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Explore Bay Area Social Movement History

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

Every 3rd Saturday September–November 2016, and
2nd Saturday in December.
$10-20 sliding scale donation requested
to benefit Shaping San Francisco

Beer, Dunes, and Trains

  • Saturday, September 17, 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.


Market Street: The Contested Boulevard

  • Friday, October 7, 12–3 pm
    as part of the Market Street Prototyping Festival
  • 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! Special historical reflection on festival prototypes featured.
    Tour ends at UN Plaza, 7th and Market.

King (Willie) Tide Tour of Mission Bay

  • Saturday, October 15, 11 am–1 pm
  • Meet at Pier 36
    This tour of the shore from South Beach to Pier 70 will be BEST IN A STORM (!), but will go whatever the weather. Hosted by Chris Carlsson and LisaRuth Elliott
    Tour ends at 20th and Illinois.


New Deal Murals, Italian SF, and Trash!

  • Saturday, November 19, 12–3 pm

    Meet in Rincon Annex lobby (Mission and Steuart)
    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.

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

  • Saturday, December 10, 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.


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!)

We request a $15-50 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

FALL 2016 Tours

Tours start at 12 noon at 518 Valencia (near 16th) in SF unless otherwise indicated.

  • Food Politics: Saturday, September 24, 12–4 pm 
  • Ghostly Tour of Colma Cemeteries!: CANCELLED! Sunday, October 23, 2016, 12–4 pm (meet at COLMA BART
  • Ecological History (North): Saturday, November 12, 12–4 pm

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

  • Dissent: by appointment, 12–3 pm 
  • Ecological History South: by appointment, 12–4 pm
  • Labor History: by appointment, 12–4 pm 
  • Transit: by appointment, 12–4 pm

  • Bicycle Tours

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

    Food Politics

    Saturday, September 24, 12–4 pm

    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 all the way!

    Tour ends at 25th and Mission.


    CANCELLED! Ghostly Tour of Colma Cemeteries (South)

    Sunday, October 23, 12–4 pm

    We meet at the COLMA BART STATION at 12 noon, and then 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 BART together at end of tour.


    Photo by Marcin Wichary

    Ecological History (North)

    Saturday, November 12, 12–4 pm

    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.



    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)

    by appointment

    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.

    Labor history

    by appointment

    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.

    Transit History

    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.

    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

    Other Walking Tours we offer:

    Scandalous South of Market

    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.

    Rancho San Miguel Hilltopper

    Meet at Glen Park BART, 12 noon
    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.

    Ten Years That Shook the City

    Meet at Cafe La Boheme, 24th Street across from western BART Plaza, 12 noon

    Enjoy a half dozen stops of the "Ten Years..." audio tour, hosted by Chris Carlsson and LisaRuth Elliott Tour ends at Mission and 18th.

    Cutting Corners: Rincon Hill, South Park, and Beyond

    Meet at 1st and Mission, 12 noon

    Learn about the surprising history of towering dunes, rugged shorelines, and carved canyons that have been reshaped into today's Rincon Hill and surroundings. Hosted by LisaRuth Elliott Tour ends at Pier 36.

    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.

    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