For starters, San Francisco is not a cheap place to visit, but it is such a cool city that it still is a must visit! Luckily, there are many free things you can do in and around The City by the Bay!

Views of the Bay bridge in San Francisco.

Regardless of Bay City being extremely overpriced and expensive, you can still have an absolute blast if you’re on a bit of a budget like us. The majority of our tips will be free or at least fairly cheap, and we’ll share everything we know with you!

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Palm tree in San Fran.

Here are the Best Things to Do in San Francisco on a Budget

1. Wander the streets of Chinatown

Did you know that Chinatown in San Francisco is the oldest one in North America? What better place to try authentic Chinese cuisine and check out Chinese shops than here?

If you’re looking to walk around and see the typical touristy shops then stick to Grant Street. But if you’re feeling a little adventurous you should walk down some of the side streets. Or you can head over to Stockton Street where you’ll see cheaper produce and get more of a market feel so you can experience more of the real Chinatown!

Another awesome way to see everything is by taking freetoursbyfoot’s walking tour. You will see all the iconic spots in Chinatown like The Dragon Gate, Portsmouth Square, The Goddess of Democracy Statue, Famous Fortune Cookie Factory, and The Bank of Canton.

This tour is relatively cheap since it’s just a donation of your choice and you’ll really get a feel for this part of San Fran. Of course, you pick the amount you donate so you can basically just donate what you think the tour is worth. We believe about $10 a person is standard. But, of course, that depends on the quality of the tour.

Sculpture of a heart in San Fran.

2. Walk or drive down Lombard street

The famous one-block section of Lombard street claims to be “the most crooked street in the world”. With 8 hairpin turns in just one single block makes it a fun tourist attraction to check out.

The road is filled with beautiful flowers and bushes that make the street really pretty. A lot of people drive on it, but we actually walked along the sidewalk and took in the pretty views! Maybe we’ll drive it next time! 😉

3. Check out The Painted Ladies

By only hearing the name you’d have no idea what to expect. You probably think you’re going to some sort of gallery or concert. What you’re actually going to see is a famous group of Victorian houses. Which are arguably some of the prettiest houses in the whole city!

The Painted Ladies in San Francisco.

If you’ve ever watched Full House then the houses will look awfully familiar as that’s where the Tanner family was portrayed to live. There is also a beautiful park right across the street from The Painted Ladies where you can sit down and have a picnic while people watching 😉

4. Walk around Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf

One of our favorite parts of the day was visiting Fisherman’s Wharf! If you’re looking for some delicious seafood then Fisherman’s Wharf is the place you want to go.

One of the piers in downtown San Fran.

The Pier is filled with seafood restaurants. The famous clam chowder is served in a sourdough bowl and looked absolutely delicious (according to Dom). But since Jo isn’t a seafood lover we decided to try the iconic In and Out Burger and it did not disappoint!

Couple seals relaxing in the sun.

So, if you’re like Jo and don’t like fish then you can head over to the famous Pier 39 where most of the tourist attractions are found.

Pier 39 is filled with a bunch of awesome attractions and if you just have an afternoon to explore the city like we did, then make sure to go check out the sea lions colony right next to Pier 39! From there you’ll also be able to get distant views of the famous Alcatraz! But cover your nose up – the sea lions really stink!!

Alcatraz prison.

5. Ride the San Francisco Cable Cars

If there’s one way to get around San Francisco it’s definitely by a cable car! Only 3 of the 23 original cable car lines actually remain and they go by many of the popular landmarks and attractions. Two of them go from Union Square to Fisherman’s Wharf and the third line is along California street.

Cable car in San Francisco.

It’s not free but it’s about $6-7 to ride the cable cars but we recommend buying a 1, 3, or 7-day Visitor Passport that enables you to ride any form of public transport in the city for $12 for the full day.

It’s not free but it’s definitely a cheaper option to travel around the city if you don’t have a car and a way to experience the awesome cable cars as well. Here is a bit more info on the Visitor Passports.

6. Head to the Golden Gate Overlook

This is the place to go if you’re looking to get some awesome shots of yourself with the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s very accessible as there are bike paths and also a few car parks in the area. (Psst… You can also bike across the bridge if you want to).

Dom and Jo in front of Bay Bridge.

If you put Golden Gate Overlook into your maps you will be able to find some free parking spots or use the SpotAngels app to find the free parking!

This area is absolutely stunning but may have high coastal winds so be prepared and dress warm if you’re taking some pictures! It’s a great spot for a cute little date as well. Bring a bottle of red or rosé and enjoy the views.

Bay bridge in San Francisco.

Things to know before you go to San Francisco

Before you go, make sure to download the following apps to your phone. They will definitely help you save a few bucks.

  • Groupon is GREAT in big cities with so many options. We use it ALL the time! You can easily find delicious meals and fun activities at a discounted rate.
  • Airbnb is great for finding places to stay for a few nights if you’re planning on spending a few days in the city. Click here to get $47 off your first stay.
  • If you are driving into San Francisco from one of the northern bridges make sure to have some cash on you as there are tolls you have to pay for entering the city! The price varies between $5-10.
  • Luckily, once you’re in the city we’ve got you covered. SpotAngels shows you all the free parking around the city including how long you can park for, how many other users have parked there before, and you can track your parking on your phone! The best part? The app is completely free!
Dom and Jo downtown San Francisco.

If you haven’t already been to San Francisco, make sure you add it to your bucket list and make sure to try and check out as many of these places as possible!

We’d love to hear what your favorite spot was and if you found any other awesome spots or activities that we missed so we can add it to this post!

Jo in front of a church.

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What budget-friendly activity are you most excited to try in San Francisco? Leave a comment below and let us know!

Have fun!

Dom & Jo
Red White Adventures
red white adventures logo with swan and moose

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  1. Pauline Chicart on November 9, 2019 at 6:56 pm

    I’m so glad you had an amazing time in San Fransisco and it’s nice to see you can fit quite a lot in one day! It looks really beautiful. I went when I was younger but don’t remember anything haha!

    • redwhiteadventures on November 12, 2019 at 3:15 am

      Hey Pauline!

      Well now you have a reason to go back when you move to Vancouver! 😉 You’ll be on the west coast so it won’t be to far for you!!


  2. Josy A on November 9, 2019 at 9:34 pm

    Oooh great tips! I love this kind of city when you can have a lot of fun just walking around to find pretty sights. I mostly want to visit SF for the food though. It might get pricey whatever I do!!

    I would never have thought of group on (I didn’t use it for yeeears!) Good thinking batman.

    • redwhiteadventures on November 12, 2019 at 3:08 am

      Hey Josy,

      Exactly! We didn’t think it was possible to do in San Fran since it’s such an expensive city but you sure can. 🙂 Honestly groupon has saved us so much money and also helped us find awesome places we wouldn’t have otherwise!


  3. Andrea Peacock on November 11, 2019 at 2:12 am

    I’d love to actually see Lombard Street one day! It looks so cool! Might be kinda scary to drive though haha. That’s awesome the cable cars are affordable! Seems like such a quintessential San Francisco thing to do 🙂

    • redwhiteadventures on November 12, 2019 at 3:04 am

      Hi Andrea,
      It does seem a little scary but I’m sure you’d do it! 🙂 Absolutely!! I feel like when you think of San Fran you think of the cable cars! 🙂 I feel like most places you can make affordable, just have to find the right things to do.


  4. jk on November 22, 2019 at 8:42 pm

    I loved this post. San Francisco is a great city to visit, but it can get really expensive. Great tips.

    • redwhiteadventures on November 22, 2019 at 10:04 pm

      Hey JK,

      That was are issue going there was thinking how expensive it could get! Luckily we found enough free and cheap things to do and then decided to share it with everyone! 🙂


  5. Hollyshome on November 22, 2019 at 10:22 pm

    Can’t wait to visit! Thanks for the info!

    • redwhiteadventures on November 22, 2019 at 10:44 pm

      You’re welcome! Enjoy your trip 🙂

  6. Mira on November 24, 2019 at 1:08 am

    beautiful ! thanks for sharing these spots and tips, very useful! thanks for sharing !
    The Handy Journal-

  7. Sonali on November 24, 2019 at 5:12 am

    This place is in my bucket list. Great tips I’ll keep in mind. Thanks for sharing.

    • redwhiteadventures on November 25, 2019 at 6:43 pm

      Hey Sonali,

      San Fran is awesome! I hope you make it out there one day and if you do you’ll have our free guide to help you with planning your stay in San Francisco

  8. Alexine on November 24, 2019 at 11:51 pm

    San Franciso would be one of my stops if I visit USA in the future, your guide is perfect for me since I love to travel on a budget. This city is so majestic, I’d really love to see the Golden Gate Bridge, it’s so beautiful. Thanks for this lovely guide, just saved it for my future travels.
    Happy traveling cute couple!

    • redwhiteadventures on November 25, 2019 at 6:48 pm

      Hey Alexine! 🙂

      San Fran is great! I’m sure one day you will visit The Bay area and the Golden Gate Bridge! Just like we’d love to go visit your beautiful country of Malta one day! 🙂

  9. Joanna on November 25, 2019 at 10:48 am

    I would love to visit San Francisco one day. I always thought of it as an expensive place to go to. It’s good to know that you can do it even when you are on a budget, with so many free places to see around.

    • redwhiteadventures on November 25, 2019 at 6:44 pm

      Hey Joanna,

      Definitely!! Plus theres a bunch of other free things to do we missed as well. It’s a beautiful city that you can just get lost and walk around in.


  10. aisasami on November 25, 2019 at 3:20 pm

    Everywhere you go, there’s a heart o/~

    If that is correct.

    But, San Fransisco is really beautiful and famous due to being the city for Full House. Would love to go to explore the Full House locations.

    • redwhiteadventures on November 25, 2019 at 6:40 pm

      Hello Aisa,

      Yes the houses in San Fran are beautiful! Especially the Painted Ladies. It gives you a sense of the traditional houses they used to build! 🙂 The park is also great to just hang out and relax in for a few hours!


  11. Hackytips on November 25, 2019 at 9:41 pm

    Last year we visited SFO. It is truly a beautiful city.

    • redwhiteadventures on November 26, 2019 at 11:47 pm

      Hey Hacky,

      Yes it sure is. We loved it! <3


  12. Jackline A on November 29, 2019 at 2:46 pm

    Love your write up. I have always wanted to go to San Fran. For awhile. Will book mark this post.

    • redwhiteadventures on December 4, 2019 at 7:40 pm

      Hey Jackline,

      Thanks! 🙂 We loved our time in San Fran! Once you go you will have to share any new fun activities you did while you were there!


  13. Russell Mortensen on June 15, 2020 at 10:55 pm

    I’ve always heard of Lombard street, but I never realized how pretty it was because of all the flowers. My sister and I are going to SF this year and we want to see everything the city has to offer. We really like the idea of going on some sort of tour so that we can see all the sights.

    • redwhiteadventures on June 15, 2020 at 11:40 pm

      Hey Russell,

      That’s awesome! I hope you enjoy the trip with your sister. Lombard street is great! We wish we took our van down it but we actually had break problems so it was probably best that we didn’t haha. We wish we had time to take a tour but since we were just passing by for the day we decided to just do all the main free attractions that we could find! Next time! =)


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