Best Tours and Day Trips from San Francisco

Getting to know San Francisco and its surroundings on your own is a great plan, but if you are accompanied by a specialized guide, the plan adds another level.

Alex Grande

Alex Grande

9 min read

Best Tours and Day Trips from San Francisco

The Golden Gate Bridge | ©Joonyeop Baek

San Francisco is one of the most curious cities in the United States and without a doubt my favorite on the West Coast. The image of its iconic bridge shrouded in mist, its steep streets that you can travel by streetcar, its diversity, its food (being hungry in San Francisco is one of the best things that can happen to you), and its relative variety of plans make a vacation in the city a great plan. Here are my must-do's in the city:

1. Tour of Alcatraz, Muir Woods and Sausalito

Alcatraz Prison Cell Gallery| ©NeONBRAND
Alcatraz Prison Cell Gallery| ©NeONBRAND

Three of San Francisco's most powerful attractions, combined in one activity. For almost a full day, you'll go in a small group to Alcatraz (tour includes ferry tickets, admission to the iconic prison and audio guide), and explore Muir Woods and Sausalito, both alongside a professional guide and at your leisure for part of the experience.

I would say that the best thing about this tour of Alcatraz, Muir Woods and Sausalito is that it is an all-in-one tour in which you save the transportation between the different points included in the tour, but the fact that it includes a guide to know in depth the history of these places is also another of its strengths.

  • Duration: 7 hours
  • Recommended: If you have little time in San Francisco or you have just arrived in the city and want to see the most emblematic places first.

Book your tour to Alcatraz, Sausalito and Muir Woods

2. Small group tour of San Francisco's Financial District

Enjoy the beautiful architecture of the financial district| ©Guilhem Vellut
Enjoy the beautiful architecture of the financial district| ©Guilhem Vellut

On this small group tour of San Francisco's financial district you will pass by the headquarters of a lot of world-famous technology companies: Google, Facebook, or LinkedIn. You will also visit SalesForce Park, a floating park built in the heart of the city where companies like Slack or Yelp have their offices.

This is a very specific tour in which you will experience first-hand the atmosphere of one of the most vibrant areas of San Francisco, with a guide who will tell you juicy anecdotes about this cradle of entrepreneurship.

  • Duration: 2 hours
  • Recommended: If you are passionate about the history of the technology companies that dominate the world today.

Book the San Francisco sightseeing bus

3. Golden Gate and Alcatraz Cruise

Views of Alcatraz from the cruise| ©Boris Kasimov
Views of Alcatraz from the cruise| ©Boris Kasimov

If you want to take a boat ride around the entire San Francisco Bay, this is the experience for you. You will not enter Alcatraz, but you will take a tour around the island and pass under the Golden Gate Bridge.

The cruise departs from Fisherman's Wharf and you will have the option to take an audio guide with you at all times to know everything you see. In addition, the boat has WiFi and you can order drinks to enjoy the ride. You can book online your tickets for the Golden Gate and Alcatraz cruise, which I recommend to make sure you enjoy this experience on your trip to San Francisco.

  • Duration: 1 hour
  • Recommended: If the weather is nice in San Francisco and you don't want to visit Alcatraz inside (in this case I recommend a cruise with entrance to the famous prison).

Book a cruise in San Francisco

4. San Francisco All-Inclusive Pass

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art| ©bikesharedude
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art| ©bikesharedude

The Go San Francisco Tourist Card is a day pass: you choose the number of days the card is valid and within that period you can visit all the attractions you want that are included in the pass.

I recommend you purchase the San Francisco All-Inclusive Pass online, but first take a look below to see what is included and if it is worth it for your trip. Choose a 1, 2, 3 or 5 day pass, with which you will have free access to San Francisco's main attractions (among others):

What's included

  • San Francisco Sightseeing Bus
  • Madame Tussauds Museum
  • California Academy of Sciences
  • Golden Gate to Bay Bridge Cruise
  • San Francisco Dungeon
  • Aquarium of the Bay
  • Ripley's Believe It or Not!
  • San Francisco Bay Cruise
  • Exploratorium Museum
  • Oracle Park
  • Bicycle Rental
  • San Francisco Zoo
  • San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMoMA)
  • USS Pampanito
  • Young Museum
  • Walt Disney Family Museum
  • K1 Karting San Francisco
  • GoCar Tour
  • Asian Art Museum
  • Contemporary Jewish Museum
  • Berkeley Botanical Garden
  • Beat Museum
  • Duration: depends on the validity you hire
  • Recommended: If you are one of those people who travel to the fullest, wanting to see as many things per day as possible to get the most out of your vacation.

Book the San Francisco All-Inclusive Pass

5. San Francisco Tour by GoCar (Early Bird)

Visit the streets of San Francisco by Go Car| ©Smart Destinations
Visit the streets of San Francisco by Go Car| ©Smart Destinations

If you like to get up early to start exploring the city before anyone else, the GoCar San Francisco tour allows you to rent an electric car with a GPS that will guide you around San Francisco and its main points of interest.

After an orientation on how to drive the GoCar, you can travel freely around the city or follow the route suggested by the GPS. Something you should know is that the electric car has two seats and the price of the experience is per car, not per person.

Logically this experience has its requirements: the driver must be 21 years old or older and have a valid driver's license. The passenger must be at least 4 years old. Also, something important is that you have to leave a deposit of $ 500 to rent the car or $ 150 if you take out insurance.

  • Duration: 3 hours
  • Recommended: If you prefer to visit the cities on your own, and you want to do an alternative tour of San Francisco.

Book a GoCar minicab tour of San Francisco

6. Day tour to Napa with wine tasting and gourmet lunch on the Wine Train

The star of Napa, its delicious wine| ©Antonio Silveira
The star of Napa, its delicious wine| ©Antonio Silveira

This is the premium experience you have to have on your trip to San Francisco if you are a wine lover. This is an excursion to the Napa Valley, known worldwide for its vineyards, where you will arrive on a restored historic train, the Wine Train.

From the train, you can admire the beauty of the Napa region, enjoy a gourmet lunch and coffee in the dining room, and get off at a winery of your choice for a wine tasting and a taste of the local product.

Everything is included in the day trip to Napa with wine tasting and gourmet lunch on the Wine Train: the round trip from San Francisco to Napa by train, lunch and tasting, so if you are a fan of complete experiences this is a perfect option to spend part of the day in one of the most sought after places on the West Coast.

  • Recommended: If you are traveling to San Francisco on a budget and love wine or premium experiences.

Book a wine tour to Napa and Sonoma

7. San Francisco Hop On Hop Off Bus Tour

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

2 different routes, freedom to explore San Francisco and optional add-ons: this is what the San Francisco Hop On Hop Off bus tour offers, for which you can purchase a day pass and comfortably tour the must-see sights.

With the premium options, you can take a night bus tour of San Francisco or a streetcar tour of Sausalito. All options include a walking tour of Chinatown, so it's a very complete experience whichever itinerary you choose.

When you make your Hop On Hop Off bus reservation, you will receive an email confirmation and just need to show it on the bus when you board.

Daytime route stops

  • San Francisco Visitor Center
  • Washington Square - North Beach
  • Clay Street
  • Market Street
  • Union Square
  • Hotel Hilton
  • Centro Civil
  • Alamo Square
  • Haight Ashbury
  • Golden Gate Park
  • Palace of Fine Arts
  • Marina - Cow Hollow
  • Lombard Street
  • Pier 39

Night Route Stops

  • SS Jeremiah O'Brien
  • Madame Tussauds
  • The San Francisco Dungeon
  • Ferry Building Marketplace
  • Pier 39
  • Duration: 1 to 2 hours
  • Recommended: If you have just arrived in San Francisco and do not know where to start visiting the city or as a last tour before ending your vacation.

Book the San Francisco Big Bus tour bus

8. Private and customizable tour of San Francisco

Painted Ladies| ©Aaron Kato
Painted Ladies| ©Aaron Kato

If you want to discover San Francisco for real and go beyond the tourist sites, on this private and customizable tour of San Francisco you will have a local guide who will take you to alternative sites on a customizable tour.

In addition to visiting the main sites of the city, you will discover its neighborhoods from a different perspective, which is perfect as a starting point for your trip and from there you will be able to explore the city in peace and safety.

Duration: 2 to 6 hoursRecommended: If you don't like traditional group tours and prefer a hosted experience instead of a tour guide.

9. Before booking a tour

San Francisco Street Tram| ©Ronnie Macdonald
San Francisco Street Tram| ©Ronnie Macdonald
  • Think about the number of days you will be spending in San Francisco. If you are staying less than five days, it may be worthwhile to take a more general tour to make sure you see everything important.
  • If, on the other hand, you are staying more than a week, it is best to do a more specific tour or a tour of a particular area as you are likely to have time left over to see the key points of interest on your own.
  • At the time of booking, you will receive an email confirmation. Unless you are instructed otherwise, you will only need to show this email to the guide to gain access to the tour.
  • All tours have a meeting point and a return point. My advice is to plan well what to do after the tour, and the best idea is to see what is around the return point. You can probably ask your guide for advice on what to do afterwards, but it doesn't hurt to see a couple of options!

10. Tips for visiting San Francisco on a tour

Views of San Francisco from Twin Peaks| ©Javier Morales
Views of San Francisco from Twin Peaks| ©Javier Morales
  • Take comfortable shoes! San Francisco is a hilly city and not dressing appropriately shows. The weather is somewhat changeable and quite windy, so it's a good idea to bring several layers that you can pack in a backpack if it's hot.
  • San Francisco is a foggy city. At first you will love it and find it very magical, but after a few days it can get a bit heavy. Although it is unpredictable, make the most of a clear day as it will allow you to see the city cleanly and without veils.
  • For sunset and the best views of San Francisco, Twin Peaks is a must for people visiting the city and even more so if it is for the first time. This place has nothing to do with the disturbing village of the series, it is a place full of peace and light where you will certainly enjoy a very pleasant time.
  • How to get to Twin Peaks: the best way is to take the subway (lines K, L or M) to Forest Hill station and there take the bus 52-Excelsior to the intersection of Marview View and Skyview Way. From there, walking to the overlook is an easy task.

Other activities that may interest you

Alcatraz as seen from the streets of San Francisco| ©Clément Falize
Alcatraz as seen from the streets of San Francisco| ©Clément Falize

Only one of the tours I have mentioned above includes the entrance to Alcatraz, but in case you want to do one of the other activities and visit this iconic prison on another tour or on your own, here are the best tours and tickets to Alcatraz.

Frequently asked questions

  • How long does it take to visit Chinatown?

    It's easy to spend a day wandering the streets of Chinatown thanks to its many details. Most tours are 3 hours long and allow you to stroll through the markets, stores and food stalls and see authentic crafts, pottery and exotic products from Asia.

  • What are the best areas for walking in San Francisco?

    Some of the most pleasant walks in San Francisco include Harry Street in Glen Park, the terraces of Ingleside, St Francis Woods, Ocean Beach and the San Francisco City Hall area.

  • What else can I do in San Francisco?

    Sample some East Coast delicacies at the Ferry Building (Embarcadero), hike through Lands End, watch fortune cookies being made in Chinatown, have a burrito at The Mission, visit the Musée Mécanique full of vintage arcades, visit the Japanese Tea Garden, or have a good Irish coffee at the Buena Vista Café.