SAN FRANCISCO -- It's no secret that you can drop a lot of cash seeing the sights of San Francisco. After all, this is the home of the Gold Rush.
But did you know that some of the finest things in the City by the Bay carry the budget-friendly price tags of free, gratis and no charge?
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Here are five things that may make you leave your heart, but not your money, in San Francisco.
Golden Gate Park: Covering more than 1,000 acres, the Golden Gate Park is home to playgrounds, museums, flower gardens and more. On the western side of the park, check out the Dutch-style windmills near John F. Kennedy Drive. Once used to pump water through the park, they now represent a little of the city's history. Also in the western section is the Buffalo Paddock where you'll find not buffalo but bison. Visit golden-gate-park.com for directions and more information. In the mood for more nature? The Land's End trail north of Golden Gate Park offers stunning views along the edge of the continent; find maps and more information at parksconservancy.org/visit/park-sites/lands-end.html.
Golden Gate Bridge: A grande dame of spans, the Golden Gate Bridge turned 75 years old this spring, and it's looking fabulous. Parking is limited, so public transit is the recommended way to visit. Once you're there, stroll along the eastern sidewalk and take in the beautiful views of San Francisco and the bay. Go to goldengatebridge.org for more tips and directions, including bus routes.
Cable car turnaround: Riding a cable car costs $5 one way, but watching the drivers turn the historic cars on the turntables at the end of each route is free and fun. A good viewing area is at the Aquatic Park end of the Powell-Hyde line. Information on directions, fares and history of the cars that climb halfway to the stars can be found at sfcablecar.com.
Fisherman's Wharf: Yes, you can drop a lot of cash on all things kitsch at this popular tourist spot. But there are some free things to take in, too. You can look through the window of the Boudin Bakery at Pier 39 and watch bakers twisting sourdough bread into animal shapes. Also at Pier 39, watch California sea lions sitting, or rather, basking, on docks in the bay. And at Pier 45 find the Musee Mecanique, a one-of-a-kind collection of antique arcade machines. You'll have to pay a quarter or two to get the machines to go, but admission is free and you can always stand back and watch while someone else fires up an attraction, like scary-crazy Laffing Sal. If you need a respite from noise and hustle, try Aquatic Park at Beach and Polk streets, a tranquil stretch where you can rest, relax and even dip a toe in the bay if you want.
Beer tour: You may know that Anchor Steam beer hails from San Francisco and was at the forefront of the craft brewing movement. But did you know that you can book a free tour of the brewery, located in the city's Potrero Hill neighborhood? You'll need to plan this visit; tours are available by reservation only and reservations are taken up to six months in advance. There are two tours each weekday followed by a tasting. For reservations, call (415) 863-8350, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday Pacific time.