Reviews of San Francisco Hop-On, Hop-Off And Other Bus Tours

This post compares the different San Francisco bus tour options available.   San Francisco is a beautiful city filled with various attractions suitable for people of all ages to visit. However, as you may have seen, the city is also one of the hilliest cities in the country! San Francisco, with its 40 or so hills, is full of challenges for visitors who want to see everything. One of the best ways to overcome this challenging region is to take a San Francisco bus tour. 

Bus tours will allow you to see far more sights than you could ever see in a day if you were walking from place to place, and they make a great companion to our pay-what-you-like guided walking tours. In addition, you typically get some interesting narration (in the language of your choice) as you travel throughout the city. But because there are so many bus tours to choose from, it’s difficult for travelers to decide which one to use.  


Full-Service Bus Tours

Alcatraz Tour Packages

Day Trips from San Francisco

Hop-On, Hop-Off Bus Tours

Night Bus Tours

Combo Packages + Discounts


HOP-ON, HOP-OFF BUS TOURS

SPECIAL: Throughout most of December, City Sightseeing is running a special Holiday Lights Bus Tour.

If you’re looking for a bus tour that will allow you to jump off and explore a specific area in the San Francisco area, then a hop-on, hop-off tour may be your best bet. These tours allow you to enjoy the city however you wish, taking you to a variety of different stops where you can get off the bus and discover the area for yourself, and they can make a great companion to our pay-what-you-like guided walking tours

There are 3 companies offering hop-on, hop-off service: Big Bus; CitySightseeing; and Grayline.  Each offers single route tickets, but most readers will find their multi-day tickets most appealing and of the best value, as these tickets usually include free additions, such as bike tours, walking tours, and discount coupons.  All 3 also offer night tours, which can be stand-alone purchase, but are usually included in multi-day tickets at no additional cost as well as combo packages, that combine multiple day hop-on, hop off service with discounts to major attractions, such as Alcatraz Island.  Expect to pay anywhere from $30/adult and $20/child for stand-alone routes and from $45-65/adult and $25-$45/child for multiple day tickets.  Competition is fierce and tour offerings and prices in this segment change frequently, so be sure to double check what is currently on offer with each company. We have listed the companies in the order that we feel offer the best combination of reviews, options, and prices.

 


CITY-SIGHTSEEING TOURS

City-Sightseeing buses are the famous open-top double-decker vehicles that you may have seen driving on scenic routes around major cities of the world. But don’t worry if the weather’s bad, you can stay up on the upper deck and they’ll put a transparent plastic top on the bus to keep you warm and dry!  This company also offers a live bus tracker, that you could view with a smartphone to see when the next bus will be at your spot. 

When it comes to their hop-on, hop-off bus tour, City-Sightseeing offers 1-Day, 2-Day or 3-Day tickets. Although they provide a total of four different tours, two of them are only available through the multi-day tickets. Both the Official City Tour and the Downtown Tour are included with either ticket, but the 2-Day + passes also come with their Sausalito and Night Tours. For only $10 more, you gain access to 2 additional bus tours, 4 walking tours and more over the course of two days.  Citysightseeing also offers a stand-alone night tour as well an Alcatraz Ticket Package.

 

CitySightseeing Bus San Francisco

 

Reviews of CitySightseeing

City-Sightseeing also has an overall 4-star rating on TripAdvisor. Although there are some common complaints, they are few and far between. Some reviewers have noted that their buses can be late and it is sometimes hard to find them again once you’ve jumped off, though CitySightseeing added a find your bus feature, which provides live bus tracking and should reduce these complaints.  A lot of hop-on, hop-off buses have a similar appearance, and this service is no different. As long as you remember which bus tour you’re on, there shouldn’t be a problem. Most positive reviews came during the summer months, indicating that this might be a more enjoyable experience when it’s nice and sunny outside.

Your ticket choices are as follows:

Downtown Tour – 

A good option for those short on time.  This ticket gives you unlimited hop-on, hop-off access to the downtown route (map).  This tour is not as extensive as the other options.  Tour operates every day from 9 am to 5 pm.  

Enjoy Stops at the following locations:

  • Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39
  • Chinatown
  • Union Square 
  • North Beach
  • Ferry Building

Tickets

 


1 Day Hop-On, Hop-Off Pass – Official City Tour + the Downtown Tour

This option offers a wider range of sights than the Downtown Tour ticket only.  However, for an extra $10/adult, you could get an additional day with some extras.  

Enjoy stops at the following locations:

  • All Downtown Tour stops (plus)
  • Golden Gate Bridge
  • The Palace of Fine Arts
  • Haight Ashbury
  • Lombard Street
  • Golden Gate Park
  • City Hall
  • And more! 

Tickets:

 


2 Day All-Loops Package

48 hours of hop-on, hop-off service, which includes everything from the 1 day, hop-on, hop-off ticket plus:

  • Sausalito Tour
  • Night Tour
  • 3 free walking tours
  • Free 1 Hour Bike Rental(with 1 hr purchase)

Tickets:

 


3 Day All-Loops Package

72 hours of hop-on, hop-off service which includes everything from the 48-hour ticket.

Tickets:

 


CitySightseeing also offers 2 tourist passes that combine hop-on, hop-off bus service with discounted entry to many of San Francisco’s most famous tourist attractions. Click here for more information.

Click the map for full size.

CitySightseeingSanFrancisco_Map

 


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BIG BUS TOURS

If you have ever been to a city that receives a lot of visitors, you have probably seen a Big Bus.  Like CitySighteeing above, Big Bus offers tours around the world, and are some of the most popular activities for tourists.Big Bus offers 1, 2, or 3-day passes on its hop-on-hop-off bus tours. With 25 stops (see map below) all over the city, this tour offers people a great way of experiencing San Francisco in a short amount of time.  Big Bus also offers a free app, that you could use to find bus stops and schedules.


NOTE: Smart Destinations, a tourist attraction discount pass, includes a 2 day Downtown Loop ticket for free (with the purchase of the pass).  This will save you somewhere between 20% – 50%, depending on which pass you choose. Learn more.


 

Reviews of Big Bus Tours San Francisco

With a 4-star rating on TripAdvisor, it’s safe to say that Big Bus Tours offers reliable service. Most guests report that their buses are safe and their guides are very knowledgeable. Some reviewers have had a negative experience, but there are no frequently reported complaints. In order to avoid any problems, make sure to get on the bus early and pick the stops you are most interested in before leaving.  The free app, however, isn’t well reviewed.  It appears as though it is limited and takes some time getting used to.  

Big Bus also offers a night tour as well an Alcatraz Ticket Package


Ticket prices:

  • Classic Ticket 
    • 24 hours of hop-on, hop-off service
    • 4 Walking Tours: North Beach Tour, Chinatown Tour, Barbary Coast Tour or Fisherman’s Walk
      • $45/Adult + $36/Child (5-15 years)
  • Deluxe Ticket – includes everything you get with a 1 Day Pass plus:
    • 48 hours of hop-on, hop-off service
    • Sausalito Trolley Tour
    • Panoramic Open Top Night Tour
    • Free ‘Pint and Play’ Voucher ($10.50 value) at Players Arcade on Pier 39
    • Bike rental buy 1 hour, get 1 free with Blazzing Saddles 
      • $68/Adult + $54/Child (5-15 years)
  • Panoramic Open Top Night Tour 
    • 2 hour tour of the top sights like Golden Gate Bridge, Embarcadero, Nob Hill and more
    • Courtesy Shuttle back to Union Square
      • $30/Adult + $20/Child (5-15 years)

NOTE: Smart Destinations, a tourist attraction discount pass, includes a 2 day Downtown Loop ticket for free (with the purchase of the pass).  This will save you somewhere between 20% – 50%, depending on which pass you choose. Learn more.

Click map for full size.

Big Bus San Francisco Tour Map

 


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CITY TOUR (by Gray Line)

Gray Line is an international company that offers services all over the world. One of their most popular locations just so happens to be San Francisco, where they offer Hop-on, Hop-off bus tours in partnership with City Tour.  Much like City Sightseeing, they also use a double-decker open top bus which is perfect for discovering the bay area. However, unlike some of their competitors, they also use trolleys that feature heating and air conditioning when appropriate.

This company offers three loops that are very similar to the tours offered by competitors. One loop will take you over the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito, while another will show you around the city of San Francisco. The final loop is a night tour that takes you to Treasure Island, North Beach, Union Square and other fantastic areas of the city.also offers a night tour.

Reviews of City Tours San Francisco

It would appear that many of the hop-on, hop-off bus tours in San Francisco are highly rated, as City Tour also has a 4 out of 5 stars rating on TripAdvisor and Get Your Guide (read the reviews), so they have a far smaller review profile than the previous two companies listed above. There are a few random complaints about late buses here and there, but most guests appear to have had a great time on the City Tour bus. Some say that the tour guides aren’t very good, but many others had a wonderful experience.  

Ticket prices are as follows:

  • San Francisco City Loop (48 hr ticket)
    • $55 – Adults | $35 – Child (5-11) | Free – Child (under 4)
    • Includes both the night tour and the Sausalito Tour
  • All-Loop Package (24 hr ticket)
    • $55 – Adults | $35 – Child (5-11) | Free – Child (under 4)
    • Includes both the night tour and the Sausalito Tour
  • Sausalito Loop (24 hr ticket)
    • $27 for Adults
    • $18 for Children

 


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FULL SERVICE BUS TOURS

A full service tour will take you on a guided journey of the San Francisco area. Some of these tours will take you to one or two destinations in and around the city, while others will have several stops. Unlike the hop-on, hop-off bus tours, these full-service experiences won’t typically allow you to leave the bus without a guide. If you’re looking for someone knowledgeable to show you around the bay area, you might want to consider one of the following options.

 


DYLAN’S TOURS 

One of the most popular tour companies in the city, Dylan Tours offer a 2.5 hour San Francisco City Adventure Tour. You will visit famous neighborhoods such as North Beach, the Mission, the Castro, Pacific Heights, and more. The open-air bus allows lots of opportunities for photos as it takes you around the city, though the tour stops at Fort Point to allow everyone a chance to get a close-up photo of Golden Gate Bridge.   The local guides and small group size really set this tour apart. You will learn all about San Francisco’s unique history and culture as you venture through some of the most iconic areas of the city. Also, this company offers 2 daily departures, which makes it easy to fit one of their tours into your busy schedule!  They also a combination ticket to Alcatraz.

Ticket Prices

  • San Francisco City Adventure Tour 

Reviews of Dylan’s Tours

There’s a reason why Dylan’s Tours is ranked as the #1 Outdoor Activity in San Francisco (read the reviews). Guests report back with very positive reviews, saying that the tour is an “awesome way to see the sights.” The intimacy of the tour, as well as the high quality of the guides, is repeatedly praised by visitors who traveled with Dylan’s Tours. Though there are a handful of mediocre reviews, these are few and far between, and usually dated a few years back! 

 


TOWER TOURS

Tower Tours offers a wide range of trips throughout the Bay Area and beyond. You can take a trip all throughout downtown San Francisco, head up north to the famous California Wine Country, take a boat to Alcatraz, or even go far inland to explore Yosemite!  One really nice bonus is that Tower Tours offers complimentary pick-up from most San Francisco hotels.  See their full list of San Francisco tours.

This is not technically a hop-on-hop-off tour since the bus doesn’t stop at all the main attractions. However, on some tours (such as the trip to the Muir Woods forests or Yosemite Valley) you can get off the bus to walk around for a while, experience the outdoors, and snap some pictures.

 

 

Reviews are Tower Tours

Tower Tours has received a 4 out of 5 stars rating on TripAdvisor for their high-quality service. As with many other highly rated services on this list, most of the complaints from customers are too random to even be worthy of mention. Most reviewers had a blast on this bus tour, so chances are that you’ll have a good time as well!  Tower Tours also offers combo packages and tours outside of San Francisco.

Tour departs 2x daily: 9 am and 2 pm.

Ticket Prices:

Tip: You could save least 20% off the full price of this tour if you purchase at least one other tour or attraction through the Smart Destination tourist discount pass.

 


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THE MAGIC BUS

Hey man, have you ever looked at your hand? I mean, really looked at it?

Many of us didn’t experience life in the 60s, but taking a trip on the Magic Bus will let you do the next best thing (no, there’s no smoking of any kind allowed on the bus)! Journey back to San Francisco’s Summer of Love for a 2-hour tour that brings you back to the time when Janis Joplin and the Grateful Dead were just coming up in the Bay Area. Alan Ginsburg and Jack Kerouac were sipping drinks at Vesuvio Cafe, just across the street from the famous City Lights Bookstore.

 

 

Reviews of the Magic Bus Tour

The Magic Bus has the honor of being one of the highest rated services on this list.  They have received an average of 4.5 out of 5 stars on both TripAdvisor and Viator (read the reviews). There are very few negative reviews, and those that are negative typically complain that it simply wasn’t the kind of tour they would enjoy. This really is an eclectic option, so make sure you’re actually interested in the concept of traveling back to the 60’s before you get your tickets.

For those of you who lived through those interesting times, this is a fantastic way to relive your experiences. Alternatively, if you just want to take a trip back in time, sign up and enjoy the ride!

Ticket Prices are as follows:

  • Summer Prices
    • $70 for Adults
    • $60 for Students
  • Winter Prices
    • $60 for Adults
    • $50 for Students

 


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SAN FRANCISCO SHUTTLE TOURS

When it comes to full-service bus tours, few are as good of a value as San Francisco Shuttle Tours. This company prides itself on offering premium shuttles to many major landmarks and locations in the Bay area.

Although this is not a hop-on, hop-off tour, you will be allowed to get off the bus at stops such as The Palace of Fine Arts, The Grace Cathedral, and Lombard Street. Each stop lasts for between 10 and 30 minutes, giving you plenty of time to explore with the help of a guide.

 

In addition to their city shuttles, they also offer trips to Wine Country, the Muir Woods, Alcatraz and Yosemite. This is a great option for anyone who wants an excellent guided tour of the San Francisco area.

Reviews of San Francisco Shuttle Tours

San Francisco Shuttle Tours sports a 4 ½ star rating on TripAdvisor. Of the negative reviews that exist, most of them take issue with scheduling problems. Many customers do not take kindly to canceled tours, even if there is a very good reason for the cancellation.  Aside from these complaints, it would appear that most of the other concerns about this service are too random to represent enough of a pattern that it would be worth mentioning. Most guests absolutely adored their Shuttle Tour, and it’s safe to say that this is one of the higher rated bus tours in San Francisco.

Here are your ticket options:

  • 5-Hour Premium City Tour
    • $69 for Adults
    • $64 for Seniors
    • $60 for Children

 


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NIGHT BUS TOURS OF SAN FRANCISCO

One of the best ways to experience San Francisco is by discovering the skyline at night. This city definitely changes once the sun goes down, so you might want to consider taking a night tour to get a taste of the bay area’s nightlife. Many of the companies we have already mentioned also offer their own night tours, and you will find them listed below.  Before you pay full price, keep in mind that many of these night tours are included for free in each companies multi-day ticket options.

CITY SIGHTSEEING TOURS

Tour of the Golden Gate Bridge & Skyline

  • $31 for Adults
  • $22 for Children
  • Tours depart at 6 PM with an additional 7 PM departure in summer.

 


BIG BUS TOURS

Night Tour of the Golden Gate Bridge & Skyline

  • $30 for Adults
  • $20 for Children
  • Free with Dynamite Ticket (2-day pass)
  • Three tours available at 6:30 PM, 7:00 PM and 7:30 PM

 


CITY TOUR SAN FRANCISCO

Tour of the Golden Gate Bridge & Skyline

  • $25 for Adults + Seniors
  • $15 for Children
  • Tour starts at 6:30 PM and ends at 9 PM

 


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ALCATRAZ TOUR PACKAGES

Many of the tour companies listed here offer packages that include a trip to Alcatraz. The intriguing history behind this high-security prison is best experienced during one of their notorious tours. If you’ve ever wanted to visit this location, these packages are an excellent way to save money while experiencing as much of the bay area as possible.  (Read our full post on Alcatraz tours and tickets)

While you will save some money with these packages, many are purchased simply for the convenience, especially when tickets on Alcatraz Cruises’ website are sold out, and these packages may be your only way to get tickets to the prison.  The one arrangement where you would save considerable money would be with the Alcatraz + Hop-On, Hop-Off Bus Package offered at discount on Smart Destination’s GoCard.

 

 

 


CITY SIGHTSEEING TOURS

This package is probably the cheapest.  It offers one more day of hop-on, hop-off bus service + 1 more walking tour than Big Bus’s package listed below.

 

CitySightseeing San Francisco Alcatraz Combo

 

Alcatraz + Hop-On, Hop-Off Bus Package

  • 72 hours of bus service
  • 4 walking tours
  • Night bus tour
  • Sausalito Tour
    • $115 – Adults
    • $86 – Children (5-11)
    • Free – Under 5

 


BIG BUS TOURS

This package isn’t the quite the cheapest package (at least during the summer), but it just may be the best value out there.

  • Alcatraz Combo Ticket
    • Alcatraz Ferry and Entrance Ticket
    • Big Bus Ultimate Ticket (good for 3 days of hop-on, hop-off bus service)
    • Big Bus Sausalito Tour
    • Big Bus Night Tour
    • Three Walking Tours (Northbeach Tour, Chinatown Tour, Barbary Coast Tour)
    • 1-Hour Bike Rental
    • Voucher for Player’s Arcade and Grill
      • June – September
        • $140 for Adults
        • $100 for Children
      • October – May
        • $110 for Adults
        • $85 for Children (5-15)

 


TOWER TOURS

If you are looking for a more premium package, or are looking to avoid a hop-on, hop-off bus, this might be the package for you.  When you consider what you get in this package, it’s another good deal.

 


THE MAGIC BUS

 


DYLAN’S TOURS

This is a full day tour that includes a tour of San Francisco and Muir Woods, in addition to Alcatraz. 

  • The One Day in San Francisco Tour with Alcatraz
    • 9-hour full day tour of San Francisco, Muir Woods, Sausalito, and entrance to Alcatraz
    • Includes a ferry ride across the San Francisco Bay

 


SAN FRANCISCO SHUTTLE TOURS

  • Premium City Tour + Alcatraz
    • 5-Hour Premium Bus Tour of San Francisco
    • 2-Hour Tour of Alcatraz
      • $160 for Adults/Seniors/Kids

 


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COMBO AND DISCOUNT PACKAGES

Combining more than one tour into a trip is a great way to save money and experience more of the area. These bus tour combinations are usually held over multiple days, so it’s important to make sure that you have the time to experience all of them. If you want to discover more of San Francisco than just the downtown area, you might want to consider one of the following packages.

 


SAN FRANCISCO MEGA PASS (City Sightseeing)

City Sightseeing recently did away with their Freestyle and GoPass and introduced the San Francisco Mega Pass. This new pass allows you to select between different options: Mega Pass 1 Day City Tour + 2 attractions, Mega Pass 2 Day City Tour + 3 attractions, or the Mega Pass 3 Day City Tour + 4 attractions. With each, you can choose from 25 different attractions, including a San Francisco Bay Cruise, a tour to the Muir Woods, Escape the Rock boat tour of Alcatraz, and many others. Their hop-on, hop-off Official City Tour (Blue Line) is also included. 

All Mega Passes include our Official City Tour (Blue Line) for the validity period of the pass plus choose from a list of 25 attractions.

When it comes to bus tours, this might be one of the biggest and best passes in San Francisco. With this tourist pass from City Sightseeing, you can explore the entire Bay Area with ease. Whether you want to see Muir Woods, discover the aquarium, or visit the Walt Disney Family Museum, there are plenty of excellent activities included with this pass.

Other tourist passes are typically focused more on attractions than on tours. This company offers a lot of their own bus tours, so it’s easier for them to provide a wide selection with this pass. There are plenty of popular locations to visit in San Francisco, but if you want to see all of the landmarks, bus tours are definitely one of your best options. Although Big Bus has a combo package of their own, the Dynamite Ticket (see above) offers far fewer activities than the Freestyle Pass.

25 Attractions to Choose From: 

  • San Francisco Bay Cruise
  • California Academy of Sciences
  • San Francisco Night Tour
  • Muir Woods Tour
  • SF Museum Of Modern Art
  • 3hr Bike Rental
  • 30 minute Go Car Tour *
  • see the full list.

Things to Consider

If you were to pay for each tour individually, it would cost almost twice as much to experience every bus tour provided by the San Francisco Mega Pass. When you factor in the additional attractions and activities, this deal becomes even more impressive.

As you can see, City Sightseeing offers one of the most affordable tourist passes in the city. If you’re trying to save money while experiencing as much as possible, this pass is definitely worth consideration.

 


SAN FRANCISCO GO PASS

If you build your own Go Pass, you can actually save money by combining tours and attractions. Simply add two or more attractions to your pass in order to save 20% on the total price. Why rely on combo packages from each individual company when you can build your own combo package with the San Francisco Go Card?

 

 

The following bus tours are available at a discounted rate with the Go Pass:

No matter what you’re looking for in San Francisco, chances are you can find a bus to take you there! Alternatively, if you want to get some exercise, you can take a look at one of our own self-guided tours of the city, such as our North Beach Walking Tour or our Chinatown Tour. No matter how you choose to travel around the city, you can’t go wrong in the city by the bay!

 


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In San Francisco, no matter what you’re looking for, chances are you can find a bus to take you there! Or, if you want to get some exercise, you can take a look at one of our own self-guided tours of the city, such as our North Beach Walking Tour or our Chinatown Tour. But really, however you travel around the city, you can’t go wrong!

 


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TOURS OUTSIDE OF SAN FRANCISCO

Many of the bus tour companies we have discussed also offer tours to various locations that are just outside of San Francisco. Whether you’re interested in discovering Yosemite or you want to do some wine tasting in Sonoma, these tours will take you outside of the city for a wonderful excursion.  

For more in depth detail about particular day trips, be sure to read our posts on: