What’s the single thing common to all of my previous trips to the Bay Area? Lots of rain.

I have so many memories of ducking into San Francisco stores when the rain starts, afternoons spent finding the best indoor activities, running and/or huddling under an umbrella from one place to the next. Never good enough shoes. Ending each day with soaked socks.

It’s the Bay Area and we all know the drill out there. Rain is part of life.

Free San Francisco walking tour of Haight Ashbury

As someone who tolerated a rainy climate for years in the UK, here’s why it’s not so bad: when the rain stops, life is magical. Every person in the city seems to come out of the woodwork, finding space for themselves at the nearest outdoor patio or patch of grass in the park. The physical urge to just soak in the sun, or maybe a Vitamin D deficiency, overwhelms.

The sunny days, no matter how infrequent, make the rain worthwhile.

This spring we spent two full weeks in the Bay Area. We were mostly in Oakland (the warmer and drier part of the bay), but spent a handful of days in San Francisco and a few up in the Napa Valley.

And would you believe it? For twelve days out of fifteen, it didn’t rain. At all.

We did what we normally do when the sun comes out. Wandered around, staying far away from the confines of the house as possible. Sought out water views and patios and spritzy drinks. Played outdoor ping pong, when possible. We also took a few walking tours.

Free San Francisco walking tours of Haight Ashbury

Free San Francisco walking tours of Haight Ashbury

Free San Francisco Walking Tours

Walking tours (especially the free kind, where you tip your guide) are a staple of European tourism, but we don’t see them too frequently in the States. It’s no surprise that San Francisco is ahead of the curve on adopting the free walking tour. If any city would embrace the tenet that the consumer sets the price, it is, of course, here.

On one particularly sunny day (Cloud count? Zero.), I jumped onto a free San Francisco walking tour of the famous Haight Ashbury neighborhood.

Free San Francisco walking tours of Haight Ashbury

Free San Francisco walking tours of Haight Ashbury

The Summer of Love in San Francisco

Haight Ashbury (named so by the street corner of Haight and Ashbury) has become a tourist hot zone over the years since the famous (infamous?) Summer of Love. Back then it was home to the fringe – jam bands and artists, people searching for community.

The actual Summer of Love, in 1967, was a bit of a bust, as it was widely advertised and far too many people showed up in the neighborhood than could possibly be supported by even the most generous city.

But the values of free love, activism and non-conformity were widely embraced in the area long before 1967.

Free San Francisco walking tours of Haight Ashbury

Our tour guide, ‘Wild’ Wes, taught us all about the rise of groups like the Diggers, who tried to build a society entirely without money. We talked about the first free clinic in San Francisco, which is still running today. Along the way, Wes entertained us with renditions of famous music to come out of the neighborhood.

We also made obligatory stops at the houses where various musicians lived in the mid-1960s, including the Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin.

Haight Ashbury may have once been known as a neighborhood for those who couldn’t afford something nicer. Today, it’s home to block after block of grand multi-colored houses that have been impressively restored. It’s also where you’ll find the city’s most eclectic collection of vintage clothing stores, tie-dye and tattoo parlors.

Free San Francisco walking tours of Haight Ashbury

Free San Francisco walking tours of Haight Ashbury

HaightAshburyTour-12-min
Free San Francisco walking tours of Haight Ashbury

Don’t forget the fantastic people watching. A couple riding by on a motorcycle, holding pet rabbits in tiny aviator helmets was a personal highlight.

Haight Ashbury is the type of neighborhood that you come to because it’s in every guidebook ever written about San Francisco. But you stay in Haight Ashbury because it’s one of the city’s best melting pots, where all sides of humanity coexist in one multi-colored explosion of individuality.

And free love, of course. Don’t forget the free love.

Free San Francisco walking tours of Haight Ashbury

Free San Francisco walking tours of Haight Ashbury

Pro Tips:

We sampled a few great walking tours while we were in the San Francisco area this spring:

  • Wild SF Walking Tours has a wide variety of tours available, some free and some for a fee. This Haight Ashbury tour is one of their perennially free tours.
  • San Franscisco City Guides, which is a partner of the San Francisco Parks Alliance, has the largest repertoire of tours, and is highly reputable. We really enjoyed a specialized tour about Alford Hitchcock with them.
  • Free Tours by Foot also hosts a wide variety of tours (including their newest, a full-day tour of the city), and is highly rated, but we did not participate in any of their tours to comment further.

 

Free Walking Tour of-min

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  • April 8, 2017

    You were so lucky with the weather! And, walking tours are definitely the way to go – you see so much more in the city by walking
    Fiona Maclean recently posted…Jane Austen in HampshireMy Profile

    • April 10, 2017

      We were coming from the Caribbean too, so we were expecting the worst, but Mother Nature was quite kind to us!

  • April 8, 2017

    This area of San Francisco looks really stunning. Loving the building styles around here. Never been to the city but would love to do this walking tour.
    Danik recently posted…Northern Lights Chasing with Aurora HolidaysMy Profile

  • April 8, 2017
    Lesley Carter

    I love when I visit a place expecting rain for most of the trip and it never comes. Our recent trip to Curacao was very similar. It was like a dream.

    Love Janis Joplin; sounds like a great tour.

  • April 8, 2017

    Awesome post! Thanks for sharing 😀 We never been in San Francisco, but its on our travel list!
    Pedro & Paulina recently posted…Odeceixe – Casas do MoinhoMy Profile

  • April 8, 2017

    Holy smokes you sure got lucky with the weather! I visited for a few days in September once and fortunately we didn’t get any rain either- but it definitely wasn’t warm. Gorgeous pictures by the way 🙂

  • April 9, 2017

    My sister and her family live in Northern California and we love going into San Francisco with them. This would be a great summer to plan a visit – your photos show why it’s such a great city.
    Lois Alter Mark recently posted…heifer international invites you to #joinhertribeMy Profile

    • April 10, 2017

      Check out the other free walking tours too. Lots of options covering a whole range of topics and neighborhoods. Great way to spend a few hours in SF!

  • April 9, 2017

    You’re really lucky with the weather I must say! And the historical walking tour, not to mention it’s free, made you luckier. And yes to free love!
    Trisha Velarmino recently posted…Dear girls of the world: this is what cyber bullying did to meMy Profile

  • April 10, 2017

    It rained for most of our visit to the Bay Area too. We were only there for a long weekend, but we didn’t end up seeing much sun! That’s amazing you finally had a long stretch of sunny days on one of your visits! The walking tour sounds great–we missed the Haight Ashbury on our visit–we will have to check it out next time for sure!
    Jenna recently posted…Tidal Bore Rafting in Nova ScotiaMy Profile

    • April 10, 2017

      SF is not known for it’s amazing, warm weather. Mark Twain once said that “his coldest winter was summer in San Francisco”.

  • April 10, 2017

    Your photography is delightful. I love the vibrancy and colour on display in the photographs. I’ve yet to visit San Fran but I love the idea of photographing the historic Haight-Asbury district.
    Mike Cotton recently posted…Tignes Les Brevieres Landscape Photography: Photo of the WeekMy Profile

    • April 10, 2017

      It is great for photos, and absolutely amazing for people watching…trust us!

  • April 10, 2017

    The architecture there is so amazing. What a great place for a walking tour.

  • April 11, 2017

    Well in the town of rain and fog you really lucked out with amazing blue skies and sunshine! Your photos of your tour in Haight Astbury make it look like a great neighbourhood to visit while in SFO.

  • April 11, 2017

    We love a good walking tour and this sounds awesome. Loving getting the inside word on a place from passionate locals. Didn’t realise that they are less popular in the US so glad to hear they might be catching on. San Fran here we come!

  • April 14, 2017

    I love free things, especially when traveling on a budget, Julie! San Francisco seems magical!

    • April 15, 2017
      Julie

      The only thing better than cheap is free!

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