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7 Best Free or Low-Cost San Francisco Attractions, According to Locals

When you read about all these low-cost San Francisco attractions, you won’t want to leave!

San Francisco is considered one of the most expensive places to live… AND visit, in the US. But here at Must See Places, we’ve never let a little thing like money hold us back!

That’s why we spoke to some locals to curate a list of the best free or low-cost San Francisco attractions to help you get more bang for your buck. With these budget-friendly or free activities and ideas, you’ll get to experience local life for yourself.

They even gave us some genius tips to make your stay more enjoyable. For instance, we discovered that if you visit between September and November, you’ll experience the best weather.

And another thing: If you plan to do a lot of sightseeing, consider purchasing a CityPASS or Go City San Francisco attraction pass! Either one can save you a ton of cash on paid tours and attractions throughout the city.

Looking for a place to stay? Noe’s Nest Bed and Breakfast is perfect if you’re looking for charming Victorian vibes near the Mission District. So what are we waiting for? Keep your budget in check with these 7 low-cost San Francisco attractions!

Low-Cost San Francisco Attraction
Photo by Sundry Photography at Shutterstock

Walk to Lands End

Known as the wildest, rockiest corner of San Francisco, this low-cost San Francisco attraction stretches from the northern corner of the Outer Richmond to the grand Sea Cliff neighborhood.

It has a quirky and diverse collection of sights along its trails, ranging from World War II shipwrecks to the ruins of Sutro Baths to a semi-hidden heart sculpture constructed of beach rocks.

And it’s all among century-old, towering pines and windblown Monterey cypress trees lining the oceanside cliff trails. You can make your visit however short, long, and moderately strenuous, depending on your mood.

But we must note that this low-cost San Francisco attraction can also get rather windy, so be sure to dress accordingly when visiting.

Visit North Beach

This low-cost San Francisco attraction is one of the city’s most culturally prosperous and loved neighborhoods! As a buzzing community steeped in Italian heritage, you can find many shops and restaurants, bars, family-owned establishments, and adorable coffee shops.

The neighborhood also boasts some of the most entertaining urban walks in the city. You’ll find the most Italian cafes along Columbus Avenue. And if you can manage to get a seat at the seafood restaurant “Sotto Mare,” locals highly recommend a meal there.

Two other notable food places are Betty Lou’s and Golden Boy Pizza! Broadway, the nearby “red light district,” has some amazing old-fashioned neon signs that light the neighborhood at night.

So don’t miss out on that. And remember to stop by Sam’s Pizza and Burgers for one of the area’s best late-night classic burgers.

Check out the Flower Mart

You’ve undoubtedly heard of those early morning fish markets that require a dawn entry for the best goods. In this city, there’s a better-smelling equivalent at the San Francisco Flower Market. Plus, you’ll get a visually stunning experience to go along with it!

This low-cost San Francisco attraction is one of those experiences you simply can’t miss. It’s not well-manicured like the stunning Botanical Garden. It’s more like a floral beast with an industrial kick to it.

While most industry buyers looking to purchase wholesale can enter as early as 3 am, the general public can enter free from Wednesdays through Saturdays between 8 am and 1 pm.

With over 45 vendors selling farm-fresh flowers, ranging from colorful lei to a sea of fragrant purple orchids during graduation season, the market also sells silk products, blooming plants, greens, and floral supplies for flower lovers, dabblers, or those who are florally curious.

Low-Cost San Francisco Attraction
Photo by randy andy at Shutterstock

Explore Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf

Welcome to one of the most prominent low-cost San Francisco attraction in the entire bay area. Despite it being a very touristy area, you must check it out at least once while here!

Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39 are located next to each other and are home to dozens of restaurants, shops, and activities for the whole family. The kiddos will love the wax museum, merry-go-round, 3D rides, and so on.

This is where you’ll also find the Aquarium of the Bay and the renowned sea lions the area is known for.

As for the wharf experience, go to Boudin for some delicious clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl, grab a shrimp or crab roll from one of the delicious seafood stands, and watch the sea lions bark their heads off!

This low-cost San Francisco attraction also has a mini-donut shop, candy shop, and many other restaurants to check out.

Stop by Japantown

Japantown is a really fun place to explore, but it tends to be overshadowed by Chinatown. Only four Japantowns are left in the US, with the one in this city being the biggest and oldest surviving. The other three can be found in LA and San Jose.

San Francisco’s version is a 6-block area of restaurants and shops along Post Street in the Western Addition neighborhood. At this low-cost San Francisco attraction, you’ll find a whopping three indoor malls with authentic Japanese cuisine and cuisine and shops.

While here, remember to visit Peace Plaza to snap a quick pic with the grand pagoda, eat some delicious ramen, play Japanese arcade games, take sticker pictures at Pika Pika, browse gift shops selling ceramics, stationery, origami paper, and Japanese toys, and end your night by singing in a private karaoke room.

… All while remaining in the US!

Enjoy a picnic at Dolores Park

People-watching in this desirably sunny area of Dolores Park always remains unchanged, no matter what changes come to this city. From fire dancing to drum circles to DJ sets and acrobatics, an eclectic mix of individuals can always be found at the 16-acre park.

Informal food vendors also rotate to keep things energized. From spring rolls to pizza, you can eat to your heart’s delight while here. “Dolo” finished a renovation in 2016, with more open space, two bathrooms, picnic tables, and a fantastic playground for kids.

This low-cost San Francisco attraction is also easily accessible through the J Church Muni metro line and Muni buses 33 and 22. The downside is that parking can be tricky, but it’s not impossible if you’re willing to walk a few blocks.

Before choosing which grassy patch to lie on, bring a picnic blanket and grab some food from nearby. Just remember to pick up your trash and properly dispose of it at the receptacles bordering the park.

Low-Cost San Francisco Attraction
Photo by Luciano Mortula – LGM at Shutterstock

Visit the Painted Ladies

If you’re familiar with the hit TV show Full House, you don’t want to miss this low-cost San Francisco attraction. The Painted Ladies are among the most iconic sights in the US, not just in San Francisco. But you won’t actually find any ladies here.

Instead, you’ll witness some of the most beautiful homes in San Francisco, and they’re free to enjoy from the outside.

But even though you can’t go inside these structures since they’re privately owned, they’re still worth admiring. And you can relax with a picnic across the street.

No matter which of these low-cost San Francisco attractions you choose to visit, be sure to leave us a comment to share your experiences with our readers.

And if you liked this article, we highly recommend also reading: 11 Low-Cost Beach Vacations for an Affordable Summer

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