clock menu more-arrow no yes
Photos by Thomas Hawk

Black Friday San Francisco: 11 free things to do

There’s more to do the day after Thanksgiving than wait in lines, fight over doodads, and go further into debt

View as Map

The joy that is Thanksgiving—a holiday meant to evoke gratitude, family turmoil, and starch-heavy side dishes—has given way to one of our country's grisliest past times: Black Friday. Lines that snakes around the block for door-busting sales (promising deals and discounts that are sometimes false) have become de rigeur. This kickoff to the holiday shopping season has become downright unpleasant and—worse—violent.

Should you need to unleash your consumer beast, have at it. But for a less chaotic Black Friday, here are 11 alternatives to consider this week that are free, fun, and far less stressful.

Read More

1. Filbert Street Stairs

Copy Link
281 Filbert
San Francisco, CA 94133

Thanksgiving weekend is as good a time as any to hike the Filbert Street Steps in Telegraph Hill. Be sure to look for the hill’s famed parrots; muralist Alfred Du Pont’s images on the Malloch building (featured in Dark Passage as Lauren Bacall’s apartment building); Grace Marchant Gardens; and Napier Lane, a wooden plank sidewalk lined with pre-1900 cottage-like homes. Bonus: This urban hike is a great way to burn off your fifth helping of stuffing. 

A post shared by à l e x (@goldengated) on

2. Embarcadero

Copy Link
Embarcadero
San Francisco, CA

Friday could call for rain, providing wet weather fans the perfect opportunity to take an exception walk along the edge of San Francisco. Start off at AT&T Park (the N and T Muni lines stop in front of the stadium), walk north past the Bay Bridge, fire station, Pier 15, Ferry Building, Pier 9, and up toward Fisherman’s Wharf. Bring an umbrella, boots, and your most adorable scarf. (And yes, by all means, check out Bay Lights.)

Photo by Jeremy Brooks

3. Tour Chinatown’s alleyways

Copy Link
Chinatown
San Francisco, CA

Marvelous in its own right, the alleys of San Francisco’s Chinatown should be on your radar. Check out Ross Alley, Waverly Place (a street with many temples), Spofford Street, and Old Chinatown Lane. These historic streets show off a side of the neighborhood that Grant simply can’t.

Photo by Patricia Chang

4. Billionaire's Row

Copy Link
2900 Broadway
San Francisco, CA 94115

Head over to Billionaire’s Row to see how the 1% lives. (Plot twist: They live well.) This small stretch in Pacific Heights is noted for its outrageous multimillion dollar homes (the huge white mansion at 2701 Broadway, built in 1910 by architect James Miller and renovated in 2002 by Moller Willrich Architecture in 2002, being the most famous), you can find it on the 2700 block of Broadway. And do check out the Lyons Street Steps when you’re done going gaga over these bonkers homes. 

Photo courtesy of Neal Ward

5. Lands End Labyrinth

Copy Link
Lands End Trail
San Francisco, CA 94121
(415) 426-5240
Visit Website

For a Zen-inducing activity, head over to the labyrinth at Lands End. Created by Eduardo Aguilera in 2004, the rock-formed maze has turned into one of the city’s most Instagrammable moments. Occasionally, rapscallions ruin the formation (mean!), but it’s soon put back together by locals. 

To get there, park at the Lands End parking lot behind the Cliff House at Point Lobos Avenue and 48th Avenue. Walk east on the Coastal Trail and take the trail off the beaten path heading toward Mile Rock Beach. Walk down the steps. Where the staircase turns a hard left, continue on the trail going straight. 

A post shared by Sharon (@runhikenplay) on

6. Donate socks to St. Anthony Foundation

Copy Link
150 Golden Gate Ave
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 241-2600
Visit Website

Granted, this one isn’t free, but it will free your soul: For those heading to Ross or Target on Black Friday, pick up a few packs of socks for St. Anthony's Foundation. The Tenderloin shelter needs them—a lot of them. White athletic or outdoor socks are preferable. And socks need to be new.

Here’s why: The city gets cold and wet, and socks for our homeless population get used up fast. Blisters and infections are all too common conditions that can lead to major health issues.

"Wet feet, ill-fitting shoes, constant standing and diseases like diabetes take their toll," says St. Anthony's. "The best way to prevent such conditions is to keep feet clean and dry—very difficult if you spend your days outside."

Socks can be dropped off at the door.

Photo via St. Anthony's Foundation

7. Church of 8 Wheels

Copy Link
554 Fillmore St
San Francisco, CA 94117
(415) 752-1967
Visit Website

Once the Sacred Heart Church, this Lower Haight institution is now a holy rolling skating rink. Get your wheels on soon and enjoy the stained glass windows and gothic architecture as you glide around the floor.

A post shared by Helena Levin (@cabarbieprincess) on

8. Visit “Photosynthesis” at the Conservatory of Flowers

Copy Link
100 John F Kennedy Dr
San Francisco, CA 94118
(415) 831-2090
Visit Website

Designed by Illuminate, the nonprofit arts group behind the Bay Lights and Obscura Digital, this light installation uses gobo projectors to transform the white landmark into a canvas of illuminated scenes inspired by the tropical flowers within conservatory. Originally created to mark the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love, it’s been extended into the Thanksgiving weekend.

9. Ride the Wiggle

Copy Link
4 Steiner St
San Francisco, CA 94115

This one-mile bike route zig-zags from Market Street to Golden Gate Park. Strap on a helmet, grab a warm jacket, unlock your bike, and hit the road. Who knows? Maybe this will convince you to ditch your gas guzzler for good. 

For biking in the city beginners, here’s a handy guide to get your started.

A post shared by jjrafferty (@jjrafferty) on

10. Golden Gate Heights Mosaic Stairway

Copy Link
Moraga St & Moraga Steps
San Francisco, CA 94122

The stunning mosaic steps in the Sunset have turned into the city’s most under discussed spots for the perfect Instagram shot. While scores of people wait in line to get inside the Ice Cream Museum, why not check out other spots in San Francisco equally if not more colorful and fantastic.

Bonus: The stairs lead to Turtle Hill Park boasting 360-degree views of San Francisco.

A post shared by @amandacif on

11. Cruise the Castro

Copy Link
Castro St
San Francisco, CA

Don your finest threads and head up to Castro and Market to stomp the streets. Everyone will be out and about, checking out the scene—and said scene includes you. Take a pitstop at Twin Peaks Tavern or Réveille Coffee. Pore over the books at Dog Eared Books. Go say hi to the pooches in the window at Mudpuppy’s. And be sure to stay around come nightfall to see the new rainbow light installation at Harvey Milk Plaza.

A post shared by Cherman Ip (@ipchuiman) on

1. Filbert Street Stairs

281 Filbert, San Francisco, CA 94133

Thanksgiving weekend is as good a time as any to hike the Filbert Street Steps in Telegraph Hill. Be sure to look for the hill’s famed parrots; muralist Alfred Du Pont’s images on the Malloch building (featured in Dark Passage as Lauren Bacall’s apartment building); Grace Marchant Gardens; and Napier Lane, a wooden plank sidewalk lined with pre-1900 cottage-like homes. Bonus: This urban hike is a great way to burn off your fifth helping of stuffing. 

281 Filbert
San Francisco, CA 94133

2. Embarcadero

Embarcadero, San Francisco, CA
Photo by Jeremy Brooks

Friday could call for rain, providing wet weather fans the perfect opportunity to take an exception walk along the edge of San Francisco. Start off at AT&T Park (the N and T Muni lines stop in front of the stadium), walk north past the Bay Bridge, fire station, Pier 15, Ferry Building, Pier 9, and up toward Fisherman’s Wharf. Bring an umbrella, boots, and your most adorable scarf. (And yes, by all means, check out Bay Lights.)

Embarcadero
San Francisco, CA

3. Tour Chinatown’s alleyways

Chinatown, San Francisco, CA
Photo by Patricia Chang

Marvelous in its own right, the alleys of San Francisco’s Chinatown should be on your radar. Check out Ross Alley, Waverly Place (a street with many temples), Spofford Street, and Old Chinatown Lane. These historic streets show off a side of the neighborhood that Grant simply can’t.

Chinatown
San Francisco, CA

4. Billionaire's Row

2900 Broadway, San Francisco, CA 94115
Photo courtesy of Neal Ward

Head over to Billionaire’s Row to see how the 1% lives. (Plot twist: They live well.) This small stretch in Pacific Heights is noted for its outrageous multimillion dollar homes (the huge white mansion at 2701 Broadway, built in 1910 by architect James Miller and renovated in 2002 by Moller Willrich Architecture in 2002, being the most famous), you can find it on the 2700 block of Broadway. And do check out the Lyons Street Steps when you’re done going gaga over these bonkers homes. 

2900 Broadway
San Francisco, CA 94115

5. Lands End Labyrinth

Lands End Trail, San Francisco, CA 94121

For a Zen-inducing activity, head over to the labyrinth at Lands End. Created by Eduardo Aguilera in 2004, the rock-formed maze has turned into one of the city’s most Instagrammable moments. Occasionally, rapscallions ruin the formation (mean!), but it’s soon put back together by locals. 

To get there, park at the Lands End parking lot behind the Cliff House at Point Lobos Avenue and 48th Avenue. Walk east on the Coastal Trail and take the trail off the beaten path heading toward Mile Rock Beach. Walk down the steps. Where the staircase turns a hard left, continue on the trail going straight. 

Lands End Trail
San Francisco, CA 94121

6. Donate socks to St. Anthony Foundation

150 Golden Gate Ave, San Francisco, CA 94102
Photo via St. Anthony's Foundation

Granted, this one isn’t free, but it will free your soul: For those heading to Ross or Target on Black Friday, pick up a few packs of socks for St. Anthony's Foundation. The Tenderloin shelter needs them—a lot of them. White athletic or outdoor socks are preferable. And socks need to be new.

Here’s why: The city gets cold and wet, and socks for our homeless population get used up fast. Blisters and infections are all too common conditions that can lead to major health issues.

"Wet feet, ill-fitting shoes, constant standing and diseases like diabetes take their toll," says St. Anthony's. "The best way to prevent such conditions is to keep feet clean and dry—very difficult if you spend your days outside."

Socks can be dropped off at the door.

150 Golden Gate Ave
San Francisco, CA 94102

7. Church of 8 Wheels

554 Fillmore St, San Francisco, CA 94117

Once the Sacred Heart Church, this Lower Haight institution is now a holy rolling skating rink. Get your wheels on soon and enjoy the stained glass windows and gothic architecture as you glide around the floor.

554 Fillmore St
San Francisco, CA 94117

8. Visit “Photosynthesis” at the Conservatory of Flowers

100 John F Kennedy Dr, San Francisco, CA 94118

Designed by Illuminate, the nonprofit arts group behind the Bay Lights and Obscura Digital, this light installation uses gobo projectors to transform the white landmark into a canvas of illuminated scenes inspired by the tropical flowers within conservatory. Originally created to mark the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love, it’s been extended into the Thanksgiving weekend.

100 John F Kennedy Dr
San Francisco, CA 94118

9. Ride the Wiggle

4 Steiner St, San Francisco, CA 94115

This one-mile bike route zig-zags from Market Street to Golden Gate Park. Strap on a helmet, grab a warm jacket, unlock your bike, and hit the road. Who knows? Maybe this will convince you to ditch your gas guzzler for good. 

For biking in the city beginners, here’s a handy guide to get your started.

4 Steiner St
San Francisco, CA 94115

10. Golden Gate Heights Mosaic Stairway

Moraga St & Moraga Steps, San Francisco, CA 94122

The stunning mosaic steps in the Sunset have turned into the city’s most under discussed spots for the perfect Instagram shot. While scores of people wait in line to get inside the Ice Cream Museum, why not check out other spots in San Francisco equally if not more colorful and fantastic.

Bonus: The stairs lead to Turtle Hill Park boasting 360-degree views of San Francisco.

Moraga St & Moraga Steps
San Francisco, CA 94122

11. Cruise the Castro

Castro St, San Francisco, CA

Don your finest threads and head up to Castro and Market to stomp the streets. Everyone will be out and about, checking out the scene—and said scene includes you. Take a pitstop at Twin Peaks Tavern or Réveille Coffee. Pore over the books at Dog Eared Books. Go say hi to the pooches in the window at Mudpuppy’s. And be sure to stay around come nightfall to see the new rainbow light installation at Harvey Milk Plaza.

Castro St
San Francisco, CA