As August rolls on, the need to get some last minute exploring before school starts is at an ultimate high. While everyone is out raging at HARD Summer Music Festival and Outside Lands, I’m just here sitting at home, thinking of ways to enjoy the last of my summer vacation. I can only binge watch shows on Netflix and Amazon Prime for so long, you know? For me, vacation is more enjoyable when I am outside exploring new surroundings. Having this sense of wanderlust is not particularly accommodating when most of my budget is going towards my college education. So while I am saving up for my dream backpacking trip to Europe (I really do keep my change in a glass jar labelled ‘España’) I have to settle on exploring my home of Northern California until that opportunity manifests.
Family wise, my mother and grandmother are currently enjoying their vacation in the Philippines for the next two weeks, leaving my brothers and I with my dad. This past week has been pretty eventful for us as a whole: my dad went on a hiking trip with his friends at Yosemite National Park to climb Half Dome (his third time to date) and my brothers and I stayed with our aunt in the Bay Area. Luckily, this short trip presented the perfect opportunity to explore San Francisco. During our 3 day stay, we got to spend time with our little cousins and explore San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park by ourselves, just the three of us! We went on Tuesday because several museums in the park have free admission on the first Tuesday of the month. Thanks to free admission, my brothers and I were able to visit the de Young Museum, Shakespeare Garden, the Conservatory of Flowers, California Academy of Sciences (the gift shop, to be explained), the Legion of Honor, and Land’s End Labyrinth. Here’s a recap of our free adventures!
de Young Museum: This was our first stop after parking the car. From previous visits to the California Academy of Sciences, I was always intrigued by the exterior design of the museum, but never had the chance to go inside, until now (and for FREE). The de Young Museum has something for everyone, from modern paintings and murals to artifacts from Africa and Europe. Another enjoyable part of our visit here was going up to the observation tower to take in the foggy, vast view of San Francisco. I highly recommend visiting this museum; the fact that we didn’t have to worry about paying for admission made the trip that much more fun and enjoyable!
Shakespeare Garden, Conservatory of Flowers, and the California Academy of Sciences: After our visit to the de Young Museum, we walked around Golden Gate Park and visited the places listed above. Shakespeare Garden is literally right next to the Academy of Sciences (on the right side, towards the music concourse). This garden is small but so peaceful and beautiful; I can understand why some would choose to have a wedding ceremony here.
We then continued walking to the Conservatory of Flowers. If you walk across the concourse and turn right onto JFK Drive, the conservatory is just a ten minute walk away. The line for the Conservatory of Flowers was so long, we didn’t go inside (which is fine because we have been there before with our parents) so we admired the bright atmosphere.
After a solid couple of hours standing and walking around, we made our way back to the concourse to get lunch. There are various food trucks centrally located, but it’s expensive (from a college student’s perspective). We decided to venture out of Golden Gate Park to search for a cheaper place to eat. In the end, we found a little Vietnamese shop that sold banh mi sandwiches for $5 each. Let me tell you, those sandwiches were so delicious that it made the half hour walk totally worth it! After lunch, we made our way back to the park. Along the way, I decided that we should make a visit to the Legion of Honor and Land’s End Labyrinth since it was only a 10 minute drive away. Once we returned to the parking lot, I realized that I need to get change because the pay station didn’t take bills over $20. I was able to do this at the gift shop of the California Academy of Sciences.
Legion of Honor and Land’s End Labyrinth: We ended our SF adventure by making a stop at the Legion of Honor and Land’s End Labyrinth. You guessed it, admission to the Legion of Honor Museum was also FREE and we had to look around! This museum is quite aesthetically pleasing to look at in terms of design and architecture. I felt like I was in Europe as soon as we walked in the courtyard (and we weren’t even inside the museum yet!) The various exhibits themselves were also beautiful, with Rodin’s sculptures and a plethora of painting collections.
The final visit before we headed back to our aunt’s house was a short 15 minute walk down to Land’s End Labyrinth. From the Legion of Honor, we walked through the golf course and followed the path that lead down to the trails. There is a gate that separates the golf course from the trails, but you can climb over or under it. Keep going straight and turn right on the path. From there, you will see a staircase that leads down to the labyrinth. Follow the stairs, and turn left to continue down to the labyrinth (then make a right, the path is clearly marked). You can also go straight/right to climb a hill to get an overhead view of the labyrinth. For those that haven’t heard about the Land’s End Labyrinth, it is a labyrinth made of small stones and is off of the Land’s End Trail. It is also worth noting that the stairway leading down the labyrinth is quite sandy and steep (at some parts and especially going back up). From the labyrinth (or anywhere on the Coastal and Land’s End trails) you will get a spectacular view of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Pacific Ocean.
So that concludes my guide to exploring San Francisco for free! I know there are many other places in San Francisco to visit, but there is so much to do in Golden Gate Park. The park itself is so big, my brothers and I only got to walk around a small part of it. The total cost of our day was about $45 for the three of us ($29 went to parking since we parked at the parking garage underneath the Music Concourse). If we had gone the following day we would have easily spent at least $100+ on admission tickets alone. In all, for those that want to explore San Francisco on a budget, I HIGHLY recommend going on the first Tuesday of the month since many museums don’t charge for admission. What also helped us was having a relative that lived 30 minutes away from the city and leaving early in the morning to beat the afternoon crowds. At the end of the day, we were all so tired but our adventures were priceless (well $49, but you get the idea!).