Top 10 Eye-Opening Experiences in San Francisco Through Airbnb

The Golden Gate in Bridge San Francisco
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Last year, San Francisco experienced a record-breaking year for tourism – with a total visitor volume of over 25.1 million people, as reported by the San Francisco Travel Association.

Whether you are a California native simply visiting for the day or are from out-of-state visiting for the week, there are plenty of new, immersive experiences to try out during your stay – and Airbnb, coincidentally based out of San Fran – has the answers thanks to its nearly year-old “Experiences” feature. Along with general experiences, the site also offers travelers “social impact experiences,” which donates money spent on experiences toward the nonprofit organizations that host them.

Here’s a top 10 list of experiences for visitors that are not only fun, but that help the people of San Francisco for the better. 

1. Chinatown Inspired

Guided by a fourth generation Chinese-American and Bay Area native, travelers on this three-hour tour get to explore San Francisco’s iconic Chinatown, home to the oldest and largest Chinese community in North America. Guests will meet at the Chinese Culture Center in the financial district, where their host is the director of education. While hiking Chinatown’s hills, the host will bring guests through contemporary art galleries, the oldest Taoist temple in America, an herbal pharmacy, the top shops to get barbecue duck and dim sum to go, the oldest “continuously functioning” civil rights organizations in the country, the last handmade fortune cookie factory in the world and finally ending the tour by tasting authentic Chinese teas. 

All proceeds will be donated to the Chinese Culture Center, whose mission is “to elevate the underserved and give voice to equality through education and art.” The Center also manages two art galleries, produces three annual music festivals and educates thousands of people “about the development of America’s multi-cultural democracy through the lens of the Chinese community’s history and culture.”

2. Cookies for a Cause

This tour will meet at San Francisco’s Family House, which serves as “a home away from home” for families of children with cancer and other life-threatening illnesses. The host, who owns a cookie business in the city called @XOBakes, will teach visitors how to make royal icing and use food gels for cookie decorating during a 2.5-hour workshop. She will show guests different cookie decorating techniques as well as how to continue to use them at home. Guests will also be decorating half a dozen cookies – including a Golden Gate Bridge-shaped cookie and one based on the season – which they will be able to take home or donate to the children at Family House. The host will provide the decorating supplies, cookies and icing.

Family House provides physical comfort and emotional support to families with children with life-threatening illnesses who are being treated at the UC San Francisco Benioff Children’s Hospital

3. Cruise through queer history

On this 3.5-hour bike tour, visitors will be taken on a ride between landmarks of the fight for gay rights. The host will take them through history, from the Gold Rush to Prohibition, World War II and the AIDS crisis, telling them stories of the people and the places that gave the city its reputation as “the gayest city in the world.” The tour will go through Embarcadero with stops at Fort Mason, North Beach, the Tenderloin and ending in the Castro, where the group will walk through the "most vibrant, gay neighborhood" in the city. Those who book this tour will need to provide their own bike or rent one from a nearby shop.

All proceeds will go toward TurnOut, a local nonprofit that connects LGBTQ+ groups at high schools, colleges and businesses with volunteer opportunities. Their mission is to “support local LGBTQ+ nonprofits with volunteers and to promote volunteerism and community engagement among LGBTQ+ people and allies.” 

4. Shop and Eat with a Pasta Maker

Meeting at the Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market – the oldest farmers’ market in the city – visitors will first grab a morning cup of coffee or tea as the “quintessential Italian welcome.” Their guide will take them through the Ferry Building and the market, where he has sold his pasta for two years. They will also taste artisanal market items, attend a cooking demonstration hosted by the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture (CUESA) and end the tour by eating lunch all together. 

This tour donates its funds to 18 Reasons, based in the Mission neighborhood of the city and “works to foster the creation of high quality, affordable meals for low-income families through classes, group dinners and community gatherings.” 

5. Wash and walk senior dogs for a day

In the heart of the Mission district also lives Muttville Senior Dog Rescue, a cage-free facility where up to 40 dogs roam around at once. During this three-hour experience, visitors will take a tour of the facility, be introduced to all of the senior mutts and volunteer in the shelter washing, walking and playing with the dogs. 

Muttville’s mission is to improve the lives of senior dogs. The organization also rescues senior dogs, finds them new homes or gives them to hospice while also providing information about caring for older dogs and supporting those who do on a global scale.

6. See the city with a social running group

The WeRunSF run club will take tourists and fellow runners on a three- to five-mile loop through the city, visiting iconic landmarks and scenic places along the way. The group will meet at Jessie Square in the SoMa neighborhood, where guests will be able to check their bags.

This running tour donates money raised to Marathon Kids, which helps children live happy and healthy lives by providing tools and training to help them run or walk marathons at their own speed. The organization encourages adults to “discover their inner coach” by joining, starting or supporting a Marathon Kids running club in their home, school, after-school group or camp.

7. Balmy Alley Mural Walk

Balmy Alley is where the art scene in San Fran began. Led by a neighborhood muralist with decades of work and experience in the area, visitors will receive a one-hour “inside look” of the emotionally-driven art community located in the Mission district. Since 1971, Balmy Alley has been an internationally famous mural site where over 40 mural display different cultural and societal issues of the past 40-50 years. With works from both children and famous artists, Balmy Alley actually started as a community fundraiser. 

Money from this tour will be donated to Precita Eyes Muralists, a multipurpose, community-based arts organization that “seeks to enrich and beautify urban environments” while educating both local and international communities about the process and history of mural art. Their mission is to “ensure that creative work remains accessible to the people whose lives it impacts.”

8. Connect with the Tenderloin community and GLIDE SF

Tenderloin is often referred to in tourist guides as “the worst San Francisco neighborhood,” though it is still a thriving community. Guided by Tenderloin’s “unofficial mayor” Del Seymour, tourists will explore the neighborhood and take part in community volunteering. Seymour will take the group from the old Hibernia Bank to Gubbio Project, St. Anthony’s, the Tenderloin Museum, the Cadillac Hotel and other neighborhood landmarks. Later heading over to GLIDE, the community’s church-based center of 50 years, the tour group will help prep and serve GLIDE’s “famous” fried chicken lunch to citizens through the Daily Free Meals Program. The group will be able to enjoy the meal as well.

Proceeds from this tour and volunteer opportunity will go to GLIDE, which serves a diverse cross-section of homeless, low-income and disenfranchised populations that works to create “a radically inclusive, just and loving community mobilized to alleviate suffering and break the cycles of poverty and marginalization.”

9. Make beer and sow seeds in Santa Rosa

This experience is for those who may want to take a little day trip out of the city. Located about an hour and a half north of San Francisco, visitors will learn how to start seeds, grow healthy food, brew their own craft beer and make cheese and beer crackers from barley grain from Hollyhill Hummingbird Farm workers. Visitors will get to see the urban farm’s garden, orchard and brewery and will get the chance to play with chickens. The farm is also walking distance to the Russian River Brewery

All proceeds are donated to the Hollyhill Hummingbird Farm, which teaches people about sustainable agriculture. There is also an opportunity to stay at the farm overnight through Airbnb. Hollyhill Hummingbird Farm has been featured by such networks and publications as CBS and the Huffington Post

10. Surf like a Sea Turtle in Pacifica

A crowd favorite through Airbnb Experiences, guests will learn the basics of surfing from their host, a surfer of 10 years. The meeting spot is about a half hour south of San Francisco in Pacifica at the Travel Surf & Swim Club, where travelers will be provided surfboards, wet suits and granola bars. The host will kick off the three-hour surf workshop by discussing the relationship between human beings and the ocean. Also an avid sea turtle conservationist, the host has been working with Sea Turtles Forever – the organization to which the experience funds will be donated – for eight years.

Sea Turtles Forever is devoted to the conservation of marine turtles and the protection of their "nesting and foraging habitats," with operations also located in Costa Rica. Their mantra is “More Turtles, Less Plastic,” which they feel will lead to a healthier ecosystem for all marine life. 

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