San Francisco is a town full of iconic locations that everybody knows of. You pay a bunch of money to go on a bog standard tour of the city that may get you some nice photos, but almost no actual knowledge of the city and it’s history. If you’re looking for deep insight and lore, you might want to check out San Francisco City Guides. They provide walking tours of the city that may show you something the other companies can’t provide you.
The walking tours were started in 1978 by Friends of the San Francisco Public Library. From humble beginnings, the tours are now run year-round as a non-profit. The tours are very intimate, normally only drawing about 20 people, and they can be completed in just about 2 hours. Sorry, no dogs allowed. The tours are completely free and there is no ticket or reservation required. You just need to find the tour you want and show up where you need to be. Many San Francisco hotels keep paper copies of the brochures in their lobbies. Tours are available by topic and lend well to a world where hashtags and keywords are commonplace. For example, Alfred Hitchcock, “bawdy and naughty”, Art Deco, etc. In all there are about 70 tour topics, giving you plenty of options of places to go and see.
The Billionaire’s Row tour starts outside Dianne Feinstein’s home on Lyon Street, heads to the prestigious Pacific Heights neighborhood and stops outside the homes of Oracle CEO Larry Ellison. It ends in an 1895 church sanctuary, giving you the opulence of high wealth and the spiritual wealth of church architecture.
Another popular tour is the Haight-Ashbury walk. Sure it might be good to be a Deadhead, but the tour goes deeper into the history of the neighborhood and doesn’t just dwell on the Summer of Love. Prepare to travel back to the 50’s and learn about how the streets actually got their name. How the once affluent area fell on hard times, which allowed the younger, poorer bohemians to move in and make camp.
Volunteers are loaded with current and historical information. Most of them bring along photos that add value to the verbal information they are imparting. Donations are welcome, but not required. The walking tours are a prime example of how sometimes, the best things in life really are free.