I wrote this back in 2014. Let’s see how much our favorite city has changed.2014: Borrowed from the Concierge at the Handlery Hotel:
Where to find local wildlife: sea lions at Pier 39, elephant seals at Ano Nuevo State Park. harbor porpoises under the Golden Gate Bridge near Fort Point.
What about the much maligned fortune cookie? Though they came originally from Japan, they were introduced to America at the Japanese Tea Garden out at Golden Gate Park in the late 1800s (about when my grandfather came to America). And if you go to 56 Ross Alley in Chinatown, you made watch them being made at the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory.
So, who really care’s about Ben and Jerry’s in the City. Not people who prefer the local varieties, like Mitchell’s, Bi-rite, or Swenson’s. I say go local, go boutique, stay away from Stone Cold, 31, Foggen Dayz.
What about some free activities? You can walk across the Golden Gate Bridge for free. You can head out to Crissy Field, a real bird watcher’s paradise. Then stop by the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park. For a real treat, head to the historic Cliff House, for the views, and perhaps a glimpse of seals and whales out in the ocean.
I always recommend a “trip” out to Haight Ashbury. Anyone who lived and grew up through the Sixties will always be appreciated seeing ground zero of the flower child movement. Or head over the U.C. Berkeley, home of the Free Speech Movement. Another great freebie is a visit to the Rotunda at City Hall down on Civic Center.
Though we have decent museums in the City, I am not a big museum guy. But I do enjoy tours like a visit to Alcatraz Island, home of the former Federal prison. It is full of history and great views of both the City and the Golden Gate Bridge. I also recommend trying to get a “high” as possible, for the view of course. This could be Coit Tower, Twin Peaks, the Transamerica Pyramid, or the top of the Fairmont Hotel (or any high rise hotel lounge).
On Sundays this summer, head out to Stern Grove, for any number of free music, dance, and theater. This is the 77th season. How many times have you even been there? You can hear these greats for free, including Smokey Robinson, Sergio Mendes, the San Francisco Symphony, the Zombies, Rufus Wainwright, Darlene Love, and Todd Sickafoose.
What about buying some souvenirs for the fine folks back home? I always recommend a Giants cap, or better yet, a 49ers cap for my Seattle friends. How about an Alcatraz T-shirt, or an Irish coffee glass from world famous Buena Vista Café. Some people prefer replicas, things like the Golden Gate Bridge, or the Transamerica Pyramid.
Other gifts might be a bottle of Napa wine, a local microbrew, sourdough bread, Ghirardelli chocolates, or California olive oil.
Attending sporting events is always high on my agenda, and we have plenty, depending on the season. The Forty Niners, Warriors, Giants, Athletics, Sharks, as well as major college sports at Cal.
Music is my other passion, so check out places like Davies Symphony Hall, Yoshi’s for jazz (SF closed), the Fillmore for rock, and just about any bar or venue that publishes its program online on SFGate.
Lots to do, not so expensive, leaving plenty of $$ for food. That is the subject for another time. Have fun, bring plenty of disinfectant (for the homeless), and always smile when you get on the cable car. The line was over a block long yesterday!!
Fast forward to 2023: These are the best “free” things to do in SF now.
- Golden Gate Bridge
- Fisherman’s Wharf
- Pier 39
- Drive down Lombard Street (crookedest street in the world)
- The Beach
- Take an SF City Guide
- The free market at Dolores Park
- Maritime National Historic Park
- Ghirardelli Square
- Union Square
- City Hall
- Cal Sailing Club
- The Randall Museum
- SF Centre for the Book
- SF Botanical Garden
- Asian Art Museum
That ought to keep you busy.
The city has changed so much due to the pandemic. Many of my favorite retail stores have closed, like Uniqlo. Many favorite restaurants are closed or open only for reduced hours. But the neighborhoods are thriving. Why? That is where people live!
I still enjoy riding the cable car, going to the top of Nob Hill at night, attending a Giants or Warriors game, and dining at a new place for lunch or dinner. But just realize things are different here, as in many large cities across our country.