Free Walking Tours

Daily Walks by SF City Guides & the SF Public Library

Every day SF City Guides (part of the SF Public Library) offers a number of free walking tours. They range from the popular Golden Gate Bridge tour to one dedicated to the impact of the 1906 Earthquake and Fire.

All guides are volunteers. Many of them have amazing stories. They are typically either from San Francisco or have been in the city for a very long time. They each know their tour and its route better than anyone else.

I take these often. They offer an amazing look into SF's past as well as what the local communities are up to now. It's one of the best ways to get an 'insider's look' at the real San Francisco.

Some of them offer you access into places that you are not able to enter on your own. They also point out hidden gems and other lesser known attractions or locations throughout the city.

chanilier alamo square
This beautiful antique Chandelier was inside an Alamo Square Victorian. We were able to get an inside look at this private home on the Alamo Square walking tour.

Joining a Tour

You don't need to make reservations to join any of these free walking tours. Simply show up about 10 minutes before they start.

The guide is usually there by this time. They are easy to find and are looking for tour participants. They often have a clipboard in their hands.

Check in with them and add your name to their participant list. They use this to measure the success of each tour and to determine what they should offer in the future.

All tours start on time, so please do not be late. If you find yourself running a little late, you are welcome to join the tour. However, do your best to not interrupt if it is already in progress.

Donations

Even though these tours are free, they do ask for a donation at the end. The donations do not go to the tour guide, but to the SF Public Library in order to keep this operation running. They have one full time staff member that helps manage the volunteers, the website and other organization details.

How much should you donate? That's up to you. I typically donate $5 to $7 per person per tour. You are welcome to donate more or less depending on your experience with the tour and your personal budget.

mission walking tour
This is one of more than a couple dozen colorful murals we learned about on the Mission District Murals walking tour.

My Experience on These Tours

Since all guides are volunteers, you might be asking yourself about their reliability. Believe me when I tell you that these guides LOVE giving these tour and teaching others about the city.

The SF Public Library has a strict policy for their volunteers. It's also a privilege to be accepted as a tour volunteer. Each one has to go on several other walks before they train to give one of these free walking tours on their own.

Many of them have also had to develop and submit a new tour idea before they are able to give a tour. These are some of the most reliable volunteers you will find. They are super friendly and helpful too!

I've done dozens of these tours and only had one guide not show up. We later found out they had a family emergency and didn't have time to cancel the tour before we arrived. This is a rare occasion and doubt it will happen to you.

chinatown temple
We had the chance to step inside and learn more about this temple during the Chinatown walking tour.

The only other issues I've had on these tours is when the group size is too large or when we walk down a really busy street and can't hear the guide as well (as they don't have sophisticated equipment). If you are not enjoying the tour or it's something different than you expected, you can quietly walk away in the middle of it.

For some of the links on this page, I receive a small commission when you purchase. You don't pay more when you buy through me and it gives me the chance to offer you all this great content for free!

Most Popular Free Walking Tours

They keep a very consistent schedule for their free walking tours from one month to the next. They do add and cancel these free walking tours at times, but this is rare.

The Public Library updates their list every Spring and Fall. In addition, they offer speciality tours in May and October as well as when they test out new tour ideas.

Here are just a few of their most popular tours.

Golden Gate Bridge Walking Tour

This tour will tell you all about one of our most famous attractions, the Golden Gate Bridge. On this two-hour tour, you will learn about its history and interesting facts (how long it took to build and how much it cost). You will also walk part of the way across the bridge to the southern tower, which is where the tour ends.

Tour Schedule: Thursdays and Sundays at 11am

Meeting Location: Strauss Statue at the Golden Gate Bridge Visitors Plaza (south side)

>> Learn more about the Golden Gate Bridge before your visit

>> Cruise under the bridge on one of these cruises (click here for discounts on this tour on Goldstar)

Chinatown

Chinatown is often known as a city within a city. It's the most densely populated portion of San Francisco. This two-hour tour will take you through this interested community and the largest Chinatown outside of Asia. You will learn about its history and more about the daily lives of its current residents.

Tour Schedule: Mondays and Saturdays at 10am, Mondays at 1:30pm

Meeting Location: Portsmouth Square in Chinatown at the parking garage elevators on the park level

>> More about visiting Chinatown

>> Other fun tours about this colorful district

Popular Paid Tours at Up to 50% Off

  • 60-Minute Bay Cruise: Cruises around the bay, leaves from Fisherman's Wharf, several cruises a day, Full price $31, Goldstar price $15.50*

  • 7D Experience: Help eliminate the bad guys with this part video game, part movie that is a whole lot of fun, located on Pier 39, Full price $14.99, Goldstar $8.25*

  • Magowan's Infinite Mirror Maze: A colorful twist on the old fashioned house of mirrors, spend some time trying to make your way throug this mirror maze, located on Pier 39, Full price $10-$20, Goldstar $5-$9*

*Small service fee at checkout.

Fisherman's Wharf, A Hidden History

The Fisherman's Wharf tour is another two-hour tour that starts at Ghirardelli Square. The tour starts with the history of this former chocolate factory. You will then walk through Aquatic Park and down to Jefferson Street. Along the way, you will learn all about the original settlers to this part of San Francisco, what their life was like and more about the fisherman that call this area home today.

Tour Schedule: Mondays and Fridays at 11am

Meeting Location: Main courtyard of Ghirardelli Square at the Mermaid Fountain

>> 50 of the best things to do in Fisherman's Wharf

Castro, Tales of the Village

The Castro District is the heart of the LGBT community. It was the home to one of SF's most famous residents, Harvey Milk. On this two-hour tour, you will learn about Milk and how this district became a meeting place for the LGBT community.

Tour Schedule: Tuesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 11am

Meeting Location: The giant rainbow flag in Harvey Milk Plaza at Market & Castro Streets

>> Discover the best things to do in the Castro

City Hall and The Civic Center

If you haven't had a chance to explore SF's City Hall, then this tour is a perfect addition to your itinerary. It starts near our mail public library where you will learn about the district and its history. You will then enter City Hall and see all that this hidden gem has to offer. You will learn about the dramatic night when both Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone where gunned down and killed inside.

At the end, you will be able to continue to explore City Hall on your own to see even more of this gorgeous, public building.

Tour Schedule: Tuesdays & Thursdays at 11am

Meeting Location: Main Library steps facing Pioneer Monument, on Fulton Street between Hyde and Larkin

>> Pictures and more information about visiting City Hall

Coit Tower Murals

Many visitors don't realize the extend of the murals inside Coit Tower and the history behind them. On this tour, you will walk along the first floor of the tower to learn more about the murals and what San Francisco was like in the 1930s. You will also learn about why they were controversial at the time.

In addition to seeing those open to the public on the first floor, you might also get a sneak peek at some very different looking murals in the private stairwells. These are not open to the public and will give you an even better idea why this SF attraction is such an important work of art.

Tour Schedule: Wednesdays and Saturdays at 11am

Meeting Location: At the entrance to Coit Tower

>> Pictures from my tour and what else there is to see at Coit Tower

Nob Hill

Nob Hills sits high above the downtown area and features some of the city's most distinguished hotels. When it was first developed, it was home to San Francisco's wealthiest families and the Big Four.

Learn all about how this area was developed, why they installed cable cars here first, and what the district is like today. This two-hour tour starts at the entrance to the Stanford Hotel and does include some uphill walking (you will walk slowly).

Tour Schedule: Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays at 2pm

Meeting Location: Outside the entrance of the Stanford Court Hotel at 905 California Street between Powell and Mason

>> More about visiting Nob Hill

North Beach

North Beach is another interesting district to explore during your visit. On this tour, you will learn about the Beat Generation and the Italians that initially settled this area. You will get some great recommendations on the best places to eat and some of the locals favorite places to go.

Tour Schedule: Saturdays at 10am, 2nd & 4th Tuesday at 10am

Meeting Location: Steps of Saints Peter and Paul Church at 666 Filbert Street between Powell/Columbus and Stockton

>> Details on visiting North Beach

Full Schedule: You will find additional tours on the SFCityGuides website at www.sfcityguides.org. Also, please use this link to confirm that the tours above are still running on the day you plan to go. They don't cancel often, but it does happen at times and I would hate for you to show up and have it be cancelled that day.

Discounted Tours on Goldstar

In addition to these free walking tours offered by SF City Guides, you will also find some great discounted tours on Goldstar. They are often at up to 50% off the full price and include extras such as behind the scene access or samples of local dishes.

Here are just a few that are currently available. Click the links to visit Goldstar to check out these and other great deals on their tours.

  • Chinatown Food Tour: Sample this districts traditional dishes, 5 tastings included, Saturday and Sunday mornings starting at 10am, Full price $60, Goldstar $39*

  • 2-Hour Sunset Sail: 2-hour evening cruise on the Privateer, small group, 2 drinks included with each ticket, and the chance to see Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge from the decks at night, leaves once a night from Fisherman's Wharf, Full price $60, Goldstar price $25-45*

  • San Francisco Bay Cruise: 60-minute cruise around the SF Bay, leaves from Fisherman's Wharf several times a day, Full price $31, Goldstar $15.50*

*Small service fee at checkout.

Monthly Events in SF

Are you interested in finding additional events to attend during your stay? Click the links below to check out the fun events planned that month!

Event Calendars
January February March
April May June
July August September
October November December

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