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NEW! Bay Cruises along San Francisco's bayshore . . .

Walking Tours
Social, historical, and critical tours through San Francisco.

January-June 2021

(Due to pandemic, we have limited capacity on our walking tours. If you RSVP in the last week, you may be put on a waiting list.)

$20-30 sliding scale donation requested to benefit Shaping San Francisco

All the city guidelines should be observed while we live in this time of Covid-19. That means everyone is required to wear a covering (bandana, mask, scarf) over the nose and mouth. We will ask each of you to maintain physical distance of six feet from others who do not reside in your home. We suggest you have hand sanitizer at the ready. Public restrooms are also likely not going to be an option.

Cutting Corners: Rincon Hill, South Park, and Beyond

  • Saturday, February 13, 12-2pm
    Limited capacity, RSVP required:

    Explore the mid- to late-19th century processes of the making of a new urban and industrial center on the West Coast, as well as the social, economic, and cultural forces influencing the transformation of the South of Market and Mission Bay landscapes. Uncover buried knowledge of language, water, marshes, shorelines, bays, sand dunes, rocky mounds, and landfull. Learn the names of disappeared hills, points, creeks, valleys, and waterways that still exist under the surface. Hosted by LisaRuth Elliott.

    Tour ends at 4th and Berry.

    RSVP  or donate now!

New Deal Murals, Italian SF, and Trash!

  • Saturday, May 15, 12–3 pm
    Limited capacity, RSVP required:

    Starting with a guided tour of Refregier's Rincon Annex murals, this tour will cross the old Italian Produce Market zone through food, sailors, trash, buried ships, and more before climbing the Filbert Steps to end with a tour of the Coit Tower murals. Tour ends at Coit Tower.

    RSVP  or donate now!

Fort Mason & Black Point

  • Saturday May 29, 12–1:30 pm
  • Limited capacity, RSVP required:

    We begin in the shadow of the Fontana Towers at Van Ness and Bay and will conclude at the Fort Mason gates. During our excursion we’ll traverse the grounds of the old military base and discover histories of farms, soldiers, waterways, and World’s Fairs. A lost lagoon, a misaligned alley, a slain hero, and an apparent suicide highlight a stroll through the old World’s Fairgrounds and today’s landfilled multi-million dollar neighborhoods… Chris Carlsson will regale you with overlooked stories that still shape the San Francisco of today.
    Tour ends at 1:30 pm at Fort Mason.

Ten Years That Shook the City: Mission District History

  • Saturday June 12, 12-2 pm
    Limited capacity, RSVP required:

    We take you through a familiar part of the Mission—from around 24th Street, down Mission and Valencia, to 18th Street—to give you some unfamiliar histories. We focus on literary histories, public visual expression, resistance through print media, and the sites of poetry readings. You'll hear of the neighborhood's proximity to the mountains of Nicaragua, to the art of los tres grandes, and to the aircraft carriers involved in the bombardment of Vietnam. Enjoy a half dozen stops of the "Ten Years That Shook the City" audio tour, hosted by Chris Carlsson and LisaRuth Elliott. Tour ends at Mission and 18th.


New! Bay Cruises!
"City Front" boat tours re-commence monthly on January 17, 2021

Bicycle Tours
“Cycles of History,” our social, historical, and critical tours through San Francisco by bicycle.

Shaping San Francisco co-director Chris Carlsson conducts historical tours of San Francisco by bicycle. Bring a snack and water — we don't stop for food! Please email us to RSVP, less than five people cancels!

(Please include your phone number so we can call you if rain washes out the tour!)

All the city guidelines should be observed while we live in this time of Covid-19. That means everyone is required to wear a covering (bandana, mask, scarf) over the nose and mouth. We will ask each of you to maintain physical distance of six feet from others who do not reside in your home. We suggest you have hand sanitizer at the ready. Public restrooms are also likely not going to be an option.

Spring 2021 Tours

Tours have limited capacity, RSVP required:

We request a $20-50 sliding scale donation for our bike tours (but are flexible and you can pay less--or more!--as you see fit), benefiting Shaping San Francisco

  • Beholding SF's Birds Pedal by Pedal:
    Sunday, March 28, 10-3 pm
  • Ecological History South: Sunday, April 25, 12-3 pm
  • Shorelines: Past, Present, Future:
    Sunday, May 23, 12-3 pm
  • Labor History: July 3, 12–4 pm 

  • More info: 415.608.9035
    Need to Rent a Bike? Go to Pier 40 to the Bike Hut!

  • Haunting Tour of Colma Cemeteries!: Sunday, October 31, 2021, 11–3 pm  
  • Food Politics History: TBD 12–4 pm  
  • Dissent: TBD, 12-3pm
  • Ghosts of Transit Past:TBA, 12-3pm
  • Ecological History North: TBA, 12-4 pm
  • Golden Gate Park, 150th Anniversary History tour: TBA, 12-3pm


    All of our tours by bicycle and on foot are available by appointment, provided you have a group of at least 5 and you are willing to pay a minimum of $200. (We are negotiable of course, but that's our starting point. The price goes up for groups over 10.)
    Bicycle Tours

    "Best cruise through the past!" — SF Bay Guardian "Best of the Bay" 2007 & 2014!

    Shorelines, Past, Present, and Future

    Sunday, May 23, 12 noon-3 pm, Limited capacity, RSVP required:

    Join us to ride along San Francisco's current shoreline, original shoreline, and what is very likely to become our future shoreline! Chock full of stories about landfills, hill carving, earthquakes, garbage, and the century-long process to "reclaim" the "stinking mudflats" of San Francisco's bayshore.

    Tour ends at Warm Water Cove (24th and bayshore).

    RSVP  or donate now!

    Beholding SF's Birds Pedal by Pedal

    Sunday, March 28, 10 am-3 pm

    Limited capacity, RSVP required: Late RSVPs will be put on our waiting list.

    Tour ends in Presidio

    A special bicycling field trip with naturalist extraordinaire Josiah Clark covering Golden Gate Park and the northern shoreline. Expect to see 80-100 bird species, overlooked habitats, trees where they never were, water where there was no water… Explore challenges and opportunities for sustainable urban ecology in SF.

    RSVP  or donate now!

    Paths Through Golden Gate Park

    TBA, Meet at McLaren Lodge (Stanyan and JFK Drive)

    Celebrate San Francisco's great urban park on its 150th anniversary. Our bike ride through Golden Gate Park will visit original forests, manmade lakes, historic meadows, well-hidden paths and park features, and learn about the 19th century bike clubs that made the early park their own.

    Tour ends at the ocean.

    RSVP  or donate now!

    Labor history

    Saturday, July 3, 12-4 pm, Limited capacity, RSVP required: (Part of Laborfest)

    From the pre-urban history of Indian Slavery to the earliest 8-hour day movement in the U.S., the ebb and flow of class war is traced. SF's radical working class organizations are shaped in part by racist complicity in genocide and slavery, but from the 1870s to the 1940s there are dozens of epic battles between owners and workers, culminating in the 1934 General Strike and its aftermath. This is an entirely different look, during a four hour bike tour, at San Francisco labor history.

    Tour ends at Spear and Market.

    RSVP  or donate now!


    Haunting Tour of Colma Cemeteries

    Sunday, October 31, 2021 11–3 pm

    (Due to pandemic restrictions, we have limited capacity on our tours. If you RSVP in the last week, you may be put on a waiting list.)

    We take a spirited tour of several massive cemeteries where famous San Franciscans are buried. We'll visit Woodlawn, Home of Peace and Hills of Eternity, Cypress Lawn, and Holy Cross.

    We return to Colma or South SF BART together at end of tour.


    Photo by Marcin Wichary

    Food Politics History

    TBD, 12-4 pm

    (Due to pandemic restrictions, we have limited capacity on our tours. If you RSVP in the last week, you may be put on a waiting list.)

    Explore the many ethnic threads that, knit together, have produced our amazing local cuisine. From the old Italian food industries to Chinese shrimping villages, to the prodigious Bay Area fresh fruit and vegetable trade, get ready for an illuminating and tasty tour that will change how you think about what you eat. Special food stops along the way!

    Tour ends at Alemany Farm.


    Ecological History (North)

    TBD, or by appointment

    This trip through San Francisco's lost sand dunes, ponds, creeks and coastline will focus on the city from downtown north, covering the heart of the city, the waterfront and Yerba Buena cove, Telegraph Hill, Black Point, and Crissy Field in the Presidio... It's a social, historical and critical tour through the city's ecological past and present.

    Tour ends at Aquatic Park or Fort Mason Great Meadow.



    TBD, or by appointment

    Covering everything from literary dissenters to urban riots and protests, this tour examines sites of conflict and unrest, the social movements and upheavals, that have shaped San Francisco since its origins. It's a social, historical and critical tour through the city's contrarian past and present. Tour ends at Dolores Park.

    Photo: Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman

    Ecological History (South)

    Sunday, April 25, 12-3 pm

    Limited capacity, RSVP required:

    This trip through San Francisco's lost sand dunes, ponds, creeks and coastline will focus on the city from the center southward, covering the Mission before heading to Heron's Head Park and then making our way northward along the bayshore. Heron's Head Park, The Farm, water and sewage, geology, community gardens, San Bruno Mountain, and more! It's a social, historical and critical tour through the city's ecological past and present.

    Tour ends at Warm Water Cove (24th and bayshore).


    Ghosts of Transit Past

    TBD, or by appointment

    Discover lost freeways, ghosts of train routes, and a vivid account of how San Franciscans moved around this peninsula through time. Hear about the violent strikes that shaped public transit, the graft and corruption that conquered the Outside Lands. It's a social, historical and critical tour through the city's transportation past and present.

    Tour ends near Embarcadero and Market.


    Commemorating 50th anniversary of Los Siete de la Raza

    by appointment

    Explore the sites where a creative and militant social movement response took hold after police arrested six young Latino men for the May 1, 1969 murder of an undercover cop on Alvarado Street. Trace the history of the mobilization, the sites where newspapers, health clinics, and more were produced.


    Panama-Pacific International Exposition—Then and Now

    by appointment

    This mild bicycle journey covers key locations of the Panama Pacific International Exposition from Civic Center's Civic Auditorium, built as the Exposition Auditorium, to the Palace of Fine Arts. Ride with us and travel through the past 100 years of the influence of this and other world’s fairs.

    Photo: Building the Exposition Auditorium in 1914, courtesy San Francisco Public Library, San Francisco History Center

    Take Part San Francisco 1938-2019

    Four free bike rides in 2019, sponsored by the new San Francisco Department of Memory, conducted by Shaping San Francisco's LisaRuth Elliott and Chris Carlsson, visited 7 branch libraries each to see the pieces of the 1938 scale model map of San Francisco and compare them, while riding, to the city around us.

    In collaboration with the San Francisco Public Library and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and their ongoing Public Knowledge program.

  • South by Southeast: Saturday, January 26, 2019, 11-3 (Start at Bayview Branch Library, 5075 Third Street)
  • Northward: Saturday, February 9, 2019 (rescheduled from Feb 2), 11-3 (Start at Potrero Branch Library, 1616 20th Street)
  • Go West! Over Hill and Dale: Saturday, February 16, 2019, 11-3 (Start at Eureka Branch Library, 16th St. near Market),
  • From "Inside" to Outside Lands: Saturday, February 23, 2019, (Start at Main Library, Larkin and Grove)
  • RSVP

    Other Walking Tours we offer:

    Comix, Underground Press, and Poetry: The Mission You Don't Know

    • tbd, 12–2 pm
    • Meet in front of La Boheme, 3318 24th Street
      Enjoy a half dozen stops of the "Ten Years..." audio tour, focusing in part on literary histories
      Tour ends on Mission Street, between 18th and 19th.


    Scandalous South of Market

    • TBD, 12-2 pm
    • Meet at New Montgomery and Market SW corner, 12 noon
      Join a walk starting at the Palace Hotel with its surprising tales of 19th century wealth and vice, traverse the buried histories of Redevelopment and Yerba Buena, the Philippines-US War, and much more!
      Tour ends at King and 3rd Streets.

    Bound To Fall: Hub Neighborhood Walk

    • TBD, 12-2 pm
    • Meet at AllStar Donuts, Van Ness and Market Streets
      Join Arthur O’Donnell for a walking tour of two major spokes of "The Hub" transit center along Market Street and South Van Ness Ave. We'll investigate the current and expected changes along these corridors. Tour begins with coffee and calories at All-Star Donuts, moves south to Otis St./Mission Street, then explores the Brick & Masonry Historic District along Market St. to Valencia St., where we'll end at Lucky 13 for drinks and discussion. Bring your cameras!

    Rancho San Miguel Hilltopper

    • TBD, 12–3 pm
    • (Due to pandemic restrictions, we have limited capacity on our tours. This tour is full. Further RSVPs will be put on a waiting list.)

      A hillclimbing, semi-rugged walk across the hills at the center of the old pre-urban Rancho San Miguel. We'll walk up Glen Canyon to the Islais Creek headwaters, then via stairs and paths to the top of Twin Peaks, Tank Hill, Mt. Olympus, and Corona Heights.
      Tour ends around 3 pm at 17th and Castro MUNI station.

    King Tide/Sea Level Rise Mission Bay

    • TBD, 10 am-12 noon
    • Video here.

      This tour will look at the transformation of Mission Bay from a body of water and center of commerce and industry, to the current day configuration of businesses, residential neighborhood, and open space. We will look at the long effort over San Francisco's history to fill the bay as well as at current restoration projects, and the future of Mission Bay as climate change and sea level rise continue to impact shorelines and weather patterns. We will look at the City's considerations for the future and neighborhood-proposed solutions. We go through quite a bit of history of industry and related labor, global influences, and transportation. Hosted by Chris Carlsson and LisaRuth Elliott
      Tour ends at 20th and Illinois.

      RSVP  or donate now!

    Market Street: The Contested Boulevard

    • TBD, 12-3 pm
    • Meet at McKesson Plaza, Montgomery and Market Streets
      Stroll through the center of San Francisco along its main thoroughfare, discovering the social movements and events that shaped the City's history, and explore the ecology still evident under the pavement. The "roar of the four", the 8-hour day movement and the rise of Labor parties, women's suffrage and independence, newspaper wars, urban design, and more!
      Tour ends at UN Plaza, 7th and Market.

    Summer of Peace, Love & Anti-War

    • TBD, 12–3 pm
    • Meet at McKinley Statue in Panhandle (at Baker)
      A meandering journey through the Haight-Ashbury and environs, revisiting highlights of the 1966-68 period, focused on the Anti-war movement and the various cultural eruptions that the media labeled "Summer of Love" but for those who lived it, was a more complicated intersection of cultural and political revolutionary aspirations.
      Tour ends around 3 pm at Kezar Stadium (GG park)

    Poets and Writers: A Literary Exploration

    Meet at 518 Valencia, 12 noon

    Uncovering literary heroes from the North Mission all the way to the Corona Heights and the lower Haight: poets, novelists, essayists, horror writers, and more. Tour ends at Page and Buchanan.

    Jackson Square Historic District Architectural tour

    • Saturday, TBA, 12-2pm
      Meet at Washington and Columbus

      The Jackson Square Historic District harbors dozens of San Francisco’s oldest structures built originally over the old Yerba Buena Cove landfill. Most of them have been repurposed into design showrooms, law and architectural offices, and other uses. On our tour we learn about their past and present, and looking to the future we also discuss a number of newer buildings in and adjacent to the historic district that exemplify efforts to build more housing in the area; some more successful than others! Hosted by Peter Wiley and Katherine Petrin. Tour ends at Front and Vallejo.

    Beer, Dunes, and Trains

    • TBA, 12–3 pm
    • Meet outside SOMARTS, 934 Brannan Street
      Join a walk through the lost industrial landscape of South of Market, passing the ghosts of old train lines, former and current breweries, and learn about the remarkable landscape that was buried under the urbanized pavement—not quite a beach, but lots of dunes! Tour ends at 7th and Channel.

      RSVP  or donate now!

    Awards and Testimonials


    “While in principle we'd be the first to advocate sitting at home with a good history book on weekends, we'd also be the first to admit that such studious discipline can be hard to maintain on those rare summer afternoons when the sun is shining. Thanks to local activist Chris Carlsson's Bicycle History Tours, which depart regularly from CounterPULSE in SoMa, you can get your fun in the sun while simultaneously learning loads about San Francisco's various social, political, and ecological histories. As director and curator of the ambitiously far-reaching Shaping San Francisco history preservation project, Carlsson has amassed a wealth of local archival information regarding such absorbing topics as the subterranean waterways flowing beneath our streets and the Bay Area's long-standing penchant for protest. Usually the bike ride turns out to be the least strenuous activity of the day, but the great gray muscle that is your brain will definitely get a workout.”
    San Francisco Bay Guardian Best of the Bay 2007


    Last weekend I had the fortune to spend four hours in the company of Chris Carlsson, maybe the most knowledgeable man around when it comes to all things San Francisco. Seriously. He offers six more tours this year, ranging in subject from food history (the one I opted for) to dissent to ecological history. Best of all, the tours are in no way obnoxious. Carlsson is a real character and a hilarious guy. You can tell he cares about his city as much as he cares about the people who live in it. And his tours are punctuated with tasty snacks. I was joined by about fifteen other folks (including two friends on an obscenely large tandem bicycle with whom I got lost afterwards in a pretty bad neighborhood…needless to say, heads were turning). Carlsson steered us around the sites of factories I didn’t even know had existed in San Francisco – mayonnaise, Twinkie, coffee – and way beyond.

    —Lucy Schiller, Broke-Ass Stuart Destitute Dispatcher, Oct. 19, 2011


    Labor History Tour

    “Explore the colorful history of the labor movement here in San Francisco with CounterPULSE and Shaping San Francisco director Chris Carlsson on this four-hour bicycle tour. You will visit Pier 38 where the 1877 riots almost burned the Pacific Mail docks (and led to the Workingmen’s Party) and the foot of Market Street where many labor marches began. Get off at the Civic Center BART/Muni Station — remember you can bring your bike on BART —and meet up with new friends at Mission and 9th streets. Do not forget your high-energy snack and some H2O. $15-50 sliding scale.” 
    San Francisco Examiner


    “I recently rode on the Shaping San Francisco 'Labor History' bike tour led by Chris Carlsson, a cycling encyclopedia of the many layers of SF history. With tremendous narrative skill, Chris point out visible urban features and architecture I'd passed by countless times without a notice, to bring the lived experience of the past into perspective. Upcoming tours include Ecological History, Dissent, and Food Politics. I hope to go on more these and suggest both visitors and long-time residents check them out as well. There's pretty much no better way of spending a beautiful day and getting a deeper look at the city we live in.”

    —Ben Furstenberg, April 30, 2012


    “The bike tours are unrivaled for their information to minute ratio. Chris Carlsson = top 5 people in SF.”
    Yelp Review