Sure, the hills can be steep, but San Francisco is still a city you want to see on foot.
Its fabled hills notwithstanding, San Francisco is a great city for walking.
Stunning vistas of the bay or the ocean when you turn a corner, unique architecture in a range of styles, a wealth of history, distinctive neighborhoods, and—in May when APA members will be visiting for this year’s annual meeting—a generally pleasant climate make San Francisco a city you want to experience on foot.
In the Russian Hill neighborhood, steep climbs reward visitors with spectacular views.
City Guides, founded in 1978, is a nonprofit organization with more than 200 trained volunteers who lead free history and architectural walking tours in San Francisco. Sponsored by the San Francisco Public Library, City Guides offers tours that reveal interesting tidbits of the fabled city’s history, legends, and lore.
According to the City Guides Web site, walks last from 90 minutes to two hours. Tours are offered 52 weeks a year, rain or shine, and approximately 30 different walks are offered each month; an expanded schedule, offered in May and October, promises additional walks, some of which are given only in these two months.
Tours are offered in San Francisco’s most famous (or, in some cases, infamous) districts, as well as in some of its more hidden neighborhoods. Walkers meet at a place and time designated in the current tour schedule (see Web site below).
No reservations are required. Guests are encouraged to wear comfortable shoes and look for their City Guides tour leader at the meeting place.
Here’s a very brief listing of some of the City Guides walking tours:
Russian Hill Stairways. The magical neighborhood of Russian Hill has secret gardens and extraordinary views. Be prepared to climb hills and staircases to visit the former haunts of writers, artists, and a variety of nonconformists who once made the neighborhood their home. And visit one of only two remaining octagon houses. The tour meets at Hyde and Filbert streets.
Nob Hill. San Francisco’s most elegant neighborhood, Nob Hill was home to the palaces of old railroad and silver kings. Today, it is still an exclusive neighborhood with the famed Grace Episcopal Cathedral, four prestigious hotels, and a very “tony” men’s club. The tour meets at the front entrance to the Stanford Court Hotel on California Street between Powell and Mason.
Golden Gate Bridge. “This tour has everything,” according to City Guides. “Soaring design, sleazy politics, stunning engineering, terrifying geology, ripping currents and tides, famous fog, sailboats under your feet, fearless ironworkers, and cowardly bankers . . . and then there’s the view from center span.” The tour meets at the Strauss statue in the visitors plaza on the San Francisco side of the bridge. (Weather can be unpredictable, so bring a jacket.)
Chinatown. Explore local alleys and walk among sites of temples and tongs and shops of joss, dim sum, and herbs. Learn some colorful history and stories from the oldest Chinatown in the United States. The tour meets in Portsmouth Square Park in front of the parking garage elevators adjacent to the corner of Walter P. Lum Place and Washington Street. ■
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