Things to Do in San Francisco on a Budget

On a budget? You’ll find countless ways to spend too much money in San Francisco, with all the tempting restaurants, bars and shopping, but you could also fill a whole trip with activities that don’t cost a thing. 

Here's your guide to exploring some of San Francisco's best sights, entertainment and culture without opening your wallet.

Painted Ladies

This row of seven perfectly pastel, ornate Victorian homes from the 1890s (made famous by the opening credits of the sitcom "Full House") lines the eastern side of Alamo Square park. Victorian and Edwardian-style houses are among San Francisco’s most recognizable architectural features.

Sea Lion Center

The sea lions that hang out at the docks by Pier 39 have become a world-famous tourist attraction, getting millions of visitors each year.

San Francisco Railway Museum

This museum near the Ferry Building celebrates the history of San Francisco rail transit with historic artifacts, displays, archival photography, historical interpretation and audio-visual exhibits. Kids can play pretend on a full-sized replica of the motorman’s platform of a 1911 San Francisco streetcar. 

Musee Mecanique

Before television and video games, there were arcade machines and coin-operated musical instruments. Come see how it all began at one of the world’s largest privately owned collections of coin-operated mechanical music boxes and antique arcade games in working condition.

Fort Point

This powerful fort guarded the Golden Gate Bridge entrance for almost half a century until its original cannons were removed. Visitors can explore its brick casemates, grand arches and spiral stairs and even participate in a cannon drill.

Lombard Street

Eight hairpin switchbacks and the downward pitch of the so-called “crookedest street in the world” have made this block a must-drive for visitors. The quarter-mile downhill stretch is lined with gorgeous gardens and barriers to ensure that drivers maintain a speed of five miles per hour.

Amoeba Music

This Haight-Ashbury institution has one of the largest selections of CDs, DVDs, videos, vinyl records and vintage rock posters anywhere.

Coit Tower

Upon her death in 1929, socialite and art patron Lillie Hitchcock Coit bequeathed funds for the “beautification of the city.” Her heirs used the money to build Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill. Completed in 1933, the fluted column provides bird’s-eye views from an observation deck near the top.

Hyde Street Pier

Home of the world’s largest collection of historic ships, Hyde Street Pier offers regular ranger-guided tours and hands-on demonstrations. View 19th and 20th century historic square-riggers, schooners, ferryboats and tugs.

Presidio Officers' Club

San Francisco's oldest building (Spanish colonists built its adobe walls in 1776) and the crown jewel of the Presidio reopened fall 2014 after a $30 million renovation.