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July 12, 2018

How To Find Free and Affordable San Francisco Attractions With a Budget

by Shannon Meyer

Everyone knows San Francisco for its astounding real estate prices where the rental price for a one-bedroom apartment could see you paying its $3,500 a month price tag. The cost of living in San Francisco is also hefty where it cost 67% more than an average US city. How much it cost to make your way around San Francisco really depends on your itinerary and how lavish it is. If there was a rough figure to pin down, you can expect to spend anywhere between $50 to $100 per person, with an average of $165 per person per day for a 5-day vacation. The good news is that being one of the nation’s leading tourist destination, there are always alternatives.

Despite the Life of Riley that it often promotes on the front pages of magazines and Instagram pictures posted by celebrities, there is a very different side to San Francisco. The tourist-heavy city delivers quite a punch for promotions, daily deals, cheap deals, bargain buys, free events, and affordable food options. Some downtown hotels cost about 1/3 of what it would normally cost in London or New York City. If you’re willing to trek your way around either with an affordable charter bus, mobilize your group via public transportation, enjoy on-foot tours, take on free art galleries and events, or scoot around the hidden corners of San Francisco that does not cost an arm and a leg, you’ll have a good time exploring San Francisco on a budget!

having fun cartwheeling outdoors

So, get ready to be bewitched by The Bay’s astounding beauty, explore countless options in the form of cheap eats, local haunts, and fine diners, learn about various fascinating cultures, rich past and mingle around with similarly inspired people from all around the world. And we’ll start it off with the free art galleries, hiking trails, and tours around San Francisco’s top tourist attractions!

As the saying goes, the best things in life are free..and I can’t agree more.

Free Art Galleries around San Francisco

Visiting art museums are not cheap, this is, admittedly, one of the biggest obstacles art lovers have to overcome if they like visiting art galleries in a new city. But please note that some exhibition spaces around SF offer monthly or daily free admissions. If you take advantage of promotions and free admission days, you'll get to delve into a world of inspiring artwork, historic artifacts and contemporary works of art. They hike the vibe up a few notches during the opening of new exhibitions or launch of new shows.

The Asian Art Museum of San Francisco

200 Larkin St, San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 581-3500
Hours: Tues, Wed, Fri, Sat and Sun 10am - 5pm, Thur 10am - 9pm, Closed on Monday
Free admission for kids age 12 and younger, members, SFUSD Students, and Target First Free Sundays
Staying true to its original motto of “Asia is not One Place”, the museum’s collection spans over 6,000 years of history. It showcases collections of exhibits like Divine Bodies, Traces of the Past and Future, When Pictures Speak, Ascend, A Guided Tour of Hell, Dragon Fortune, Village Artist Corner covering topics ranging from religion to history. The museum hosts international exhibitions from countries like Philippines, India, Japan, Turkey, and China. They, therefore, have an approximate number of 18,000 works of art archived in their collection! 7,700 pieces of which belonged to and were donated by Chicago millionaire and museum founder, Avery Brundage. Brundage was the only American to become the President of the International Olympic Committee from 1952 to 1972 and was known for being a big supporter of the amateurism scene.

On top of offering free admissions to children younger than 12, students and everyone during the first Sunday of the month, the Thursday Night lectures tickets are extremely affordable.

49 Geary Art Galleries

49 Geary Street, San Francisco, CA 94108
With four to five floors worth of galleries to explore and no admission fee, the assortment of galleries is known for its popular First Thursday parties. Over two dozen galleries are found along 49 Geary and visitors can go from one to another seamlessly, or spend a few hours blending with the like-minded crowd at any one they fancy. You’ll find them enthralling, inspiring, weird, awesome and interesting, all at the same time. At some galleries, you'll get wine and other drinks for free.

Having numerous galleries under one roof is an awesome idea, most would agree. It saves visitors the time of going from one private gallery to another, provides a collective resource to artists and art lovers, and plenty of space to them to exhibit their masterpieces. As long as visitors are ready to battle the crowd and come wearing the right footwear, they're good to go. Weekdays are quieter and more suitable for a calmer walk-through. If you enjoy the buzz, check in on Fridays and Saturdays. Be sure to pop by galleries by Gregory Lind Gallery, Stephen Collins, Brian Gross, Scott Nichols, Fraenkel Gallery, Stephen Wirtz and many more!

49 Leary Art San Francisco

Mexican Museum

Building D, 2 Marina Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94123
(415) 202-9700
Hours: Thursday to Sunday 12pm - 4pm
The museum, known fondly as El Museo Mexicano, is an exhibit space focusing specifically on Mexican, Latino, Chicano, and Mexican-American art. It was founded by Peter Rodriguez in 1975 to specialize in an impressive permanent collection (numbering up to 16,000 and more) of cultural and historical pieces of work. Here, you’ll be exposed to vigilantly selected colonial, popular, folk and pre-Hispanic creative expressions.

An intimate museum with a community feel, many consider this a true San Francisco gem. You don’t have to be a Mexican or a fan of Mexican art to enjoy the exhibits. With free admission every day, it has used its voice to raise awareness about the complexity and richness of Latino art and culture throughout North America. It also promotes and facilitates dialogues and addresses the broadest of topics that touch the lives of those in its community. At the point of writing, the museum is still at Fort Mason Center in Building D, but it is set to move to its new location in Yerba Buena Gardens along Mission Street. The projection has it that the museum’s move would cost $500 million and will open in 2018. So, be on the lookout for it when you’re in downtown San Francisco.

Join us at The Mexican Museum for our traditional Family Sunday and enjoy making art activities inspired by the current exhibition “Family, Homeland, Revolution: Stories of Chicano Movement”. Drop in on Sunday, July 22nd, between 12pm-4pm to create your own printed notecard or postcard using printmaking techniques. Visitors will learn the history of printmaking and the significance of this artistic practice as a form of propaganda, individual style, and free speech. Our art activity leaders will explain the process of printmaking and supplies for the art activity will be provided. Like all Family Sundays, this event is FREE and open to people of all ages. Due to limited space, attendees are encouraged to arrive early. A parent or guardian must accompany all children.

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SF Camerawork

1011 Market St, San Francisco, CA 94103
(415) 487-1011
What sets this museum apart from others is that their focus is on aspiring and up-and-coming photographers instead of established persons. Therefore, the non-profit was the launching platform for many local San Francisco-based photographers. The little-known attraction, which has been around since its inception in 1974, remains one of the best places to view contemporary and experimental photography through new eyes. It's a small space showcasing a changing roster of artists and small groups of exhibitors. It can sometimes be more interesting than what you can find a popular tourist-packed gallery.

It has hosted influential artists like Larry Clark, Binh Danh, Donna Lee Phillips, Sebastiao Salgado, Carrie Mae Weems and many more. Touching on topics like gentrification, breast cancer, world events or survivors of HIV, the gallery also hosts regular discussions, film screenings and can be booked for book signings. Admission into the gallery is absolutely free but if you want to power up your visit, drop by on Tuesday or Sunday when the Civic-Center-Powell area offers free admissions too.

Other art attractions to check out:-
  • Yerba Buena Center for the Art
    701 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 9410
    (415) 978-278
  • Museum of Craft and Design
    2569 3rd St, San Francisco, CA 94107
    (415) 773-0303
  • Chinese Historical Society of America
    965 Clay St, San Francisco, CA 94108
    (415) 391-1188
  • de Young Museum
    50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Dr, San Francisco, CA 94118
    (415) 750-3600

Hiking around San Francisco’s Best Urban Parks for Free

San Francisco has so many parks to hike around that you’d be spent before you can hit half of the best out there. San Francisco folks are known for being highly social and this extends into their running activities. Nothing puts that bit of bravado back into your steps than someone to poke you along the way. And that’s why many regular runners stay close to their running buddies by joining a running club like the San Francisco Road Runners, The Golden Gate Running Club, or log their running miles on online platforms like Nike Run Club SF. Not only does it keep them up-to-date with the latest events, it also acts as a motivator.

Or you can fly solo if you will only be around for a couple of days.

Crissy Field Walk

For one, you can opt for a relaxing jaunt at Crissy Field Walk between Marina and Fort Point under the Golden Gate Bridge. It is one of the world’s best urban walking trail with a mostly flat and smooth terrain. It pays that you’re rewarded with a consistent view of the SF skyline. Time your walk/run later in the evening, before dinner, and there's almost always a postcard-ready sunset view right under the Golden Gate Bridge.

Telegraph Hill Hike

If you’re game to give yourself a bit of a challenge, tackle the Telegraph Hill hike. Lots of stairs, steep walk-ups, uphills greeted by downhills, and amazing views of Coit Tower at the top (which acts as a huge beacon and motivator). Starting from just about anywhere with a view of the tower, use it as a guide, just walk along any street towards the tower; one of which is Lombard Street. And if you have a few minutes to an hour to spare, check in at Coit Tower.

Hyde Street Climb

On the other hand, Hyde Street Climb is perfect for those who have a penchant for both photography and fitness. The incline is steep even from its starting point near Ghirardelli Square. The fun part is that you’ll get to watch the craziness that often surrounds Lombard Street, also known as the world’s "crookedest" street.

Coastal Hikes and a Day-Trip to Angel Island

The island attracts photographers because of the amazing views accorded by the coastal trails of San Francisco, namely the 8.8 mile stretch from Lands End to Golden Gate Bridge. Swirls of flower beds lie on the fringes of the moderate trails while salty air whiffs in from the coastline. And if you’re thinking of a more varied course, that’s what Angel Island will give you. Across the Bay from downtown San Francisco, once you make it to the top of the island, the 360-degree view is unprecedented. You can get there by ferry or drive across the Golden Gate Bridge to Tiburon to begin your hike. The serene water might entice you to rent a bicycle or kayak for another trek around the island.

If you start your hike early in the morning, there might be time left for other entertaining sites on the island like Camp Reynolds, NIKE Missile Silo on the southeast side, Fort McDowell (also known as East Garrison) and the Immigration Station, not unlike the one at Ellis Island, which had an active run between 1910 and 1940.

Free Tours and Entertainment Galore

If you keep your wallet tightly tucked into your jeans pocket, you don’t have a spend a cent on a trip to either Chinatown, Pier 39 or Fisherman’s Wharf, all of which ranks highly as San Francisco’s top tourist attractions. I can’t say we can blame the tourists.

The Astonishing Variety at SF’s Chinatown

San Francisco’s Chinatown, on top of the being the oldest in the country, covers the span of 24 blocks; there are more people who visit SF Chinatown compared to the Golden Gate Bridge although a large percentage of the new arrivals in Chinatown speak little to no English. After taking a picture with the authentic Chinatown Gate, head over to Chinese-themed gift shops along Grant Avenue, or one block up, Stockton Street where prices of goods are unbelievably good (pun intended). When you’re staring at Sing Chong and Sing Fat, right across each other at the intersection of Grant and California Street, you’d feel like having just gotten off the boat yourself! Other well know stopovers at the attraction includes the well-respected Vital Tea Leaf where they offer free tastings, the Old Telephone Exchange at Washington Street which used to be a switchboard, the Transamerica Pyramid Redwood Grove which has a park with redwood trees around it, and the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory along Ross Alley which was also called the “Street of the Gamblers”.

Let Excitement and Adventures Fill Your Day at Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39

If you’d like to enjoy a free, relaxing stroll, you can’t go wrong when you bring the San Francisco charter bus to Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf. Encompassing the northern side of the SF waterfront from Ghirardelli Square to Pier 35/Kearny Street, there’s a reason why it’s one of the best year-round major attraction in San Francisco.

Amongst the many things you can do here, there’s an out-of-this-world 7D Experience, Cat Sailing Charters, Bay Voyager, Blazing Saddles Biking, Caricatures, Magowan's Infinite Mirror Maze, Musical Stairs and a kid-friendly bungee trampoline called Frequent Flyers. People would also snap an Instagram picture with the hand-painted Open Heart structure at the picturesque Bay End, hop on the San Francisco Carousel, sign up for a thrilling boat tour, or book a spot for wine therapy on board a floating wine-tasting room while enjoying the breathtaking sights of the Bay.

A Scenic Charter Bus Ride, Free Tours, and Live Entertainment

If you have the choice of being driven around in a rented charter bus, take on a 49-Mile Scenic Drive along the coast which highlights the best that San Francisco offers. Designed and constructed in 1938, you’ll see everything there is to see during the shorter-than-you-would-have-liked drive.

And of course, that’s not the end. Very passionate and dedicated volunteers are always around to give you a city-wide tour around town. While it does not require a fee, they appreciate donations. You can also pay as you wish for the on-foot free tours to hear incredible stories, enjoy world-class cuisine, traverse hidden neighborhoods and traipse your way around the best historic attractions in the city. There’s also free entertainment in the form of Golden Gate Park Band Concerts every Sunday from April to October, San Francisco Shakespeare Festival held in area parks all summer long, swinging bluegrass entertainment during the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival at Golden Gate Park, or you can just sit back and enjoy the Tony Award-winning performance by the San Francisco Mime Troupe.

Rent Your Own San Francisco Charter Bus Today

take a scenic picture outside the rented charter bus

If you’re looking for ways to stretch your dollar during your trip to San Francisco, you’ve come to the right place. Bus Rentals San Francisco specializes in helping you find the right charter bus rental packages to save you money. A leading charter bus rental company in San Francisco, not only do we have specials for trips to Hollywood or Napa Valley Vineyards, we offer discounts for team sporting event or corporate functions, and lineup specials, high school prom, permission slip savings for schools, college, university and charter school specials, and special seasonal bus rental rates.

Let us help find you with the right vehicle with roomy reclining chairs, modern amenities, AC Electrical outlets, adjustable footrests, onboard entertainment, GPS tracking and roomy luggage space. Bus Rental San Francisco works with the biggest movers and shakers of the ground transportation industry and is ready to provide you with a quote for your consideration. Contact us to find out more about your options right now! The number to call is 1-800-304-1993 if you wish to speak to our customer service representatives.