Why You Need to Hire a Guide in San Francisco

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On this last trip to San Francisco the GuideAdvisor team connected with a number of food and urban guides (including Lisa Rogovin, Beth Alyse, Tom Medin and Alexandra Kenin to name just a few) and learned there are 36 neighbourhoods that make up the city. Thirty-six! This isn’t like visiting Houston, Texas, where homogeneity reigns – this is new and exciting foods, ethnicities, sexualities, sights, sounds and entertainment around every corner. Most visitors only get to see the touristy Fisherman’s Wharf, Union Square or Chinatown areas of the city (not to mention Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge) but there is so much more that’s so easy to get to. Take our advice and hire a guide to explore these six areas in San Francisco; or go further afield and let us know what your favourite neighbourhoods are in the city.

The Mission

Years ago only the bravest would enter the Mission to explore its back alleys. Today, there are still a few spots to avoid, which is why it’s a good idea to hire a guide, but it’s definitely worth visiting this eclectic area to witness the stunning hand-painted murals, some of which have been around for decades. The Mission also boasts the best mexican food in San Francisco (there’s an authentic taqueria on most every corner), as well as more unique fare, such as the pumpkin spice cupcakes at Mission Minis.

The Castro

This is hands-down the best people watching district in San Francisco. Also known as the “gay village,” the Castro is the heart of all things LGBT on the West Coast and never ceases to disappoint when we stroll its causeways. Located on Castro St. between Market and 19th, this is the area to visit if you want to shop for anything latex or leather, witness people walking around in chaps or to get your inner freak on. If you’re looking for something a little more demure, however, take in a show at the Castro Theatre, one of the city’s oldest movie palaces. This last visit, we met a guide who combined a tour of the Castro with a hike up Tank Hill, thereby ensuring our eyes and legs got a great workout.

Haight-Ashbury

Bohemia is alive and well and you can find it in the Haight-Ashbury neighbourhood of San Francisco. This area was one the hotbed of the hippie subculture movement and was immortalized in songs by such icons as Janis Joplin and Jerry Garcia who lived it at different times of their careers. It was also where comedians such as Robin Williams and Whoppi Goldberg started their stand-up careers at the Other Café, now the restaurant called Crepes on Cole. (These are just a few of the facts you’ll learn when taking a tour through the district.)

North Beach

This is San Francisco’s Little Italy and it’s so authentic, it almost gives the Bronx a run for its money (almost). Bordered by the famous Coit Tower and the Saints Peter and Paul Church, this district boasts Italian restaurants, delicatessens and cafés. This is where you want to go to enjoy some of the best cannelloni, pepperoni and espresso on the West Coast. (Be sure to drop in to Caffé Roma and see its antique coffee roaster  that Vince, the owner, still uses to this day. Say hi to him for us!) The only problem with the North Beach area is that there’s too much to see and eat! The best bet is to hire a local food guide such as Blandina Farley who will ensure you sample the best there is to offer while entertaining you with stories of the history here.

Temescal Alley

When most travellers hear “Oakland” (the city located just across the water from San Francisco on the other side of the newly built $6.5 billion Bay Bridge) sadly thoughts turn to gang and racial violence. However that was then and this is now. Oakland is starting to clean up its act and there are some jewels here that are definitely worth visiting. One of them was once known for being the horse stables area at the turn of the century but today, Temescal Alley is a scene of eclectic shops, excellent cafés and the Temescal Alley Barber Shop, where patrons line up, sometimes for hours, to get an old-school coif. Hire a guide and they’ll be sure to show you the diamonds in the rough.

The Hill Parks

Did you know there are over 60 hills in San Francisco, many of which are designated parks? There’s no way to see them all in a day but you can hire an urban hiking guide such as Alexandra Kenin who will take you to some of the best. (Or you can keep your sneakers at home and drive to some of them.) Our favourites include Tank Hill and Telegraph Hill but the good news is that from any of them, you’ll be assured a stunning view of the cityscape below.

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