The 6 Best San Francisco Bus Tours

Visit the top attractions in this hilly city without breaking a sweat.

U.S. News & World Report

The 6 Best San Francisco Bus Tours

Best San Francisco Bus Tours

You'll see filming locations from your favorite shows and movies, like the home in "Mrs. Doubtfire" (pictured above), with San Francisco Movie Tours.(Courtesy of San Francisco Movie Tours)

With so many can't-miss attractions in San Francisco, it can feel overwhelming to try and see it all. That's where organized bus tours come in. They can help you see everything in a short amount of time – without having to navigate the city's traffic and hills yourself. Consulting both expert opinion and traveler sentiment, U.S. News picked seven of San Francisco's top bus tours. With options that range from hop-on, hop-off tours to woodland excursions to interactive experiences with Hollywood flare, you're likely to find a tour that suits your itinerary.

San Francisco Movie Tours – San Francisco Movie Sights City Tour

Actors-turned-guides lead this family-friendly three-hour tour, which visits more than 50 filming locations for shows and films like "Full House" and "Vertigo." The company's 23-passenger bus is equipped with surround sound and big-screen TVs that play corresponding movie and TV clips throughout the tour. There are also several stops along the way for photos, including a spot to snap a shot of the Golden Gate Bridge. Reviewers say the tour is a unique way to see San Francisco and praise the guides' knowledge and passion. Tours are offered every day at 10 a.m. and around 1:30 p.m. Tickets start at $49 for adults, $44 for seniors and $35 for children. Bus tours of "Dirty Harry" filming locations and the Golden Gate Bridge are also available, as well as a walking tour of North Beach.

Big Bus San Francisco Hop-on Hop-off Tour

Big Bus tours offer an easy way for travelers to get an overview of the city within a day. Tour-goers can hop off the bus when they want to explore and catch the next Big Bus (which comes every 10 to 20 minutes) when they're ready to move on. The tour features more than 20 stops at key attractions, such as Fisherman’s Wharf, Chinatown and Haight-Ashbury, as well as a ride over the Golden Gate Bridge. The buses are equipped with free Wi-Fi, an open-air deck on top (some reviewers advise it can be chilly) and guides who provide live commentary. Many reviewers enjoy the guides, who they say are entertaining and great storytellers. Visitors can also upgrade their ticket to include extras like a night tour, a Sausalito tour and a free bike rental, among other perks. Prices start at $49.50 per adult and $40.50 per child ages 3 to 12 if purchased online.

City Sightseeing San Francisco Hop-On Hop-Off

Choose from two different routes on this open-top bus tour, one of which hits all the major attractions in San Francisco, while the second visits the town of Sausalito. Buses run throughout the day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (with slightly abbreviated hours for the Sausalito loop) and pick up about every 30 minutes. Throughout the route, you'll have the option to hop off the bus to explore and hop back on at any point. What's more, each tour features commentary from a live guide. Tour-goers comment that some of the buses need to be updated, while others say the commentary provided by the guides is inconsistent. Still, reviewers recommend the tour if you want to cover a lot of ground without relying on a car or public transportation. City Sightseeing has two ticket options: The two-day ticket costs approximately $65 per adult and includes a free one-hour bike rental, entrance to Madame Tussauds, a walking tour of Chinatown and a night tour. A one-day ticket, which includes a walking tour of Chinatown, costs about $55 per adult.

Gray Line San Francisco – Muir Woods, Giant Redwoods and Sausalito Half-Day Trip

This four- to six-hour bus trip from Gray Line of San Francisco takes travelers across the Golden Gate Bridge to Muir Woods National Monument. From there, the tour heads to the Mediterranean-style town of Sausalito with time to explore its shops, art galleries and waterfront restaurants. Travelers have the option to board the bus back to the city or extend their time in Sausalito and hop on a ferry (not included in the ticket price). Throughout the journey, guides share stories and provide cultural context – a point of praise for visitors. Another highlight for reviewers? The comfortable buses. Tickets starts at $79 per adult and $49 per child ages 5 to 11. Tickets include the entrance fee to Muir Woods National Monument. Gray Line offers a variety of tours, including trips to Yosemite National Park and Napa Valley.

Magic Bus San Francisco – The Magic Bus Experience

Step back in time to 1960s San Francisco on the Magic Bus Experience tour. During the 2 1/2-hour excursion, travelers visit top spots in the city like Haight-Ashbury – the center of the counterculture movement – as well as Fillmore West, Chinatown and Union Square. Tour-goers rave about the experience, describing it as fun and informative. Tours, which are capped at 28 participants, cost around $85 per adult. From June through August, tours are offered Friday and Saturday at 10:30 a.m.; from September through December they run Saturdays only at 10:30 a.m. Would-be hippies meet at Union Square to board the bus. Magic Bus also offers a combo tour to Alcatraz.

Tower Tours – Muir Woods Tour

This 3 1/2-hour excursion takes you to Muir Woods National Monument to behold the ancient redwoods with a live guide who narrates your journey and answers questions along the way. After exploring the forest for up to 90 minutes, you'll drive through the coastal town of Sausalito. If you want more time in Sausalito, you can choose to return to San Francisco via ferry as an optional add-on. Tour-takers describe the trip as a great addition to their San Francisco visit and praise their tour guides, who they characterize as friendly and knowledgeable. The tour costs approximately $85 for adults and seniors and $55 for kids ages 4 to 11. The entrance fee to Muir Woods is included in the ticket price. Tours depart at multiple times throughout the day. If you want to explore more of the region, consider the company's other full-day tours, which explore Monterey, Napa Valley and Sonoma, among other destinations.

Lyn Mettler, Contributor

Lyn Mettler has written for U.S. News since 2014 covering a range of travel topics, including ...  Read more

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