San Francisco’s best walking tours – from foodie adventures to hippie haunts

What’s the best way to explore San Fransisco?

Taking into consideration San Francisco’s notoriously steep city streets, nine of which feature a grade of 24 percent or more, you might think that the best way to explore the city is through the comfort of a cable car or rental sedan.

Unfortunately, cable cars aren’t intended for large tourist groups and families, and good luck trying to find a parking spot downtown after 10 a.m. If you really want to experience San Francisco, your best bet is to put on a pair of comfortable shoes and join one of the city’s many walking tours.

Here are a handful of the best walking tours in San Francisco, many of which offer amazing rates and several chances to rest your weary feet.

Free City Guide Tours

If you’re not thrilled with the idea of paying for what is basically a long walk led by someone that knows where he or she is going, City Guide Tours is for you. This nonprofit program hosts tours led by knowledgeable, passionate volunteers who enjoy showing off their city. A variety of scheduled tours run 52 weeks a year and highlight many of San Francisco’s well-known and lesser-explored areas, including the Golden Gate Bridge, Nob Hill, North Beach and the Sutro Forest. Visit Citywide’s website for specific dates and times.

Don Herron’s Mystery-Inspired Tour

Film noir and pulp-fiction enthusiasts shouldn’t miss one of Don Herron’s infamous tours of San Francisco. The walking tour is centered around the works of Dashiell Hammett, author of “The Maltese Falcon,” and stops at many of Hammett’s favorite haunts. In an authentic touch, Herron himself dons a fedora and trench coat– the signature look of character Sam Spade, made famous by Humphrey Bogart in the film– as he explores the local sites that inspired “The Maltese Falcon.” The tour is a modest $10 and lasts nearly four hours, making it one of the best deals in this otherwise expensive city.

Foodie Tour

Walking is a low-impact, effective way to burn off those pesky extra calories you consumed during breakfast. But get ready to pack on a few pounds when you embark on the Local Tastes of the City Tour through San Francisco. Hosted by chef and author Tom Medin, the tour is an epicurean’s delight, not to mention the best way to discover how to bake sourdough bread at home. Once again, the tours vary depending on the day, but rest-assured you’ll never head back to the hotel hungry after exploring the city with Tom Medin. Adults pay $59 for this foodie tour, which includes food and drinks.

Comedy Walking Tours

For a tour with a more comedic twist, enlist the services of the Foot! Comedy Walking Tours. The tours are run by seasoned comics who combine their love of the city with an unparalleled enjoyment of poking fun at its art, architecture and most famous citizens. The Foot! hosts tours throughout the city, but if you can only participate in one, definitely check out the group’s walking exploration of the Haight/Ashbury district. The district has undergone many changes over the years. Once a haven for women of the night, the Haight/Ashbury section of San Francisco is probably best-known for its 1960s counterculture inhabitants. Don’t forget to ask the tour guide to point out the former home of Janis Joplin and stop into many of the shops that still feel like their trapped in a psychedelic time warp. This “Flashback” tour costs $30 for 2 hours.

Tips for taking a walking tour of San Francisco

Traverse the crooked, complicated streets of San Francisco and you’ll quickly realize this city is like no other on the planet. With that in mind, here are a few suggestions to get you through your first walking tour of San Francisco:

  • Do Not Worry about Making a Fashion Statement – Please, leave that adorable pair of Dior heels in the suitcase and slip on a pair of comfortable walking shoes.
  • Prepare for the Weather – San Francisco’s weather is notoriously unpredictable, and many walking tours won’t stop because it’s raining. If there’s rain in the forecast, bring an umbrella and a coat.
  • Price the Tours Before Committing – There are dozens of companies offering tour groups throughout San Francisco. Before you get your heart set on exploring a certain area, check several companies’ availabilities and pricing.

Finally, it cannot be emphasized enough that San Francisco is an expensive city. When finalizing your flight, rental car and San Francisco hotel, book at least six months in advance and bundle, bundle, bundle. With a little patience, persistence and flexibility, it’s possible to have your dream vacation in San Francisco without draining your savings account.

Have you explored San Francisco on foot?

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