My 80-something year old dad’s San Francisco memories go back as far as his World War II and Korean War days. He spent time at the then-U.S. Navy base on Treasure Island, and his ships docked there often. As it was then and still is today, San Francisco can be very expensive. However, with some good planning, seniors can spend quality time in the beautiful City by the Bay without spending a dime.
My dad and I visit the city often, and we constantly find new free things to see and do. If you’re a senior, or will be traveling with one, next time you find yourself in San Francisco, here are suggestions to help in your quest for free fun:
Attend a free concert by the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra
The San Francisco Chamber Orchestra plays classical music, unusual selections and even new works, all free for everyone. Tickets are necessary and can be reserved online. Concerts include an onstage talk before the concert and the shows are two hours long. It’s a great music experience for seniors. The shows are almost weekly and take place in different venues in and around San Francisco.
Golden Gate Park
Boasting one thousand square acres of beauty and tranquility, Golden Gate Park is typical of the city’s laid-back character. Senior travelers can bring their own picnic basket like we did and enjoy a free lunch on one of the sweeping lawns, under shady trees or on the shore by Stow Lake. Visit the Conservatory of Flowers ($3. for seniors, free the first Tuesday of each month), de Young Museum (free the first Tuesday of each month), San Francisco Botanical Gardens at the Strybing Arboretum (free the 2nd Tuesday of each month, $5. for seniors all other times). There are many free events and fairs at the park, and on every Sunday you can listen in on a good, old-fashioned free concert by the Golden Gate Park Band.
Hike the Golden Gate Bridge
Older travelers can put on their walking or jogging shoes and do the two-mile-long jaunt across the Golden Gate Bridge. The magnificent views high above the ocean are enough to make Tony Bennett lose his heart all over again. If you can’t make it all the way across, even a brief stroll is a great experience. Seniors should stick to the east side of the bridge as it’s pedestrian-only, no roller blades or bikes. Check the pedestrian section of the bridge website for any construction updates and other helpful hints.
Bypass the pricey restaurants and tourist-trap shops and enjoy a free visit at San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park next to Fisherman’s Wharf. While it does cost $5. to climb aboard historic sailing ships and Navy submarines at Hyde Street Pier, you can explore the pier and museum information areas for free. It’s a great experience for Veterans, as the city has played a key role in the defense of the country, since before the Civil War. When you stroll out on Pier 39, you’ll be greeted by the friendly barks of lolling sea lions. There is a free walking tour of the area, with a map available for printing. The area is flat and easy for seniors to walk, without the hills of some other neighborhoods. There are also a lot of benches and places to rest.
Try the Lombard Street Climb
After I survived walking with my dad across the Golden Gate Bridge, he challenged me to join him to hike on one of the crookedest streets in the world. It’s the wildly winding, eight-turn street on Russian Hill, a task for those who hike or bike the thousand yards from bottom upward. It’s free to walk the curves and admire the flower gardens planted by the residents. The curvy part is a stretch between Hyde and Leavenworth Streets, and we survived to make it to the top.
Relive Haight-Ashbury Memories
Today’s seniors may just be yesterday’s hippies. Somewhat less hip than these streets were in the foggy 50s and smoky 60s, they still have appeal for visitors who want to relive or imitate those days of carefree indulgence. Today, along with the funky stores, outside you’ll still see poetry readers, musicians, ragged street people, hipsters, punks all making for great people-watching. The center of the action is at the intersection of Haight and Ashbury Streets.
Free Art Exhibits
Senior travelers can appreciate San Francisco’s great varieties of creative arts at the Walter and McBean Galleries at the San Francisco Art Institute. This is a free gallery with a changing range of contemporary art exhibits. The gallery is at 800 Chestnut Street (San Francisco, CA 94133).
Freddy Sherman is a world traveler and editor of the travel blog travel4people.com. You can follow him on twitter, @thefredsherman
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