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Whether by air, by bike, by boat, by bus or even by vintage Volkswagen, there are so many different ways to take in the beauty of San Francisco and experience its top attractions. To help you decide which method is right for you, U.S. News compiled 16 of the city’s top tours, considering traveler sentiment and expert opinion. Foodies, history buffs, adventurers and everyone in between will find a tour on this list.
Red and White Fleet – Bridge 2 Bridge Cruise
Price: Adults from $48; kids from $36
Duration: 1.5 hours
Take in San Francisco’s two most famous bridges on this 90-minute boat trip through San Francisco Bay. In addition to sailing beneath both the Bay Bridge and Golden Gate Bridge, tourgoers will see Alcatraz Island, Palace of Fine Arts and the city skyline, among other landmarks. Red and White Fleet provides an audio guide available in 16 different languages that details the city’s history. Reviewers say they enjoy the views, the helpful commentary, and the clean and comfortable boats. They recommend wearing layers – especially on evening tours – because it gets chilly on the water.
Tours run daily, year-round. You can hop on a boat in the morning and the afternoon, but exact times vary by day and time of year. Cruises depart from Fisherman’s Wharf. Tickets start at $48 for adults and $36 for youths ages 5 to 17. Children 4 and younger can ride for free, but require a ticket. Short on time? Red and White Fleet also offers an hourlong Golden Gate Bay Cruise, among other tours.
Vantigo – San Francisco City Tours
Price: Adults from $95; kids from $65
Duration: 3 hours
Instead of a traditional tour bus, Vantigo transports up to seven passengers in a vintage Volkswagen van to see all the city has to offer. The three-hour tour highlights 15 points of interest, with plenty of opportunities for photos and views of Haight-Ashbury, North Beach, Twin Peaks and more. Reviewers love the Volkswagen, which they say is roomy and comfortable, and describe the guides as fun and informative.
Tours generally leave Thursday through Saturday and Monday once or twice daily. You can board at either Fisherman’s Wharf or Union Square. Tickets start at $95 per adult or $65 per child ages 5 to 11. Children 4 and younger are not permitted on public tours. Combo tours to Alcatraz are also available, as are brewery tours.
Seaplane Adventures – Alcatraz & City Sites Seaplane Tour
Price: From $239
Duration: 20 minutes
After you’ve walked the city streets and sailed the bay’s waters, your next step should be an air tour. On this 15- to 20-minute flight from Seaplane Adventures, you’ll fly over downtown and above Alcatraz and Angel Island before landing in Sausalito’s Richardson Bay. Reviewers describe the trip as amazing and one of the best activities they did while visiting San Francisco.
Tickets start at $239 per person and tours depart Friday through Monday in the afternoon. Seaplane Adventures conducts several other air tours, including a 45-minute Greater Bay Area Tour.
San Francisco Love Tours – The Love Tour
Price: From $85
Duration: 2 hours
Drive through the city in a classic Volkswagen hippie bus during this two-hour tour. As you drive around to sites like Lombard Street and Golden Gate Park, you’ll hear all about San Francisco history and listen to music. You’ll also make two stops for photos to capture the Golden Gate Bridge and the city skyline. Reviewers rave about the knowledgeable guides and the nostalgic music choices.
Tours, which start and end near Fisherman’s Wharf, are generally available daily at 8:30 and 11 a.m. as well as 2 and 5 p.m. The van can accommodate up to seven passengers. Tickets start at $85 per person. Children 4 and younger are only permitted on private tours. The company also runs a night tour.
Eat your way through North Beach with Local Tastes of the City Tours.(Getty Images)
Local Tastes of the City Tours – Tastes of Little Italy: North Beach San Francisco Food Tour
Price: Adults from $74; kids from $25
Duration: 3 hours
According to reviewers, this tour is a must for food and history lovers thanks to experienced guides who are engaging storytellers. Along the three-hour tour, you’ll explore up to 10 blocks of North Beach (or “Little Italy”). Samples of the neighborhood’s best pizza, pastries, coffee, chocolates and more are all included in the cost of the tour. Travelers say the portions are generous and recommend arriving to the tour hungry.
Tours are generally offered daily at 10:30 a.m. with an additional 2:30 p.m. tour available on select days. Tickets cost approximately $75 for adults, $50 for youths ages 8 to 13 and $25 for children ages 2 to 7; infants 1 and younger can tag along for free. Still hungry? Consider the company’s Chinatown tours.
Big Bus San Francisco Hop-On Hop-Off Tour
Price: Adults from $65; kids from $55
Duration: 2 hours
If you’re looking for a convenient way to visit the city’s top attractions in one day, this hop-on, hop-off tour may be just the ticket. Big Bus lets riders disembark at any of its stops, explore the area and catch another bus when they’re ready. Big Bus operates every 30 minutes and visits more than 20 locations, including Presidio Park, Chinatown, the Embarcadero and even includes a ride over the Golden Gate Bridge. The entire tour lasts a little more than two hours, if you don’t choose to disembark. All buses have open tops and prerecorded commentary available in 10 languages. Reviewers enjoy the educational commentary and the opportunity to drive over the Golden Gate Bridge in the open-top bus, but many warn that buses get crowded quickly.
If you buy your tickets online, pricing starts at approximately $65 per adult and $55 per child ages 3 to 12 for the classic one-day ticket. Big Bus San Francisco also offers night tours of the city, as well as upgraded tickets that include free bike rentals, passes to the U.S.S. Pampanito or tours of Muir Woods.
Electric Tour Company – Official Golden Gate Park Segway Tour
Price: Adults from $89; kids from $68
Duration: 2.5 hours
Riding a Segway can be a fun and expedient way to see a number of top attractions in a short amount of time. The Electric Tour Company offers you a chance to see dozens of sights in the iconic Golden Gate Park in the span of 2 1/2 hours, visiting the Conservatory of Flowers, the Shakespeare Garden, the California Academy of Sciences and Stow Lake along the way. The tour begins with a 30-minute training for first-time riders. All riders must be at least 12 years old and weigh between 100 and 275 pounds. Reviewers praise their guides, who they say are helpful and descriptive, and say the Segways as easy to ride.
Tours are offered daily at 10:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. year-round. From June to August, there are additional 11:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. tours Friday to Sunday. Tickets start at $89 per adult and $68 per youth ages 12 to 17. The company also runs private San Francisco tours.
Gray Line San Francisco – Muir Woods and Sausalito Tour
Price: Adults from $96; kids from $75
Duration: 5 hours
This roughly five-hour excursion from Gray Line San Francisco takes you to Muir Woods National Monument to see its beautiful redwood trees up close. After exploring the forest, the tour continues to Sausalito, a charming town across the bay full of waterfront dining, shopping and art galleries. To enjoy more time in Sausalito, you can opt to return to the city by ferry for an additional cost. Reviewers say the tour bus is comfortable (though some note recent issues with the air conditioning) and describe the driver as engaging and knowledgeable. Many recommend this tour if you do not want to navigate the traffic and parking headaches at Muir Woods.
Ticket prices start at $96 for adults and $75 for children ages 5 to 11 and include admission to Muir Woods National Monument. Gray Line offers a variety of day trips from San Francisco, including trips to Sonoma, Napa Valley and Monterey.
Bay City Bike Rentals and Tours – Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito
Price: Adults from $65; kids from $45
Duration: 2 to 3 hours
See San Francisco by bike on this tour that guides you from Fisherman’s Wharf to Sausalito. The trip takes two to three hours and covers 8 miles. After making your way along the waterfront, you’ll pedal across the Golden Gate Bridge, stopping for photo-ops along the way. At the conclusion of the tour, you can either bike your way back to the city or opt to take the ferry from Sausalito to San Francisco for an additional fee. Tourgoers say guides are friendly and informative and the sights are beautiful.
Tours are open to all ages. Ticket prices start at $65 for adults and $45 for children 11 and younger. From March through October, tours are available daily at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.; tours are available daily at 10 a.m. the rest of the year. The company also offers a Streets of San Francisco Electric Bike Tour, among other options.
See magnificent whales and the classic Golden Gate Bridge as you tour the San Francisco Bay with San Francisco Whale Tours.(Courtesy of San Francisco Whale Tours)
San Francisco Whale Tours – Golden Gate Whale Watch
Price: From $120
Duration: 2.5 hours
Head into San Francisco Bay to catch sight of some of the many whales that pass through its waters with San Francisco Whale Tours. On the 2 1/2-hour cruise, riders may see humpback or gray whales, harbor seals, dolphins, porpoises and seabirds. You’ll also get a view of the Golden Gate Bridge. The tour does not include food, though you can bring your own, and you should bring warm clothes, including jackets, hats and gloves. Many tourists report seeing both gray and humpback whales and describe the crew as very friendly.
Tickets start at $120 per person. The company offers its Golden Gate Whale Watch once or twice daily from spring through early fall.
Extranomical Tours – Yosemite National Park and Giant Sequoias Tour
Price: Adults from $209; kids from $187
Duration: 15 hours
Once you’ve gotten your fill of the city, trek to California’s incomparable natural wonders with a day trip to Yosemite National Park. On the approximately 15-hour tour, you’ll stop at Tuolumne Meadows to see the 2,000-year-old giant sequoia trees, then hit top stops like El Capitan, Yosemite Falls and Bridalveil Fall. Buses, which pick up from most hotels, are equipped with tour guides who provide commentary along the way. Tourgoers appreciate the information provided by the guides and rave about the scenery.
The trip departs every day of the year. Tickets start at $209 for adults and $187 for children 11 and younger if purchased online. Tickets do not include meals, but do cover the park entrance fee. Extranomical Tours offers a variety of city tours, as well as excursions to wine country and Monterey.
San Francisco Movie Tours – San Francisco Movie Sets & Locations Tour
Price: Adults from $67; kids from $44
Duration: 3 hours
Many movies and TV shows have been filmed in San Francisco, and this tour highlights all the top filming locations. Knowledgeable guides lead the interactive tour, which takes you to filming locations for productions such as “The Princess Diaries,” “Mrs. Doubtfire” and “Ant-Man.” Throughout the three-hour trip, you’ll see clips on big screens with surround sound of each movie or show as you arrive. Tourgoers describe it as a fun way to see the city and say guides are entertaining.
Tickets begin at $67 for adults, $44 for children ages 5 to 17 and $57 for seniors. Tours are generally offered daily at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., though availability may vary by month. San Francisco Movie Tours also leads a “Dirty Harry” tour, among others.
The Haunt Ghost Tours – San Francisco Ghost Tour
Price: From $49
Duration: 90 minutes
According to reviewers, The Haunt Ghost Tours’ outing is full of intriguing and spooky information told by engaging guides. The nighttime walking tour, which lasts up to 90 minutes, unveils the darker side of San Francisco history, including stories about Chinatown’s history, while you hunt for spirits along the way with EMF meters – devices used to measure electromagnetic fields.
Tours meet nightly (exact times depend on the season) in the Jackson Square Historic District. Trips traverse less than a mile of downtown. Tickets start at $49 per person; if you want to use one of the company’s EMF meters, you’ll pay a bit more. Though the tour covers topics like hauntings and ghosts, the company says it is family-friendly and kids 4 and older require a ticket. The company also operates ghost tours in Los Angeles and Temecula.
Dylan’s Famous Tour includes time in Muir Woods.(Getty Images)
Dylan’s Tours – Dylan’s Famous Tour with Muir Woods
Price: Adults from $99; kids from $79
Duration: 5 hours
If you’re hoping to see the best of the Bay Area in one day, consider this approximately five-hour excursion. You’ll travel by minibus to some of San Francisco’s most iconic neighborhoods and landmarks, including Chinatown, the Palace of Fine Arts and Billionaire’s Row. From there, you’ll spend more than an hour in Muir Woods before visiting Sausalito for lunch. The tour ends exploring more of San Francisco. (Note: The afternoon tour does not stop in Sausalito). The tour starts and ends at Fisherman’s Wharf and includes multiple photo stops. Reviewers describe tour guides as insightful and funny, and say the bus is very clean.
The tour departs daily at 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. Tickets start at $99 for adults and $79 for children 12 and younger. Know that if you choose the 8 a.m. departure, you’ll have a slightly higher fee because of the extra stop in Sausalito.
Adventure Cat Sailing Charters – San Francisco Bay Sail
Price: Adults from $60; kids from $30
Duration: 90 minutes
To feel a bay breeze and see San Francisco from a new perspective, climb aboard Adventure Cat’s sailing catamaran. The 90-minute cruise allows you to see the sights from inside the protected cabin or outside on a netted deck trampoline where you can feel the waves crashing beneath your feet. While you can’t bring drinks on board, soda, beer and wine are available for purchase in the cabin bar. The company also provides an audio tour, which offers listeners information about key attractions as they sail by. Reviewers describe the cruise as fantastic, with many lauding the tour as their top experience in San Francisco. Others appreciate the excellent service provided by the crew.
Prices start at $60 for adults and $30 for kids ages 6 to 12; kids 5 and younger ride for free. Know that Thursday to Sunday sails have a slightly higher fee per person. Sails operate daily, but times vary by the season. The company also offers sunset sails and Alcatraz combo tickets.
GoCar San Francisco
Price: From $286
Duration: 7 hours
Explore the city at your own pace with this GPS-guided car that provides directions and historical and cultural commentary as you follow the designated sightseeing route or branch off on detours, stopping for photo-ops or breaks as you please. The full-day option takes you to the Painted Ladies, Legion of Honor, the Marina District and more. A maximum of two people can fit inside the three-wheeled car and you must be at least 21 years old to drive it. Reviewers describe riding in the car as lots of fun and a great way to see the city.
The seven-hour rental starts at $286 and there are multiple pickup times each day. A variety of routes and rental times are available.