The Best Stops on San Francisco’s Big Bus Tour, From a Local

There’s so much to do in San Francisco, but many visitors come to the City by the Bay for only a few days. One great way to see as much as possible during your stay is to book a Big Bus tour.

When I first moved to SF over a decade ago, I went on a Big Bus tour to quickly get a sense for the city. The tours are hop on/hop off, so you can spend as long as you want at each stop, and then catch another bus to the next stop.

It’s an amazing way to see tons of sights without needing to rent a car. You can book a Big Bus tour here.

As a local, here are my picks for the best stops, and what to do at each one.

North Beach / Chinatown

Located at 329 Columbus Ave, this stop takes you to the heart of San Francisco’s cultural melting pot. Here, the Italian heritage of North Beach intertwines with the vibrant colors and flavors of Chinatown.

Head into North Beach for fantastic Italian cuisine, or pass through the ornate gates of Chinatown for Sim Sum that’s been legendary for over 100 years.

This stop is also the perfect place to visit Coit Tower, which has stunning murals and lovely aerial views of the city.

Attractions: Coit Tower
Operating Hours: 10:07 – 17:07

Big Bus Tours Visitors’ Center

Okay, so a Visitor Center doesn’t sound amazing. But actually, they should call this the Fisherman’s Wharf stop, because it gives you access to some fantastic sites right in this popular area of San Francisco.

Check out iconic Fisherman’s Wharf attractions like Ghirardelli Square or the Hyde Street Pier, or just gave out at the Bay and the beautiful Bay Bridge. You can also use your bike rental option (if you got one) to grab a bike and bike over the Golden Gate bridge to Sausalito.

Book a tour now.

Attractions: Fisherman’s Wharf, Blazing Saddles, Cartoon Art Museum, Red and White – 1-Hour Bay Cruise, U.S.S. Pampanito Submarine, Ripley’s Believe it or Not!, Madame Tussauds & San Francisco Dungeon
Operating Hours: 10:00 – 17:00

Embarcadero Center

Located on Clay St (between Battery & Front Streets), this stop gives you a great view of the Embarcadero waterfront area and the Exploratorium.

If you’re visiting with kids, you’ll definitely want to stop at the Exploratorium. It’s a bit pricey, but it’s one of the best science-oriented kids’ museums in the world. It’s also right on the water, with amazing views of the bay.

There’s a little cafe that I like. The food is also pricey but they have a fantastic hot dog that my kids love.

Attractions: Embarcadero, Exploratorium
Operating Hours: 10:13 – 17:13

Ferry Building

Here at 1 Market Street, you can enjoy the historical Ferry Building, the bustling Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, and the Railway Museum.

The Ferry Building gathers together some of the best San Francisco food sellers all in one place. Make sure to check out the stand for Cowgirl Creamery (love their Mount Tam cheese). If you want to sit down for a fancier meal, Slanted Door is amazing.

You can also catch a ferry to Larkspur and take the shuttle up to Muir Woods. Just make sure to make a reservation in advance as they can fill up. The ferry ride is an attraction all in itself.

Book a tour now and check out this culinary icon.

Attractions: Railway Museum, Ferry Building, Ferry Plaza Farmers Market
Operating Hours: 10:16 – 17:16

Union Square South

Found at 280 Geary St, this stop gives you a chance to explore Union Square and the renowned San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

SFMoma was totally redone and has some of the best contemporary art in the world. You can also visit the iconic Macy’s at Union Square, or check out the skating rink around the holidays.

This is one of the best places to catch a cable car, too.

Attractions: Union Square, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
Operating Hours: 10:26 – 17:26

Golden Gate Park

One of the highlights of the tour, the Golden Gate Park stop has different locations for weekdays (55 Music Concourse Drive) and Sundays and public holidays (bus stop at North-West corner of Lincoln Way & 9th Ave). The park offers a plethora of attractions.

For families, California Academy of Sciences is amazing. I belong to the museum and visit about once per month. It has an indoor rain forest, a green roof, an aquarium, and lots of other attractions for both kids and adults.

Check out the earthquake simulator, too!

The Japanese Tea garden is a unique cultural experience, and the teahouse has amazing matcha. The DeYoung is great for adult travelers who want a contemplative art museum to explore. The DeYoung also has a great tower you can use to see the whole city.

Book your tour now and head straight to these amazing museums.

Attractions (Weekdays): Japanese Tea Garden, Botanical Gardens, California Academy of Sciences, De Young Museum
Attractions (Sundays and Public Holidays): Botanical Gardens
Operating Hours: 11:07 – 18:07

Golden Gate Bridge / North Vista Point

The iconic Golden Gate Bridge stop, located at North Vista Point, provides one of the most panoramic views of the bay.

You can walk all the way across the bridge, if you want, or just take some selfies. Keep in mind that on windy days, it can get cold by the bridge. Pack layers.

Attractions: Golden Gate Bridge
Operating Hours: 11:22 – 18:22

Pier 39

Ending your journey at The Embarcadero, bus stop outside the entrance to Pier 39, this location offers a fun-filled experience with its various attractions.

Aquarium of the Bay is a great attraction for kids, and the sea lions at Pier 39 are iconic and hilarious (if a bit smelly). Watch them nudge each other off the pier into the water as they jockey for the best spot.

Attractions: Players Arcade and Luau Lounge Secret Tiki Bar, Pier 39, Sea Lions, Aquarium of the Bay
Operating Hours: 11:52 – 18:52

Note: The other stops on the tour include the Redemption Center / Hilton Hotel, Civic Center, Alamo Square, Haight Ashbury, Palace of Fine Arts, Marina / Cow Hollow, Lombard Street, Pier 35 / Cruise Terminal. Each has its unique charm and attractions worth exploring.

Enjoy your journey through the enchanting city of San Francisco!

Book your Big Bus tour here and get exploring!

Thomas Smith

Thomas Smith is a food and travel photographer and writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. His photographic work routinely appears in publications including Food and Wine, Conde Nast Traveler, and the New York Times and his writing appears in IEEE Spectrum, SFGate, the Bold Italic and more. Smith holds a degree in Cognitive Science (Neuroscience) and Anthropology from the Johns Hopkins University.

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