Free S.F.! 15 Awesome Local Activities That Don’t Cost A Thing

What’s better than getting something on sale? Getting it for free — duh! It’s our favorite four-letter word for a reason, especially since we live in a place where rents are priced for dot-com gazillionaires and not the rest of us plebians. So, we’re going to lighten your load, literally, and make your wallet so very happy in the process.
How so? Well, we’ve scouted this fine city for the coolest things to do, see, and eat, which won’t cost you a single cent. This includes fall’s highly anticipated exhibits, cooking lessons from top chefs, award-winning contemporary dance performances, and even complimentary beer. Hey, who said there was no such thing as a free lunch? Certainly, not us! Make room on your calendar. You’re about to be a cool, cultured city dweller with money in the bank. Reason to celebrate, right?

Free Run Club With Lululemon

Lululemon devotees swear by the butt-flattering properties of the company’s trusty workout pants, but they’ll also cost you a pretty penny. Membership to the run club, on the other hand, is free as the wind. There are three routes available for beginners (3 and 4.5 miles) and beyond (a 6-mile option). Runs start at Lululemon’s Union Square location and are followed by happy hour at the Irish Bank. Bottoms up!

When: Every Thursday, 6 p.m.

Where: Lululemon, 327 Grant Avenue (between Sutter and Bush streets); 415-402-0914.

Free Bagels at La Victoria Bakery

Dreading the workweek? Tackle that mountain of work by carb loading — with a free bagel courtesy of the Mission’s La Victoria Bakery. The breakfast giveaway starts Monday at 10 a.m. and goes until it runs out. While you’re at this Mexican panaderia, just try to resist the cases full of pan dulce.

When: Every Monday, 10 a.m.

Where: La Victoria Bakery, 2937 24th Street (at Alabama Street); 415-742-7120.

Omnivore Books In-Store Appearances

Omnivore Books should be the favorite bookstore of frugal food enthusiasts. Since it's a must-stop for book-tour circuits, on any given day, you’ll find chef-turned-authors really eager to tell you about their books and give you a live demo. Oh, the major plus? Sometimes you can sample free of charge. Nom.

When: Various days, check the calendar here!

Where: Omnivore Books, 3885 Cesar Chavez Street, Suite A (at Church Street); 415-282-4712.


Free Yoga at Hayes Valley Farm

When you’re focusing on your breath, why not get some fresh air while you’re at it? If you ask us, yoga is best enjoyed in an environment where you can really get your om on while connecting with nature. So, hit up Hayes Valley Farm for some outside sessions of complimentary yoga in the fields and led by mustached instructor Brandon Bosche. You'll know where to find us!

When: Every Tuesday, noon

Where: Hayes Valley Farm, 450 Laguna Street (at Fell Street); 415-763-7645.

Free Vegan Cooking Workshop

There’s nothing Vegan Hackers can’t veganize. In the past, the savvy folks have whipped up animal-free versions of Twinkies, ravioli, and corn dogs. Just show up with ingredients and boom, you're enrolled — no RSVPs are required. If you don’t have time to grocery shop, shell out a small donation — a few bucks — so you don’t feel like a jerk. In return, there will be camaraderie, that special bond only two vegans can have, and invaluable culinary skills to bring back to your own kitchen.

When: Every last Tuesday of the month, 7 p.m.

Where: Noisebridge, 2169 Mission Street (between 17th and 18th streets); 415-738-2341.

Photos: Courtesy of Omnivore Books (right) and Lululemon (left).


Free Happy Hour and Workspace

We don’t have to tell you wine and beer on someone else’s dime is a win-win. Hosted by Drink Entrepreneurs, this networking event is thankfully low-key — you won’t be getting an earful of sales-guy pitches. Social banter is encouraged, and the massive patio lounge will let you slip away should you get caught in a corner with an overzealous start-up founder. Plus, you can kick back and soak in the free internet if you are itching to get some work done. Spots fill up fast and locations change monthly. So, don't forget to RSVP.

When: Happy hour every first Thursday, 6 p.m.; Workspace, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Where: Wix Lounge, 2601 Mission Street (at 2nd Street); 415-329-4609.


Temescal Art Hop

You don’t have to twist our arm to take a jaunt through Oakland’s Temescal 'hood, a stretch of Telegraph Street that’s jam-packed with restaurants and boutiques. First Fridays are a cross between an open house and trick-or-treat for art aesthetes. At the last happening, there were over 19 shows! This time around you can expect group shows, interactive installations, readings, live music, and even alcoholic refreshments — all free of charge.

When: Every first Friday; View details here!

Where: Telegraph Avenue (at 40th Street), Oakland.

Free Garden Workshops

The staff at Garden for the Environment want you to get your hands dirty. Really dirty. Its mission is to spread the joys of organic gardening. To that end, it offers many workshops free to the public. If you are in any way agriculturally curious, enroll in one of its sessions on rainwater harvesting, urban composting, or natural plant-care techniques. Time to get your green thumb on!

When: Various times, view calendar here!

Where: Garden for the Environment, 7th Avenue (at Lawton Street); 415-731-5627.

Oakland Museum of California Free Admission

If you haven’t been to this museum yet, first Sundays are your perfect excuse to experience this polished, concrete gem and fine example of Brutalist architecture. Don’t miss the 1968 Exhibit, extended by popular demand and on view through November 25. If you ever wondered what it was like to be part of the ‘60s counterculture, this is your chance, and like free love, it’s FREE.

When: Every first Sunday

Where: Oakland Museum of California, 1000 Oak Street (at Scott Street), Oakland; 510-318-8400.


Free Karaoke Night

While other establishments merely offer free Wi-Fi, this bar-slash-cafe regales its patrons with shows almost every night. Our favorite event is The Beatles karaoke with a live piano accompaniment. Sing along or take the spotlight with your rendition of “Money Can’t Buy Me Love.”

When: Every first Monday, 8 p.m.

Where: Cafe Royale, 800 Post Street (at Leavenworth Street); 415-441-4099.

Photos: Courtesy of Cafe Royale (left) and Garden for the Environment (right).

Free Museum Admissions

Tuesday is our unofficial museum day. It’s when the city’s three most prestigious art institutions — SFMOMA, The Legion of Honor, and the de Young — open their doors free of charge. We’re especially excited for the 90-work survey of Jasper Johns at the SFMOMA, but that's just us! You really can't beat an afternoon of culture for nada!

When: Every first Tuesday

Where: SFMOMA, 151 Third Street (between Mission and Howard street); 415-357-4000.

Legion of Honor, 100 34th Avenue (near El Camino Del Mar Street); 415-750-3600.

de Young, Golden Gate Park, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive (near John F. Kennedy Drive); 415-750-3600.

Award-Winning Dance Performances at Axis

Fresh off its performance on So You Think You Can Dance!, local company Axis Dance will spellbind you with its breathtaking choreography, at the affordable price of um, nothing! Made up of dancers with and without disabilities, it will challenge what you think is humanly possible. Scrooge or not, this is one life-affirming event you don’t want to miss. Tickets are free, but you’ll need to make a reservation. They will go fast. Book here now!

When: Tuesday, December 4, 1 p.m.

Where: Axis Dance Company, 1428 Alice Street (between 14th and 17th streets), Oakland; 510-625-0110.


Hike at Marin Headlands

The most beautiful views of the Bay Area are free ... as nature intended. With grassy hills, steep bluffs, and the raw beauty of the California coast, the Marin Headlands will push you close to the sublime. Make your first stop the visitor center for trail advice and maps. Some camping sites, like Kirby Cove, will cost you, but walks don’t require payment. If you’re there anytime between Sunday through Thursday, be sure to swing by the Headlands Center for the Arts, to observe works in progress by resident artists, where admission is also gratis.

When: Daily, noon to 5 p.m.

Where: Marin Headlands Visitor Center, 948 Fort Barry (near Bunker Road); 415-331-1548.

Free Chocolate Tour

If we weren’t writing this right now, we’d be chomping on a bar of chocolate. We are fiends of the bean. Hence, TCHO’s free chocolate factory tour is like discovering a golden ticket. You’ll get to see and learn what goes into making our favorite candy. The adventure ends with a tasting, and tips to take your chocolate appreciation to even greater heights.

When: Daily, times vary

Where: TCHO, Pier 17, Embarcadero; 415-981-0189.

S.F. Walking Tours

There are some days, usually because of traffic, that San Francisco has us totally beaten down. To remind us why we fell in love with the city in the first place, we take a walking tour, organized by the S.F. Public Library. You’ll see your town with the wonder of a tourist. Each tour focuses on a specific neighborhood. Learn to spot Art Deco buildings in the Marina, peep the murals inside Coit Tower, discover the history of the Castro, and be guided to the city’s hidden parks. Don’t forget to drop pins for return visits! All you need is one afternoon to remind you why our city never ceases to amaze.

When: Daily, 10:30 a.m. and 2 p.m.

Where: Various locations, view here!

Photos: Courtesy of SFMOMA (left) and TCHO (right).

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