Washington Square (credit: Randy Yagi)

With an abundance of tour operators in San Francisco, visitors can enjoy everything from a chocolate lover’s tour to a tour of Alcatraz Island. But many of the finest tours showcase some aspect of the city that even residents may not be aware of. Many of the most interesting tours available in the City By the Bay are absolutely free. Here are five of San Francisco’s best guided tours, even for locals.

Avital Tours
3543 18th St.
San Francisco, CA
(415) 355-4044

What makes Avital stand out as a foodie tour operator for locals is one revealing statement on its official website – “Our walking tours are built by locals for locals.” Led by Avital Ungar, a San Francisco native and certified sommelier, the foodie tour business offers fascinating tours to three of the most popular neighborhoods in the city – the Mission District, North Beach and Haight Ashbury – in addition to a craft cocktail tour around Union Square, private food tours and team building corporate tours. Guests have the opportunity to taste a variety of flavorful dishes with an optional alcohol pairing, as well as a chance to meet talented chefs, restaurant owners and other foods industry experts. Featured in several national media outlets including CNN, the Travel Channel and Fodor’s, Avital has a perfect rating on Yelp and is one of the top-rated things to do on Trip Advisor.

(credit: Randy Yagi)

Best Bay Area Tours
2267 39th Ave.
San Francisco, CA  94116
(415) 543-8687

This recommended tour operator not only offers trips around San Francisco, it also offers trips to the California Wine Country, Monterey-Carmel and Yosemite National Park. Some of these tours can be particularly appealing, such as the Muir Woods and Wine Tour for under $95 and the Sonoma-Napa Wine Tour for $100, which are about $20 less than what other local operators typically charge. Another great bargain is the all-day Yosemite trip, which includes round-trip transportation, admission to Yosemite National Park and five hours to explore one of the most beautiful places on Earth for just $130.

(credit: Randy Yagi)

San Francisco City Guides
San Francisco Public Library
100 Larkin St.
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 557-4256

Sponsored by the San Francisco Public Library, City Guides leads free history and architectural walking tours year round, rain or shine. Led by a legion of trained volunteers, multiple tours are offered daily, with a much larger schedule on weekends. Among the many intriguing tours are “1906: Earthquake and Fire,” “Historic Market Street” and “Billionaire’s Row: Outer Broadway.” No advance reservations are required but groups of eight or more are requested to book a special tour several weeks in advance.

(credit: Randy Yagi)

The Dashiell Hammett Tour
San Francisco Public Library
100 Larkin St.
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 557-4400

Locals will love this journey back into San Francisco history from tour guide Don Herron to explore the life of novelist Dashiell Hammett and iconic fictional characters from his acclaimed works. Arguably the city’s most famous novelist, Hammett brought to life Sam Spade, the fictional private detective immortalized in the 1930 novel “The Maltese Falcon,” and Nick and Nora Charles, the fictional detective couple from the 1934 novel “The Thin Man.” During the 1920s, Hammett lived in an apartment at 891 Post Street in the city’s Tenderloin district and like his favorite hangout, John’s Grill, are some of the fascinating locations Herron will guide his guests through in the longest-running literary tour in the country.

Chinatown (credit: Randy Yagi)

Wok Wiz
750 Kearny St.
San Francisco, CA 94111
(650) 355-9657

Founded by the late Shirley Fong-Torres, Wok Wiz has educated and entertained visitors with some of the tastiest food in Chinatown and North Beach for more than 25 years. The business is now operated by daughter Tina and offers three public tours, including the very popular “I Can’t Believe I Ate My Way Through Chinatown! Tour,” which features an authentic Chinese breakfast, a tea presentation and hosted lunch. If the name Fong-Torres sounds familiar to locals, it’s because Shirley’s brother is Ben Fong-Torres, the award-winning journalist was one of the earliest writers for Rolling Stone Magazine and interviewed several legendary stars, such as Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Marvin Gaye and Paul McCartney and a long time writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Shirley Fong-Torres, who passed away in 2011, was a regular guest on the Food Channel, History Channel and the Discovery Channel and frequently appeared in print media, including the New York Times, Gourmet and Bon Appetit.

Randy Yagi is a freelance writer covering all things San Francisco. In 2012, he was awarded a Media Fellowship from Stanford University. His work can be found on Examiner.com Examiner.com.