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San Francisco Guided Walking Tours

by Cyndy Ainsworth

Even with all the hills in San Francisco, the best way to see the city is to walk. Only on foot can you see the intricate woodwork on a lovely old Victorian house in the Western Addition or smell the aroma of tomatoes and garlic in North Beach or hear the animated conversations in the crowded Chinatown markets. If you're ready to hit the pavement but you'd like someone to help you get the most out of your journey, you may want to contact one of the many people who give organized walking tours. These people are ready and eager to help you become better acquainted with both well-known landmarks and little nooks and crannies.

One of the most complete sets of walking tours of the city is available through City Guides, a program sponsored by the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library. City Guides offers over 20 different tours covering all parts of the city, from Telegraph Hill to Sutro Heights and from the Fire Department Museum to the City Scapes and Roof Gardens of the Financial District. Most of the tours are on Saturday and Sunday, although some are during the week; they're led by volunteers who love the city and love to talk about it, and they're free.

A walking tour through Chinatown gives you an opportunity to learn about both food and culture, and most of the tour companies combine their visits to the various shops and landmarks of this fascinating neighborhood with a delicious dim sum lunch. The tours by Shirley Fong-Torres and her Wok Wiz Chinatown Adventure Tours and by Ruby Tom of Glorious Food Culinary Walktours are especially strong on the culinary side, as both woman are professional chefs. The Chinese Culture Foundation also offers walking tours, a morning culinary tour with lunch and an afternoon heritage walk that focuses on the community's cultural achievements and history.

North Beach is a food lover's paradise, and both Ruby Tom (Glorious Food Culinary Walktours) and GraceAnn Walden can help you find the best ravioli, salami, and cappuccino while also telling you about the neighborhood's heritage. Ruby is also working on a tour of the rapidly developing South Embarcadero area near the Ferry Building, including the fabulous Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market, one of the best places in town for fresh produce and other gourmet goodies.

You can also tour North Beach with Elaine Sosa's Javawalks. While the focus is on coffeehouses and San Francisco coffee heritage, Elaine also includes tidbits on the cable cars and other items of historical interest. Elaine is a knowledgeable and entertaining tour guide, and the coffee is great.

If you want to learn more about the magnificent mansions of Pacific Heights, try the Sunday afternoon Heritage Walks given by the Foundation for San Francisco's Architectural Heritage. Other neighborhood tours include the Haight Ashbury Flower Power Walking Tour, which covers both the Victorian architecture of the Haight and its role as the headquarters of the hippie movement, and Cruisin' the Castro, which takes you through the heart of San Francisco's gay community.

Most of these walking tours are organized to avoid hills as much as possible.

San Francisco's Mission District has become known for the colorful murals that decorate many of the buildings. For an understanding of the role of the mural in Latino culture, take the Precita Eyes Mural Arts Center's walking tour. Tours are led by experienced muralists who create these striking outdoor paintings.

In addition to the regularly scheduled tours, there are several people who do chartered tours for groups by request. One such guide is Jim Riggs of San Francisco Strolls. Jim has been walking the streets of San Francisco since he was ten years old, he knows the city well, and he has lots of good San Francisco stories to tell as he helps you discover the sights, sounds and smells of the city. He has put together twenty-six different strolls that cover all parts of the city, and if none of those quite suits you, he's happy to put together a walk that will.

Another source for customized tours is Jay Gifford and his Victorian Home Walks. Like Jim Riggs, Jay has turned what started as pleasure tours for visiting friends and family into a business. He can tell you about well-known city landmarks, but he can also take you to places only the locals go. Jay developed a great tour and lowered the price and invited more people to participate (the group size averages about 4).He can also put together an itinerary based on your personal interests, so every tour is different.

The Haunted Haight Walking Tour
(415) 863-1416

This evening journey is through the "otherside" of San Francisco's most famous neighborhood.
The tour starts in front of PlanetWeavers Treasure Store - 1573 Haight Street (cross street is Clayton.)
Your host is an experienced ghost enthusiast and local resident. Hear macabre tales of the past, discover the many ghosts, witches and infamous legends of Haight-Ashbury.  The tour includes a companion guidebook with map, flashlight and spooky goodie-bag!  The cost is only $20 per person and advance tickets are required.  Visit http://www.hauntedhaight.com to get your tickets today! 

My Taste of the Mission
(510) 333-4457

Scheduled Monday-Saturday 10:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
Participants learn about the Mission district from a culinary-cultural perspective. We start at the Mission Church San Francisco de Asis, better known as Mission Dolores, the oldest building in San Francisco. From there we visit 6 different family run stores. At our first stop people learn about corn and it's significance in the Mesoamerican culture; the ways different people use it for making tortillas, tamales, appetizerds and drinks.

We visit a supermarket. There I teach participants about unusual fruits, vegetables, imported groceries and staples. We dedicate some time to learn about different kinds of chiles.

We have a delicious lunch before we go on to visit a butcher shop, a music store and a bakery. We also spend some time looking at some of the beautiful murals and understanding their meaning. Before the end of the tour, we visit an important gallery where local artist show their works periodically.

The cost of the tour is $ 48.00, which includes lunch and taste samples.

Agustin Gaytan
1500 68th Avenue
Oakland,CA 94621
e-mail: gaytan@earthlink.net




All About Chinatown
(415) 982-8839
Leaves from 812 Clay at 10 a.m. daily
Lasts 2 hours plus lunch
$35 with dim sum lunch, $25 without lunch
Reservations required

Chinese Culture Foundation
(415) 986-1822
Chinese Heritage Walk
Leaves from the Holiday Inn at 750 Kearny Street Saturdays at 2:00 p.m.
Lasts two hours
$15 adults, $5 children under 18
Reservations requested
Chinese Culinary Walk/Luncheon
Leaves from the Holiday Inn at 750 Kearny Street Fridays at 10:30 am
$30 adults, $15 children under 12
Minimum of 6 people
Reservations required

City Guides
(415) 557-4266
Extensive set of tours throughout the city. Brochure with current schedule available at the Main Library or at the Visitors' Center at Hallidie Plaza.
Tours typically last 1 to 2 hours and take place rain or shine
No reservations needed

Cruisin' the Castro
(415) 550-8110
Tour leaves Harvey Milk Plaza at Castro Street Muni Station Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m.
Lasts 4 hours
$35 (includes brunch)
Reservations required

Haight Ashbury Flower Power Walking Tour
(415) 863-1621
Tuesday and Saturdays at 9:30 a.m.
Lasts 2 hours
Reservations required

Glorious Food Culinary Walktours
Ruby Tom
(415) 441-5637
Daily at 9:30 a.m.
Lasts 4 hours
$35 with dim sum lunch
Reservations required
North Beach
Daily at 9:30 a.m.
Lasts 3 hours
$30 (includes cappuccino and biscotti)
Reservations required
South Embarcadero/Ferry Plaza Market
Saturdays at 9:00 a.m.
Lasts 2 to 2 1/2 hours
$20 (includes snack at Ferry Plaza Market)
Reservations required
Evening walking tours of either North Beach or Chinatown with dinner are available by special arrangement.

GraceAnn Walden

Mangia! North Beach
Leaves from Stockton and Columbus at 10 AM, call for dates
Lasts about five and a half hours
$75, includes lunch and one glass of wine, tastes, recipe booklet
Reservations required
Email gaw@sbcglobal.net for more information.
(415) 302-5898

Nob Hill Tour
Secrets and Tastes of Nob Hill is a walking tour,
which includes the history of the prominent families
who built their mansions on the Hill and a tour of
Grace Cathedral. We enjoy a wine tasting at the
Fairmont, a trip to the Top of the Mark where we learn
the history and munch on chocolates and conclude with
lunch at the Big 4 and dessert at the Ritz Carlton -
$90. 11am--4 pm.  
We meet on California Street in front of the Grace
Cathedral Gift Shop, near Taylor OR if it is drizzling
inside near the Peet's coffee cart. Parking on Nob
Hill is expensive - $22 at Grace Cathedral.
Email gaw@sbcglobal.net for more information.
(415) 302-5898


Architectural Heritage Walks
(415) 441-3004
Pacific Heights Walking Tour
Leaves the Haas-Lilienthal House every Sunday at 12:30 p.m.
Lasts about two hours
$8 adults, $5 seniors and children under 12
No reservations required

They also offer 4 different walking tours on the first 4 Saturdays of every month, at 1:30, 3 of which start (but don’t end) at the Haas-Lilienthal House.  (Only the one starting elsewhere requires a reservation.)    In addition, the hours for the Haas-Lilienthal House (SF’s only Victorian house museum!) are:  Wednesdays & Saturdays 12-3, and Sundays 11-4.   Price for House tours is the same as for walks, and that tour lasts about an hour   Info for all can be found on our website, www.sfheritage.org, or by calling the info number you show. 

Helen's Walk Tour
(510) 524-4544
the Grand Tour (combines several neighborhoods)
Tours depart from the lobby of St. Francis Hotel
Tours last two hours, except Grand Tour is 3 1/2 hours
Must have at least four people in your group
Reservations required

(415) 673-WALK
Reservations are required.
Regular tour days are Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.
Tours begin at 10 am and last 2 - 2 1/2 hours.
Alternate dates and times can be arranged for groups, by appointment only.

Cost for adults is $25, and $10 for kids 12 and under.
Tours begin in front of the Hotel Triton on Grant Avenue at Bush Street.

Click here to visit the website.
E-mail Collette Rowland at javagirl@javawalk.com

Victorian Home Walk
(415) 252-9485
Private customized walking tours. Can include landmarks, neighborhoods, hotel lobbies, beaches, coffee houses, and more.
Meeting location: St Francis Hotel on Union Square (in lobby)
Time: 11AM Daily. Tour length: 2 1/2 hours
Price: $20 per person.

Precita Eyes Mural Center
(415) 285-2287
Murals of the Mission District
Leaves the Mural Center, 348 Precita at Folsom, every Saturday at 1:30 p.m.
Lasts 2 hours
Costs $5, $4 seniors, $1 ages 11 and under
No reservations needed, call for tour details
The Mural Center also has a brochure for a self-guided tour for $1.

San Francisco Strolls
(415) 282-7924
Charter tours for groups of six or more
Twenty-six different strolls through different parts of the city
Tours last 2 1/2 hours, end with an optional no host meal
$20 per person
Reservations required

415. 981. 8989
Tours leave from the headquarters of WOK WIZ, 654 Commercial St., daily at 10:00 a.m.
Tours with dim sum lunch: $40 per person, ends around 1:15 p.m.
Tours without lunch: $28 per person, ends at 12:00 noon
Reservations are REQUIRED
Cash, travelers/personal/business checks only

Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

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