How to be a Tourist in San Francisco

Hi everybody! My name is Hannes Huebener and I’m from from Leipzig, Germany. The other day I faced an urgent problem when my parents came to visit me in San Francisco: what should I do with them?

So far, I’ve spent four months as an editorial intern for cityseekr. When my parents decided to fly into the city a couple of weeks ago, I wanted to make sure the time we spent here together was worthwhile. I also wanted to show them everything this beautiful city has to offer.

So, what to do? Instead of walking to every major sight on our own, my parents convinced me to go on one of those super touristy hop-on, hop-off bus city tours. At first, thinking about boarding one of those buses and being degraded to a bloody tourist once again didn’t really appeal to me. I very much wanted to think of myself as a “local” during my last month here. Ultimately though, I decided to leave those silly resentments behind, and, since my parents were buying the $35 ticket, I agreed to become a real tourist once more and jumped onto the open-top bus.

Photo courtesy of Open Top Sightseeing

And what can I say, it was actually a great experience! You can hop on the Open Top Sightseeing tour buses at any of the 20 stops that are spread out all over downtown and west San Francisco. With the ticket, which you can buy at any stop, you earn a 24-hour pass to get on and off the buses that come by every 20 minutes. Also, on each bus there is a tour guide that will supply you with entertaining stories and information concerning the area and the surrounding sights.

We entered a bus at the stop in Union Square, so the first area we went through was the Tenderloin district. Here I learned how this seedy part of the city actually got its name. This was something I’ve always been curious about and no local San Francisco resident had been able to explain it to me until then. I’m not going to tell you the meaning behind the name, but if you want to find out: hop on!

Photo courtesy of Open Top Sightseeing

After passing the impressive Civic Center and the Opera House we entered the Haight-Ashbury district. I convinced my parents to get off the bus and we walked up Haight Street for a while. But since I could easily see they were a both bit “alienated” by all the surrounding smoke, head and tattoo shops, not to mention all the eccentric people standing on the street smoking weed in plain sight, we decided to jump back on the next bus and continue our ride. But hey, when you come to San Francisco, be prepared to experience ALL walks of life, not just your own!

After a ride through Golden Gate Park it was time to see what is considered to be the city’s most famous sight: the Golden Gate Bridge. The weather in San Francisco that day was unseasonably beautiful and we had a wonderful ride over the bridge. In hindsight, our decision to get off the bus on the other side and walk back over the bridge wasn’t the best idea. When I reached the middle of the bridge I realized I wasn’t quite over my acrophobia like I always thought I was. Desperately clutching the rail, soaked in sweat, I somehow managed to “crawl” all the way over the bridge so we could board the next bus there.

The tour then took us back to downtown SF, passing through Russian Hill, Nob Hill and Chinatown. Our tour guide provided us with interesting and funny information about these areas, from both the past and present. After we made our way through downtown, we took the Embarcadero all the way to Fisherman’s Wharf, where we got off the bus and could finally mingle with our equals: all the other tourists this place is usually crowded with.

Photo courtesy of Open Top Sightseeing

Some funny aspects of the tour were the different kinds of reactions we got from people towards our bus in the different parts of the city. For example, in the Haight there were many people kindly waving to us or shouting: “Yeah! San Francisco rocks!” However, a homeless guy in the Tenderloin actually gave us “the finger.” I’m pretty sure that doesn’t happen every time but it kind of made the ride seem authentic. So essentially, what I took home from this tour were a bunch of great impressions of San Francisco, and on top of that, a sunburned face! Success!

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