Taking a self-guided walking tour is a great way to explore a new city, especially if you are on a budget, and San Francisco is no exception.
San Francisco is very geographically compact – the whole city can easily be walked through in a day, so self-guided tours are the perfect choice if you are only in town for a day or two!
This is Part 2 of our Self-Guided Walking Tour Series, which will show you how to take a self-guided walking tour of San Francisco’s most interesting neighborhoods.
Self-Guided Walking Tours of San Francisco: What You Need to Know
In Part 1 of the series, we hiked up Russian Hill, looked for wild parrots on Telegraph Hill, took a gelato-fueled stroll through North Beach, and discovered how fortune cookies are made in Chinatown.
This time, we are taking a look at the Embarcadero, Fisherman’s Wharf, and Japantown.
We will also give you an all-in-one self-guided tour option that will take you through the most important neighborhoods and historical sites of San Francisco.
Ready? Grab your jacket and let’s go!
The Ultimate Self-Guided Tour of San Francisco (Part 2)
Let’s start our journey at the iconic Ferry Building on the Embarcadero.
To get here, you can take MUNI (San Francisco’s municipal railway system) to the Embarcadero station from anywhere in the city.
Or, if you are up for it, check the schedule of the ferry boats to see if you can take one right to the Ferry Building!
If you happen to be visiting San Francisco on a Saturday, check out the weekly farmer’s market.
Once you’ve grabbed food or coffee, head north towards Fisherman’s Wharf.
You can get their faster by taking the historic F-line streetcar, but we recommend walking the actual Embarcadero.
It offers some great views of the city as well as plenty of opportunities for people watching!
If you’ve got a few extra hours to spare, you can stop by The Exploratorium on your way.
Where to start: 1 The Embarcadero, San Francisco, CA 94105, USA (The Ferry Building)
Hit a wall of tourists walking up the Embarcadero?
Chances are, you have arrived at Pier 39: one of San Francisco’s most popular tourist destinations, and the best place to get some clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl (one of San Francisco’s must-eats).
This is where you can check out the famous San Francisco sea lions napping in the sun.
Nearby, a nondescript warehouse on Pier 45 is home to the Musée Mécanique: an interactive antique penny arcadewhere you can see (and play with!) antique arcade machines and mechanical musical instruments still in their original working condition.
If all that walking has made you feel peckish, stop by the famous Boudin Bakery where you can watch the making of the best sourdough in San Francisco.
Where to start: Pier 39
The Japantown neighborhood, established in 1906, is the oldest of the three Japantowns left in the United States.
The main attraction here is the authentic Japanese mall selling everything from clothes to books to food.
This is where most of the neighborhood’s activity occurs. So, if you’ve got the time, stay a while, browse the shops, and people-watch ’till your heart’s content.
When you are done shopping, check out the beautiful Peace Pagoda, located between the Japan Center Mall and Nihonmachi Mall.
It was gifted to the people of San Francisco by its sister city, Osaka, back in 1968.
Of course, you can’t leave Japantown without sampling some authentic Japanese food!
For an upscale ramen experience, grab some noodles at Waraku, or stop by Matcha Cafe Maiko for a sweet treat.
If you happen to be in San Francisco in the spring, check out the Annual Cherry Blossom Festival too!
Where to start: 1737 Post St, San Francisco, CA 94115, USA (The Japan Center Mall)
Barbary Coast Trail
If all of this sounds like too much work (and too much navigating!), we suggest you walk the Barbary Coast Trail instead.
The Barbary Coast Trail connects some of San Francisco’s most important historical sites.
It is clearly marked with gold medallions embedded in the sidewalks of San Francisco, making the self-guided aspect of this tour a little easier.
It is 3.8 miles long (perfect for a short afternoon stroll!), and will take you through several of San Francisco’s most famous neighborhoods, including Chinatown, North Beach, Union Square, and more.
On your walk, you will get to see the largest collection of historical ships in the US and one of the oldest still-operating Asian temples built here back in 1852.
If you’d like a little more guidance, the San Francisco Museum and Historical society also offer self-guided tour audios and PDFs for purchase on their website.
Where to start: 88 5th St, San Francisco, CA 94103, USA (The Old US Mint)
Our Best Tips for Visiting San Francisco
Self-guided walking tours are a great way to explore San Francisco, but there’s so much more to this city than you can discover in a single day.
San Francisco has roughly 7 unique neighborhoods, each with its own personality.
The artsy vibes of the Mission District are totally different from the crowded, touristy feel of Fisherman’s Wharf.
If you don’t have a lot of time, we suggest taking a themed approach to exploring San Francisco.
Whether you’re into food, LGBTQ+ history, or ghost hunting, the city has something for everyone!
While San Francisco is very walkable, don’t be afraid of the public transport systems (MUNI and BART). They are ridiculously easy to use – but always running late, just like the rest of San Francisco.
When you head out to explore everything San Francisco has to offer, don’t forget your jacket!
The weather in San Francisco can be notoriously deceiving.
On one hill, it can be bright and sunny. On another, it’s freezing cold. It’s bizarre!
One final piece of advice? Don’t EVER call San Francisco “San Fran” or “Frisco.”
It will immediately single you out as an out-of-towner – even more than wearing shorts & flip flops will!
The Haunt Experience
Not sure if self-guided tours are for you? Would rather have a local show you around the city?
If you’d like to see a different, darker side of the Fog City, check out our Haunted San Francisco Ghost Tour.
Full of tales of scandalous murders and ruthless cult leaders, it will take you on an unforgettable journey through the streets of nighttime San Francisco.
In the past, our tour has been known to stir up some restless spirits… So you might even get to meet a ghost or two!
Ready to discover the dark side of San Francisco?