Free San Francisco walking tours offer a break from the tourist haunts - Indie Travel Reviews

Free San Francisco walking tours offer a break from the tourist haunts

Until recently, the San Francisco Dogpatch neighborhood was like that kid in class who, year after year, receives a “has potential” evaluation in his report card. Perennially up-and-coming, this small historic neighborhood facing the San Francisco Bay housed dockworkers in the 19th century, then in the 20th century became an enclave for artists, light industrial manufacturing and the world’s second-oldest Hells Angels clubhouse.

Then came the 21st century, and Dogpatch picked up more and more buzz as a few good restaurants and businesses moved in. But still, until a couple of years ago, many San Francisco residents couldn’t even place it on a map.

The point has finally tipped. Suddenly one delicious food place after another has appeared on the few square blocks that make up Dogpatch, and this little neck of the woods is getting write-ups in publications like Bon Appetit and Travel and Leisure.

The neighborhood still houses some artists and manufacturers, but now also attracts techies and startups, artisanal craftspeople and food producers, including chocolatiers, pop-up shops galore, small breweries, a museum of craft and design, and an abundance of very good cafes that take their coffee very, very seriously…

The Yellow Building of Dogpatch once was a stable, but now houses a cafe, restaurant, boutique wine store and clothing store.

The Yellow Building of Dogpatch once was a stable, but now houses a cafe, restaurant, boutique wine store and clothing store.

And here’s a great way to explore Dogpatch: On the first Sunday of every month, the nonprofit San Francisco City Guides leads free walking tours of this neighborhood. It’s an amazing resource, but even many locals are not aware of it. City Guides conducts tours all over San Francisco, about 8-10 every day on a regular schedule, led by trained volunteers. Their website lists tour schedules for each location.

I’ve lived in Dogpatch for several years and know a bit about the history of my neighborhood, but I learned a lot from the well-informed City Guide. Along with perhaps two dozen others one sunny spring morning, we walked for about 2.5 hours and covered many of the buildings and landmarks near my home.

The walking tour stops outside an old distillery and wine warehouse, built in 1900, that now houses live/work lofts.

The walking tour stops outside an old distillery and wine warehouse, built in 1900, that now houses live/work lofts.

Muni is the transportation agency of San Francisco, and the Muni carpentry shop has been part of Dogpatch for decades. In the old days, cable cars were built here–if you peek in the shop windows, you can still see some fascinating equipment, parts, and old-fashioned cable cars. According to our guide they haven’t had to build a new cable car in about eight years now, but carpenters are still kept busy with repairs.

Inside The Workshop Residence. In the foreground are the products created by former artists-in-residence, and in the back is the studio space in which the artists work.

Inside The Workshop Residence. In the foreground are the products created by former artists-in-residence, and in the back is the studio space in which the artists work.

One thing that wears out quickly on cable cars is the Douglas fir brake shoes, so new ones are constantly pumped out of the shop. Some of these old wooden brake shoes have been given new life by designer Martha Davis, who created shoes using the brake shoes as heels while artist-in-residence at The Workshop Residence across the street from the Muni shop. (A neat thing about these cable car shoes: they transform from three- to two-inch heels by rotating the elliptical wooden block.)

We are reminded of consequences of Dogpatch’s gentrification when our City Guide, a long-term Dogpatch resident, mentions that she’d been pushed to moving to Oakland just that week because of skyrocketing rents.

City Guides tours are free, but at the end of the tour an envelope is passed around for tips — on the tour I went on, the tip collection was done in a low-pressure, unobtrusive way and I didn’t notice how much others were giving or if they gave at all. (It’s only decent to tip, though, if your guide puts in as much effort and time as mine did. Remember to bring small bills.)

Check the City Guides tours out when you visit San Francisco, or if you live in the city but want to get to know it a little better. And have a wander around my neighborhood Dogpatch, the up-and-comer that has finally up-and-come.

Didn't find what you're looking for?

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply