Is going solo in an unknown area the right way to go, or do you want a tour guide to show you the highlights? I think that you can combine the two ways in one trip and have the best of both worlds. One trip we recently took was to Washington D.C. The best purchase we made was for a bus tour that would take us around the capital and point out all the main sites. Then allow us the next day to travel by foot to the ones we especially wanted to see. We knew ahead of time which Smithsonian building we wanted to see, if the Washington Monument was open to visitors and if you needed to get an advance ticket to take a tour of the White House or visit the Capital Building. It allowed us to plan our three days in the city and see all that we wanted to see. Individual tours to such landmarks as Ford’s Theater and Arlington Cemetery were tours we were glad we bought. The tour guides for these locations knew tidbits and items of interest that we would never have found out on our own.
Let’s look at the San Francisco Bay Area which is another one of my favorite vacation spots and my family has many pleasant and happy memories of our visits to that area. Some areas are so familiar to tourists that it’s possible to view the attractions on your own. That allows you to take your time and go at your own pace. Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier39 are good examples. Just by walking a few blocks you can tour Aquarium of the Bay, take a cruise of San Francisco Bay, visit the world famous Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum and spend some down time at the Riptide Arcade on Pier 39. The antique carousel is a beautiful site and an attraction for all ages.
If you’re going solo on this trip, you could consider buying a San Francisco CityPass. This special buy will give you tickets to five attractions, unlimited rides on the Cable Cars and an option ticket to use at the Legion of Honor or Academy of Science & Steinhart Aquarium. You are allowed nine days from the date you first start using your CityPass to visit each attraction and seven days for unlimited Cable Car rides.
Some attractions are worth having a tour guide for. If you go to Alcatraz Island, you have a choice of going solo, having a live tour guide or being guided by earphones which trigger the points of interest as you arrive at them. I would recommend the live tour guides. I have gone all three ways, and I received more enjoyment by someone telling me items of interest I know I had missed on previous tours.
Chinatown Walking Tours are tour guided must see. It gives you a behind the scenes look of colorful Chinatown. The tour covers, history, traditions of the local people and culture that you probably wouldn’t know or see by traveling alone. The lions at the entrance of Chinatown are awesome to see!
San Francisco also offers over 30 fun and free walking tours of San Francisco. For more information on these free tours, go to www.sfcityguides.org.
The same goes with Napa valley tours. It’s possible to drive to the area and go solo, but you will want to take guided tours of some of the vineyards and wine tasting rooms. If you are driving and just taking your leisurely time, I would recommend this way to see the beautiful sights of the wine country.
Another driving tour that is popular is the 17-mile drive down the coast. It winds around giving you glimpses of beautiful mansions and spectacular views. It will take you to Carmel and to Pebble Beach Golf Club.
One of my most popular tours is the Winchester Mystery House. It’s located in San Jose, an easy drive from San Francisco and Oakland and is worth the ticket cost. This unusual house can be toured many times and with each tour guide, you will learn something new about the eccentric Mrs. Winchester who believed the spirits told her to have the sound of continuing construction going on in her home to avoid death. This led to many quirks and funny sights in the house since Mrs. Winchester served as her own architect. She kept crews busy 24 hours a day, 365 days a year for many years. I loved the stairs leading to nowhere, and the built in magnifying glass in the window looking out over the garden. I’ve seen it four times, and will probably go back. Rumor has it, there was a wine cellar that was boarded up and sealed away. I wonder if it has been found yet!
You can go solo to attractions or take a guided tour. It’s your choice and you can choose whichever would give you the most memorable experience. I recommend both.