10 Free Things To See and Do in San Francisco

The Barnes boutique hotel in San Francisco recently renovated its 189 guest rooms. This landmark building from 1908, was formerly the historic Villa Florence Hotel. Guests staying at The Barnes hotel will discover refined elegance, and the exciting sights and sounds of San Francisco when stepping outside the front doors.

Entrance to Barnes Hotel at Union Square

The Barnes Restaurant + Bar offers a buffet breakfast in the morning for $22, and later in the afternoon happy hour specials and light bites through the evening. Live music is performed every Thursday from 5 to 7 p.m. Located along the Powell Street Cable Car line, the hotel is half a block from shopping, theatre and dining around Union Square. While staying at the central location, it’s an ideal home base to relax after a day discovering some of the best sights in the city.

Lobby and onsite restaurant at Barnes Hotel


  1. Walk about 15 minutes to Chinatown to take in the colorful sights and sounds. Established in 1848, this is the oldest and one of the largest Chinatowns in North America. The Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory in Chinatown is a hidden gem in the Ross Alley. This shop has been making fortune cookies from scratch since 1962. This small bakery makes up to 10,000 fortune cookies a day, baked fresh on a cast iron rotating griddle wheel.

Wait in line for a free cookie.

Visitors can watch them assemble and fold each cookie, while breathing in the sweet aroma. Each visitor who waits in line will receive a warm, flat and crunchy fortune cookie. Open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.


2. San Francisco’s City Guides offer more than 80 historical and architectural walking tours of San Francisco. There’s something for everyone, from Alfred Hitchcock’s San Francisco to Downtown Deco to Russian Hill Stairways to Westwood Park Bungalows. This non-profit organization is associated with the San Francisco Public Library. Staffed by friendly volunteers, these tours are free.

Walk Across the Bridge

3. One of the world’s most photographed bridges. The Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most photographed bridge’s in the world. Spanning 1.7 miles across, and painted red, not gold, it takes about 40 minutes to walk from one end to the other.  Take in the views of Alcatraz Island, the bay and dramatic cityscape. Don’t want to walk alone? Free Walking Tours are offered by San Francisco City Guides twice-weekly (Thursdays and Sundays).


4. This year marks the 150th anniversary of San Francisco’s cable cars, probably the city’s second most famous symbol, after the Golden Gate Bridge. Admission is free to enter and explore the Cable Car Museum, which features an illuminating collection of classic cars, historic photographs, and interactive mechanical displays. The museum is closed on Mondays, and open Tuesday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Friday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.


5. Take a walk up to the top of Telegraph Hill to the architecturally beautiful fluted white column of Coit Tower. Known as the emblem of San Francisco’s skyline, this local landmark was built in 1933. You can view the beautiful murals inside the tower’s base for free. Painted by 26 artists employed by the Public Works of Art Project, precursor to the Works Progress Administration (WPA), these colorful works of art depict everyday life in 1930s San Francisco. Nearby is one of the most picturesque walks down the Filbert Street stairs, which pass through the Grace Marchant Garden, down towards the piers and Fisherman’s Wharf.


6. Walk to PIER 39’s West Marina to see boisterous pinnipeds vying for space on one of the many floating wood docks. There is now entrance fee to stand and watch these playful They arrived after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, and continue to return every year due to their favorite herring in supply in this area. This marina’s protected environment sometimes has 300 sea lions at prime season. Males arrive late winter, and females and pups arrive in July and stay until Spring before migrating south to the Channel Islands for breeding seasons. There always seems to be a small group of sea lions who stay year round entertaining locals and visitors.


7. Nearby at Boudin San Francisco Sourdough guests can peek through a 30-foot long glass window inside the demonstration and production bakery. Boudin is San Francisco’s oldest continuously operating business, and home to The Original San Francisco Sourdough. A portion of the original mother dough has been nurtured for over 166 years to start each and every batch of bread. It takes up to 72 hours to make the handcrafted loaves from scratch to finish. Watch bakers shape sourdough into sculpted critters, and hearth breads by hand. Visitors can ask bakers questions through a two-way intercom system. It’s a great spot to stop for lunch.


8. Continue walking towards Pier 45 to enter a mechanical museum showcasing a collection of more than 300 mechanical musical instruments and antique arcade artifacts. From turn-of-the-century hand-cranked music boxes to vintage pinball machines to modern video arcade games, the museum offers a clinging, clanging, fun-for-the-whole-family trip down memory lane. Don’t miss ‘Laughing Sal’ stay to watch someone put a coin in this mechanical to watch Sal roar her infectious laughter.


9. More murals await in the Mission District at 50 Balmy St, there are hundreds of walls and fences adorned with vibrant artwork. This block long alley is the best place to see the most concentrated collection of murals in San Francisco. Painted in mid-80’s as an expression of artists’ outrage over human rights and political abuses. It’s a display of some of the neighborhood’s oldest and most famous portrayals of social and political themes.


10. San Francisco’s newest park, Presidio Tunnel Tops, comprises 14 glorious urban acres with spectacular views overlooking the bay and Golden Gate Bridge. Walking trails, spacious lawns, picnic tables, and whimsical playgrounds delight visitors of all ages.


San Francisco is filled with beloved parks offer settings for picture-perfect picnics. Washington Square Park in the North Beach area is near dozens of culinary venues to pick up food and bring it to enjoy at a park. The Golden Gare Park offers many free attractions.  There are over 9,000 types of plants from around the world, and plenty of open lawns, ponds, and places for an afternoon picnic. The Conservatory of Flowers is free the first Tuesday of every month. Other places in The Golden Gate Park include the small, and peaceful Shakespeare Garden. It’s free to enter, located near the Science Academy on Martin Luther King JR Drive. The Bison Paddock has a small herd of bison on the west end of the park off JFK Drive. National AIDS Memorial Grove was added to the park in 1996 to honor the victims of the disease, near the carousel on MLK Drive. McLaren Lodge was the original home of the park superintendent and worth a look for its Gothic architecture. Portals of the Past is a columned memorial on the banks of Lloyd Lake. Taken from a mansion in Nob Hill and created in memory of the homes lost during the 1906 earthquake.

This article is also featured in Luxe Beat Magazine.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s