It’s easy to overlook Union Square’s hidden history, as it is so surrounded by the finest in San Francisco shopping, dining and hotels. Fortunately, for fans of yesteryear, two hip young historians have decided to share San Francisco’s rich past with a program of free walking tours meeting right at Union Square daily at 10 am.
SF’s Hip New Tour Guides
Calling themselves Wild SF, the duo of dapper gentlemen sing songs and tell stories about the places and characters that define the City with laughs throughout the journey. Best friends and business partners Wild Wes and J. Jo set themselves apart in their style alone--they’re bow-tie and top hatted hipster troubadours, complete with ukuleles and guitars in tow.
“We wanted to bring a fresh new element to the classic walking tour,” says Wes. “No other tour guides are singing about Maiden Lane’s bawdy past, or crooning tales of Chinatown’s hidden alleyways.”
Adds J. Jo, “These are the kinds of tours that locals and first time visitors enjoy alike. Even our friends and grandparents--some of them longtime San Franciscans--have been out and loved what we’re doing. It’s really something special.”
Meet Them at the Square
First stop on the tour is Union Square, built and dedicated by mayor John Geary (yes, that Geary) in 1850. From there the tours lead guests through one of two routes. It may be the Barbary Coast trail, heading into historic Union Square hotel the Westin St. Francis to hear how it recovered from the Great Earthquake of 1906. The tour continues down Maiden Lane and into Chinatown, and finally into North Beach and the Jackson Square. Their other route explores the Castro and Mission Districts’ changing demographics and social and cultural significance to the city.
Keeping it Free
With such a huge tourist population in town for the summer, offering walking tours for free seems a bit counterintuitive. The two have figured out their business model though, and they’re sticking to it.
“It does sound strange to not charge for the tours,” says J. Jo. “We know it’s a great experience full of laughs and history, and we trust that our guests feel the same way. As long as they tip us whatever the tour was worth to them, we do alright.”
“Unfortunately, I did graduate from SF State last year,” says Wes, “so I can’t really play the ‘starving student’ card anymore.”
About Wild SF: Launched in 2012, Wild SF is the brainchild of best friends Wild Wes and J. Jo, two hip young historians who wanted to bring their love of San Francisco to the masses. Starting with one iconic route, they’ve expanded to a full-time business that leads guests through the city’s greatest neighborhoods. Wild SF invites you to join them and get wild.
Tours meet daily at 10 AM at Union Square.
Routes: The Barbary Coast (Wed, Fri, Sun), The Castro/Mission (Mon, Tue, Thu, Sat)