The 19 Best San Francisco Tours

Stay active and engaged on these tours that explore SF's top sights and hidden gems.

U.S. News & World Report

The 19 Best San Francisco Tours

Best San Francisco Tours

See San Francisco's famous bridges with this dual bridge cruise from Red and White Fleet.(Courtesy of James Ewing)

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 19 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

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, tour-goers will see Alcatraz, Treasure Island 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. Tours depart multiple times daily from Fisherman's Wharf. Tickets start at $44 for adults and $32 for youths ages 5 to 17. Children 4 and younger can ride for free, but require a ticket. Red and White Fleet offers a variety of land tours and cruises, including sunset sails.

Vantigo – San Francisco City Tours

Instead of a traditional tour bus, Vantigo transports visitors 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 Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge, Twin Peaks and more. Reviewers love the Volkswagen, which they say is roomy and comfortable, and describe the guides as fun and informative. Tours leave multiple times throughout the day. Tickets start at $85 per adult or $55 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 – SF City Sites Tour

After you've walked the city streets and sailed the bay's waters, your next step should be an air tour. On this 20-minute tour from Seaplane Adventures, you'll depart from Sausalito – a charming town located across the Golden Gate Bridge – then fly over downtown and above Alcatraz and Angel Island before landing back in Sausalito. Reviewers describe the trip as amazing and one of the best activities they did while visiting San Francisco. Tickets cost approximately $150 per adult and $135 per child ages 3 to 11. Seaplane Adventures conducts several other air tours, including a 45-minute Greater Bay Area Tour.

Avital Food Tours – Mission District Food Tour

Eat your way through one of San Francisco's most famous neighborhoods with Avital's Mission District food tour. The three-hour tour offers a culinary history of the Mission District, which is recognized for both its Mexican cuisine and colorful murals. Along the way, enjoy four courses (two appetizers, an entree and a dessert) at four area restaurants. Tastings vary with each tour but may include cheeses, tacos, churros, burritos, quesadillas or salted caramel ice cream. Reviewers say the tour is fun, well-paced and educational. Tours are limited to 12 people. Tickets start at $99 per person. Foodies 21 and older can choose to upgrade their tour to include three alcohol pairings for an additional $26 per person. Children are allowed on the tour, though there is no discount, and Avital advises that its tours are best suited for older children. The company also offers tours of North Beach, Union Square and more.

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City Sightseeing San Francisco Hop-On, Hop-Off

Looking for an easy way to see the city's top sights? Consider the City Sightseeing San Francisco Hop-On, Hop-Off open-top bus tour. Travelers have access to two routes: the city route and the Sausalito route. The city route stops at more than 30 locations, including Chinatown, Union Square, Fisherman's Wharf and Lombard Street. Meanwhile, the Sausalito bus includes a ride over the Golden Gate Bridge. Tour-goers can get off at any of the stops and hop back on the next time a bus comes by, which is about every 30 minutes from around 9 a.m. to approximately 5 p.m. Plus, each route features onboard commentary. Though convenient, reviewers complain that many of the buses need to be updated and that the quality of the onboard commentary can vary by driver. Tickets cost approximately $55 per adult for a one-day ticket or approximately $65 per adult for a two-day ticket, which also includes a night tour.

See some of San Francisco's iconic sights on a bike with Streets of San Francisco Bike Tours.(Daniel Watson-Weller/Courtesy of Streets of San Francisco Bike Tours)

Streets of San Francisco Bike Tours – The Classic

This 10-mile, four-hour tour visits a variety of the city's well-known neighborhoods, including the Mission District, Alamo Square and Haight-Ashbury. The tour minimizes time on the city's iconic hills for easy biking and is suitable for anyone with a moderate fitness level – a major draw for reviewers. What's more, tour-goers rave about their guides' expertise, with some calling the tour the highlight of their trip. Keep in mind: Travelers need to be at least 13 years old to ride. Tickets start at $79 per person. Pricing includes a seven- or eight-speed bike with a helmet.

Big Bus San Francisco Hop-On Hop-Off Tour

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 10 to 20 minutes and visits more than 20 locations, including Presidio Park, Chinatown, the Embarcadero and even includes a ride over the Golden Gate Bridge. All buses have open tops, Wi-Fi access and a live guide to narrate the tour. Reviewers describe their guides as both entertaining and knowledgeable. If you buy your tickets online, pricing starts at approximately $50 per adult and $40 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 and Sausalito tours.

Electric Tour Company – Official Golden Gate Park Segway Tour

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 the Spreckels Temple of Music 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 250 pounds. Reviewers praise their guides, who they say are helpful and descriptive, and describe the Segways as easy to ride. Tickets start at $75 per person. Bike and electric scooter tours of the park are also available.

Gray Line San Francisco – Muir Woods and Sausalito Tour

This four- to six-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 and describe the driver as engaging and knowledgeable. Many recommend this tour if you do not want to navigate the the traffic and parking headaches at Muir Woods. Ticket prices start at $79 for adults and $49 for children ages 5 to 11 and include admission to Muir Woods National Monument. Gray Line offers a variety of daytrips from San Francisco, including trips to Sonoma, Napa Valley and Monterey.

Bay City Bike Rentals and Tours – Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito

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. Tour-goers say guides are friendly and informative and the sights are beautiful. Tours are open to all ages. Ticket prices start at $44 for adults; prices for children vary. 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

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 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 $45 for adults and $35 for children. Children 2 and younger ride for free. The company offers its Golden Gate Whale Watch from March through November. For winter visitors, check out the company's Gray Whale Watching Tour, which runs from November through March.

Extranomical Tours – Yosemite National Park and Giant Sequoias Tour

Once you've gotten your fill of the city, trek to California's incomparable natural wonders with a daytrip to Yosemite National Park. On the 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. Tour-goers appreciate the information provided by the guides and rave about the scenery. The trip departs every day of the year. Tickets start at $169 for adults and $155 for children 11 and younger if purchased online. The tickets do not include the park entrance fee or any meals. Extranomical Tours offers a variety of city tours, as well as excursions to wine country and Monterey.

San Francisco Movie Tours – San Francisco Movie Sights City Tour

Many movies and TV shows have been filmed in San Francisco, and this tour highlights all the top filming locations. Actors-turned-guides lead the interactive tour, which takes you to filming locations for productions, such as "Full House," "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. Tour-goers describe it as a fun way to see the city and say guides are entertaining. Tickets cost approximately $50 for adults, $35 for children ages 5 to 17 and $45 for seniors. San Francisco Movie Tours also leads a "Dirty Harry" tour, among others.

Wild SF Walking Tours – Haunted San Francisco Ghost Tour

According to reviewers, Wild SF's Haunted San Francisco Ghost Tour is full of intriguing and spooky information told by engaging guides. The nighttime walking tour, which lasts 90 minutes, unveils both the city's history and its hauntings as travelers visit sites, such as the Westin St. Francis San Francisco on Union Square, site of many Hollywood deaths; a haunted playhouse; and the Glide Memorial Methodist Church, once associated with cult leader Jim Jones. Guides are all performers who've been leading tours for more than four years. Tickets cost $20. Wild SF recommends this tour for travelers 10 and older. Not into the supernatural? Wild SF also offers food and street art tours, among others.

The Castro Theatre is just one of the stops on Dylan's Famous Tour.(Courtesy of Scott Chernis Photography)

Dylan's Tours – Dylan's Famous Tour

Explore San Francisco by minibus on this three-hour excursion that drives travelers through top spots in the city, such as Twin Peaks, Pacific Heights and the Castro. Dylan's Famous Tour also includes stops at top filming locations for movies and TV shows like "Mrs. Doubtfire" and "Full House." The tour concludes in Sausalito where you can enjoy lunch before making your way back to town by ferry, bike or car (not included in ticket price). Reviewers say tour guides are insightful and funny. The tour departs daily at 9:30 a.m. and tickets cost approximately $90 for adults and $60 for children 11 and younger. Minibus tours to Muir Woods National Monument, electric tuk-tuk tours of the city and electric bike tours are also available.

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San Francisco Helicopters – Vista Grande Helicopter Tour

Enjoy a bird's-eye view of San Francisco on this 30-minute helicopter tour. You'll fly over top sites like Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge, Angel Island and Sausalito, while enjoying musical accompaniment choreographed to the flight and narration from the pilot. Tour-goers describe the flight as spectacular, a trip of a lifetime and one of the best helicopter tours they've ever taken. The tour departs three times daily. Tickets start at $265 per adult and $200 per child ages 2 to 12. The company also conducts wine country tours by helicopter, among a variety of other options.

Adventure Cat Sailing Charters – San Francisco Bay Sail

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, snacks, 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 $45 for adults and $25 for kids ages 6 to 12; kids 5 and younger ride for free. The company also offers sunset sails and Alcatraz combo tickets.

Edible Excursions – Ferry Building Food Tour and Alcatraz Excursion

Combine two of the city's most iconic landmarks on this unique daylong excursion. The day starts with a tour of the top purveyors at the Ferry Building Marketplace and includes tastings of artisan cheese, bread and chocolates, followed by a cruise to Alcatraz and a self-guided tour through its historic prison. Tourists are welcome to stay as long as they'd like at Alcatraz before hopping on the return ferry. Participants say they unexpectedly enjoyed the food portion of the tour, which they describe as both delicious and informative. Tickets start at $154 per adult. Children 10 and younger are not allowed on the tour. Tours are offered four days a week. Prefer to explore a different area of the city? Edible Excursions offers tours through Japantown, the Mission District and more.

GoCar San Francisco

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 route or branch off on detours, stopping for photo-ops or breaks as you please. 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, but they warn that the experience can get pricey if you keep the car past your allotted time. One-hour rentals start at $63, but a variety of routes and rental periods are available (the car features commentary on more than 500 attractions and points of interest).

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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