Think you have to earn big bucks to live big in the City by the Bay? Think again.
San Francisco is full of free and ridiculously cheap stuff—you just need to
know where to look. Leave it to “The Cheap Bastard” to uncover all the ins and
outs and exclusive bargains to be had, and to tell you the real deal with wit
The Cheap Bastard’s Guide to San Francisco shows you:
• How to gain free entrance to shows, concerts, and museums • Where
to find free classes in anything from yoga to bartending to bicycle
repair • Where to find half-price meals and free food and beverages,
including pizza, pasta, and wine • How to get a free haircut, color treatment,
manicure, or low-cost massage • When and where to find great furnishings in
other people’s trash
With The Cheap Bastard’s Guidetm in hand, anyone can enjoy the good
Karen Solomon is a vertern Bay Area insider and self described
certified Cheap Bastard. She writesabout San Francisco and consumption for San Francisco
Magazine, San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Bay Guardian and numerous other local publications. She is also a contributor to Chow! San FranciscoBay
Area: 300 Affordable Places for Great Meals and Good Deals. She has lived in San Francisco on a shoestring for more than a decade.
“If you would be wealthy, think of saving as well as getting.”
When I moved to San Francisco in 1996, I had the good
fortune to arrive just as the wave of dot-coms was beginning to crest. Money
was sloshing in every direction, and I quickly landed on my feet with an
insanely lucrative writing career and more cash than my post-graduate self knew
what to do with (almost all of which is long gone, now that writers’ salaries
have returned to normal).
What I remember most fondly from that time are the launch
parties—the copious, over-the-top, insane displays of wealth to announce the
world’s arrival of FiveMinutesAgo.com (how did we ever live without it?). I saw
Devo play for free. I watched pig races on Treasure Island for nothin’. I drank
a frat house worth of booze every week and never had to leave the tip. People
traded guest list status (“I’ll take you to Kaboozle.com’s launch on Tuesday if
you bring me to iGazoontite.com on Thursday!”). Web sites like SFGirl.com,
Oliver’s List, and Scrounging.net opened the floodgates to free booze and
high-hog living for those like me who were cheap at heart. Never in my life
have I supped on so many
raw bars, drank so many top-shelf cognacs, or draped myself
in so many T-shirts, watches, and other schwag on someone else’s dime.
The freeloading heyday came to a quick end. As the party
machine rusted and clogged, the festivities became fewer, further between, and
less impressive. You know . . . more like a regular party, not a bacchanalian
free-for-all. Eventually they went the way of the dodo.
But one thing has remained with me from this second Bay Area
gold rush: the ability to find the party and to push my way to the front of the
line for the free open bar. This gorgeous and generous city has heaps to offer
the fun-loving tightwad if you know where to find it. In a town where the
average apartment costs as much as the GNP of some small countries, any amount
of savings is welcome. As I sit here in my hand-me-down hoodie and homemade
hat, refusing to put on the heat, typing away on my keypad that I found in the
street, and looking at the monitor I’ve had for eight years, I know that I am
I have friends who have roommates in a studio apartment.
I’ve seen more than one MUNI passenger flash a bus transfer with a thumb over
the time. And I have waited in line with hundreds of other bargain hunters for
theater tickets, museum entries, and free film screenings just because we
can.There’s a tremendous satisfaction
in beating the herd, feeling as if you’re getting something for nothing. I am a
firm believer in patching, reusing, and making do. If the American economy
depended on people like me, we’d rank as high as Greenland on a global
The knowledge I have accrued dyeing my own hair and in
decades of scouring thrift shops has paid off in the form of this book. I am
the self-proclaimed queen of the giveaway, the free trial, the sample, and the
discount. My nose has been known to twitch when a “street score” yields a new
bookshelf, a set of drinking glasses, or someone else’s discarded knitting
supplies. My friends and family think that I’m cheap because I just don’t see
the point in paying full price, but little do they know that I am more than
that. I am a Cheap Bastard. Oh, the pennies I have pinched.
In no way does this book take advantage of anyone offering
anything that she can’t afford to lose. I do not advocate theft, mau-mauing,
begging, or persuasion toward the acquisition of free or low-cost goods or
services. I have avoided resources solely set aside to help those with low
incomes, those who are disabled, the disadvantaged, or the elderly. Every
resource listed, unless otherwise noted, is located in San Francisco proper and
available to the public at large. Most freebies listed here are events and
items that your tax dollars or philanthropic donations have already paid for. A
few are free trials and tastes dispensed in the hopes that you’ll come back and
pay for more. Many are free just because students need practice, such as those
who study massage or the culinary arts. Some things are free with a catch—which
I disclose. Still other listings in this book are for things that are
ridiculously cheap or such a bargain that you’d want to know about them. Cheap
Bastards appreciate that sometimes to get a true value, you must part with a
Being a tightwad is a revolutionary act. Kicking our own
Gucci butt down a few rungs is a way to remember that the things that are
really important in this world are ripe and available for the plucking by
anyone, regardless of how much cash lines his purse. In these pages are great
tips for things like free babysitting and no-cost tap dancing classes, and for
sources of free house paint. But what’s in between these frivolities is a
manifesto of what it means to live free of the shackles of a thing-driven
society. More money may make us happy short term. But taking the time to
appreciate all that is offered to us, which may result in losing less cash, is
a long-term method of striving toward bliss.
I’ve learned a lot doing the research for this guide. I am
even more in love with San Francisco’s kindness and generosity, because its
depths are deeper than I’d imagined. The kindest words that you could offer
this tome is that you feel you’ve gotten your money’s worth. From one Cheap
Bastard to another, I can appreciate what a compliment that truly is.
“Money is that dear thing which, if you’re not careful, you
can squander your whole life thinking of....”
Some say that the heyday of San Francisco’s comedy scene has
passed us by, and that the likes of Robin Williams, Phyllis Diller, and the
original Purple Onion were the end of the line decades ago. But judging by the
number of comedy events to crop up in recent years, and the reopening of some
legendary venues, one thing can be said for certain: San Francisco is ready to
yuck it up once again. We, the cash stingy, are not in the business of culture
scouting or fortune-telling, and all we want is something to keep our wee
brains entertained between beers. But we cannot help but wonder if we’re in the
midst of the next big wave, or if the joke’s on us and we’re just all wet.
Either way, there’s enough to explore right now to tickle our funny bone.
Remember—free comedy is nothing to laugh at.
The Free Funnies Brainwash Cafe and Laundromat 1122 Folsom Street (415) 861-3663 Thursday, 8:00 p.m. Local comedian Tony Sparks hosts this regular, longtime
comedy night on a stage well worn with open mic.
Full laundry facilities are
on premises, and a well-priced cafe make it an affordable, and accessible,
access point to the Land
The Canvas Gallery 1200 Nineth Avenue (415) 504-0060 www.thecanvasgallery.com Tuesday, 7:00 p.m. Jerry Goldstone is your host on this romp through comedy
open mic. Classier and artier than your average coffeehouse, the Canvas
Gallery lures many here to try to land their big break.
Kung Pao Kosher Comedy
New Asia Restaurant
772 Pacific Avenue
www.koshercomedy.com If you’re ever stuck in town for the holidays, nothing says
Merry Christmas like a mammoth, all-star comedy showcase; a multicourse, lavish
Chinese dinner; and a room full of Jews. Hence is the Holy Trinity for this
sellout annual event that always delivers delicious eats and well-seasoned,
seriously funny professionals. The only thing better would be taking it all in
without spending a dime, right? Well, if you have signed up for volunteer
ushering, you arrive before the show, they feed you a great meal, and you get a
free T-shirt. You show folks to their chairs for an hour or so and then you
duck upstairs (in my opinion, the best seats in the house) to enjoy the
performance. Make this your own holiday tradition, and it will be a good night
for all, and for all a good night.
The Catch: Free meal and admission in exchange for
ushering. Plus more than 1000 Free listings in The Cheap Bastard's Guide To San Francisco'
“Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not
every man’s greed.”
Few things taste better than the low-cost lunch that someone
else has prepared, and those who claim that there’s no such thing as a free
lunch simply weren’t trying hard enough. When pots of our own homemade lentil
soup begin to leave the taste buds dull, we hardworking, easygoing eaters can
find myriad ways to fill our bellies on the sly. While by no means a complete
list, here are a few favorite opportunities to chow down on the cheap—and don’t
forget that a Ziploc-lined messenger bag can hold the beginnings of the next
meal as well.
244 Jackson Street
www.frissonsf.com Free drinks and food the first Thursday of the month, 7:00
to 9:00 p.m.; daily happy hour, 5:00 to 7:00 p.m.
As part of the unveiling of its new monthly art
installation, the restaurant offers some complimentary snacks and drinks to
help you, uh, see the art better in the lush, darker-than-dark funky lounge.
This is a rare and golden opportunity to soak up the ambience of one of SF’s
most attractive restaurants for the low, low price of zilch. Plan it right and
you can take it all in even longer. Every night during the after-work hours, a host
of wonderful small plates, such as spring rolls and pork croquettes, are just
$5, as are the exquisite house cocktails, such as the Le Long Frisson and the
daily caipirinha. This is one of the best values in elegance around.
500 Divisadero Street
www.madronelounge.com Free pizza on Sunday, 6:00 to 8:00 p.m.; daily happy hour,
6:00 to 9:00 p.m.
The purchase of a single drink is your ticket to free pizza
slices that help you nurse that weekend hangover and transition back into
workweek mode. In the background, vintage television shows help you forget, but
the free band that starts at 8:00 p.m. should jab those neurons into firing
once again. Just to make sure you don’t feel the financial pinch, the early
bird gets this worm: $2 Bud tall boys, $3 wells, $4 mojitos or infused vodka.
Extraspecial bonus: It’s also industry night for those who work in the field of
bars, restaurants, and nightclubs. For your service to the community, you can
purchase half-price drinks all night. What a deal!
New Delhi Restaurant
160 Ellis Street
www.newdelhirestaurant.com Monday through Saturday, 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. to
Inside and outside of the dinner hour, this popular
restaurant and drinking establishment lays it all out—samosas, pakoras, and
tandori chicken drumsticks, that is. The food is good, but positively ambrosia,
considering it’s a free serve-yourself appetizer bar. They make their money
from the drinks you’ll buy—$3 beers, house wine, and well drinks. No matter how
you slice it, this is a bargain good enough to get on the regular rotation.
Plus more than 1000 Free listings in The Cheap Bastard's Guide to San Francisco
“The excellence of a gift lies in its appropriateness rather than in its value.”
Why pay more when you don’t have to? San Francisco is your
grandmother’s dream closet of all kinds of vintage, old-school, and used stuff
just ripe for the plucking—so much so that the choices can be overwhelming. But
as the world of commerce surrounding vintage and shabby chic can attest, just
because an item is old or previously owned does not mean that it will cost any
less than if you bought its brand-new counterpart. In fact, Haight Street,
Union Street, and the Mission especially can be guilty of charging deeply
bloated prices for eighties miniskirts and Scooby-Doo lunch boxes simply
because there is a captive audience to pay it. Enough is enough! “Antiques” and
“collectibles” need not apply. This is not a directory of all the secondhand
and consignment shops in town—it’s simply a list of the best of those with
their heads on straight when it comes to knowing what low-priced goods should
Craigslist’s “Free” and “Barter” Categories
www.craigslist.org My Honda Civic for your pick-up truck, my massage therapy
for your Spanish lessons, my encyclopedias or dirt pile or moving boxes or
queen-sized futon totally free if you come and get it. . . .The possibilities are endless and manifold,
but it all comes down to the same basic idea—getting stuff or trading stuff
with members of your local community, no cash involved. If you’re seeking
something specific, this can be a great way to find it. Or if you have that
compulsive shopping gene and you’re short on cash, it’s a great way to “catalog
shop” without costing a dime. These lists are popular and change frequently, so
keep your eyes peeled, act fast, and ye shall be rewarded.
2360 Fillmore Street; (415) 359-9260
Inside Neiman Marcus, 150 Stockton Street; (415) 362-3900
Inside Saks Fifth Avenue, 384 Post Street; (415) 986-4300
www.kiehls.com Sure, the stores are located in ritzy shopping districts,
but that just makes this freeloader’s delight that much more pleasurable. Come
in looking well scrubbed and they’ll be happy to part with a free sample of any
of their high-end body care and hygiene products. And with purchase, they’ll
practically give away the whole shop for free—a great way to try and not have
San Francisco Really Really Free Market
Dolores Park (18th and Dolores Streets)
Last Saturday of the month, noon to 4:00 p.m.
It’s all free. Every damn thing, and that selection varies
based on who showed up and what they brought. Essentially, this is the
equivalent of finding someone’s discarded goods in the street, but it’s
conveniently located all in one place, next to a whole bunch of other stuff
that no one else wants. You can get lucky, and you’re likely to score if you’re
looking for clothes, books, bread, or what have you. This event also packs a
political punch, with an anticapitalist slant in favor of the “gift economy.”
Feel free to donate what’s been cluttering your closets.
Plus more than 1000 Free listings in The Cheap Bastard's Guide to San Francisco