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San Francisco Walking Tours

This City is Made to be Seen on Foot, Get Ready to Explore It.


From the back alleys of Chinatown to the hidden garden stairways of Telegraph Hill, the murals of the Mission District to the historic Victorians of the Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco is packed with lovely details that can only really be appreciated on foot. The good news is there are tons of organized walking tours of the city, many of them run by non-profit organizations, that take you deep into the real San Francisco and its fascinating history.

1. The San Francisco City Guides

Image Courtesy of the San Francisco City Guides
This large volunteer-run organization offers free walking tours of almost every major San Francisco neighborhood and historic landmark, from gold-plated City Hall to the off-the-beaten path west end of Golden Gate Park. Guides are experts in their field who really enjoy what they are doing and this should be the first place you check for the walking tour of San Francisco that you are interested in.
SF Public Library, 100 Larkin Street (415)557-4466 www.sfcityguides.org

2. Chinatown Alleyway Tours

Photo by Ocean Malandra
Go way beyond the tourist trinket shops of Chinatown into the real life of Chinatown's residents, many of whom live a traditional lifestyle right in the heart of one of America's most modern cities. Visit herb shops, where many residents come first with health problems. Tour the many community centers, Taoist temples and hidden plazas where Chinatown's citizens gather to socialize, play games and gossip. Chinatown Alleyway Tours are led by young guides who grew up in San Francisco's Chinatown themselves, making this a true insider's adventure.

3. The Barbary Coast Trail Walking Tour

Image Courtesy of the Barbary Coast Trail
This 3.8 mile trail is permanently marked into the streets of San Francisco by 170 bronze medallions that highlight important San Francisco historical sites, from the original Pony Express headquarters to the site of the first Asian temple in the US. The trail begins in downtown and then winds through neighborhoods like Chinatown, North Beach and the historic waterfront before ending at Fisherman's Wharf. Visitors can navigate the trail on their own with the help of a trail guide available at most San Francisco bookstores or they can download an audio-tour by the trail creator Daniel Bacon, who is also available to lead group tours if booked in advance.
(415) 454-2355 www.barbarycoasttrail.org

4. Precita Eyes Mission Murals Walking Tour

Image Courtesy of Precita Eyes
San Francisco's Mission District has long been a bastion of Latin culture as well as progressive politics, a potent mixture that has brought some of the most inspired massive public murals to its streets this side of Mexico City. The non-profit Precita Eyes Muralists project, which was founded in 1977, not only supports this art form by helping emerging muralists and funding new public projects but it leads walking tours of these colorful and often poignant living art pieces several times a week.
Visitors Center and Gallery 2981 4th Street, (415) 285-2287 www.precitaeyes.org

5. The Dashiell Hammet Walking Tour

Image Courtesy of Don Herron
This four-hour tour of downtown San Francisco, Nob Hill and the Tenderloin area is a mystery buffs dream come true. Check out locations from Hammet's famous books including the Maltese Falcon, follow in the footsteps of Sam Spade and get a real in-depth history of the mean streets of San Francisco from a local's perspective. Started in the 1970s by mystery buff and writer Don Herron, this tour is now the longest running literary tour in the country.

6. Rick Evan's San Francisco Architecture Walking Tour

Photo by Ocean Malandra
This two hour tour of downtown San Francisco focuses on architecturally outstanding buildings and their features, like rooftop gardens and public works of art. Led by local architecture expert Rick Stevens himself, this tour also explores the history and impact of San Francisco's earthquakes including the city's efforts to rebuild itself after the massive quake and fires of 1906
(415)264-8824 www.architecturesf.com

7. Foot! Comedy Walking Tours of San Francisco

Image Courtesy of Foot! Walking Tours
Led by working comedians from San Francisco's booming little comedy scene, Foot! offers several different walking tours that focus on a particular area of San Francisco culture. The Flashback walking tour of the Haight-Ashbury visits castle-like Victorians and all the major hang-outs of the hippie era, while the Full Explosure Tour explores the adults-only history of North Beach's famous bordellos and strip clubs.
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