San Francisco, fondly known as the city by the bay, but never referred to as Frisco by natives, remains one of the top places to visit by vacationing singletons and families alike.
Even so, with the recent economic pinch, who couldn’t use a few “in-the-know” pointers on taking advantage of the fun and free activities the city has to offer? Here’s our top ten list from the home office:
- San Francisco City Guides is a group of 200 volunteers who organize and lead free historical and architectural tours of the city’s most famous (and infamous) neighborhoods. From the “Bawdy & Naughty” tour that explores how, starting with the Gold Rush, “professional women” became part of San Francisco’s legend and lore, to the “Haight Ashbury” tour that takes you back to a time when the neighborhood was a Victorian-era resort, you’ll be hard pressed to pick from among the 28 tours offered.
San Francisco City Guides, www.sfcityguides.org, (415) 557-4266.
- The Golden Gate Bridge is one of America’s architectural icons. While you’re visiting, put on some comfortable shoes and walk across the 1.7-mile long bridge free of charge. Don’t forget to pack your camera for excellent shots of the San Francisco skyline.
Golden Gate Bridge, www.goldengatebridge.org.
- Free oysters on the half shell are a Friday night favorite at El Rio, a Mission district bar, which proudly touts itself as “Your Dive.” Served during happy hour from 5 – 7 p.m., you can chase away as many oysters as you can with reasonably priced beer.
El Rio, 3158 Mission Street, (415) 282-3325.
- Stern Grove is the best free summer concert series San Francisco has to offer. Every Sunday at 2 p.m. from June to August, you can catch performances by the San Francisco Ballet, the San Francisco Symphony or even popular Hawaiian performer Keali’i Reichel. Bench and lawn seating are available on a first-come basis. However, if you call the Monday morning before a concert, you may be able to score a coveted picnic bench for you and five of your friends.
Stern Grove, 19th Avenue & Sloat Boulevard, www.sterngrove.org, (415) 831-5500.
- The California Academy of Sciences’ Steinhart Aquarium and Natural History Museum are great places to bring the family, especially when you’re trying to escape the San Francisco fog. Located in beautiful Golden Gate Park, these museums offer free admission the first Wednesday of every month.
The California Academy of Sciences, www.calacademy.org, 55 Concourse Drive, (415) 750-7145.
- The Japanese Tea Garden, also located in Golden Gate Park, is California’s oldest public Japanese garden. Originally built for the 1894 World’s Fair, the garden offers an authentic pagoda, a monumental Buddha, a miniature waterfall, and an acutely arched bridge that no kid can resist. Overlooking the garden’s koi-filled pond, there’s a Japanese-style teahouse, which in spring is covered with a cascade of wisteria. Gain free admission the first Wednesday of every month and between 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. from May through September.
Japanese Tea Garden, near the main concourse of Golden Gate Park, (415) 752-1171.
- You no longer have to dip into your wallet if you want to catch a San Francisco Giants baseball game. Pacific Bell Park, which opened in March 2000, offers a unique public promenade along the waterfront from right field to center field where fans of all ages can watch the game through a fence at no charge.
Pacific Bell Park, sanfrancisco.giants.mlb.com, 24 Willie Mays Plaza, (415) 972-2000.
- The San Francisco Zoo, Northern California’s largest zoological park and conservation center, is situated along the Pacific Ocean in the city’s Outer Sunset neighborhood. With morethan 250 animal species, the zoo is a sure fire hit for families with young children. Zoo admission is free the first Wednesday of every month.
San Francisco Zoo, www.sfzoo.org, 1 Zoo Road, (415) 753-7080.
- The Basic Brown Bear Factory is America’s oldest working teddy bear factory. Offered on the hour everyday from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., the tour includes an entertaining and historically accurate account of how the “Teddy” bear got his name and a 30-minute walk-through demonstration of how Teddy bears are designed and made. At the end of the tour, each child gets to stuff, sew, groom and bathe a Teddy bear.
The Basic Brown Bear Factory, www.basicbrownbear.com/standard.htm, 444 DeHaro Street, (800) 554-1910.
- Chinatown is a buzzing San Francisco neighborhood with activity all hours of the day. Make sure to stop by the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory and see this tiny, old-fashioned factory, which turns out thousands of cookies every day.
Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory, 56 Ross Alley, (415) 781-3956.