Enjoy walking? Learning? Curious about your surroundings? San Francisco has a free resource for you: San Francisco City Guides, (SFCG) a 45-year-old nonprofit organization that offers walks throughout the City that take you on journeys through its endlessly colorful history. Each year about 30,000 people from the Bay Area and beyond walk with us.
There are just two staff and nearly 300 volunteer guides. Four of them, including me, live in Glen Park. I recently reached out to learn more about them and to hear about their experiences as guides.
First, an introduction: The foursome is Armando Fox, Chrisie Giordano, Liz Hewlett, and me! Three of us are transplants from the east coast, with Liz tilting the scales as a 3rd generation San Franciscan. All became guides to share their love of the City and help people discover something they didn’t know. Joy for us is hearing walkers say “Wow!” when looking at the Women’s Building mural or learning that Caruso sang before 3,000 people the evening before the 1906 earthquake.
Prior to becoming a guide, Chrisie taught junior high and high school students. She jokes that she loves guiding because, unlike her students, the walkers come to listen. Given that Chrisie has been a guide since 2010 and now leads four different walks, there have been hundreds of listeners. Her Japanese Tea Garden tour, she shared, has special meaning because her daughter is a Buddhist monk and giving the tour has deepened her appreciation of spirituality.
Armando is the newbie, having started in 2019. A very busy professor of computer science at the University of California at Berkeley, Armando has lived in big cities and loves learning their histories. In San Francisco he went on loads of walking tours which inspired him to become a guide. Armando does the Ferry Building tour when there is often a buzz from shoppers at the farmers market and always great views.
Liz had seen some of the saddest days in San Francisco up close as a nurse in the emergency room during the AIDs epidemic. After nearly four decades tending to others, she became a city guide, another form of giving. She started guiding in 2017 and leads the Alfred Hitchcock walk, featuring scenes from Vertigo and other films. She once had a walker who was an extra in Family Plot (Hitchcock’s last movie) who told the group inside stories of his experience. She also had Hitchcock’s estate lawyer, confiding that she was glad she didn’t know until the end because she would have been intimidated.
And, my story, I am hooked on cities. For me, San Francisco is like a giant theater with beautiful (and occasionally not) sets, and a limitless cast of characters and stories to tell. I became a guide in 2014 and do three tours.
All are wonderful, but the newest for me is special. It is called Applause! SF’s Performing Arts Hub and it dives into the truly extraordinary history of our performing arts—jazz, ballet, opera, and symphony. We are continuously surfacing gems, most recently learning that when Davies Symphony Hall was completed, the first concert was for the hard hats, the people who constructed the building. Join this walk to hear about this and see a photo of people in line waiting to enter the concert, drawings made by Caruso when he fled the city, and much more.
My next Applause walk is October 15th. You can sign up here.
And an update: Jeff Harlowe, a resident of adjacent Diamond Heights, just completed his training and will be leading walks on the architecture of SOMA.
Walks led by our Glen Park contingent of guides include Applause: SF’s Performing Arts, Mission Murals, Mission Dolores Neighborhood, Golden Gate Bridge, Japanese Tea Garden, Ferry Building, and Alfred Hitchcock. SFCG offers 79 different walks throughout the city. Walks are free, but donations to the organization keep us walking!
Reserve a spot for a walk here.
SFCG is inviting applications from folks who are interested in becoming guides. Deadline is December 1st. Sooner the better. The training is terrific. Add on being a guide, meeting a great group of people, plus meeting folks from around the world ….lots of fun. Interested in becoming a guide? Click here.