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10 Free Things to Experience in San Francisco

Updated on August 9, 2014

Lot's of Free Entertainment Around the Wharf

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Chocolate Lover's Unite

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1. Free Chocolate

When Italian chocolatier Domenico Ghiradelli moved to San Francisco, he opened and incorporated the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company in 1852. Down near the Fisherman's Wharf, visitors can walk into the Ghirardelii Square chocolate gift store to receive a FREE Mini milk chocolate with caramel. While there you may want to pick up a bag of chocolates for family or friends at home.

Located in the clock tower building is the original Ghirardelli ice cream and chocolate store. Visitors can view the original chocolate manufacturing equipment making chocolate before indulging in hot fudge sundaes.

Sea Lions At Pier 39

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2. Be Entertained By Sea Lions

After the October 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake hit the San Francisco area, California sea lions began climbing up K-Docks at the Pier 39 marina. These boisterous barking pinnipeds put on quite a FREE show daily for visitors.

Since there is plenty of food in the Bay and the area is protected from predators, the PIER 39 Marina is an ideal living situation for the sea lions. In 2009, Naturalists counted 1,701 California Sea Lions during the month of November.

Naturalists from Aquarium of the Bay are at the K-Dock daily from 11am-4pm (weather permitting) to answer questions.

Fisherman's Wharf

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Fisherman's Wharf, San Francisco, CA, USA
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San Francisco Aquarium

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Free Fun Play Area

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3. Discovery Zone

It's a free small play area for kids below the Aquarium of the Bay at Pier 39. This aquarium is actually a really fun waterfront three-level aquarium. Yes, there is an entrance fee, however your kids will love this attraction.

Once inside, explore the main level and take the elevator to go below the San Francisco Bay. There is a 300-foot clear tunnel to see various sharks, sea stars, huge grouper, rays, and schools of anchovies. It is very cool. Also there are the cutest pair of river otters. Kids like the touching pools to touch housing sea cucumbers, sea stars and sea anemones.

There is a good Jellyfish exhibit too. Ticket prices are Adults $21.95 for adults and $12.95 for children and seniors as of 8/7/14. Family for two adults and two children is $64.

Where to Eat When In San Francisco

Bistro Boudin
Chaya
Great Eastern Restaurant
Wonderful Views
Land and Sea Menu
In Chinatown
160 Jefferson Street - Phone: (415) 351-5561
132 The Embarcadero - Phone: (415) 777-8688
649 Jackson Street - Phone: (415) 986 - 2500
Best Sourdough Bread Bowls in Town
Near the Ferry Building
Order the Peking Duck with Bao buns

4. Sea Lion Center

Upstairs from the Sea Lion K docks is an informative center that is FREE. We learned that there are currently 196 Sea Lions on the docks. We strolled around the interactive displays and watched some educational videos. There are Naturalists on hand to offer fascinating facts about penipeds.

We touched a sea lion pelts, and sized ourselves up next to a real sea lion skelton. This center is managed by Aquarium of the Bay and is open daily from 10am – 5pm.

5. Don't Miss This If You Have Kids

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5. Exploratorium

There are a few FREE interactive exhibits along Piers 15/17. Be careful, if you stop and walk around the super fun exhibits, because your kids will want to go inside. You can easily spend an entire day here. Your senses will be enriched with colors and sounds while your hands are busy manipulating interesting scientific projects throughout your journey.

They do offer free admission on the following days:

  • Groundhog Day (February 2, 2014)
  • Pi Day (March 14, 2014)
  • Mother’s Day (May 11, 2014)
  • Engineering Day (September 28, 2014)
  • Founder’s Day (October 12, 2014)

If you arrive on a non-free day, you will want to spend a little money to enter this unique family interactive space. Tickets cost $29: Adults (18–64), $24: Youth (13–17), college students, teachers, seniors (65+), people with disabilities, $19: Child (4–12) FREE: Children ages 3 and younger. If you live in one of the nine San Francisco Bay Area counties, you qualify for special rates.

Cable Car Rides Aren't Free, But They Are Fun To Watch

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6. San Francisco Maritime Natural Historic Park

Located inside the four-star Argonaut Hotel is a FREE historical museum of the San Francisco Bay and City. The hotel is located in the all-brick old Haslett/Del Monte Canning Warehouse. The museum sits on part of the 100,000 Federal Government land. The Argonaut has a 65 year lease with the State of California and Department of Interiors. The hotel created an interactive Visitors Center to show guests and visitors what San Francisco was like in the early 1800s. See artifacts and interactive displays with vintage navigation equipment.

Here are 8 things to look for at the Maritime Natural Historic Park:

1. The Original Fresnel Lens from the Farallone Islands. It arrived from France in 1854.

2. Walk along the "waterfront" inside the museum to learn about the sights and sound of the wharf's Golden Era.

3. See how the shoreline of San Francisco Bay has changed in the past 100 years.

4. Take a peek at the original Tide Gauge.

5. See a real Lightning Rod created in 1855.

6. Learn about how the Yelamu of the Ohlone tribe lived along the shoreline in 1770.

7. Watch an informative movie about the history of San Francisco Bay.

6. See a real boat rescued from the sea and learn about the depth meter and Bar Pilots. No ships has been lost since 1950.

7. Take a historical stroll through different neighborhoods in San Francisco.

8. Learn how Del Monte was the largest employer in San Francisco. Their canning headquarters was located at this site.


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7. Chantey Sing at Hyde Street Pier

FREE ADMISSION -

For over thirty years on the first Saturday of every month is a public sing-along of chanteys and sailor songs aboard the historic C.A. Thayer and Balclutha ship at the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park.

It starts at 8 p.m. to midnight.

Wear warm clothing and bring a mug for a fill of a warm nonalcoholic beverage served in the ship's galley.

Reservations are required - (415)561-7171 or email: peter_kasin@nps.gov


Where to Stay in San Francisco

The Argonaut
The Hyatt
 
Fisherman's Wharf
Embarcadero
 
Four Star Hotel - Pet Friendly - Free Wine Hour for guests from 5 to 6 p.m.
Across from the Ferry Building Near the Piers, Cable Cars and Bart Station
 
495 Jefferson Street (800) 790-1415 www.argonauthotel.com
5 Embarcadero Center (415) 788-1234 sanfranciscoregency.hyatt.com
 

8. Take a Historic Walking Tour

Every Saturday and Sunday at 10:30 a.m. inside the Argonaut Lobby is a FREE guide led tour of the waterfront. The one-mile-long tour takes visitors on a journey about Fish Alley, the Aquatic Park, The historic Cannery (where women would slice and can fruit and vegetables from farms), and out to Hyde Street Pier. The walk lasts about one hour.

Fort Mason is a Fun Spot to Explore

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Levi Strauss

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9. Levi Strauss

Learn about the Levi Strauss story at The Vault. It's a free historical exhibition in the lobby of the Levi Strauss & Co. headquarters. There are multiple displays focusing on the history of the company, including jeans made during the gold rush. There is a video about Levi's marketing and textile restoration, and temporary displays of vintage Levi's shirts. Near the exhibit is a Levi's and Dockers boutique. Go to the Levi's Plaza, 1155 Battery St., North Beach, San Francisco - Phone: (415) 501–6000. The hours are weekdays from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and weekends from noon to 5 p.m.

10. Musee Mecanique

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10. Lot's of Amusing and Unique Fun

Admission is FREE as you Walk inside a lively warehouse at Pier 45. There are more than 200 items ranging from orchestrions, coin operated pianos, antique arcade and slot machines, and animations. Watch someone put a quarter into the Fat Sal animation to see a rotund woman double over in laughter.

More than 100,000 visitors a year visit the Musée Mécanique. While the museum is free, visitors must pay for use of each game. Most will operate on a quarter or fifty cents.

You don't have to spend a quarter to watch someone operate a Love Tester machine or play a music box.

  • Pier 45 Shed A, San Francisco, (415) 346-2000

Blue and Gold Boat Tour

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Tourism Discount Passes

Go Card San Francisco
City Pass San Francisco
 
31 attractions including Ripley's Believe it or Not! - Hop on/off Trolley Tour, Bridge 2 Bridge Cruise, Golden Gate Bay Cruise, Escape from the Rock Cruise, Bay City Bike Rental, S.S. Jeremiah O'Brien, Angel Island Ferry, Aquarium of the Bay
Muni & Cable Car 7-day passport, CA Academy of Science, Blue and Gold Fleet Bay Cruise, Aquarium of the Bay or Monterey Bay Aquarium, Exploratorium
 
Passes start at $57.99 for adults or $49.99 for children
$86 for Adults ($159.90 value) $64 for Child 5-11 ($118.90 value)
 
 
 
 

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    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 2 years ago

      It's been some time since I visited family in San Francisco. Next time I'm there I will look up the places I missed. Great tour and tips on what to expereince when in the area. You opened with chocolate, my favorite food, and I'll start there!

    • Jill Weinlein profile image
      Author

      Jill Weinlein 2 years ago from Southern California

      Thank you teaches12345. Of course I had to open with chocolate : )

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