San Francisco tours

Best tours in San Francisco

Situated along the northern California coastline, San Francisco is undoubtedly one of the most picturesque places in all of the United States, with its rolling fogs, tinkling trams and iconic landmarks. The best way to make the most of the city is by booking onto a guided tour, where you can find out more about the city’s history and lesser-known facts that will make your visit all the more enjoyable.

  1. Alcatraz Island tour
  2. Coit Tower tour
  3. Muir Woods National Monument tour
  4. Golden Gate Bridge tour
  5. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art guided tour

So, if you’re wondering what makes a tiny island so notorious, why a forest is so ancient or how they managed to build that iconic red bridge, read on to discover our round-up of some of the best San Francisco tours:

In collaboration with
Rough Guides

1. Alcatraz Island tour

Undoubtedly of the most iconic San Francisco tours, for years Alcatraz Island was the notorious prison housing notorious prisoners (Al Capone, George “Machine Gun” Kelly and Mickey Cohen) until it closed in 1963 due to rising costs. Today, it's one of the most popular sights in San Francisco. As you approach the island by ferry (10mins), you’ll get your first glimpse of this iconic island. Once you’re onland, you’ll tour the cell blocks and listen to stories from former inmates and guards through an audio headset. Aside from the various exhibits, displays and buildings to check out, there’s also time to explore the Cell House, which sits at the tip of the island. Looking for San Francisco holiday packages? Alcatraz Island is one of the most renowned things to see here – for better or worse...

Best for: Notorious history.

Top tip: Take the Agave Trail around the island, with its bird sanctuary and views of the Golden Gate Bridge.

2. Coit Tower tour

The white-concrete, 210-ft Coit Tower protrudes from Telegraph Hill and has made part of the San Francisco skyline since 1933. Its unique shape and standalone position has subjected it to unwarranted criticism – albeit jovial – comparing it to a fireman’s hose. Still, whatever it looks like from the outside, there’s much to be enjoyed inside, too. At the tower’s base are numerous art murals with their own stories to tell; then, visitors can ride the elevator up to the observation deck, which offers 360-degree panoramic views. Guided tours are a great way to learn about the history of the tower, with docents telling you all about the tower’s construction, the controversial history of the murals and the artists and workers behind the murals and tower.

Best for: Great views over San Francisco.

Top tip: Stop off at the Coit Tower Cafe just beside the tower, for drinks, pizza and frozen yoghurt.

3. Muir Woods National Monument tour

Get out of the city and into the woods with this guided tour of Muir Woods National Forest. With its famous landmarks, you might be fooled into thinking that San Francisco is all about historic houses, steep roads and colourful trams, but nature is right on its doorstep, too. This makes for a pleasant half-day tour, with a bus to pick you up from your hotel and to drive you to the forest and onto quieter, neighbouring towns before returning. With dizzyingly tall redwood trees, the forest is an important site in California – but your expert guide can tell you all about that, along with the history of San Francisco and more. As you pass along the designated trails, soak up the peace and solitude of the forest, and marvel at how varied America can be.

Best for: Nature and wildlife.

Top tip: There’s no wi-fi or phone signal in the forest, so make sure you carry a hard copy of anything important...

4. Golden Gate Bridge tour

Seeing San Francisco’s most iconic landmark doesn’t come at a price, you know. You can enjoy a free guided walking tour of the Golden Gate Bridge, which runs twice a week (Thursdays and Sundays). Your expert guide will tell you all about the engineering genius of this impressive structure, as well as the stories of those who constructed, designed and enjoyed this iconic landmark. There’s plenty of photographing opportunities; not only will you get to appreciate this feat of engineering, but you’ll come away having learned something new about the bridge, too.

Best for: Walking tours with a view.

Top tip: Travelling in a group? If there’s more than eight of you, you’ll need to book onto a private guided tour.

5. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art guided tour

Into art? Book onto a private guided tour of San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art and be wowed by the huge displays of pop art, German art, American abstract art and more. You’ll be guided round by a trained art historian, and wearing audio headsets, means you won’t miss a thing they have to say. There’s a range of tours to take: choose from a basic gallery tour (of one particular collection/room), or upgrade to a special exhibition tour, which focuses on a selected temporary exhibition.

Best for: Contemporary art.

Top tip: The building is just as impressive from the outside; remember to take photographs!

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