Ryan Curtis loves local history, sunshine, and exercise, and he just happened to be clever enough to combine all three into a career. As the owner of Roam Local, he offers—and leads—private and semiprivate walking tours that explore the hidden stairways, alleyways, and gardens of San Francisco. As groups walk, hidden terraces with stunning views as well as famous sights come into view, usually from unexpected angles. That perspective often creates stunning photo opportunities that can’t be found on postcards, such as the Golden Gate Bridge before it’s infused with its morning coffee. As your guide walks and talks, they supplement their information with an interactive iPad presentation and San Francisco’s other standout: its balmy weather.
The cable car is an important piece of San Franciscan history, but you don't have to go to a museum to see one. Instead, you can ride one yourself thanks to the California Street Cable Car Line. Used for private charters and holiday tours, the company was started in 1958 by Arnold Gridley and now has a fleet of over 20 vintage-inspired vehicles. Each one was built using the original cable car blueprint, which means solid oak benches, brass rails, and a sepia conductor at the helm. These iconic features have led to numerous appearances in numerous TV shows, movies and commercials, from Nash Bridges to The Hulk and ads for Pepsi.
The volunteer guides at San Francisco City Guides don't just hit mandated talking points—instead, they each create their walking tours from scratch, highlighting their favorite corners of the city in the process. They currently host more than 70 unique tours for month, some of which explore the historic Castro district, while others ramble through Golden Gate Park or San Francisco City Hall. Regardless of the area, the guides focus on history and architecture rather than the length of the sidewalk cracks, a focus that has kept the tours popular since 1978.
Whether you want to sip a glass of chardonnay at a family-owned, boutique winery or to stand next to a 600-year-old redwood in Muir Woods, Extranomical Tours can make it happen. And the tour company’s smaller vehicles—minibuses and 13- to 15-passenger shuttle vans—render the journey a more intimate, flexible experience. What began as a single van and one man's determination to showcase the Bay Area to friends and tourists has grown into a fleet that leads acclaimed tours across northern California. Dawn Cuthbertson of the Huffington Post went on the Wine Country and Redwoods Escape tour, one of the company's many offerings "Get your camera ready as you wander through the fog-drenched forest," she suggested to future visitors, describing the "hundreds of shades of green" visible in the cool, emerald forests.
The company trains its guides individually, regularly testing them on local knowledge and tidbits such as how long it takes the fire department to rescue a cat from a giant sequoia. The team also offers tours of Alcatraz, Monterey, and Carmel, as well as ferry- or boat-based adventures and walking or biking tours.
Bay Area Expeditions' experienced outdoorsmen, with backgrounds ranging from U.S. military service to botany education, lead students on instructional excursions to bolster wilderness-survival skills. Classes help students identify edible or medicinal plants, earn ASHI certification for first aid, or learn primitive skills. Overnight [expeditions]http://bayareaexpeditions.com/index.php/expeditions) lead guests beneath the starry skies of Big Sur or snowshoeing tours through the Sierra Nevadas’ snow-dusted basins.