Free or nearly free things to do in the Bay Area

This list is fairly random, and I haven't provided links for everything because many of them are either clearly marked on the map or easy to look up with Yahoo or Google. List is obviously not comprehensive and obviously IS subject to change. Updated August 1, 2003.

    Free Things Listings
  • Free Guide from the South Bay's Metroactive free paper

    Weekends often have various local fairs. Check your city government's home page,, SF Station and City Search for details. also has club listings.
    For example, among the free things going on in the next few weeks are the North Beach Festival (Italian heritage and Beat history), the Yerba Buena Gardens Festival (music, art, performances), East Bay Open Studios (self-guided tours of local artists' studios), and the Ardenwood Fremont Celtic Festival. There's always something--usually several things in the same day, even if you don't include places like Marin County or south of Silicon Valley.
    Window Shopping/Neighborhoods:
  • Japantown Mall, San Francisco
  • Japantown, San Jose
  • Chinatown, San Francisco
  • Chinatown, Oakland
  • The Castro, San Francisco
  • North Beach, San Francisco
  • Haight-Ashbury
  • Alameda (Victorian houses)
  • Telegraph Avenue, Berkeley
  • The Mission, San Francisco
  • Ghirardelli Square and Fisherman's Wharf (okay, mostly tourist-watching, but some of the arts shops in G. Sq. are nice)
  • The San Francisco Shopping Centre has both the world's only curved escalator (cool!) and the world's biggest Nordstrom (hmm)
  • Self-guided tours of the Dunsmuir Historic Estate, Oakland:
  • $1 docent-led tours of the amazing Paramount movie palace in Oakland: Paramount Theatre
  • Guided tours of San Francisco, with themes from Art Deco to Bawdy & Naughty:
  • Guided tours of the Berkeley campus: Berkeley
  • Guided tours of the Stanford campus: Stanford
    Museums: A good collection of info on SF museums is here: sally's place
  • Many of the major museums in San Francisco are free on the first Wednesday of the month, including the Asian Art Museum (now open again), the de Young, the wonderful Academy of Sciences, the amazing Exploratorium, the Mexican Museum, the Craft and Folk Art Museum, and the Cartoon Art Museum (highly recommended). The Museum of Modern Art is free on first Tuesdays. The Palace of the Legion of Honor is free on second Wednesdays. The Museum of California, in Oakland, is free on second Sundays--it's an underrated and excellent museum, and I'm not saying that just because I work there.
  • Always free or really cheap museums in SF: Musee Mecanique, Treasure Island Museum ($2), Jewish Museum, Fire Department Museum, Museo Italo Americano ($2), Chinese Cultural Center, Cable Car Barn/Museum, Chinese Historical Society, Maritime Museum. The art and anthropology museums at Berkeley and Stanford are mostly free, too, as are the outdoor sculpture gardens at Stanford. Berkeley's museums are near other shopping and things you can reach on foot.
    Parks and Beaches:
  • Golden Gate Park, SF
  • Mission Dolores Park, SF
  • Ocean Beach, SF
  • Angel Island (SF Bay--you'll have to pay for the ferry though)
  • Golden Gate Bridge
  • Grounds around the Exploratorium
  • Union Square (recently rebuilt)
  • Alameda beach
  • Tilden Regional Park ( again)
  • The San Francisco Mime Troupe (political humorists, not mimes) often have free/pay as you like performances in Bay Area parks
    Campus events are some of the best free things in the area. Everyone from Stephen Jay Gould to Jimmy Carter to Widespread Panic has appeared free at campuses here in the last year or two. Students can also get discounted tickets to paid events.
  • Berkeley calendar of events
  • Stanford calendar of events
And much, much more...but I think that's a good start!

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