There are a million ways to spend big bucks in San Francisco (hello, Hayes Valley shopping!)
As Frugal Hackers, we stay away from all that jazz. Here's a round-up of our favorite things to do in San Francisco that literally cost no money.
No entrance fees for amazing 360° views of the city. Once you get to the Twin Peaks parking lot, you can climb up to the top of one or both peaks for even better views. Depending on what time of the year you visit, it can get really windy/foggy there. I always carry a light jacket with me in SF!
If you're a pro-biker (and above-average fit), this could be a great thigh-pinching altitude climb to the top. There's a well-paved road that leads to the top. Do not bike here at night though - it's dangerous!
Bike the Golden Gate Bridge
My favorite way to enjoy the Golden Gate Bridge is by riding a bike across it. If you're ridiculously fit, rent a good road bike and take it all the way up to the top of Hawk Hill. Struggle through the grueling climb fighting strong headwinds, and you'll be rewarded with these Million Dollar Views.
If you're visiting SF in July/August, my advice is to plan to check out the bridge in the morning. In the afternoon, the fog rolls into the city and you'll be left with a view like this photo on the right. Trust me, there's a bridge in there somewhere.
Once you cross the bridge, you enter Marin County aka Cycling Paradise. If you want to take it easy, you can coast downhill to Sausalito and take the ferry back to San Francisco. If you're an avid road biker and want more challenge, our favorite rides in Marin County are to Tiburon (via the esteemed Paradise Loop), Muir Woods, Fairfax, Nicasio Reservoir and Point Reyes.
Explore the Trails of Golden Gate Park
PSA: Golden Gate Park is NOT right next to the Golden Gate Bridge. I was confused too.
Golden Gate Park is an amazing maze of walking, cycling and hiking trails. On Sundays, one of the main arteries of the park, John F. Kennedy Drive, is closed to motor vehicles. It's so liberating to see pedestrians, cyclists, and roller bladers take over the road without worrying about crazy city traffic.
One of my favorite spots in the park is the Japanese Tea Garden. There's a separate entrance fee for this ($6 for residents, $9 for non-residents), but if you enter before 10AM on Monday, Wednesday or Friday, you get free admission!
Walk around the Ruins of Sutro Baths / Lands End
Sutro Baths was built in 1896 as the world's largest swimming pool establishment. It burned down in 1966 and the ruins are open to visitors now. The history behind Sutro Baths is quite fascinating. Located in the Land's End area of San Francisco, the ruins and surrounding view points have stunning views of the Pacific Ocean. Grab a jacket if you're planning to walk around here! There's parking nearby if you're planning to drive.
Soak up the Sun in Mission Dolores Park
Tired of the fog and cold in windy San Francisco? Head over to Mission Dolores Park, possibly the sunniest spot in San Francisco. The park is situated on a moderate-sized hill in the heart of the city, with gorgeous views of downtown San Francisco. Grab some ice cream at Birite across the street, lay down the picnic blanket and soak up the sun. The park is teeming with people on weekends, but hey, there's plenty of room to share.
Hike to Bernal Heights Summit
One of my favorite neighborhoods in the city is Bernal Heights. Steep, winding roads with secret staircases make this a walker's paradise. The views are A+, the crowds are practically non-existent and you can get your exercise quota for the day for free. No wonder we don't pay a dollar in gym membership fees!
Hike around Bayview Heights Park
This one's still under the radar for most folks in SF, and I'm not complaining! Mr. FH and I go up here frequently for afternoon walks and we get the place mostly to ourselves. Breathe in fresh air filled with the medicinal scent of eucalyptus trees with amazing views of the city and the bay lurking around every corner. If you'd like a walking tour of this place while you're visiting the city, just contact us, and we'd be happy to take you on a 1-hr hike of this area for free (weekends and holidays only unfortunately).
Do you like playing tourist in your own city? What are your favorite go-to sources of frugal fun in your city?