Many movies set in San Francisco will show a Hop On Hop Off bus at some point – a brightly colored, usually red bus where riders can sit on top and take pictures of famous attractions while listening to a tour guide.
These buses run through Downtown San Francisco, showing passengers areas like Union Square and the SOMA district. Travelers can hop off these buses to explore the city and hop back on when they’re ready to go, listening to the City by the Bay trivia from a local guide. Particularly for families with autism, the Hop On Hop Off bus is an excellent option to see the local sites.
What you will See
The two level buses have a closed area on the bottom and an open area on the top. The top allows for a beautiful view of the city, while passengers can return to the lower part during rainy or windy weather conditions. The seats are comfortable, and riders are allowed to bring food and drinks on board. We’ve listed a few distinct stopping places here.
Fisherman’s Wharf is a touristy area with restaurants and souvenir stores. Kids will love seeing the sea lions basking in the sun on a specially built platform. History buffs can take a cruise to visit Alcatraz Island. Kids who like arcade games can head to Musee Mechanique for old fashioned games that cost a quarter each. Travelers craving dessert should head to Ghiradelli for an ice cream sundae and watch the staff make cones while waiting in line.
Golden Gate Bridge
Some people like to get off the bus and cross the Golden Gate Bridge by foot. It can be an exciting experience for anyone visiting the city for the first time. However, it is typically cold and windy, and fog frequently covers the area.
Golden Gate Park
Golden Gate Park, slightly larger than New York’s Central Park, was built in the 1860s on the barren sand and rocks then known as “The Outside.” While enjoying the sights, visitors can also explore the California Academy of Science, a renowned museum. Travelers looking for dramatic views can visit the Palace of Fine Arts. Finally, kids will love the Exploratorium, a hands-on museum for exploring art and science.
The Haight-Asbury District is an excellent place for walking around and experiencing the spirit of 1960s San Francisco. It is also the best place to get second-hand clothing and unique souvenirs.
San Francisco is home to the largest and oldest Chinatown outside of Asia. This Chinatown is the perfect place to experience authentic Chinese eateries and buy bargain priced memorabilia. Visitors should stop and check out the entrance gate with the impressive lamp posts.
Unless anyone in the traveling group is interested in getting off to explore specific places, travelers can certainly stay on the bus for many of the sites. We recommend staying on the bus for the Painted Ladies, Victorian Homes, City Hall, Market St, Cable Car Turnaround, Union Square, and Transamerica Pyramid. The guide will explain the history of these places in intricate detail, making staying on the bus worthwhile.
Time and Cost
Hop On Hop Off buses run daily from nine AM to five PM every half hour. The entire loop can take around two hours, longer if there are any stops.
Tickets are valid for twenty-four hours from first use. Meeting PointTickets must be exchanged before boarding at 1331 Columbus St. Visitors may board or leave the bus from any of the stops. Potential travelers can buy tickets on the spot, and there’s no need to pre-book.
Our son wasn’t feeling well the day we went, so he didn’t want to get off at any stops except for Pier 39 and the Ghiradelli chocolate factory. He happily sat in the comfort of the bus listening to the stories and jokes of our entertaining guide.
The Hop On Hop Off bus is an excellent way to get a sense of an otherwise difficult to navigate hill filled city. The service is convenient and relatively inexpensive, especially in a bundle offer.
Autism Travel Tips:
- Those with kids who are temperature sensitive should sit in the closed area while crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, as it is usually cold and windy.
- Most buses don’t have a bathroom on board. Therefore, parents may need to get off to use the public facilities.
- Parents shouldn’t wait to return on the last bus if they are pressed for time or across town since they may miss it.
- Parents can bring noise canceling headphones for kids who are noise sensitive.
- There are microclimates in San Francisco, so parents should bring jackets with hoods as it may get cold even on a sunny day.