Three kid-friendly tours that won’t break the bank in San Fran

San Francisco Fire Engine Tours & Adventures

[Flickr/Andy Haywood]

Guided tours are a great way to learn about a new city – or even one you think you know well. Here are three family-friendly tours that prompt you to look at San Francisco from a different angle.

Fire Engine Tours – Driving or walking over the Golden Gate Bridge is fun, but think how much more memorable it would be atop a fire engine. You’ll leave from Fisherman’s Wharf, taking the scenic route in the Presidio, to the base of the bridge (Fort Point), then over the bay for a view of the Pacific on one side, and Alcatraz on the other. Fort Baker in Sausalito is at the other end of the bridge, another historic military base you’ll drive through. Then back (you don’t have to pay the $6 toll like everyone else) through San Francisco’s Cow Hollow neighborhood. You’ll stay toasty warm in the fire engine gear provided during the tour, and you’ll ride in style in a vintage Big Red Shiny Mack Fire Engine. Tours leave from the Cannery at Fisherman’s Wharf.

Alcatraz – It may be touristy, but for good reason. The Alcatraz adventure starts with a short boat ride to the Rock, the island penitentiary in the Bay. From 1934-1936 Alcatraz housed inmates like Al Capone and the “Birdman” Robert Stroud. On the tour, you’ll learn fun facts, like those who were locked up here got hot showers – so they wouldn’t acclimate to the Bay’s cold water, making escape easier. Take a free National Park Service tour or rent a Cellhouse Audio Tour and hear about the jail from former correctional officers and inmates. Get tickets and depart at Pier 33.

The Holiday Inn Fisherman’s Wharf is a convenient base for both tours.

Free Walking Tours of San Francisco – if the kids can walk for two hours and are patient enough to listen to a tour guide, check out San Francisco’s City Guides – free walking tours. Just show up for these tours at the designated spot, and get an insider view of places like Coit Tower, the Fire Engine Museum, the Japanese Tea Garden, Nob Hill, City Hall, the Castro, Chinatown and Pacific Heights mansions. If taking the Nob Hill tour, stay at the Intercontinental Mark Hopkins hotel, also in Nob Hill.

– Debbie Abrams Kaplan of Frisco Kids and Kaplan Ink