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

This post compares the different San Francisco bus tours, from hop-on-hop-off to themed bus tours, combination tours and more, in order to help you choose which is the best for you. We have included detailed information, reviews and ticket prices (as of 2018).  Consider one of these awesome bus tours and complement your experience by taking on of our pay-what-you-like walking tours

 

 


HOP-ON, HOP-OFF SAN FRANCISCO BUS TOURS

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; City Sightseeing; 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 a 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. 

 

 

CitySightseeing Bus San Francisco

 

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 Sausalito Tour are included with either ticket, but the 2-Day + passes also come with their Parks and Beach Tour and Night Tours. For only $10 more, you gain access to 2 additional bus tours, 2 walking tours, a 1-hour free bike rental, a free ticket to 7D Experience and more over the course of two days.

Citysightseeing also offers a stand-alone night tour as well an Alcatraz Ticket Package.

Additionally, CitySightseeing also offers the Mega Pass that allows you to choose either 3, 4, or 5 activities to combine for a discounted fixed rate. Choose from their Hop-On-Hop-Off Official City Tour, Sausalito Tour, Hop-On Hop-Off Parks and Beach Tour, or a number of other tours/activities to combine. 

Click here to see a larger map 

Reviews of CitySightseeing

City-Sightseeing also has an overall 4 out of 5 stars 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.  

Many 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 certainly a good time to consider this option.


Choose Between 3 CitySightseeing Hop-On-Hop-Off Tours: 

1 Day Hop-On, Hop-Off Tour – Official City Tour + Sausalito Tour

This option includes all the major sights of San Francisco with unlimited Hop-On, Hop-Off access on Official City Tour and Sausalito Tour.

Enjoy stops at the following locations:

  • Union Square
  • Golden Gate Bridge
  • The Palace of Fine Arts
  • Haight Ashbury
  • Golden Gate Park
  • City Hall
  • And more! 

Tickets:


2 Day Hop-On, Hop-Off Tour

This tour includes 3 open-top sightseeing bus tours in 1 package, with the option to add on a Night Tour for just a few dollars more. Hop-On and Hop-Off unlimited times during your stay for up to 48 hours.

Standard Ticket includes:

  • Official City Tour
  • Sausalito Tour
  • Park & Zoo Tour 
  • Night Tour (optional add-on)

Tickets:

  • Without Night Tour: 
    • $59.99 for Adults and $39.99  for Children (ages 5-11)
  • With Night Tour add-on
    • $64.99 for Adults and $41.99  for Children (ages 5-11)
  • More info or to purchase.

3 Day Hop-On, Hop-Off Tour

This tour includes everything offered with the 2 Day Hop-On, Hop-Off Tour, but is available for 72 hours.

Tickets:


Individual Loop Details:

Official City Tour (Blue Loop): 2.5 hours long

  • Tour begins at The Cannery (B1)
  • From B1: First 9:00 am – Last 5 pm
  • Buses run every 15-20 minutes

Sausalito Loop (Pink Loop): 1 hour long

  • Tour begins at the South Vista Point (B10/C1)
  • From C1: First 9:30 am – Last 4:00 pm
  • Tour runs every 30 mins

Park and Zoo Tour (Green Loop): 1 hour long

  • Tour begins at (B11/G1)
  • From G1: First 9:30 am – Last 5:00 pm
  • Tour runs every 30 mins
  • Does not include a Zoo ticket

SF Night Tour: 1.5 hours

  • Begins at B1 Cannery
  • 6:30 pm and 7:30 pm year round.

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.

 


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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 City Sighteeing 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 sells two tourist attraction discount passes (the GoCard and the Explorer Pass) both of which include a 1-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 here.


 

Reviews of Big Bus Tours San Francisco

With a 4 out of 5-stars rating on TripAdvisor, it’s safe to say that Big Bus Tours offers a 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
      • Online purchase: $49.50/Adult + $37.80/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 Blazing Saddles 
        • Online purchase: $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
      • Online purchase: $30/Adult + $20/Child (5-15 years)

NOTE:  Smart Destinations sells two tourist attraction discount passes (the GoCard and the Explorer Pass) both of which include a 1-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 here.

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. They also offer 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.  

Tickets:

  • San Francisco City Loop (48 hr ticket)
    • $65 – Adults | $43 – Child (5-11) | Free – Child (4 and under)
    • Includes the Sausalito Loop Pass and the 7D Experience at Pier 39
  • All-Loop Package (48 hr ticket)
    • $70 – Adults | $48 – Child (5-11) | Free – Child (4 and under)
    • Includes a night tour, 2 free walking tours, 7D experience 

 


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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. 


DYLAN’S TOURS 

One of the most popular tour companies in the city, Dylan Tours offers a 2.5 hour San Francisco and Sausalito Tour. You will visit famous neighborhoods such as North Beach,  the Mission, the Castro, Pacific Heights, and more. You will then cross the Golden Gate Bridge and be dropped off in lovely Sausalito, where you can take the scenic ferry back to San Francisco.

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. They also have a combination ticket to Alcatraz.

Tickets:

  • San Francisco and Sausalito Tour 
    • $70/Adult and $55/Child (0-11)
    • 10 am daily departure
    • 2.5 hours in duration
    • does not include the cost of ferry ride back to SF
    • More info and to book.

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 free pick-up from most San Francisco hotels.  See their full list of San Francisco tours. We recommend that you start with their Grand City Tour.

Their tours are not technically hop-on, hop-off tours since the buses don’t stop at all the main attractions. However, on some tours (such as their 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 of Tower Tours

Tower Tours have 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.

Tickets:

Tip: You could save at least 20% off the full price of this tour if you purchase at least one other tour or attraction through the Smart Destination Build Your Own 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!

Tickets:  $70 per person. 
Purchase tickets here.

 


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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 has a 4 ½ out of 5 stars rating on TripAdvisor. Of the negative reviews that exist, most of them take issue with scheduling problems.  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.

Tickets: 

  • 5-Hour Premium City Tour
    • $79 for Adults
    • $74 for Seniors 65+
    • $65 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

  • $32.99 for Adults
  • $21.99 for Children (5-11)
  • Free for Infants (0-4)
  • Tours depart at 7:30 pm

BIG BUS TOURS

Night Tour of the Golden Gate Bridge & Skyline

  • $30 for Adults
  • $20 for Children (ages 5-15)
  • Runs 3 times a night: 6:30 pm, 7:00 pm and 7:30 pm
  • This tour is included in their Deluxe Tour

CITY TOUR SAN FRANCISCO

Tour of the Golden Gate Bridge & Skyline

  • $30 for Adults 
  • $20 for Children  (ages 5 – 11)
  • Duration: 3 hours
  • Tour departures: October through March 6:30 pm; April through September 7:30 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 Destinations’ 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

  • Includes: 
    • Tour of Alcatraz Island with audio tour
    • 3 consecutive day Hop-on, Hop-off Pass 
    • Official City Tour
    • Night Bus tour
    • Sausalito Bus Tour
    • Park and Zoo Bus Tour 

 Tickets:

  • $124.99 – Adults
  • $89.99 – 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)
    • Choice of Sausalito Tour or Night Tour
    • Four Walking Tours (Northbeach, Chinatown, Barbary Coast and Fisherman’s Wharf)
    • Free 1-Hour Bike Rental
    • Voucher for Player’s Arcade and Grill

Tickets:

June – September: $140 for Adults and $100 for Children (5-15)
October – May: $110 for Adults and $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
      • $129 per person

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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 about San Francisco than just the downtown area, you might want to consider one of the following packages.


SAN FRANCISCO MEGA PASS (City Sightseeing)

This new pass allows you to select between different options: Mega Pass Pick 3Mega Pass Pick 4, or Mega Pass Pick 5. 

With each, you can choose from 25 different attractions, including a San Francisco Bay Cruise,  Escape the Rock boat tour of Alcatraz, and many others. Their hop-on, hop-off Official City Tours are also included as options to choose. 

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 ride a bike across the Golden Gate Bridge, 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, their Deluxe Ticket (see above) offers far fewer activities than the Mega Pass.

25 Attractions to Choose From: 

  • San Francisco Bay Cruise
  • California Academy of Sciences
  • San Francisco Night Tour
  • SF Museum Of Modern Art
  • 3 hr 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: 

 


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