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Hop on Hop off Bus Tours in San Francisco

Discover San Francisco on a sightseeing bus that will take you to the most impressive sights of this beautiful West Coast city

Alex Grande

Alex Grande

5 min read

Hop on Hop off Bus Tours in San Francisco

Sightseeing bus through the streets of San Francisco | ©megabus13601

You've just arrived in San Francisco. You have an idea of everything you want to see but don't know where to start: it's time to hop on a tour bus and get to know the city before touring it in depth.

1. All the information about the San Francisco tourist bus: information and routes

Pier 39 | ©Bernard Spragg. NZ
Pier 39 | ©Bernard Spragg. NZ

The San Francisco sightseeing bus takes a tour of the entire city, passing very close to its most emblematic places. In a complete tour of its neighborhoods, you can get off at up to 24 stops located next to Pier 39, the Palace of Fine Arts, and Union Square, among other places, and tour the city at your own pace. The ticket is priced From $ 40.

In addition, this tour includes a guided walking tour of Chinatown with a professional local guide. You can also choose the premium or deluxe option to add a night tour or Sausalito tour to the experience. The route of the San Francisco Hop On Hop Off bus tour depends on the route. Here are the main points of interest you will see on each itinerary:

Red route - day tour

  • Washington Square/North Beach
  • Clay Street
  • Ferry Building
  • Union Square
  • Civic Center
  • SS Jeremiah O'Brien
  • Palace of Fine Arts Theatre
  • Hilton Hotel
  • Alamo Square
  • Haight Ashbury
  • Golden Gate Park
  • Golden Gate Bridge Vista Point
  • Palace of Fine Arts
  • Marine/Hollow Cow
  • Lombard Street
  • Chinatown
  • Pier 35
  • Pier 39
  • Madame Tussauds
  • Aquarium of the Bay
  • San Francisco City Hall

Night tour

  • SS Jeremiah O'Brien
  • Madame Tussauds
  • The San Francisco Dungeon
  • Ferry Building Marketplace
  • Pier39

2. What to expect from the San Francisco bus tour

Views of San Francisco from the tour bus | ©osseous
Views of San Francisco from the tour bus | ©osseous

The daytime bus tour of San Francisco has a duration of 2 hours if you take the full tour, and the evening tour lasts 1 hour. But in reality, the tour can last as long as you want, as you are free to hop on and off the bus and explore San Francisco and its different areas at your leisure.

That said, my advice is to take advantage of this bus tour to do the full tour and explore a little over the sites you get off at. The reason for this is that you will get a general idea of San Francisco and then you can go back to the sites you liked the most to visit them in depth.

During the tour, you will have a complete audioguide that will tell you the highlights of the sites you visit. Again, this helps make the bus tour a good way to get a feel for San Francisco and then go deeper on your own.

Alex's Traveller Tip

The bus ticket will be valid for 24 hours if you redeem it after 3:00 PM, so you can potentially take advantage of it for longer or if you prefer not to get up early.

3. Get organized for your visit

China Town | ©Mario Sánchez Prada
China Town | ©Mario Sánchez Prada

When you book the bus tour you will receive a confirmation in your email and, unless you are instructed otherwise, it will be enough to show that confirmation when you get on the bus. That said, your ticket will be valid for one day (but not 24 hours, it will be invalid at midnight like Cinderella's carriage). If you get on the bus after 3:00 PM, your ticket will be valid for 24 hours instead.

This is one of the big advantages of this bus tour compared to other companies or other city tours, whose tickets are only valid on the same day.

How it works

Just go to any of the stops indicated on the itinerary and wait for the bus. The daytime tour operates from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM, and the bus runs every hour. You can take this tour every day of the week.

For the Night Tour you must show your confirmation at the beginning of the tour, at 99 Jefferson Street, San Francisco Fisherman's Wharf. The tour departs every day of the year at 6:30 PM, except December 24th and 31st.

Chinatown Tour

All options on this San Francisco bus tour include a walking tour of Chinatown, where you will have a professional guide who will take you around the neighborhood and show you the curiosities of what is probably one of the most colorful and genuine neighborhoods in the United States.

Sausalito Tour

If you choose the deluxe option, your experience will include a Sausalito streetcar tour. The tour lasts one hour and can be taken from 10:15 AM to 4:30 PM daily. The streetcar departs every 15-30 minutes, and you will pass through the Golden Gate on both the way to and from Sausalito.

Sausalito is a small town across the bay from San Francisco, famous for its floating houses and its fishing pier. From there, and from the ferry back to San Francisco, you can take some very nice pictures of the Golden Gate and Alcatraz, and I recommend that before returning you take a good walk around Sausalito as it has a unique charm.

4. Useful tips for San Francisco bus tour

Skyline of San Francisco at night | ©Sandrine Néel
Skyline of San Francisco at night | ©Sandrine Néel

Most of the Hop On Hop Off tours of San Francisco are done in open-top buses. The views you will have from the bus will allow you to take good pictures since from the second floor of a bus you will have a perspective that other tourists will not have.

The Hop On Hop Off bus is a great way to get around the city and this is something that many people don't know: you can use the bus as a way of transportation, as it covers most of the interesting areas of San Francisco and you can hop on and off whenever you feel like it.

The night tour is a blast and very worthwhile, as seeing San Francisco lit up at night is a must-do. The tour focuses on the Pier 35 area, from where you can see the iconic bridge and the city skyline.

If you are visiting Sausalito, you can choose to stay in this charming city to wander around at your leisure and explore it and then return by ferry to San Francisco, which doubles as a cruise as you will have incredible views of Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge.

5. Other San Francisco tours that may interest you

The Golden Gate as seen from the cruise ship | ©Sukanya Basu
The Golden Gate as seen from the cruise ship | ©Sukanya Basu

In addition to the bus tours, I recommend discover San Francisco on foot with a more specific tour. You can take a tour of the city's financial district, one of the most interesting in the United States for being the mecca of the world's leading technology companies, take a cruise around the Golden Gate and Alcatraz, and discover all the attractions the city has to offer.

And if you are especially interested in visiting Alcatraz, I recommend you read my Alcatraz guide with information on how to get your tickets where you will find tips and tricks on how to get the best tickets to visit the famous San Francisco jail.

Frequently asked questions

  • How many types of hop on hop off tours does San Francisco offer?

    San Francisco have a few Hop on Hop off services running, the City Sightseeing service as well as Big Bus. Between the two, Big Bus is the more popular, as it also includes a visit to Alcatraz, Sausalito and a nighttime bus tour.

  • How long do hop on hop off tours usually last?

    A full circuit of San Francisco lasts between 2.5 to 3 hours depending on the line and tour.

  • What do I see with a Hop on Hop off Tour?

    Most hop on hop off tours take you through San Francisco's most famous neighborhoods including Fisherman's Wharf, Union Square, Golden Gate Park and the Embarcadero. You'll also get to drive across the famous Golden Gate Bridge, and see sights such as the Transamerica Pyramid and City Hall.