 Battle of Guadalcanal. Accessible through another fairly easy hike is the Land’s End Labyrinth, a rock formation maze and great photo opportunity.
Over 300 ships have sunk in the treacherous waters approaching the Golden Gate Bridge, and three of these can be seen from Land’s End during low tide.
Land’s End is known for being easy to get to with easy parking available.
Some parts of the trails are not fenced, and it is crucial to be mindful of. Other areas are marked for no entry as well, and while occasionally these off-limits trails are used by thrill seekers, they have unfortunately claimed more than one life. The cliff edges are often unstable and can crumble, giving way to the drop below.
360 Degree Views from Twin Peaks
Twin Peaks provides a beautiful panoramic view of the entire Bay Area, including the Bay Bridge and Colt Tower. Don’t forget your camera and visit on a clear day or night for beautiful panoramic views of nearly the entire city. The two hills that make up Twin Peaks rise approximately 922 feet above San Francisco, at close to its geographical center. The Golden Gate Park, Golden Gate Bridge, Bay Bridge, Alcatraz, Market Street and downtown skyscrapers, the Pacific Ocean, Mt. Diablo, San Francisco Bay, and neighboring Oakland and Berkley are all visible from the breathtaking 360-degree view. Light shows are done after dark on the top of San Francisco’s tallest building (the Salesforce Tower at 1,070 feet).
The two hills were originally called ‘Los Pechos de la Chola,’ or The Breasts of the Indian Woman, by Spanish settlers.
300 million gallons of water were stored in a Twin Peaks reservoir as a supply for fighting fires.
In April and May the endangered Mission Blue butterflies exit their cocoons and can be seen at Twin Peaks, one of only two places in the world the butterfly still exists (the other is San Bruno Mountain further south).
Open from 5am to midnight daily. Free entry & free parking. Parking can be limited on busy days; unfortunately, the area is notorious for car break-ins, so make sure to leave anything valuable at home. Many locals recommend bringing a jacket as the hills are known to get windy and chilly.
Take a Step into Farm Life at Tilden Regional Park Little Farm
The Tilden Little Farm is a fully-functional and well-maintained farm in Berkley. Guests can visit family-friendly Little Farm’s vegetable and herb gardens, and are welcomed to bring lettuce and/or celery to feed the animals, from cows and pigs to chickens, ducks, turkeys, geese, vultures, sheep, goats, rams, and rabbits (though they are on a special diet and can’t be fed). There is a playground for kids and restrooms on-site (located conveniently for hand washing). The Tilden Environmental Education Center is adjacent to Little Farm and holds educational events for the public. The farm also features lots of open land, picnic tables, and barbecuing areas.
Tilden Little Farm’s red barn was built in 1955 by Berkley High School students.
Signage at the farm advises that carrots are not allowed as they give the animals gas.
Wear comfortable clothes and shoes that can get dirty.
Race down the Seward Street Slides
Hidden in a mostly residential area is a pair of long cement slides open to the public. Street parking is available. While you can attempt the slide without it, it is highly recommended to go down on a large piece of cardboard. There are often pieces left at the bottom of the slide by previous visitors, but you may want to bring some just in case.
The slides were designed by a local teenager who won a competition held by sculptor Ruth Asawa. They were built in 1973.
The slides are open Tuesday through Sunday from 10am to 5pm. A handful of sand thrown onto the slide first will make cardboard go down faster.
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