Even before you climb inside, the GoCar is clearly a car with a personality. The petite, three-wheeled two-seater has a hood that slightly resembles an eager-to-please smiley face, and an open top that seems custom-made for letting the breeze ruffle your hair. Then the real fun begins: built with the company's own software and a compassion for the voiceless robots of America, a talking GPS system guides two-seater GoCars through the city streets of San Francisco, San Diego, Miami, Barcelona, Madrid, and Lisbon with cheerful, info-rich narration. Second only to having a knowledgeable local jog alongside your minivan, tours zip along at drivers' own pace and accommodate as many pit stops as time allows.
If you follow Excelsior Urban Hikes' resident guide Christina, it will only take you two hours to see all of San Francisco. That's because it takes two hours to hike to the top of Mount Davidson, which offers stunning views of the city, both bay bridges, and the Pacific Ocean beyond to visitors who reach its summit.
Christina leads hikes down city streets and through nature trails to reveal scenic vistas. Besides Mount Davidson, she often takes groups to McLaren Park, where she points out interesting graffiti and pauses so hikers can take in views of the Outer Mission District. Christina also takes nighttime excursions to the top of Bernal Hill, where hikers can marvel at the sparkling bay lights and a lightening bug with a great stand-up routine.
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.
Many tour guides are passionate about history, but not enough to break into song. That’s where Wild Wes Leslie comes in. Rather than burdening sightseers with the droning narration and mandatory 19th-century ankle boots of a typical city tour, Wes divulges the details of San Francisco’s famous neighborhoods with energetic and original ditties sung to the strums of his ukulele. Resplendent in his bow-tie and bowler hat, the troubadour leads groups on 2.5-hour walking tours that explore well-known areas such as Chinatown and Union square, along with lesser-known spots including the city’s first red-light district.
The thick September fog haunts the water like a lonely ghost, obscuring the boat’s passengers’ view of everything but their fellow riders. Convinced that they’ll see nothing more that day, Captain Joe Nazar turns his vessel around and heads back to shore when suddenly, out of the brume, a graceful hulk breaks through the rolling waters. The boat has unwittingly happened upon a pod of humpback whales, and everyone––including the seasoned naturalist guides aboard––suddenly falls into a stunned silence as the majestic creatures spout water and dive into the mist. Fostering humbling, awe-inspiring interactions with nature such as this is Captain Joe’s raisons d'être and the driving force behind the founding of San Francisco Whale Tours.
San Francisco Whale Tours demonstrates the beauty and diversity of the Bay’s bustling ecosystem with regular nature tours that trawl the coast. Captain Joe––aided by his expert crew and sage naturalists––shares his passion for aquatic adventures with his guests via leisurely excursions through the waters of the Farallon Islands aboard the Kitty Kat, his trusted watercraft. The catamaran ferries its curious passengers in style with a sun deck and enclosed cabin, and its low wake and gentle underwater noise make it a model marine houseguest. Aiding the crusade to preserve whale populations, San Francisco Whale Tours donates a portion of profits to the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.
Of all the hooting and victory dancing coming from the group in the corner booth, only half of the commotion is a result of the game of Sorry! the group is immersed in. The other half occurs during breaks in the action when the competitors dig into the decadent morsels in front of them—desserts forged from ingredients such as rum mascarpone cream and homemade marshmallow. Evenings of spirited merrymaking capped with sweet treats are standard at Candybar, where seasoned pastry chef Cathleen Li handcrafts a rotating menu of cakes, ice creams, and sorbets.
To complement Li’s signature desserts, mixologists further tantalize taste buds with inventive cocktails ranging from the triple-chocolate bellini with chocolate sorbet to the blood-orange cocktail. Throughout the candlelit dining room, minimalist bulbs dangle from ceiling tracks, casting dancing shadows across plush red couches, black-and-white damask poufs, and contemporary artwork. A collection of board games infuses the dessert lounge’s chic atmosphere with a touch of whimsy and encourages good-natured rivalries between friends or high-stakes games to determine who gets the last bite of the ice-cream sundae.