Six of the best: San Francisco walks

MISSION DISTRICT FOOD TOUR

The Mission is San Francisco's oldest neighbourhood, but it hasn't always been its most beloved. A rough, no-go kind of area until the mid-1990s, it is today a district of quirky and quality restaurants set among what's said to be the greatest concentration of murals in the USA. This walking tour focuses on the Mission's food scene, which is now arguably the most interesting in San Francisco, but detours between feed stops to take in some of the murals. Among the six stops, expect tacos cooked in beer and tequila, a bakery producing sausage muffins encasing a soft-boiled egg, and the Mexican restaurant that claims to have created the modern-style burrito.

See www.avitaltours.com

URBAN JUNGLES & CITY HEIGHTS

Behind the concrete and the tech boom, San Francisco is a city with more than 100 kilometres of hiking trails and around 670 stairways. This eight-kilometre walk, led by former Google marketing manager Alexandra Kenin​, explores the stairways and hills of the city. It begins in the Castro district and climbs through stairways, lanes and unmarked trails to Twin Peaks, one of San Francisco's highest points. The view from here is arguably the finest in the city, peering along Market Street into the heart of the city. The walk descends through a eucalyptus forest, planted by a wealthy former mayor, and more stairways back into Castro.

36 hours in San Francisco

In a city that's constantly reinventing itself, San Francisco has endless offerings, from bowling in the Mission to diversions on the waterfront, not to mention creative restaurants and bars. Video: New York Times

www.urbanhikersf.com

THE RADICAL SF ROUTE

Get under San Francisco's skin with this four-and-a-half-hour wander through some of the political history that's helped define the city. The tour focuses predominantly on the Castro district, the heart of San Fran's gay and lesbian community, where even some of the zebra crossings are painted in rainbow colours. The walk takes in the likes of Harvey Milk Plaza, named in honour of the assassinated Milk, the first openly-gay person elected to office in California. It also visits his camera store, the first dedicated GLBT museum in the USA and the Pink Triangle Holocaust Memorial, before strolling on to explore the murals of the adjoining Mission district.

www.wildsftours.com

SAN FRANCISCO CITY GUIDES

Pick from almost 100 themed and free walking tours led by volunteer guides. The walks are short - usually 90 minutes to two hours - and finely focused, exploring a particular feature of San Francisco's history, architecture or legend. It operates around 30 walks a month (more in May to October) and no bookings are required - simply look at the online schedule and turn up. Tour subjects range from the devastation of the 1906 earthquake and fire that destroyed around 80 per cent of the city, to Alfred Hitchcock's San Francisco, to the so-called Billionaire's Row. Expect passionate and knowledgeable guides - they may be volunteers, but they do six months of weekend training before they begin.

See www.sfcityguides.org

FISHERMAN'S WHARF

It's one of San Francisco's most popular tourist areas, but if you want to know more about Fisherman's Wharf than just sea lions and Pier 39, walk it in the company of an Extranomical guide. The walk is a journey back to the area's origins, when Italian fishermen arrived to take advantage of the city's gold-rush boom. It also takes in San Francisco's cable car system - one of the city's three lines runs through Fisherman's Wharf - as well as Lombard Street, claimed to be the most crooked street in the world, and the view from the Coit Tower fire-fighter memorial on Telegraph Hill. And, yes, there will still be the sea lions and the carousel along the way.

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See www.extranomical.com

WOK WIZ

San Francisco boasts the largest Chinatown outside of Asia, and this walking company brings together the sights, sounds and flavours of a Chinese community that's been established here since the gold rush of the mid-19th century. Wok Wiz operates three walking tours through Chinatown, led by guides who grew up in the district and speak both English and Cantonese. The emphasis is on the food and flavours, taking you through alleys into herbal shops, teahouses and restaurants. Morning tours offer the option of a post-walk dim sum lunch, or you can take the Chow Ciao! Multicultural Stroll, which makes a trans-continental wander from Chinatown to the so-called 'Little Italy' of North Beach. Noodles one moment, pasta the next.

See www.wokwiz.com

The writer travelled courtesy of Visit the USA.

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