In June 2012 24-year-olds Wild Wes and J. Jo became a part of the San Francisco startup scene. The best friends and young entrepreneurs decided to found a company named Wild SF Walking Tours. They offer free to join, donation based walking tours through San Francisco and show people the history, architecture and culture of the city in a truthful and historical accurate way by remaining fun, hip and entertaining.After a slow going start in 2012, they have had a stunning year 2013 so far. That’s the reason why the passionate musicians recently quit their day jobs and are now dedicated to their project full time.
Wes developed the idea for a free walking tour while he was spending one year abroad in Madrid, Spain. During his travels he realized that they have “really cool walking tours” all over Europe and he wanted to bring the concept back to San Francisco. Later he discovered that there already were at least two other free walking tour companies in the city. However, he wanted to offer something different to what they were doing. Wild SF tend to be more fun and engaging, with more local flavor and history.
Wes’s mother showed him a book called “Walking San Francisco on the Barbary Coast Trail” by Daniel Bacon, a local author.
While he was reading it, he thought that it is a really interesting history and that he wanted to share it with the city and other tourists. So he tried to find a way to build a “cool and fun” tour around the book. He began his research at the library and read a lot of books. “They have this amazing resource center at the public library: The San Francisco History Center at the 6th floor,” he said enthusiastically. “I also went on a lot of other walking tours, to see what they are doing. A lot of them was not that good, I realized along that way. I just wanted to figure out how to make something similar to them but that remains true to me and I would enjoy,” he continued. That’s how he developed “The Barbary Coast Tour”, the first of currently two walking tours.
J. Jo followed a similar approach when he developed the second tour, “The Castro and Mission.” “It was almost like preparing a thesis” he said. He studied books, website and stories, he also talked to people who have been there to those times or heard stories passed down to them. “It’s led by two artists who are also entrepreneurs, who are also academics as well. Essentially we are travelers at heart, and trying to embody that and show people a very true San Francisco experience: eccentric, spontaneous. Sometimes it feels like being in an impro-theatre,” J. Jo said.
Besides the fact that their tours are free and they try to find the balance by offering tours where they show the accurate history about the city while singing songs and keeping it fun, the young men want to involve people and connect with them. “A large part is to just get people out of their shells and talking to each other and having a great time. By the end we hopefully all have lunch and these people maybe hangout for the rest of their stay in San Francisco,” he continued. They try make the tour more personal than other tours. At the beginning everyone gets a name tag and people introduce each other. They also are playing games, learning their names and really want to get to know them during the tour.
What makes the tours more remarkable is that Wes and J. Jo take people to places where they usually wouldn’t know or think of to go. One highlight of the Barbary Coast Tour is at a seemingly insignificant-looking art supply store, where they take people to one of the few remaining entrances to the old underground tunnels that used to run throughout Chinatown. It has been closed on both ends and what remains is very small section of the tunnel. In there, people learn about the very interesting story about what the tunnels were used for, which is namely for illegal things.
To advertise the tours, Wes and J. Jo go into hostels and hotels and place their flyers at the concierge, but also go in person and advertise their tour during breakfast, for example. They also count on traditional word-of-mouth advertising and good reviews on social media channels like TripAdvisor, Facebook or Instagram. They are also partnering with local small businesses to get the word out. In most cases people who attended the tours can get discounts at these small shops and stores. They also publish a zine, which is a guide book through the Mission and working on another one about the Barbary Coast Area.
The two entrepreneurs have big plans for the future. They want to partner up with another tour guide, who represents their brand on a third tour that is planned for summer 2014. Furthermore, they want to do a night tour, as well, which is like a pub crawl but also with bits of history, a scavenger hunt, music and games. They are also thinking about a weekly meet up, to get everybody from the tours together to hang out, offer a concert and cheap drinks, which would also serve as good marketing for the tours.
Wild SF Walking Tours are a good way to see the city. Visitors can experience San Francisco in a very unique, more entertaining and personal way than most of the others tours offered in the city. Actually they are very fun for local residents as well.
Phone: +1 415-580-1849
TripAdviser: Wild SF Walking Tours
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