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Beautiful San Francisco is one of the world’s most interesting and diverse cities, but there’s so much to see that it’s hard to know where to start. A good tour can help you get yourself oriented and, ideally, peel back some layers of the aspect of the city that you find most interesting. Whether you want to recline in cool comfort while taking in the sights with the help of a narrator or pedal yourself through the city’s many streets, one of these fantastic San Francisco tours should fit your needs perfectly.
Best Bus Tour: San Francisco Hop-On Hop-Off Tour
Get a view of the whole city from the top of these double-decker buses that criss-cross San Francisco, and if something catches your fancy, jump off and go explore for awhile, then head back to the nearest of 24 different bus stops to hop back on and ride around a bit longer. Stops include Golden Gate Park, Haight-Ashbury, the Chinatown Gate, the South Vista Point of Golden Gate Bridge and more. Upgrade to a two-day tour and enjoy a trolley ride across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito, as well as a night tour. Many of the bus stops are conveniently located to the bigger hotels in the city, so when you’ve had enough, you can just hop off and head to yours.
Best Walking Tour: Private San Francisco Walking Tour of Chinatown & North Beach
San Francisco is big and it’s hilly, so if you prefer a walking tour, you may want to stick with just one or two neighborhoods so you can really see it without completely exhausting yourself. This walking tour, led by a professional guide who is also a photographer, takes you through San Francisco’s fascinating Chinatown and the adjacent North Beach, San Francisco’s historic Italian neighborhood. The tour stops at a number of landmarks in these two neighborhoods, including the original Fortune Cookie Factory, a mural by famous street artist Banksy, counterculture bookstore City Lights and a coffee shop made famous by the movie The Godfather. After your tour, your guide will give you a professionally-edited photo set to take home.
Best Bicycle Tour: The New Classic San Francisco Bike Tour
Carefully designed to cover maximum ground while avoiding steep inclines, with plenty of rest stops built in, this bike tour is appropriate for even those with modest fitness levels. Meet in the morning in the Hayes Valley neighborhood and get fitted for a helmet and comfortable bike, and you’re off! The four-hour tour passes through the Mission, the Castro, Haight-Ashbury and more. Your guide will point out famous and lesser-known historic sites, architecture and public art from the Victorian era to the present day, and some of the coolest places to shop and eat in the whole city.
Best Alternative Vehicle Tour: San Francisco GoCar Tour
These zippy little three-wheeled vehicles are sort of like the lovechild of a sports convertible and an electric scooter, but they come with an amazing added feature: an advanced GPS system and a computer that offers real-time narrated tours of the city as you drive around it. You can choose which type of tour you take — pick a pre-programmed one or design your own focused on your interests (art, architecture, nature, etc.). The tours are autonomous, not with a group, so if you want to stop and eat or shop or walk around, just park (GoCars fit in motorcycle spots!) and take all the time you need. It’s a really fun way to drive around the city and get some good in-depth information while you’re enjoying yourself.
Best Air Tour: San Francisco Helicopter and Alcatraz Tour
Though it comes with a heftier price tag than many other options, you’ll never find a better view of the city than the one from this helicopter combo tour. You’ll circle over Treasure and Angel Islands, the Sausalito Waterfront, all of San Francisco’s most famous buildings, as well as the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz. After your helicopter tour is finished, you’ll be delivered to Fisherman’s Wharf, where you’ll take the ferry out to Alcatraz and enjoy an award-winning guided headset tour of the buildings and grounds of this infamous island prison. It’s a nice full day of two very different but uniquely San Franciscan experiences.
Best Private Tour: San Francisco Private Love Tour
Feeling groovy? Then make like a Merry Prankster and climb aboard the love bus, baby. You and your group of up to six will be picked up at your hotel for a four-hour cruise through the city of San Francisco in a psychedelic restored 1970s VW bus, complete with shag carpeting and beaded curtains. Listen to a soundtrack of tunes from the ‘60s while seeing the sights: the San Francisco homes of Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and the Grateful Dead, as well as all of the city’s most famous neighborhoods and photo ops at major landmarks, all with narration from your driver/guide.
Best Food Tour: Mission 18th Street San Francisco Food Tour
If you want to sample a huge variety of top-quality eats in a small geographic space, there are few places on the planet as suited for the task as San Francisco’s Mission District. This diverse neighborhood is dense with immigrant communities, multi-generational working-class San Franciscans and lots and lots of music-and-artsy types. And where there’s lots of culture, there’s always lots of food. This tour gives you a glimpse of the Mission and its people via some of the neighborhood’s most interesting eateries. You’ll sample everything from ultra-traditional Mexican tacos to house-cured pastrami sandwiches to schmancy cupcakes, with plenty of strolling in between during which to spot neighborhood attractions (and, of course, to keep the appetite hearty).
Best History Tour: Radical SF: Castro and Mission Districts
It’s easy enough to find historical information about the 1849 Gold Rush and the 1906 Earthquake, but true counter-cultural history rarely makes it into textbooks. But it’s counter-cultural history that has largely shaped San Francisco (and the world beyond it) in the past several decades, and this tour digs into this fascinating angle on local history. Visit Harvey Milk Plaza and learn about the protests that have taken place here over the years, as well as the country’s first stand-alone GLBT museum, Maya Angelou and Carlos Santana’s high school, the Pink Triangle Holocaust Memorial, the Human Rights Campaign Store, and the enormous feminist murals on the sides of the Women’s Building, all while getting the stories of the many civil rights revolutions that emanated from the culturally-rich areas of the Mission and the Castro.
Best Ghost Tour: Haunted SF: Ghosts, Murder, and Mystery
It’s no surprise that a city as historic as San Francisco is replete with tales of specters and hauntings, as well as ghastly deeds of all kinds. This after-dark tour takes brave souls on a stroll through downtown and the Tenderloin district. It starts at the St. Francis Hotel, which is said to be haunted by the ghost of early film actor Al Jolson, and proceeds to the haunted Curran Theater, Tessie Wall’s infamous brothel, the “suicide alley” of 1911, and the location where the Zodiac Killer met his final victim. It’s a tour that is not for the faint of heart, and it is recommended for adults only, but if you love a thrill, this tour provides a fascinating look at the city from its underbelly.