San Francisco’s Best Tours

August 18, 2011 3:07 PM

San Francisco is a top destination for tourists from all over the world. But it hard to know where to start when visiting and touring the City by the Bay. Here’s a look at some of the top tours giving a unique look inside San Francisco, based on recommendations from Associated Press travel writers in recent years.

Escape To Alcatraz

Alcatraz Info:
Ferry Tickets: Alcatraz or (415) 981-7625.

Recollections by former prisoners and guards of daily life on “The Rock” are part of an updated audio tour. Listening to stories from inmates and guards while strolling through the cold, gray prison has long been part of the experience that draws that brings 1.3 million visitors to Alcatraz each year. There is no entrance fee for visiting Alcatraz, part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area — but you must buy round-trip tickets for the ferry, which departs daily from Alcatraz Landing at Pier 33, San Francisco (near Fisherman’s Wharf).

Insider’s Take On Chinatown

(415) 984-1478
Chinatown Alley Tours

Chinatown Alleyway Tours offer a two-hour glimpse of the otherwise clamorous neighborhood’s quieter corners. For $18 a head, you get to wander the labyrinth of back alleys with an expert guide providing some of the fare you’d expect — tales of long-gone opium dens, for example — and some you wouldn’t, like the barber shop where Frank Sinatra and Clint Eastwood once got their hair cut. And it’s all delivered with the personal, often edgy perspectives of an insider.


Flashbacks: Foot Tours or (415) 793-5378

“Flashback: A Mind-Blowing Trip Through Haight-Ashbury of the 1960s” is a comedian-led foot tour. On a typical tour of the Haight, the guide could be clad in a tie-dyed T-shirt while pointing out the pink Victorian that was the former home of Janis Joplin, paging through a notebook of psychedelic concert posters and vintage photos, and, best of all, playing archival music from a boom box slung over his shoulder.

Beat Walks In North Beach


Tour guide John Bilicska Jr., offers visitors a narrated tour through local Beatnik haunts, like Beat Generation writers Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady’s favorite bar, The Place. He also stops at the site where the Co-Existence Bagel Shop stood until 1960, a famous social center where jazz poet Bob Kaufman had regular run-ins with the San Francisco Police Department’s beatnik squad. On Bilicska’s tour, visitors can also see the North Beach home where writer Allen Ginsberg was living in 1955 when he penned most of “Howl.”

Citywide Free Walking Tours

(415) 557-4266
Citywide Free Walking Tours

A terrific resource in this city is a nonprofit program of free walking tours, led by volunteer guides with a passion for their subject matter. Sponsored by the San Francisco Public Library as a project of the Tides Center, the outings are offered 52 weeks a year, nearly every day, and span the gamut from familiar subjects (Chinatown, North Beach, the Golden Gate Bridge, Nob Hill) to more obscure ones (Sutro Forest, the murals of Coit Tower, art deco in the Marina).

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