San Francisco, SF, The City or however you want to call it (anything except the tourist misrepresentation ‘San Fran’) is one of the most visited cities in all the United States. Each year this small seven by seven mile area packs in nearly 20 million visitors coming from all over the world, trying to get a taste of this hip, groovy, tech driven, historical and culturally diverse city.
In a city so small it’s hard to believe San Francisco has been able to pack in so many exciting attractions, delicious restaurants, hip bars and historical wonders, but it does. It does it so well that most people don’t just visit San Francisco once, as this magical city has a certain draw that evokes a return visit to see all the most prolific and hidden attractions.
From the awe inspiring Golden Gate Bridge to the timeless cable cars; the iconic dragons that guard the entrance to Chinatown to the seaside wonders at Fisherman’s wharf; the fabulous nightlife in the Castro to the edgy hipsters around the Mission. San Francisco has something for everyone, you just need to know how to take advantage of it. And one of the best ways to do that is by simply walking around San Francisco and seeing what you find!
They say you never really understand a city until you’ve walked around it. I’m not sure who said it, but it makes sense and I’m sticking to it. When you’re traveling it can be easy to jet into a city, see the main sites and then jet off again. And while there’s nothing wrong with seeing a city’s main attractions, one of the best things about traveling is getting the opportunity to travel slow, learn the ins and outs and really get to know the places you visit.
Best Way to Explore San Francisco
While taking yourself on a self guided walking tour in San Francisco is always interesting, there’s nothing like exploring a city with an expert at your disposal. And with so much to offer in San Francisco, you really don’t want to miss a thing. That’s why finding the tour company that really focuses on your experience is key.
Few tour companies do this better than Context Travel, a company dedicated to small group tours for the intellectually curious. In 2017 Context Travel, who operate walking tours all over the world (from learning about Communist history in Budapest, to supporting responsible tour companies in Colombia), launched a series of compelling walking tours in San Francisco. Now you can experience everything this fantastic city has to offer knowing you’re getting expert insight from a local historian, professional or scholar.
Walking Tours in San Francisco
Among the San Francisco city tours on offer, a great place to start is with an introduction to the city. Start at the beginning, learning all about the first inhabitants, and work all the way through to contemporary times, covering the Gold Rush, Chinatown, North Beach, the Beat Generation and more. You’ll also get insider knowledge on how the history of the city continues to shape San Francisco today. For anyone new to the city it’s a great way to acquaint yourself with San Francisco’s unique history over a leisurely 3 hour walking tour. It’ll get you prepared and excited to explore more, as well as give you your bearings for taking in the City by the bay.
If you’re into art, both classic and contemporary, you can check out one of Context Travel’s renowned San Francisco art tours. The SFMOMA tour takes you through the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, where you’ll get an appreciation for their extensive collection and the architecture that encloses it. The Art in the Park tour explores the de Young Museum and Japanese Tea Gardens, two iconic spaces within the gorgeous Golden Gate Park. Both of these tours are three hours long and pair you with a local art historian or artist.
Other tours on offer are a more detailed look into the famed Beat Generation that was prevalent in San Francisco during the 1950s. Literary legends like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg played a huge role in the rise of the beatnik and in this tour you’ll learn all about their struggles and triumphs during this revolutionary period of American culture.
If art and history isn’t your taste, and you literally want to taste the best that San Francisco has to offer, try the San Francisco food tour that takes you through the Ferry Building. Sample your way through local cuisines as you get a taste for homegrown Californian products and companies. During the tour your guide will be a local chef or food writer, so expect to get a complete break down all the products you come across.
Gaining a New Perspective on a City
For me, being a local to San Francisco, I enjoyed exploring the city from a new angle with the Architectural Place and Space tour. Led by a retired San Francisco city planner, this tour offered a unique perspective by showcasing the different styles of city architecture and how they fit into the broader context of the city. We walked around Market St and the surrounding areas, taking in the rise of the high rise and how larger corporate buildings are helping transform public spaces in the city.
It was interesting to note just how many fun and creative public spaces were situated all over the city, often with few people using them. Located on the top of tall office buildings, or at the bottom of high rises, public spaces in San Francisco can be found all over the city and utilized by residents and visitors alike.
After completing my San Francisco walking tours I was left with a new appreciation for a city that I’ve called my second home since 2012, a city I thought I knew pretty well until I got led around by an expert. This is one of the key benefits to booking a walking tour in San Francisco, or anywhere else in the world, through Context Travel. Beginners and first time visitors will marvel at their new encounters, and experienced veterans will be amazed at what they can still discover.