Sightsee780139

TripAdvisor

Such an interesting deep dive into the Castro and Mission neighborhoods, for which we had an incredibly sunny warm summer day. Our guide was extremely knowledgeable, having grown up in the area, and pointed out not only historical places, but beautiful murals, homes and fun nooks and crannies (like hidden stairways to streets) that we never would have seen on our own. We definitely came away with much more of an appreciation for Castro and the Mission (love Dolores Park!) and will seek out other neighborhoods on our next trip!

Gillian_D

Viator

I had the most amazing time, as a solo traveller doing a small group tour is perfect. My tour guide was very knowledgeable and friendly. He gave us lots of fun facts along the way and the whole experience was very interesting. Bring your walking shoes we started at 10 am and finished at 6 pm, I highly recommend you do this tour. We went to places tourist didn’t go.

Jamie Sarkozi

Google

My Boyfriend and I booked an all Day SF tour with Christofer and had an amazing time! He knew a ton of history which we loved and we were able to see a ton. We loved it as it had been our first time visiting. Would highly recommend to anyone wanting to be shown around the city.

Edgar Wallace

Google

Did a wonderful tour with these guys while I was in San Francisco on business. I’d also done a tour with the sister company in Los Angeles several years ago. Kevin, who was the guide, was great and it was so nice to be outside. We learnt tons about SF. Definitely recommended!

juju1961

TripAdvisor

Our guide Damien was so very knowledgeable about the area and history of SF. We experienced different methods of transport (avoiding those big hills!) and areas we would not otherwise have known about.

Margie S

Viator

Damien was the best! Friendly & very informative. He took into consideration our interests & made it very enjoyable. Great exercise- best way to see SF. Liked Haight Ashbury the most.

Downtown San Francisco Tour

Downtown San Francisco tour
Downtown San Francisco Tour

PRICE

Free/Zilch/Nada
Just like the best things in life

WALKING OR CYCLING

2 miles
An easy walking distance

TIME

Do it when it suits you
Take as long as you like

Begin your self-guided Downtown San Francisco tour in the center of the city. Take in the open space of Union Square and the famous St Francis Hotel, before heading down Maiden Lane, SF's old red-light district (now full of designer boutiques).

After that take a walk through Chinatown, which has some of the best food in the city, making it the perfect spot for lunch. Next visit the historic birthplace of San Francisco, then see the burial site of one of the hundred odd ships on which the Financial District was built.

Finish your self-guided Downtown San Francisco tour at the beautiful Ferry Building, ideally with an ice-cream - or beer - as you take in the city skyline and the Bay.

St Francis Hotel, Downtown San Francisco tour

ST FRANCIS HOTEL

Start this self-guided tour at the St Francis Hotel, which opened in 1904 as an investment vehicle for Gilded Age millionaire Charles Crocker’s grandchildren. At that time the Crocker Mansion looked down on the city from atop nearby Nob Hill.

The hotel survived the Great Fire structurally undamaged and was quickly renovated, becoming even more fashionable in the teens.

In 1921 it was the scene of the Fatty Arbuckle affair, the first Hollywood sex scandal, that still has repercussions today (for example the 'morals clause' inserted into some employment contracts).

It’s the home away from home for Republican Presidents when visiting SF – in spite of the fact that Gerald Ford was nearly assassinated here in 1975.

UNION SQUARE

Once upon a time this was an area of sand dunes, not far from Yerba Buena Cove. In 1850 though, with the city rapidly expanding due to the Gold Rush, it was laid out by Mayor John Geary.

It gets its name from pro-Union rallies that were held here before the U.S. Civil War.

Nike, the Greek Goddess of War atop the Dewey Monument in the center of the Square, was modeled on Alma de Bretteville Spreckels, which caused quite a scandal at the time, as she was renowned as a nude model – but she married one of San Francisco’s richest citizens afterwards, so it worked out well for her.

Union Square to Embarcadero tour
Union Square to Embarcadero tour

MAIDEN LANE

Next stop on the self-guided Downtown San Francisco tour is this beautiful side-street off Union Square, with its expensive designer boutiques.

It’s hard to imagine, but before the Great Fire this was SF’s premier red-light district. Almost every building was a brothel and gambling den (the two just go together so well!).

As you walk down the street observe the Frank Lloyd Wright building on your left (the V C Morris Gift Shop). It’s now a clothes store, but the owners are happy for people to come inside to enjoy Wright’s only design to be built in the city.

CHINATOWN DRAGON GATE

Nowadays most Chinatowns around the world have Dragon Gate’s, but San Francisco’s was the first.

Huge numbers of Chinese moved here in the nineteenth century seeking opportunity and this was the first Chinatown in the U.S.

They faced massive discrimination, but when the neighborhood burned down in the Great Fire of 1906 the city was so desperate to rebuild that they finally had some leverage.

One of the changes was the utilization of ‘Chinafications’ and Chinese elements in the design of buildings. Today, all Chinatowns around the world are essentially copies of our one!

Chinatown Dragon Gate, Downtown San Francisco tour
Chinatown, SF

CHINATOWN

You’re now in the heart of San Francisco’s Chinatown.

In the nineteenth century this was one of the most exciting parts of the city to visit. Brothels, opium dens and gambling hell-houses were all around. Chinese Tongs would sometimes fight running battles through the streets, the boo how doy (soldiers) firing at each other from the windows and from behind stalls and carts.

You’ll be pleased to know that doesn’t happen anymore. There are some great bars in SF Chinatown, but unlike many others it’s also a residential neighborhood, meaning the food is more authentic and really good.

PORTSMOUTH SQUARE

Believe it or not, but your self-guided downtown San Francisco tour has now brought you to the mythic birthplace of the city. A Brit named William Richardson built the first house here on what was then Yerba Buena Cove, in 1835.

In 1846 Captain John Montgomery sailed into the anchorage on the USS Portsmouth and seized the settlement after the Battle of Yerba Buena – which wasn’t a battle at all, since not a shot was fired!

During the 1850’s lynching’s of criminals would sometimes be held here – it was the Wild West after all – but now you’ll mostly see elderly Chinese residents playing board and card games.

Take the pedestrian bridge to the Hilton Hotel.

Union Station to Embarcadero tour
Union Sqaure to Embarcadero tour

TRANSAMERICA PYRAMID

This is one of the most recognizable structures in the city. When it opened in 1972 it was the tallest building on the West Coast, although since then several other skyscrapers have overtaken it.

At the base is a plaque marking the burial place of the ship Niantic. Yep, that’s right, this building was built on top of one of the many ships that brought prospectors to California. In fact the entire Financial District, which you’re now entering, was built on top of a veritable graveyard of them. By some estimates at least a hundred ships are buried here, because once they arrived the crew would desert to find gold and it was nigh-on impossible to find replacements.

Ultimately the cove was filled in and the shoreline moved out to its present location.

EMBARCADERO

You’ve now reached the eastern waterfront of San Francisco, the end of the self-guided Downtown San Francisco tour.

This used to be the main port for San Francisco, which makes sense when you see all the old piers and warehouses.

In the 1930’s the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges opened, then in the 1950’s the container port was built in Oakland, so the waterfront went through quite a decline. So much so that a freeway was built all the way along the Embarcadero, but after being damaged in the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake it was, thankfully, pulled down.

Now it’s a great place to take in the Bay, right in front of you, and the Financial District right behind you. Why not have some food and refreshments in the Ferry Building, as you happily Instagram the photos from your tour.

Ferry Building, Downtown San Francisco tour

We hope you enjoyed this free self-guided Downtown San Francisco tour.

For more information on things to do in San Francisco and how to navigate the city take a look at S.F. Info and Inside SF, and check in with us on social media to see what else we're doing.

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