San Francisco City Guides (415/557-4266, free) is a team of enthusiastic San Francisco tour guides who want to show you more about their beloved city. Opt to learn about San Francisco sights like Fort Mason and Fishermen’s Wharf or choose a walk where you’ll hear about the local locales used by famed director Alfred Hitchcock in his films including Vertigo. Visit the website for a complete schedule of the current month’s offerings.
One of the most popular walking tour companies in the City is Foot (800/979-3370, $15-40/person). Foot was founded by stand up comedian Robert Mac, and hires comics to act as guides for their many different tours around San Francisco. If you’re a brand-new visitor to the City, pick the two-hour “San Francisco in a Nutshell” tour for a funny look at the basics of San Francisco landmarks and history, or the three-hour “Whole Shebang,” a comprehensive if speedy look at Chinatown, Nob Hill, and North Beach. For visitors who are back for the second or third time, check out the more in-depth neighborhood tours that take in Chinatown, the Castro, or the Haight. You can even hit “Nude, Lewd, and Crude,” a look at the rise of 18-and-up entertainment in North Beach. Tour departure points vary, so check the website for more information about your specific tour and about packages of more than one tour in a day or two.
For an inside look at the culinary delights of Chinatown, sign up for a spot on I Can’t Believe I Ate My Way Through Chinatown (650/355-9657, $90/person). This three-hour bonanza will take you first for a classic Chinese breakfast, then out into the streets of Chinatown for a narrated tour around Chinatown’s food markets, apothecaries, and tea shops. You’ll finish up with lunch at one of Chef Shirley’s favorite hole-in-the-wall dim sum places. For folks who just want the tour and lunch, or the tour alone, check out the standard Wok Wiz Daily Tour ($50/person with lunch, $35/person tour only).
To check out another side of Chinatown, take the Chinatown Ghost Tour (877/887-3373, Fri.-Sat. 7:30pm-9:30pm, adults $48, children $24, tour lasts 2 hours). It’s hard to find a neighborhood with a richer history rife with ghost stories than San Francisco’s Chinatown. The whole thing burned down more than a century ago, and it was rebuilt in exactly the same spot, complete with countless narrow alleyways. This tour will take you into these alleys after the sun sets, when the spirits are said to appear on the streets. You’ll start out at Four Seas Restaurant (731 Grant Ave.) and follow your loquacious guide along the avenues and side streets of Chinatown. As you stroll, your guide will tell you the stories of the neighborhood spirits, spooks, and ancestors. The curious get to learn about the deities worshipped by devout Chinese to this day, along with the folklore that permeates what was until recently a closed and secretive culture. Then you head into a former gambling den where a magician will attempt to conjure the soul of a long dead gambler.
Excerpted from the Fourth Edition of Moon Coastal California .