Contrary to its reputation as an expensive city, there are many free things to do in San Francisco, especially with kids. Delve into the city’s rich history with walking tours, chocolate tasting and barking sea lions. And don’t forget to check out the oh-so-cute sourdough creatures at Boudin Bakery.
1. Bike or walk across the Golden Gate Bridge. Now’s your chance to get up-close with the iconic bridge. Stroll across the 1.7 mile wide bridge or bike the bridge and continue to Sausalito where you can take a ferry back for a fee. Note: Cars and trucks are very close to the bike/walking lanes. Biking not recommended for inexperienced bikers.
2. Walking tours with San Francisco City Guides. Sponsored by the San Francisco Public Library, San Francisco City Guides offers free, two-hour architectural and historic walking tours of the city. No reservations needed, just show up at the appointed time and place. Recommended tours with kids include Fisherman’s Wharf: Behind the Scenes, Golden Gate Bridge and Japanese Tea Garden.
3. Visitor Center at the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park. Tucked into the northern edge of Fisherman’s Wharf, it’s easy to miss the maritime park. Begin at the visitor center museum, adjacent to the Argonaut Hotel. The small, well-done museum relives the city’s maritime history through interactive exhibits and real-life displays of what the Gold Rush left behind – namely the ships that were used as landfill.
4. Sea lions at Pier 39. The sea lions at Pier 39 are an iconic fixture at Fisherman’s Wharf. They cavort on the docks and in the water without a care that hundreds of tourists are snapping their every move. You’ll hear their barking before you ever see them.
5. Watch the bakers at Boudin Bakery. The demonstration window at the flagship Boudin Bakery in Fisherman’s Wharf is always lined with crowds. They watch as bakers create turtles and other animals from sourdough bread dough. Inside at the cafe, the kid’s clam chowder is served in their own edible turtle bowl.
6. Spend an afternoon in Golden Gate Park. The 1017-acre park is especially great with kids on Sundays when many roads are closed to traffic. Go for a bike ride past buffalo and windmills ending at the beach or grab a piece of cardboard and careen down the cement slides at the Koret Children’s Quarter. The 1912 carousel is only a $1 for ages 6-12 and free for 5 and under.
7. Visit a fortune cookie factory. The aroma of freshly baked fortune cookies greets visitors as they walk down Ross Alley in Chinatown in search of the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Company. The fortune-less flat cookies are a big hit with those that just want the sweet treat and not the fortune. It’s free to watch but a photo will cost you $.50 without a cookie purchase.
8. The Wave Organ. Listen very closely as the waves roll in and you’ll hear music emanating from the stone sculpture set on the Small Boat Harbor jetty in San Francisco’s Marina district. Completed in 1986, the Wave Organ has 25 concrete and PVC pipes that sound best at high tide.
9. Cable Car Museum. Located on Nob Hill, this a quick stop to catch a glimpse into the history of the world famous cable cars that crisscross the hilly San Francisco landscape. Exhibits include vintage cable cars, photographs and mechanical displays. The Powell-Hyde and Powell-Mason cable car lines stop in front of the museum. (MORE: Look for kid-friendly hotels to stay in San Francisco.)
10. Sample Ghirardelli chocolate. San Francisco has a sweet spot for visitors and kids always put a visit to Ghirardelli Square on the top of their must-see list. For over 150 years Ghirardelli has been producing chocolates in San Francisco. They reward visitors at their cafes and stores with a receive a free sample of chocolate.
Kristi Marcelle, a San Francisco Bay Area freelance writer, contributed this to MiniTime.