Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Five Favorite Free Things in San Francisco

With the holidays over you might be looking at your bank account and thinking that it's time for some frugality. Luckily, there's a lot you can do in San Francisco without spending much money. Here are five of my favorite free things in the city. There are many more that I can think of but these were the first that came to mind. What are your favorite free -- or relatively cheap -- things to do in San Francisco?

*The San Francisco Botanical Garden. In 20009, there was a bit of a panic when city officials floated the idea of charging an entrance fee here, but the move was quashed by a group of passionate garden supporters. This corner of Golden Gate Park, which houses 7,000 plants from all over the world, is one of the loveliest and most peaceful places in San Francisco. Free guided walks start at the bookstore each day at 1:30 p.m.
*San Francisco's Public Libraries. When I first moved to San Francisco I was charmed by the neighborhood libraries, some of which are little architectural gems. I'm lucky to live just a couple of blocks from one of them, the Richmond library, an Andrew Carnegie-funded facility from the early 1900s which completed a beautiful renovation just last year as part of the city's neighborhood library improvement plan. Check out the Friends of the Library site for talks, presentations and book club events at the libraries -- and also the Book Bay, the Friends' bookstore at Fort Mason, where there are good deals on books.
*San Francisco City Guides. I've taken more than a dozen walking tours with this local nonprofit organization and am always amazed by how the volunteer guides can turn what seems like the most mundane of city blocks into something fascinating. But San Francisco's history is like that. My favorite is the Sutro Park tour (Saturdays at 2 p.m.) which describes the life of Adolph Sutro, the San Francisco mayor who built the huge cliffside swimming facility and the private steam train that carried thousands from downtown to the edge of the Pacific (the Land's End walking trail is the former railroad grade).
*Amoeba Records. Okay, maybe in the era of iTunes and Netflix, there's no need for an actual physical music and DVD store. Maybe. But spend an hour in Amoeba and you'll discover albums and movies you'd never find online. The store, at 1855 Haight Street, also hosts free concerts.
*Crissy Field. The best free activities in San Francisco usually involve simply walking and taking in the scenery. There's no better place than Crissy Field, 100 acres of shoreline with views of the Golden Gate Bridge, the bay and Marin headlands and the downtown skyline. You'll see a variety of birds in the lagoon, a parade of joggers and walkers, and windsurfers skimming the waters of the bay. The new visitor center on the east end at the parking lot is set to open any day now and, like a bookend on the walking path a mile or so to the west, you'll find the cozy Warming Hut and bookstore/gift shop.