Ingenious City Tours

Like any city that counts tourism among its major industries, San Francisco has lots and lots of companies that offer sightseeing tours. In addition to the ubiquitous luxury coach tours and hop-on-hop-off double-decker bus tours, there are several companies that provide creative tours in unique vehicles. If you’re planning a trip to San Francisco, you might want to consider these not-so-typical sightseeing options.

Here are some of the more unique and interesting tours I’ve seen around town:

1) Mr. Toad's Tour (Z28-0-439)

Mr. Toad’s Tours

This company uses elegant vintage touring cars like the 1924 Yellowstone Bus shown here. Their shortest tour, (90-minutes) covers the Wharf, North Beach, Chinatown, the Barbary Coast, Pacific Heights, Crissy Field, the Presidio, and views of the Golden Gate Bridge. Their 3-hour tour adds on more sights like Haight-Ashbury and Golden Gate Park; they also have a tour package that includes Alcatraz. This tour gets rave reviews on TripAdvisor, and it's the only tour included in the blog that we've actually taken. You can read my TripAdvisor post here.


2) Fire Engine Tour (Z28-6-757)

Fire Engine Tour

What could be better than crossing the Golden Gate Bridge in the back of a 1955 Mack Fire Engine? The guides, on this one-of-a-kind tour, outfit you in Firemen’s attire, fasten you securely into the big shiny red fire truck, and educate and entertain you for the 90-minute tour. This popular tour is a big hit with kids.


3) Go Car (Z28-6-730)

Go Cars

These clever little yellow cars are GPS-guided; they both navigate and narrate as you drive. As their website claims, a Go Car “takes you to all the best sites and tells the stories that bring this unique city to life.” You can follow one of four tours or go wherever you wish.


4) Segway (Z28-6-703)


It takes a few minutes to learn how to ride a Segway, but once you get the hang of it, it’s pretty exciting. On a Segway, you get the up-close, eye level experience of walking with the speed advantage of having wheels.


There are two companies that offer Segway tours in San Francisco: City Segway Tours and Electric Tour Company. Both offer three-hour tours along the waterfront; Electric Tour also has an advanced tour that goes up Russian Hill and back down Lombard — America's crookedest street. A quick scan of the Segway tour reviews on TripAdvisor, confirms that these tours are very popular.


5) Urban Safari

Urban Safari

This company provides an adventure through the urban jungle in zebra-striped vehicles. Their 4-hour tour includes, the Golden Gate Bridge, Palace of Fine Arts, Fisherman’s Wharf, Golden Gate Park, as well as unique neighborhoods, murals, and movie sites.


This photo is from Urban Safari's website »»»»

6) Pedicab (Z28-6-553)


For a relaxing, personal, eco-friendly, tour of the waterfront, try one of these three-wheeled pedicabs. They mostly ply the waterfront from Ghirardelli Square to AT&T Park, but they also go to North Beach, Chinatown, and the old Barbary Coast. For obvious reasons, they avoid the hills.


7) Ducks (Z28-6-748)

Ride the Ducks

This company provides tours in WWII amphibious landing craft, or DUKWs. They tour San Francisco neighborhoods and then splash into San Francisco Bay at McCovey Cove. These tours include lots of music, lots of humor, and, of course, everyone gets a quacker kazoo, which makes them especially popular with kids.


Motorized Cable Car Tours

8) Motorized Cable Car (Z28-6-589)

It’s little wonder that cable cars are San Francisco’s number one attraction. Cable cars were invented here, and we have the only working cable car system in the world. But real cable cars can only go where their rails and underground cables take them, so a few enterprising companies have converted rebuilt or replica cable cars into street vehicles and use them for city tours.

Of the handful of companies that provide motorized cable car tours, there are two that claim to use authentic cable cars: Classic Cable Car Sightseeing and Grayline. They both tour San Francisco’s historic neighborhoods; Grayline goes to the Golden Gate Bridge; Classic goes across it.

I limited this blog to tours of the city’s sights in unusual vehicles. There are lots of other options including, bus tours, bike tours, walking tours, water tours, and air tours (seaplanes, helicopters and blimps). These are all likely subjects for future blogs.


In all of my previous blogs, I have up-close-and-personal experience with the subject. I’ve hiked the hikes, walked the walks, viewed the art, visited the gardens, and crawled the pubs. This blog is different in that I’ve not personally gone on any of these tours except Mr. Toad's. I see these tours in our neighborhood all the time, and the participants seem to be having a good time. I’m not endorsing or pushing anything; I’m merely revealing the possibilities.


© Virginia E. Vail 2012