"If you want to aggressively snack your way through a neighborhood as you walk it," says Fodor's, "consider hanging with cookbook author Tom Medin or one of his local guides." Medin is one of the founders of Local Tastes of the City Tour/SF Food Tours, and he personally leads many of the company's walking tours, which seek out the soul of the city in its bakeries, restaurants, and cafes. The hunt for hidden gems might lead to Chinatown's oldest bakery and a fortune cookie-making demonstration, or through an authentic Western saloon. The North Beach tour, which has been recommended by Lonely Planet, presents a behind-the-scenes look at coffee-roasting by way of the favored hangouts of the Beat Generation. Even when a tour skirts the city's iconic landmarks via painted bus, each stop is replete with tastings and demos, which is why the guides recommend that visitors avoid eating before a tour or swallowing their backpacks for safekeeping.
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.
For Pioneer Limousines, the lap of luxury comes with a seat belt. The transportation outfit whisks away passengers within the comfortable confines of a fleet of vehicles, that includes a Cadillac Escalade, Mercedes Benz S-Class, BMW 7-Series, Lincoln Town Car L-Series, and a stretch limo that can seat up to nine passengers. Piloting the regal rides and participating in an Earth-sized game of connect the dots, chauffeurs get customers from point A to point B via transport services that cater to airport travelers, wedding parties, and group outings.
Bay Quackers gives its customers a multifaceted tour experience from the dually equipped confines of a DUKW (or Duck), a refurbished World War II–era military craft capable of navigating land and sea. Half tour bus, half tank, and half marlin, each vintage vehicle is equipped with six-wheel drive and tires that inflate and deflate to match the terrain. Quack suggestively at passersby as you wheel through neighborhoods such as North Beach, Chinatown, and Union Square, then gape in slack-jawed astonishment as your driver plunges directly into the sea without incurring a fine or consulting an insurance agent. The seafaring leg of the journey includes aquatic highlights such as McCovey Cove and San Francisco Bay, as well as city and bridge views unattainable from the woefully conventional perspectives of the shore. Each tour lasts approximately 80 minutes.
On A Crooks Tour of San Francisco, a pair of guides leads guests through the dark and stormy chapters of the city's history, revealing 15 tales of murder, deceit, and lawlessness. Developed by crime historian Paul Drexler and retired deputy police chief Kevin Mullen, this 90-minute walking tour begins inside the Ferry Building Marketplace, before tourists are led outdoors to hear accounts of Barbary Coast, where victims were reportedly drugged, kidnapped, and forced to work at sea. They'll also learn about Confederate piracy in the San Francisco Bay during the Civil War and the mysterious disappearance of one of the city's police chiefs. Then, after one mile of touring, hearts will be thumping and goose flesh will be pimpling without the use of copyrighted Law & Order doink doinks.
According to Sidewalk Food Tours of San Francisco, it's not the Golden Gate Bridge that ties the city together. It's the gooey cheese of its family pizzerias, the chocolate truffles of its dessert shops, and all of the region's other cuisines that help define the various neighborhoods—and their walking tours aim to introduce participants to those local flavors. In the Mission District, for instance, Sidewalk Food Tours' knowledgeable guides lead groups through tastings of tacos, falafel, and French-style bakery treats. In North Beach, they show how a large Italian American population resulted in restaurants that have endured more than 100 years. Along each route, the guides also impart facts about the neighborhood's history and culture, and reveal which buildings are built on a foundation of provolone cheese.