Sunday. Finally time for Dylan's Famous Tour!
The main purpose of my trip was to visit my friend in Berkeley and I wanted to be flexible with her time, to be able to do whatever she wanted. So I held off on booking Dylan's Famous Tour -- which proved to be the wrong move because the tour is small (14 persons per small van) and very popular on social media ranking sites. So even before I flew out of Vancouver, they were all booked up and the earliest spot was the one seat left on Sunday-April-12.
Obviously, this sort of tour is best done at the very start of your trip, so as to give you an overview of the city, to help you choose what you want to do, and to give you the opportunity to bombard an expert local on San Francisco.
So don't do what I did, which was procrastinate. You can reschedule forward on their tour calendar, but trying to get an earlier spot from someone dropping out is all but impossible.
Sunday also proved to be too busy a day. I couldn't go to "How Do We Fix Our Broken World?" for their afternoon presentation because I'd be on tour. And today was the only day where my Berkeley friend's entire immediate family could get together with me for dinner, so the evening presentation was also out. In fact, I was worried the 6-hour tour might go overtime or drop me off too far from Crustacean Restaurant for me to make dinner at 5:30 PM (before the restaurant is supposedly super-busy).
I got to the BART too early as Sunday service didn't depart till after 8 AM from North Berkeley BART Station. Which, after a half week of early starts, felt too late for me. Got downtown and ducked into the nearest mall for some walkabout before the stores open and it got busy with tourists. Bought a couple of tasty drinks (alō light Refresh and alō Allure) for the road but it would turn out that Dylan's Tour had a huge tub of bottled water free for the taking in their van.
I spotted Loving Hut in the Westfield Mall food court but it wasn't open yet. Wish I could have waited or had lunch there -- the Loving Hut Express hamburgers from their food truck in Vancouver were awesome and I was curious what the San Francisco branch had to offer -- but more and more I was increasingly aware of time running out, especially with basically all of Sunday booked up and already having to sacrifice events that I was really curious about.
It's easy to see how procrastination can set in for locals, with virtually "unlimited" time to get around to various sights and attractions. But when you have just one week... No wonder ESL students in Vancouver can name the mountains and have been to Banff. And no wonder we don't think about death so much, even though every day, people die.
For a bus tour, Dylan's Famous Tour was really decent for several reasons:
- It gives a quick overview of San Francisco's key areas and attractions, all packed into one day with time left over to figure out dinner.
- The city is too busy for them to really stop, so they take you through the key neighbourhoods -- yes, even Tenderloin, so you aren't curious to go to that sketchy area yourself. You don't really get to see more than snapshots of the city locations since they really have to keep driving. But if you want to stop everywhere, it's going to be a much longer tour.
- The stops are basically photo ops that are popular, and many of these are tedious to get to for the new tourist trying to sort out busses or sticking to the easy BART (like me!). Some spots are so jammed with parked cars from individual tourists that you don't want to go there by car yourself -- let someone else (your tour guide) valet your car!
- Worth it just for the super-busy tourist stops and far-away attractions like Muir Woods that are annoying to drive to and hard to park at. And if you only have one day, this is a quick way to cover the city and hit the notable scenic locations.
- Because it's a small group, there isn't the same amount of herding and finding-lost-people, and the tour keeps moving nicely.
- BONUS POINTS: A huge tub of free bottled water in the van.
- If you are not going to take pictures, yield your window seat to one of those photographer nuts. Don't worry too much since you'll still get a decent view of whatever attraction is being driven by.
- If you are being picked up at Union Square location, get to the approximate area much earlier than the 10 AM pickup and get to a washroom first. The hotel there has the typical customers-only locked toilets.
- Pack a lunch even before you get picked up and eat in the van.
- They stop at Haight-Ashbury for only about 1/2 hour, so you won't get to walk around so much.
- It would have been nicer if they instead stopped in Sausalito because it's outside of San Francisco and harder to get to than Haight-Ashbury.
- They stop at Muir Woods longer, but you want to explore the woods (and there's just enough time to hit the key spots) and don't want tourist trap prices (bus drivers get about 60% off there, so they are not price-trapped like you).
- Take it early in your time in SF so you get to ask a local expert about the city. Combined with the overview you get, you should be able to get more optimized during the rest of your trip. At each photo op place, do your pics, then ask questions and take notes!
- You can of course ask questions while in the van, and because it's a small van, you can actually do so without unbuckling your seatbelt and leaving your seat.
I am not a traveller. "Travel" for me is about who's with me or who I'm going to see. I took ZERO pictures during my time in San Francisco and Berkeley, except when someone asked me to take a picture of them using their camera or phone.
I "had to" make my own fun and found what was interesting for me during the tour, and the first real point of interest wasn't till Haight-Ashbury.