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Exploring San Francisco With Big Bus Tours

Exploring San Francisco With Big Bus Tours

Exploring a new city can be fun but often daunting (especially if you’re exploring alone). One of my favorite ways to check out a new city is with a simple (and typically inexpensive) hop-on-hop-off bus tour. These tours frequently go past many of the tourist attractions and allow first-time visitors a great way to figure out the city’s geography. Big Bus Tours graciously provided me with tickets to explore San Francisco; however, I’ve personally booked with them numerous times in many cities (including San Francisco) because I genuinely believe they’re a great way to explore a city in the quickest, easiest way possible. Here are my top five tips for getting the most out of your Big Bus Tour.

Five Tips For Your Next Big Bus Tour

Ride On Top

Visitors rarely get this view so take advantage of it. It’s also wonderful to get some photos and videos without many heads in your shots. This is particularly helpful if you’re in a city with bridges because the views are truly remarkable. Make sure to have layers and a hat with you, especially in San Francisco (and yes, I even mean in the summer). The wind can make the top deck very cold, even in August. For a little extra comfort, bring a face mask. It’ll allow you to breathe much easier in the wind (particularly if you’re going to be going over the Golden Gate Bridge).

Golden Gate Bridge San Francisco |
Golden Gate Bridge (©Melanie Lee)

Take the Night Tour

If there is a night tour add-on, book it. It’s a fun chance to see the city in a whole new light. The San Francisco night tour took us over the Bay Bridge to Treasure Island for a unique sunset view of the San Francisco skyline. The view from the bridge was also gorgeous and a unique one if you’re sitting on top of the double-decker bus. The night tour does get busy, and the line starts early. While the tour itself doesn’t depart until 6:30 p.m., the line started over an hour early. If you want to sit on top, make sure to arrive as early as possible.

San Francisco Skyline From the Bay Bridge |
San Francisco Skyline From the Bay Bridge (©Melanie Lee)

Talk to the Customer Service Reps

The reps at the bigger stops are a wealth of knowledge and helpful tips. If you know where you’re stopping, they can often give you helpful tips and suggestions for where to eat and what to do at different points along the way. Talk with the reps—they might have some tips to get you on faster. For instance, numerous passengers wanted to get off in three stops at Alamo Square. Since the stops prior to that one weren’t major tourist spots, the rep suggested anyone stopping at Alamo Square ride on the bottom level since there wasn’t much to see on the way. Single riders often can board quicker, as can those who don’t mind splitting up. Often, the trick is to take whatever seat is available and swap at a busy stop when numerous people get off the bus.

Painted Ladies of Alamo Square |
Painted Ladies of Alamo Square (©Melanie Lee)

Use the App

Make sure to download and familiarize yourself with the Big Bus Tours app prior to your trip. The app is incredibly helpful with real-time updates on the buses so you can find out where the next bus is and when it will arrive. If you click on a specific stop, the app displays information about points of interest at that stop and (this is my favorite feature) a photograph of the exact bus stop.

Palace of Fine Arts San Francisco |
Palace of Fine Arts (©Melanie Lee)

Be Flexible With Time

Depending on your stop, you may have to wait in line for a bit. Stops like Union Square were quite busy, and there was a rather long line. Smaller stops after busy stops like Union Square likely won’t have many seats available since most people will have just boarded. In that case, you will likely have to wait for the next bus unless you don’t mind splitting up or riding downstairs.

Pier 39 Seals San Francisco |
Pier 39 Seals (©Melanie Lee)