Full, or Half Day? Tour in San Francisco, "Everybody's Favorite City"
How do we decide...whether a half (usually 3- 4 hours), or a full-day (approx. 8 hours) itinerary will work best for us? Also useful for deciding priorities for your tour.
We begin each San Francisco tour by discussing your priorities since we cannot even drive by everythinglisted. Consider the following sites and how much time it takes onaverage to enjoy them. Keep in mind that there's traveltime between sites, that you may need a personal pit stop or two, that you may want to take or be in photos. When you add it all up, see if your sum is closer to 4, or to 8 hours. If closer to 8, including travel time between stops and time for photos, pit stops...lunch, then that's a full-day tour.
Why not just be spontaneous and add time as we go? Because sometimes A Friend in Town will have another tour scheduled for the same day, or your guide will have other plans. (We also offer an option for the unfortunate visitor who has only an evening-- say after a business meeting or a long lay-over between flights: our After Darktour.)
FYI many tour companies love to advertise long lists of attractions, many of which they point to as they drive by or mention in their commentary, but you don't get any meaningful time at these sites. For example, big buses are prohibited in the narrow, crowded streets of Chinatown, but their ads will list "Chinatown" among the attractions they imply that they visit--what they do is talk about it as they pass by. The "Crookedest Street" is also forbidden to most vehicles, but they'll point to it from several blocks away.
Lunch and,or Dinner[relevant only to our full-day tour] __quick sandwiches, salad, pizza (40 min) or leisurely at a restaurant with a view (90 min). You can end a half-day tour being dropped off at a restaurant (in San Francisco or Sausalito), or begin one (not later than 2 p.m.) after lunch.
Famous Attractions __Touring Alcatraz Island (2+ -3+ hours): is not included in any of our itineraries. Decide which dates and tour times best fit your availability, then go to the National Park Service's website (alcatrazcruises.com) and make your reservation as early as 3 months in advance...the tours fill quickly for the high season (late March to late October) and for holiday weeks. If you want to do a half-day San Francisco or Muir Woods tour with us on the same day as an Alcatraz tour, you should plan either to start your Alcatraz tour before 10 a.m. or after 1:30 p.m....after you've checked that we are also available. __Golden Gate Bridge: as seen from below (20 min) or as seen from above (more panoramic) (30 min) __Chinatown: drive through its two main thoroughfares (20 min) or walk into live-animal markets, the fortune cookie factory, a Taoist temple, bazaars (one hour). Or come back another time for a free or paid guided tour __drive down "The Crookedest Street" (15 min)…plus photo op (20 min) __The Haight (-Ashbury) neighborhood, its one-of-a-kind shops, excellent bookstore, tattoo parlors, thousand colorful Victorians, great people-watching (20-50 min) __The Castro neighborhood, a LGBTQ+ mecca & setting for the Oscar-winning film "Milk": where civil rights leader Harvey Milk lived and worked, great movie palace, GLBT history museum, its street activity (more fabulous on weekends) (10-40 min) Worthwhile, but Less Well Known __North Beach neighborhood, "Little Italy," once home to the Beatniks, lively Washington Square Park: drive through (20 min) or walk around (50 min)…with time to visit the new Porzuincola Chapel of St. Francis, a replica of the saint's burial place in Assisi, its colorful medieval murals (add 20 min) __Civic Center: its gigantic neoclassical City Hall & Opera House, modern Symphony Hall, Main Library, Asian Art Museum...drive around (10 min) __Mission Dolores church (the city's oldest building, completed in 1791 while we were still part of New Spain), its historic cemetery (30 min) __Grace Cathedralon Nob Hill, its un-usual stained-glass windows (including those dedicated to Einstein, Thurgood Marshall, John Glenn), its Chapel honoring the thousands lost to AIDS, "Gates of Paradise" bronze doors (30-40 min) __Palace of Fine Arts, a very picturesque Roman-style rotunda & colonnade next to a lagoon (15-20 min) __Pacific Heights neighborhood: multi-million-dollar mansions of some very fortunate residents, the "Mrs. Doubtfire" house, a grand staircase w/panoramic views (20 min) __The Presidio: more than 240 years of military history in a man-made forest, panoramic vistas, the Walt Disney Family museum, surprises from "Star Wars," much more (20-30 min) __FYI if you're an avid "Star Wars" fan, you may want to plan your visit around Rancho Obi-Wan, the world's largest, most comprehensive collection of "Star Wars" memorabilia. The museum is private and located about an hour's drive north of San Francisco, near Petaluma. We can get you there, but you'll have to arrange a tour with them directly on-line--several weeks in advance is recommended. (Plan for the tour plus travel there and back to take 4-5 hours.) Unfortunately, Rancho Obi-Wan is closed as of January '22, until further notice. __Murals (hundreds!, both political and purely artistic) in the Mission District neighborhood (20-40 min)
__Other unique attractions we'll not reveal to our competitors...a view near Twin Peaks without crowds, an internationally famous mosaic tile stairway, the City's best hiking trails, a Russian Orthodox cathedral built originally by a community in exile, historic beautiful synagogues, a haunted columbarium...more
Muir Woods, Sausalito __a walk creek-side in Muir Woods, an ancient and rare redwood forest, plus ride to and from (nearly 2 hours) __drive along Sausalito's picturesque waterfront (10 min), sample its shops (add 20)...view some of its over 400 'floating homes' (add another 20 min) __see a little publicized part of our wild coastline (20 min) __view the City, Bay & Bridges from the Marin Headlands (20 min) or Cavallo Point or Fort Point __visit an unique marine mammal hospital…if there are "patients" (usually sea lion pups, harbor seals, sometimes elephant seals) on view (at least 45 minutes); unfortunately, the Marine Mammal Center is closed for renovations until further notice (January '22).
Famous Vistas __famous "Painted Ladies"/“Full House” Victorian homes: photo stop (15-20 min) __Twin Peaks: panoramic view of the City & Bay (25 min) __panoramic view of the City from below Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill (20 min) __Treasure Island, looking towards the San Francisco skyline and the newly iconic BayBridge...spectacular during the day but even more at night...plus a giant Burning Man sculpture (30 min)
By the Ocean __Golden Gate Park, an urban forest larger than NYC's Central Park: drive through (20 min)…with visit to Japanese Tea Garden or Conservatory of Flowers, etc. (more than an hour) __stop at site popular with hang-gliders (if the wind's right), and City's most popular off-leash dog run (40 min)
Worthwhile, but best experienced On Your Own--unless you have limited mobility __highly recommended! Ride on a cable car (40 min. to an hour, including wait in line) __Fisherman's Wharf incl. sea lion colony at Pier 39 (2-3 hours) __Art Exhibits at Museums: DeYoung, Asian, African Diaspora, Modern Art, Contemporary Jewish, Cartoon Art, the New Deal era murals inside Coit Tower [See them with San Francisco City Guides ] __the Walt Disney Family Museum, a masterfully executed tribute to the animation pioneer (90 min plus) __The Exploratorium especially its Tactile Dome, the California Academy of Sciences especially its Living Roof, Earthquake simulating exhibit, actual rainforest, and planetarium (3-4+ hours each), the Musee Mechanique featuring coin-operated entertainment from generations ago (40 min) __tres elegant Garden Court dining room in the historic Palace Hotel (15 min)
…[Tour the Palace with San Francisco City Guides, local volunteer guides who love our City (2 hours); they offer about 30 different walking tours: see their website] __Cable Car Museum (30 min) __the Tonga Room (a perfectly preserved tiki bar) or the "Top of the Mark"--both famous watering holes with unique decor/views--the memorabilia & cuisine of the Big Four restaurant…all on Nob Hill __Japantown: historical museum, shops, restaurants (2-3 hours)...take a stroll inside __Oracle Park (home to San Francisco Giants) offering a guided tour year-round...except on game days All our tours are reserved on a first-come, first-served basis, and for our high season (April–October) often book months in advance.
(Header) Mural, Balmy Alley, San Francisco
More San Francisco Tours Our San Francisco tours present the city as an historic and multi-faceted urban landscape. If you want to learn even more about particular places in this 240-year-old metropolis, take the walking tours offered by San Francisco City Guides: these tours, led by trained volunteers, are free—though at the end you are encouraged to make a donation to support their work. Most City Guides tours are 90 minutes to two hours' long and offer in-depth looks at attractions, architecture, famous residents…Coit Tower's 27 murals showing California of the 1930s, historic Fisherman's Wharf (yes, there's more to it than overpriced souvenirs and Irish coffee), windswept Land's End (near The Cliff House), the Yerba Buena Arts Center, the Palace Hotel (an historical landmark and once the most luxurious in the nation), the new South Beach neighborhood (interesting public art), and haunts of the strange and notorious. cf. ourTop Ten Must-See Places in San Francisco.