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A restored neon sign glows from the Ferry Building at dusk in San Francisco, Calif. (ERIC RISBERG/AP)
A restored neon sign glows from the Ferry Building at dusk in San Francisco, Calif. (ERIC RISBERG/AP)

Beyond Alcatraz: 7 days (and many ways) of fun in San Francisco Add to ...

The question

I’m going to San Francisco for a week. I like the idea of a different guided tour or activity every day. Any under-the-radar suggestions?

The answer

After countless visits over the years, I’ve gathered a full roster of alternatives for those who’ve already done the Golden Gate Bridge, clam chowder bread bowls and the ever-disappointing Pier 39 (only worth it for the lolling sea lions).

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Here are my suggestions for a week’s worth of options. Don’t try to do them all or you’ll need another vacation as soon as you return home.

Day one:

Get the lay of the land with a city tour. But don’t take the standard bus trundle. Tours by Locals (toursbylocals.com) offers dozens of cool ways to hit the sidewalks with a San Franciscan,

from neighbourhood strolls to photography jaunts. Alternatively, Urban Hiker San Francisco (urbanhikersf.com) has the inside track on local trails. And if you think your calves can handle it, hit the road with the friendly folks at Streets of San Francisco Bike Tours (sosfbiketours.com).

Day two:

Rest your blisters with an indulgent class at the Cheese School of San Francisco (cheeseschoolsf.com). Small group workshops are staged every few days and themes run from cheese and honey pairing to opening your own curdy emporium (you know you want to). Double the day’s calorific intake with a chocolate tasting tour from Gourmet Walks (gourmetwalks.com). Adventurous foodies should also consider a cool foraging class with ForageSF (foragesf.com).

Day three:

Work off your day-two-belly on a guided mural walk of the Mission District (precitaeyes.org). This funky, Spanish-flavoured district is an easy BART train hop from Union Square and its spectacular, often-hidden wall paintings put the art in street art. Once you’re done, fuel up at one of the area’s top taco purveyors – the El Gallo Giro truck at 23rd Street and Treat Street is recommended. Finally, explore the Mission’s surfeit of cool bookstores, from Borderlands Books to Dog Eared Books.

Day four:

Hold that bookish thought at across-town City Lights, America’s most famous beatnik bookstore. Grab your copy of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl and Other Poems here and check for readings and launches (see citylights.com for listings). The under-the-radar Beat Museum is also just around the corner on Broadway. End your daddy-o day out with an area North Beach by Night walking tour from San Francisco City Guides (sfcityguides.org). Tours are free (tips requested) and you’ll be entertainingly immersed in SF’s counter-culture heritage.

Day five:

Get back on your feet with a Victorian Home Walk (victorianhomewalk.com), weaving around the brightly painted clapboard mansions of the Pacific Heights neighbourhood. If you’re still on a history kick, hop aboard the F-Market & Wharves line. A delightful (and cheaper) alternative to the tourist-crowded red cable cars, its vintage streetcars trundle by the Embarcadero’s iconic Ferry Building – where another San Francisco City Guides tour can show you around.

Day six:

If you’re thirsty, it’s time for a free, generously libationed tour (book far ahead) at Anchor Brewing (anchorbrewing.com), the city’s most famous beer producer. You can also hang with your maker at monthly Meet the Brewers events staged around the city by the San Francisco Brewers Guild (sfbrewersguild.org). Alternatively, grape fans will prefer a languorous Napa Valley winery weave via Wine Country Tour Shuttle (winecountrytourshuttle.com).

Day seven:

Finally, jump into the festival scene with September’s free Shakespeare in the Park shows (sfshakes.org) or October’s Litquake (litquake.org) which is jam-packed with bookwormy shenanigans – don’t miss Lit Crawl night. And if that freezing fog suddenly rolls back in, try a toe-tapping concert at the sparkling new SFJazz Center (sfjazz.org). Then, slow down and toast your full-on visit at the California Academy of Sciences (calacademy.org) where there’s a weekly late-opening party for adults, bar included.

NEXT WEEK’S QUESTION

 I want to treat my husband to a trip where he can immerse himself in his new photography hobby. He has all the gear and is itching to use it properly. He loves cities and architecture – where should I send him? concierge@globeandmail.com

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