- By Kevin
- On Jun 27, 2017
- North America
- Travel Tips
Skip museum admission fees
While the majority of San Francisco museums charge admission, many including standouts like the de Young, the Contemporary Jewish Museum and the Asian Art Museum, offer free access on certain days—usually the first Sunday or Tuesday of the month. But there are a few institutions that are always free, including the Cable Car Museum, a collection of memorabilia and technical ephemera related to the San Francisco icon, and the inimitable Musée Méchanique which houses more than 200 coin-operated and antique arcade machines that have been part of a family-owned collection since 1933.
Thanks to generous bequests from arts aficionados, there are several free seasonal festivals, including fall’s Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in Golden Gate Park and Sunset’s Stern Grove Festival, which stages everything from ballet to hip-hop to opera on Sundays from mid-June through mid-August in the bucolic setting of a eucalyptus grove. For a great lunchtime culture break downtown, check the schedule of the Yerba Buena Gardens Festival, where you can catch classical, world and jazz concerts and other performances from spring through fall, or Union Square, where free music, dance, fashion and art exhibitions take place year round. Litquake presents readings, performances, panel discussions, get-togethers, happy hours and author meet-and-greets throughout the year in addition to one of the nation’s largest literary festivals in October.
Discover the past in Chinatown
While eating and shopping are undoubtedly part of the experience, consumption isn’t the only reason to visit Chinatown. Crowded, chaotic and compact, it contains some easily missed historic sites. Walk up the narrow stairs to the Tien Hau Temple (125 Waverly Pl) above Grant Avenue, on the alley known as the Street of Painted Balconies. Purportedly the oldest Taoist temple in the U.S. (circa 1852), it’s festooned with gold paper lanterns, calligraphy, incense, hundreds of candles, and miniature shrines featuring photos of loved ones. Portsmouth Square, on the corner of Clay and Kearny Streets a half-block east of Grant Avenue, can lay claim to being the true birthplace of San Francisco, if not California. It was here that Captain John B. Montgomery (for whom nearby Montgomery Street is named) first hoisted the U.S. flag.
Montgomery captured the city—then known as Yerba Buena—from Mexico on July 9th, 1846 and the plaza is now named in honor of his ship, the USS Portsmouth. Just two years later, newspaper boss Sam Brannan stood on this spot and announced that gold had been discovered at Sutter’s Mill, sparking the Gold Rush. Among the monuments in the square is one dedicated to Robert Louis Stevenson, shaped like the galleon Hispaniola from his novel Treasure Island. Stevenson used to relax in the square when he lived nearby at 608 Bush Street in 1879. The pagoda-like structure nearby at 743 Washington Street was built in 1909 for the Chinese American Telephone Exchange, where multiligual phone operators routed calls to the neighborhood’s residents for four decades.