This Tour Company Doesn’t Want You to ‘See’ San Francisco

Posted by Jordan Bailey

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…They want you to experience it. And the difference isn’t just academic.

Stuart Watts is about as local as it gets when it comes to San Francisco. A fifth generation SF native, Stuart’s family came to the Bay in 1849 for the Gold Rush. His deeply rooted history in the city has cultivated his immense passion for it, spurring his desire to showcase its unique cultures — from the fancy coffee shops that now line its streets to the mom and pop papusa places dotted around the Mission.

But it feels like those cultures can be at odds with each other, and Stuart has a unique solution to the problem. Rather than government policy or non-profit organizations, Stuart believes the best way to unite the new with the old is to show people both sides of what the city has to offer. So he created a company that does just that.

”I want to be a bridge between locals who are upset about transients coming to the city — ‘techies’ who are coming to San Francisco — and those transients who don’t know what there is to do in San Francisco,” Stuart said. “It’s like oil and water, and what I’m trying to do is blend these groups together instead of letting them clash continuously.”
stuart1cropThe Birth SF Native Tours

From the Ohlone people, to the immigration of the Spanish, and later the gold miners, Stuart knows San Francisco has always been a city of change. It is regularly evolving, adopting a new theme with each new wave of people that comes in. And though Stuart appreciates the hustle and innovative spirit the most recent wave of transients has brought, he said this round of change is concerning because San Francisco stands to lose cultures that are essential to the character of the city he loves.

So Stuart committed himself to showcasing those uniquely San Franciscan cultures. Earlier this year, he launched an innovative walking tour company called SF Native Tours. Each tour is curated by a guide who was born and raised in San Francisco, who highlights the parts of the city they’re most passionate about. On one of these tours, your guide is likely to point out the restaurant their parents own or the spot on the sidewalk where they once scraped their knee as a kid, details that are essential to illustrating what it’s really like to live in the city.stuart2cropWhy We Love SF Native Tours

What drew us to SF Native Tours was their fresh perspective on the tour industry. Instead of barrelling down the narrow streets of San Francisco on a two-story bus, SF Native Tours helps people experience intimate details of the city you won’t get from a bus seat.

“I believe right now we’re going through a transition, and people no longer want to be tourists they want to be travellers,” Stuart said. “When you’re a tourist you get to look at things … but when you’re a traveler you’re experiencing places. You get to taste it, you smell it, you touch it. People are on their feet going into the deep secrets of the city.”

The tour experience — which Stuart described as “casual and comfortable” — is intimate, with no more than 9 people per group exploring the city by foot. In addition to a local’s insight of the neighborhood, travelers are treated to food and drinks on each tour. The monthly Tenderloin tour, for example, includes dinner at a Vietnamese spot and beer and wine at local art galleries before ending with a whiskey tasting.

Stuart said most of the tours end in social settings, such as a bar or special event like Thursday nights at the Exploratorium. The company regularly releases new tours, adapting to the seasons and taking advantage of monthly events. “We believe that as people change, the city changes and the seasons change, so should your experiences,” Stuart said.
View from Buena Vista Park SF Native toursA Deeply Rooted Passion

As for his passion for the city, Stuart said it runs in his genes. The Watts family has made significant contributions to the community for more than a hundred years. His great grandfather, for example, was one of the initial funders of the cable cars. He also headed one of the first charities to provide relief after the 1906 earthquake. And in the 1800s, two Watts women were instrumental in fighting for gender equality in education, starting two schools for girls’ education. Most recently, Stuart’s own father took on an architectural project aimed at redesigning homes to reflect their original architecture.

The desire to give back to the community is in Stuart’s nature, which is why SF Native Tours makes regular donations to local charities, supports local businesses with visits on tours and volunteers in the community on a monthly basis. All while helping travelers, transients and locals gain a greater appreciation for the city.

“If you just tell them, they won’t listen,” Stuart said. “You can lecture someone, or you can let them experience the cultures. And that’s what we do.”
Street art alley san francisco sfnative tour foundersSF Native Tours offers several public tours per month, and guides are also available for private groups (perfect for company outings!). Tours range from $45-55. If you need help booking a tour, ask your Scout!

Photos by: Stuart Watts and Independent Travel Cats
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