Since 1978, the non-profit San Francisco City Guides has conducted thousands upon thousands of 90- to 120-minute free tours covering the usual — as well as the historic, hidden and highly unusual — points of interest all over the city by the bay. With sponsorship from the San Francisco Public Library and as a San Francisco Parks Alliance partner, the current coterie of 200 volunteer guides are extremely well-informed, amicable, resourceful and friendly. Join a tour and donate what you can. No reservations are needed for groups of seven of fewer, tours are on offer rain or shine and no pets please. See the website for a complete listing.
Golden Gate Bridge
Meet at Strauss Statue, Visitors Plaza
San Francisco, CA 94129
If you’ve never walked across the Golden Gate Bridge (even to the halfway point), if you don’t know what International Orange is, nor how brilliant engineers successfully constructed the “bridge that couldn’t be built” in 1934, come along. Dress in layers even if the sun is shining when you set out. You shall soon know more about Karl the Fog. Oh, and bring a camera. This fabulous tour of one of the modern wonders of the world is an invigorating eye-opener. The tour is typically offered on Sundays at 11 a.m. throughout the year.
Meet at Portsmouth Square Park
San Francisco, CA 94108
Enter via the Grant Avenue dragon gates leading up the hill into North America’s oldest and largest Chinatown. Delve deeper into the neighborhood’s history, going well beyond gift shops, tea parlors and dim sum restaurants. Soak up the exotic sights and sounds, prowl along small alleyways, see the original Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory still in operation, and hear stories of gambling halls, joss and jade, tongs, temples and hidden tunnels dating back to the mid-19th century. Come along Mondays and Saturdays at 10 a.m. and at 1:30 p.m. on Mondays only.
Japanese Tea Garden
Meet at 75 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, Golden Gate Park
San Francisco, CA 94118
The oldest Japanese Tea Garden in the United States is a stunningly beautiful introduction to Golden Gate Park. Situated in the heart of the sprawling urban park that covers more than 1,000 acres, these five acres were originally opened for the California Midwinter International Exposition of 1894. The tour covers landscaping, tradition and post-World War II upheaval. Meet inside the gates of the garden and tea house adjacent to the deYoung Museum. Tours are offered daily at 1 p.m. plus Mondays and Wednesdays at 9:30 a.m. when the garden opens for free admission.
Meet at the front entrance, Stanford Court Hotel
905 California St.
San Francisco, CA 94108
Take a tour that tells the incredible story of the fabled robber barons and silver king billionaires who built rococo palaces upon Nob Hill, each one to outdo the other, only to fall to the great leveler, the Great Earthquake and Fire of 1906. Learn how the cable cars that mounted the steep hills of Nob Hill changed the face of San Francisco. See the Fairmont Hotel, its roof gardens, Huntington Park Flood Mansion and Grace Cathedral, not to mention the views. Meet up with your guide on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays at 2 p.m., and also on Fridays and Saturdays at 11 a.m.
Meet at the Main Entrance Stairs, Embarcadero
San Francisco, CA 94111
The Beaux Arts bell tower were fashioned after a 12th century Spanish tower and the graceful arches of the large interior market were meticulously restored and re-opened in 2003. Survivor of two earthquakes, the landmark on the National Register of Historic Places is the launching place for ferries to Sausalito and Marin County. Bring a tote bag and come hungry, because there’s plenty to shop and just as much to tempt you to devour right on the spot. From oysters to tacos, dozens of stalls and food carts are set up with fresh produce, artisan goods and delicious treats. Come early for the tour every Tuesday and Saturday at 12 p.m.