San Francisco is conveniently toured via Bus. How else could you get to all the best places, cross the Golden Gate Bride, and learn about the city? During my trip to San Francisco, I took a trip on the city’s top-rated tourist bus, Big Bus Tours.
What it is: The Big Bus Tour is a ride through the city in – you guessed it – a huge bus. The open top of the bus’s second story lets you sit high above the crowd and enjoy the sights and sounds of the city. The bus has 25 different stops, including Union Square, Treasure Island, and Chinatown. During the tour, funny and informative Cali natives explain the surroundings, while non-English speakers can listen to a recorded tour.
Who it’s for: Anyone who wants to see San Francisco!
Where and when: First bus leaves Fisherman’s Wharf at 9:00, and buses stop every 10-20 minutes after that. You can join a tour from any of the various stops around the city.
Where it goes: The Big Bus has many stops. Here are some of the highlights:
- Painted Ladies: A lovely row of old Victorian houses that epitomize the old streets of the city.
- Pier 39: This is where you see all the cool stuff. If you’re a shopper, you can hit the stores, but if you want to take in the sights, you can snap some photos of the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz from here. As a bonus, this is a popular spot for street performers.
- Fisherman’s Wharf: No longer primarily a docking site for fisherman, this tourist favorite is full of street performers—including a family of sea lions lounging by the ocean.
- North Bay and Little Italy: Find your inner rebel in this historically counter-cultural section of the city. Or, just go for some pasta.
- Union Square: Once a gathering place for Civil War Unionists, this plaza is now a fantastic shopping district.
- Civic Center: This area is a testament to California’s tenacity. After a major earthquake destroyed this section of the city, the Civic Center was created to rebuild and beautify the area.
- Haight Ashbury: Although it’s a little too commercialized, the city’s rebel headquarters still contains some interesting hole-in-the-wall places. Be sure to check them out!
- Golden Gate Park: This park is a gem. Not only does it contain the nation’s oldest public Japanese garden and a century-old art museum, but you can sometimes see a buffalo or two wandering around in Bison Paddock!
- Golden Gate Bridge: This is the most magnificent part of the tour. You can take the bus across or use one of the bicycles to bike across! Are you brave enough?
- Chinatown: This is the biggest Chinese community outside of China! There is a lot of history and culture here. The best part? The fortune cookie factory.
- Embarcadero Ferry Building: This building is over a hundred years old, and amazingly it’s survived all the earthquakes. It’s very pretty and worth seeing.
- Place of Fine Arts is a MUST STOP
What is costs:
- One-day pass: $40.50 for adults, $22.50 for kids. Includes walking tours and bike rental.
- Two-day pass: $49.50 for adults, $31.50 for kids. Includes walking tours, bike rental, night tour, 7-D movie, and trip across Golden Gate Bridge.
- Three-day pass: $63 for adults, $45 for kids. Includes walking tours, bike rental, night tour, 7-D movie, trip across Golden Gate Bridge, Madame Tussaud’s wax museum, and Aquarium of the Bay.
- Night Tour: $30 for adults, $20 for kids. My recommendation!
There is a lot to love about the tour, but my favorite part was going across the Golden Gate Bridge to Treasure Island. You can stop and see the bridge during sunset. At night, you can look across the water to the city and see the skyline lit up from all the lights. I also loved the tour guides. It’s great that they had live guides instead of recordings! The guides were pretty funny, and I learned a lot. Besides, I fall asleep so easily in vehicles, so I need something to keep me awake during bus tours.
Here are a couple tips: Be sure to bring a jacket, because it is super cold on top of the bus, especially when crossing bridges. Also, Big Bus has a iPhone app! Download it to help you plan your trip. Most importantly, sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride.