Did you read that headline and laugh? I know, I know—SF is not an inexpensive place to live for anyone, but there are lots of ways to visit the city's iconic spots for reduced prices or even for FREE! Read on and if I missed something let me know in the comments!
Discover & Go
The San Francisco Public Library has this hidden gem of a deal called Discover & Go, and you only need your library card and a computer to access it. Once you log in with your card number you can access free entry to an astounding array of places across the Bay Area: the Children's Creativity Museum downtown, the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park, CuriOdyssey in San Mateo, and the list goes on. Passes are dated and timed and they do often "sell-out" in advance, so it tends to work better with advanced planning for more popular attractions. And there's several places that are great for a day out WITHOUT the kids too.
Thanks to generous sponsorship multiple museums and galleries in San Francisco offer free days a few times a year. No tickets or reservations are required, you just show up! These days get crowded, so plan to go early (or late) and pack your patience! There are a few free days left in 2016, but the calendar starts over early in the year so check these pages again at the start of 2017:
- Exploratorium Free Days: the last remaining free day this year is for Halloween on Oct. 30, 2016
- California Academy of Sciences: Target sponsors free days several times a year based on SF zip codes. Remaining free days for 2016 are Oct. 14, 15, 16 for 94108, 94109, 94115, 94118, 94121, 94123, 94126, 94129, 94133 and Oct. 21, 22, 23 for 94102, 94103, 94104, 94105, 94107, 94111, 94112, 94124, 94130, 94134, 94158. Spring 2017 dates are already listed! Be sure to bring proof of address.
- DeYoung Museum and the Legion of Honor: the first Tuesday of the month is free, but special exhibitions aren't included. When Mia was a tiny baby I spent many a day at the DeYoung while she slept in her stroller. It made me feel like an adult even though I was spending most of my time then with a newborn :)
- Bank of America Museums on Us: If you bank with BofA your debit or credit card and a photo ID can get you into hundreds of museums across the country on the first weekend of the every month. In SF the list includes the Contemporary Jewish Museum, the DeYoung and the Legion of Honor. This is in addition to other free days, so take advantage!
If you're on the fence about joining the zoo or a museum, think REALISTICALLY about how often you'll go. If its 2 or 3 times a year getting a membership might save money. Consider entry fees, parking passes, food and merchandise as a part of the cost--lots of memberships include perks that make it worthwhile to join. We've been members of the SF Zoo for two years and its great to know we can get there quickly and walk straight in with our membership cards. We also have way too many stuffed animals thanks to the discounts in the gift shop.
In San Francisco a few family-friendly memberships include:
- The San Francisco Zoo: be on the lookout for discounts for memberships at the end of the year.
- The Children's Creativity Museum: all membership levels include carousel tickets :)
- California Academy of Sciences: same as above--we aren't members but friends that are rave about the benefits.
- Exploratorium: check Groupon for occasional discounts on memberships.
Gift idea: experiences
When grandparents and godparents and aunts and uncles ask what they should get the kids for birthdays or the holidays, suggest a membership instead of more toys or new clothes ( you can even send them this post)! Offer to share a photo every time you take advantage of their gift. It's a rare gift that grows with the child while not taking up too much space :)
The Great Outdoors
San Francisco's outdoor spaces are a treasure trove of free fun for your entire family. Here are a few of our favorites across the city:
- The Presidio is not just a massive greenspace to drive through on the way to Napa. The Presidio Trust hosts tons of events every month that celebrate nature, art and history for free. Lots of them are stroller-friendly or family-focused so all ages can participate.
- Did you know Golden Gate Park has 10 lakes? Spreckles Lake is a great place to watch model boats and the paved path is totally stroller-friendly.
- Candlestick Point is near the former home of Candlestick Park, and has incredible views of the city and the Bay, tons of picnic and grilling areas, and free parking.
- Mural gazing in the Mission is one of our favorite things to do when we have a few hours to spare. Use them to explore colors, faces, letters and objects with littles!
- Head downtown! On weekends downtown is fairly empty of weekday working crowds, letting kids get up close and personal with our skyline without fears of getting underfoot.
What are your favorite ways to see the city on a budget?