San Francisco City Guide

By: Amy Westervelt

San Francisco Organized Tours Overview

©2006 P. Fuszard The prison at Alcatraz Island was isolated and nearly impossible to escapefrom -- as movie buffs know from seeing The Rock and Escape from Alcatraz.If you take the prison tour, you'll learn about real-life prison-break attempts.

Although San Francisco is a fairly easy city to get around in and major attractions are well marked, the city becomes 10 times more interesting when you know its stories.

One of the best ways to hear them is through a free library-sponsored walking tour. Choose a tour that interests you (there are dozens of options, focusing on everything from churches to San Francisco's seedy underbelly), or take more than one. The tours last one to two hours, so they don't require a huge time commitment, and there are no reservations required unless you have a group of eight or more. Just show up on the specified corner at the specified time.


If you're staying at one of the nearly 20 Joie de Vivre boutique hotels, hotel staff will set you up with a "Golden Gate Greeter," your own personal local tour guide who will take you on a private tour to introduce you to the city, compliments of the hotel.

Tours of the Bay are available from a variety of operators, including one that offers dinner cruises. It's worth taking the tour at Alcatraz, and joining one of the tours on Angel Island if you visit, as both places have very interesting histories that go far beyond what most people think they know about them.  

A number of operators also offer city tours with various focal points (history, food, architecture), and there are GPS-guided carts available along Fisherman's Wharf for visitors who want to tour on their own schedule.

Otherwise, the best way to get to know the city is to walk around and to talk to people. Many of the people here now have lived here their whole lives and have more than a couple of good stories to tell if you're willing to listen.

After a busy day walking around the city and hearing its stories, you'll need a place to call home -- if only for a day or two. San Francisco's accommodations range from five-star luxury hotels on Nob Hill to bed and breakfasts in Pacific Heights. For more on hotels in San Francisco, check out the next page.