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Complete Guide to Finding Free or Cheap SF Activities

November 6th, 2009 · No Comments · Activities

San Francisco is well-known as one of the most expensive cities in the world. It’s true that it costs a small fortune to be a resident of San Francisco because rents are high and parking fees can be astronomical. Nevertheless, many people do find a way to make it in this city and most of them aren’t earning an impressive salary. One of the ways that residents compensate for all of the money that they spend on rent is to find activities and entertainment that are free or cheap. There are a lot of different things to do in this city that fall into that category. In fact; you can find something free to do almost every day of the week if you know where to look. Here’s your guide to finding all of that inexpensive stuff that locals are busy enjoying.

Best Websites for Finding Free / Cheap Things to Do

The easiest way to find things to do for free or cheap in San Francisco is to head to the Internet. There are several great websites that are specifically focused on offering exactly this type of information. There are also a few sites that offer general activity information which can guide you to good free stuff to do.

 Squid List. This is a great site to check out if the events that interest you are those events which are related to art, culture and technology (which covers just about everything, right?) It lists events by date and time (so you can check out everything that is going on today or tomorrow) and then provides links which you can follow to get all of the details. It’s a really great site for finding out the basics about what is going on for cheap in the city today.

• FunCheapSF. This website is set up in a style similar to the Squid List but the events that it advertises tend to be more family-friendly and less off-the-wall than those on the other site. It’s a must-check-out site for anyone who wants to know what is happening in any given week that isn’t going to cost an arm and a leg.

• Bay Area on the Cheap. This site is more of a blog site that provides information about the latest discounts on different things that are going on in the city. This one sometimes has really great deals and sometimes tends to be pricier than the other sites but it’s a good starting point to find out what is going on and about how much it would cost you to participate in it. People who are looking for affordable tickets to mainstream events will find that this is a good resource.

• Goldstar. Another good site for tickets is Goldstar. You join it (for free) and then you can get access to half off tickets for a variety of different types of events in the city. Sometimes there are even free tickets (plus a small handling charge) available through this site.

• Craigslist. Checking out the “activities” and “events” sections of San Francisco’s Craig’s List is always a good way to see what’s going on. It’s a hit-and-miss kind of calendar because people post all types of things on here and some of them do cost money but it shouldn’t be ignored as a site to review if you’re trying to find something to do.

• Meetup,com. This site is more of a social networking site but if you’re going to be in the area for an extended period of time then it’s worth checking out. You join groups based on your interests and then meet up with those groups to do various things. If you’re interests are in doing things that are free/cheap then you just need to locate the groups who are doing those things and participate in what they’re inviting you to attend.

• SF Station. This is probably the most comprehensive site available for finding out what is going on in San Francisco on any given day. You can narrow down your listings to a single day, neighborhood or type of event. Unfortunately, they don’t offer a “free/cheap” category to peruse so you have to wade through the pricey stuff to find the free stuff.

Look at the Calendars for Things That Interest You

In addition to the calendars that offer general information about a variety of different types of events in San Francisco, there are a lot of calendars available for people who are interested in very specific free things. If you have a niche that you’re looking at then you can find calendars related to that niche and look for the free events on those calendars. Examples include

• Business. If you are interested in business then you’ll want to check out the calendars for the local SBA, SCORE and the Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center. All of these places offer free classes and lectures related to business and networking.

• Theatre. What if you’re into drama? Check out the calendars for specific theatres or check out blogs for those types of events to find the cheap ones. (Theatre Bay Area is a good place to start.) If you’re interested in burlesque then you can learn about events from San Francisco Burlesque Review. If you’re interested in comedy then check out SF Standup.

• Literary. There are tons of literary events to check out in San Francisco. If that’s what appeals to you then your best bet is to look at the individual calendars for the different bookstores in the city which regularly host free readings and events.

• Outdoor activities. If you like the outdoors then check out calendars from stores that sell outdoor items. For example, REI offers a number of classes and outings that are free or cheap.

Some Specific Regular Activities that are Free or Cheap

There are some places in San Francisco which offer free activities on a regular basis. The most popular of these include.

• Free days at museums. Almost all of the local museums offer free days and half-price days at least once a month. Many also offer special events which not only have affordable admission but also bring interesting new things to the museum.

• Guided walking tours. There are many guided walking tours in the city and a lot of them are free. Check out SF City Guides to get you started.

• Library. The local library is another host of ongoing free events. Stop by the information desk at any local branch to find out what’s going on.

Consider What Is Free Elsewhere and Find It Here

Don’t forget that there are some activities that are free all year round. You know about these because you have enjoyed them in other cities and you juts need to know how to find them in San Francisco. Examples include:

• Parks. San Francisco has a great parks system which you can enjoy for free. Golden Gate Park is the best park of course but there are smaller parks all throughout the city. Dolores Park is popular since it offers a really great city view.

• Fairs and festivals. Wandering around street fairs doesn’t cost much and it’s something that you can do almost all year long in San Francisco!

• Outdoor movies. Many cities offer free outdoor movie events throughout the summer and San Francisco is no exception. Films are shown outdoors at several parks as well as at Union Square.

• Tourist attractions. There are some tourist attractions in any city that are free to check out. Don’t neglect them in San Francisco. These include the Sutro Bath Ruins, Coit Tower, the sea lions at Pier 39, the street performers at Fisherman’s Wharf and a walk across the Golden Gate Bridge. Another cheap attraction is an old arcade called Musee Mechanique which is located at Fisherman’s Wharf.

• People watching and window shopping. You can always just enjoy sitting down somewhere and watching people go by. This is a great city for that since there are so many unique people here! Or you can go to the shopping districts and do some window shopping.

Papers to Pick up to Find Free or Cheap Activities

If you’re still looking for more things to do then you just need to turn to the local newspaper bins and calendars to find out what is going on in the city. A lot of these events will be free or cheap.

• SF Weekly. This is a number one choice for finding out what’s going on in the city. Find it in streetside bins and local coffee shops.

• Guardian. There are sometimes things listed in here that are of interest.

• Neighborhood newspapers. Some neighborhoods put out there own little papers. Check coffee shops for these.

• Fliers. There are fliers for things everywhere you look in San Francisco. Pay attention to them and you’ll find it easy to find affordable things to do.


A quick note on the fact that it is indeed possible to find cheap eats in San Francisco even though there are a lot of expensive restaurants. For tips on the best affordable spots check out Bargain Bites, Citysearch, Urbanspoon and GrubGirl.

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