The Painted Ladies, a row of Victorian houses in the Haight neighborhood (©Streets of San Francisco Bike Tours)
San Francisco might only be 49 square miles, but packed within its limits is a rich, colorful history and a tangle of vibrant neighborhoods and eclectic communities. The world-famous Golden Gate Bridge and historic cable cars will always draw crowds, but there’s so much more to discover beyond the obvious landmarks. Why not let a passionate local show you around? Discover the many facets of the City by the Bay on these guided outings.
To understand a city obsessed with food, it only makes sense to start with a food-oriented excursion. You’ll find no shortage of options (USA Today even came up with a clever term for the city’s wave of gastronomic tours: “bite-seeing.”)
Avital Tours: Energetic founder Avital Ungar really wants you to love San Francisco’s food and wine scene. Her company offers hip and well-executed, locals-approved walking tours of four of the city’s iconic neighborhoods: The Mission, North Beach, Haight-Ashbury and Union Square. Led by industry experts, each excursion is a thoughtfully organized progressive meal (some with optional alcohol pairings) at the city’s best bars and restaurants that takes groups behind the scenes to chat with the chefs and owners.
Edible Excursions: These award-winning circuits appeal to locals as well as out-of-towners, stopping at 7-9 hotspots in happening neighborhoods. Follow the in-the-know guides through Japantown, the Ferry Building Marketplace, Uptown Oakland, Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto and more.
Gourmet Walks: Guides who are enthusiastic about the food in this city lead guests to hotspots and under-the-radar locales in less tourist-ed neighborhoods like NoPa, Russian Hill and Hayes Valley, and the company offers a trio of popular chocolate-themed junkets.
Are you an architecture, film or sports buff? Indulge your curiosity on one of these niche expeditions.
San Francisco Architecture Walking Tour: Let architecture historian and storyteller Rick Evans lead you around the Financial District on his engaging and thoroughly informative tour. He’ll take you to secret rooftop gardens, open spaces and historic landmarks while sharing entertaining anecdotes.
San Francisco Movie Tours: Watch synchronized clips from dozens of films shot in San Francisco as you pass the set locations on this engaging two-hour bus tour of the city. You'll see the house from “Mrs. Doubtfire,” the spot where Jimmy Stewart pulled Kim Novak from the water in “Vertigo” and more.
AT&T Park Tour: Baseball fans will want to visit the home of San Francisco’s beloved Giants, the 2010, 2012 and 2014 World Series Champions. Get an inside look at the gorgeous waterfront stadium, famous for its splash hits, on this tour that takes groups to the empty dugout, batting cage, clubhouse, field and more.
Exploring one district in-depth can lead to greater understanding of the city as a whole.
Cruisin’ the Castro Walking Tours: You know you’re in the lively Castro, the nation’s largest gay neighborhood, when you see a giant rainbow flag soaring in the wind. The flag stands in the main square, Harvey Milk Plaza, named for the slain civil rights leader who served as the state’s first openly gay politician and was the subject of the critically acclaimed film “Milk” starring Sean Penn. Since 1989, this company has been leading tour groups along the sunny, tree-lined streets.
Combine beautiful sites, fascinating knowledge and a rush of exercise endorphins, and you’ve got an adventure to remember.
Streets of San Francisco Biking Tours: If you’re reasonably fit, perhaps the most exhilarating way to explore the city is to join the thousands of locals commuting on two wheels. The efficiency of a bicycle allows for routes that traverse multiple neighborhoods, and this young company takes out the urban intimidation factor. Go off the beaten tourist track on rides of 9-18 miles to areas where the locals work and live, like the Richmond, SoMa and the city’s most highly trafficked bike route, The Wiggle.
Urban Hiker San Francisco: Get in a true workout while taking advantage of one of San Francisco’s best secrets: great hiking within city limits. Trek hills, stairways and trails and take in history, nature and incredible views on 5-mile routes during these 2-3 hour jaunts. This tour outfit has even attracted a local following, with groups meeting up for monthly long hikes.
Offbeat Transit Tours
To really take in the energy of the city, a walking tour beats a bus tour, but there’s too much to cover on foot alone. Book one of these outings that use alternative modes of transportation.
Electric Tour Company Segway Tours: Traverse 7 miles of Golden Gate Park’s 1,000 acres in under two hours via an efficient (and undeniably amusing) means of personal transportation with the Electric Tour Company. Take in the fresh air and greenery while exploring the park’s lesser-known gems, including a redwood grove, historic carousel and a rhododendron garden.
Seaplane Adventures: If it’s great photos that you’re after, board a seaplane for a 30-minute, low-flying ride. The six tour options take off from the water in Mill Valley (shuttle service to and from the city included) and come with aerial views of iconic Bay Area landmarks from large windows (no aisle seats here) and commentary from the pilot.
If you’re on a budget, you can still find an expert to show you around. (Just don’t forget to tip.)
SF City Guides: Local volunteers with a zeal for hometown history lead walking trips in dozens of specific categories every day of the year. Learn everything you ever wanted to know about Gold Rush lore, Art Deco buildings, the 1906 earthquake and fire and more, no reservations necessary.