San Francisco Tours
Emperor Norton's Fantastic San Francisco Time Machine
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LIKELY TO SELL OUT*

Emperor Norton's Fantastic San Francisco Time Machine

By Emperor Norton's Fantastic San Francisco Time Machine
Recommended by 100% of travelers
100% of reviewers gave this product a bubble rating of 4 or higher.
About
Instead of navigating the streets of San Francisco alone on foot, let a larger-than-life historical figure introduce you to the city. Your guide—the fictional Emperor Norton—takes you to landmarks near Union Square, including Lotta's Fountain, Maiden Lane, and Portsmouth Square. Listen to the emperor tell stories you may not hear otherwise while you walk past some of San Francisco’s top points of interest.

Ages 0-99, max of 10 per group
Duration: 2h
Start time: Check availability
Mobile ticket
Live guide: English
More

Highlights
  • Skip the usual walking tour for one led by an eccentric fictional historical figure, Emperor Norton
  • See most of downtown San Francisco’s historical attractions in a few hours
  • Hear interesting historical stories you might not otherwise
  • Choose between a morning and afternoon tour to fit your schedule

  • Professional guide
  • All taxes, fees and handling charges
  • Entry/Admission - Union Square
  • Entry/Admission - Jackson Square
  • Entry/Admission - Maiden Lane
  • Entry/Admission - Lotta's Fountain
  • Entry/Admission - Portsmouth Square
What's not included
  • Food and drinks
  • Hotel pickup and drop-off

Meet your guide—an 1800s San Franciscan named Emperor Norton dressed in a feathered hat and full regalia—at Union Square and set off on your tour of downtown San Francisco. The emperor is a colorful character who has also named himself the Protector of Mexico. Walk about 2-miles (3.2 kilometers) to historic landmarks including Union Square, Maiden Lane, Portsmouth Square, the Old Mary Cathedral, and Jackson Square. While you walk, the Emperor tells stories about the devastation of the 1906 fire and earthquake, and the beloved stray dogs of the 1860s, Bummer and Lazarus. Visit the historical buildings that are not on any tourist map, and learn the backstory of the city’s eccentric history.

Start:
  • Union Square, San Francisco, CA, USA
    We meet under the Dewey Monument in the center of the square. If that is blocked, we meet of the corner of the square at Powell and Geary.
End:
  • Old Saint Mary's Cathedral, 660 California St, San Francisco, CA 94108, USA
    Old St. Mary's Cathedral

  • Wheelchair accessible
  • Stroller accessible
  • Service animals allowed
  • Near public transportation
  • Transportation is wheelchair accessible
  • Surfaces are wheelchair accessible
If you have questions about accessibility, we’d be happy to help. Just call the number below and reference the product code: 19479P1

  • Travelers should have a moderate physical fitness level
  • Masks and social distancing required.
  • This tour/activity will have a maximum of 10 travelers

  • For a full refund, cancel at least 24 hours in advance of the start date of the experience.

If you have questions about this tour or need help making your booking, we’d be happy to help. Just call the number below and reference the product code: 19479P1

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Itinerary
  • Union Square, San Francisco, CA, USA
    We meet under the Dewey Monument in the center of the square. If that is blocked, we meet of the corner of the square at Powell and Geary.
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  • 660 California St, San Francisco, CA 94108, USA
    Old St. Mary's Cathedral
About the operator
Don’t take it from us – here’s what people have to say about this operator:
  • Emperor Norton's Fantastic San Francisco Time Machine
    221
    San Francisco, California
    Joined in April 2012
  • ap5150
    0 contributions
    5.0 of 5 bubbles
    I might be mad, but I am brilliant!
    The Emperor leads you on a grand walkabout through his haunts on the Barbary Coast, sparing no detail about its delightfully sordid past (though respectfully checking with the parents on the trip beforehand to clear the material first). Emperor Norton slips effortlessly in and out of character, greeting his loyal (and unsuspecting) subjects as he strolls the streets of San Francisco, sharing tales from the past. The trip into the underground smugglers tunnel was an absolute treat. There are tours, and there are grand adventures. This is one of those.
    Written September 23, 2019
  • lzybeth
    0 contributions
    5.0 of 5 bubbles
    See the real SF with the Emperor!
    A very enriching and educational tour! The Emperor has exceptional knowledge of San Francisco history, adding his own personal flair to every site we visited. A must see/do when visiting SF!
    Written July 25, 2019
  • CalifTravelerOne
    0 contributions
    5.0 of 5 bubbles
    No wonder this tour gets such a high rating!
    To be honest, I would never sign up for a tour like this but we got this as a gift and loved it. The Emperor really gets into his character but will freely break character to answer your questions. Good hints about POPOS. Nice sense of humor about how much he promotes the website, which has links that you might actually want to check out. The tour is not all about the life of the Emperor. It has a good mix of information about the historical buildings.
    Written July 14, 2019
  • Maggie C
    0 contributions
    5.0 of 5 bubbles
    Don’t miss this
    We had a fabulous time with Emperor Norton on this walking tour. Only wish we’d done it when we first arrived in SF so we would have time to go back & explore the fantastic places he took us to or talked about. The”Emperor” portrays a real person from SF history. His character is comical, knowledgeable and interesting. His depth of knowledge of the history of the area is unbelievable & he imparts it in such a fun way. Everyone in the street knows him & waves to him. Really enjoyed this tour & would highly recommend it. Thank you Emperor. Don’t miss it.
    Written September 2, 2018
  • Crisgraaff
    0 contributions
    5.0 of 5 bubbles
    A trip through time and San Francisco
    What a nice and different way to experience San Francisco. This town is amazing for its ability to create the future (in Silicon Valley) and I love that we got to know it’s past aswell. Emperor Norton is a great past and present San Francisco character. Without him I would have missed so many gems of this town, and so many curiosities. Highly recommend
    Written August 20, 2018
  • Caitlyn S
    0 contributions
    5.0 of 5 bubbles
    Fantastic!
    The Emperor was nice enough to show my friend and I, along with many others, the beautiful city that is San Francisco. He had a lovely way of telling the stories of the past and really brought the history of the city alive. It was lovely and I would recommend this tour to anyone!
    Written July 3, 2018
  • Jernae K
    0 contributions
    5.0 of 5 bubbles
    I LOVED this tour
    This walking tour was recommended to me by a member of a travel community on Facebook and I'm so glad I listened! The sight of a bunch of touring lemmings (including myself) walking behind "the emperor" down the streets of San Fran as he waves to his loyal subjects was probably an experience I'll never have again. Not only was the tour fun, but it was educational and very informative. If you have time to do this . . . book it!
    Written June 28, 2018
  • jessjmott
    0 contributions
    5.0 of 5 bubbles
    Don't skip this one!
    I was enthralled from beginning to end! Charismatic, educational, and truly a special peek into San Franciscos past. I highly recommend this tour. I've never done a walking tour before and almost 3 hours did seem a bit daunting, however, when we finished i couldn't believe it was over. I could have easily taken the tour twice. Thank you, for this magical experience that i shall cherish my entire lifetime.
    Written June 23, 2018
  • dougtheonetruedoug
    0 contributions
    5.0 of 5 bubbles
    Emperor Norton not to be missed
    I took ‘The Emperor Norton Time Machine Walking Tours - Tour That Never Ends’. It was a special rare event. A six hour plus adventure with heroes like Mark Twain, Shanghai Kelly, Lola Montés and “Oofty Goofty - the Wild Man of Borneo". Our guide was none other than, Emperor Norton the First. We traveled his normal route, but EN#1 told every story he knows (in detail). It was a fantastic tour. Next time I’ll take the normal tour. This was like a marathon of information. Thanks EN#1 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
    Written May 8, 2018
  • Suzanne C
    0 contributions
    5.0 of 5 bubbles
    A great way to visit San Francisco!
    Touring with the Emperor is probably one of the best tours we have done while travelling. Norton was interesting and full of history facts. We thoroughly enjoyed it and will probably sign up for one of his other tours during our next visit.
    Written April 4, 2018
  • Marilyn Z
    0 contributions
    5.0 of 5 bubbles
    Emperor Norton's City Walk Tour
    Great way to see and learn about San Francisco! Our tour guide was 'Emperor Norton', complete in costume. Very knowledgeable guide, and easy to talk to and ask questions. Highly recommended!
    Written March 9, 2018
  • Tracy T
    0 contributions
    5.0 of 5 bubbles
    Don’t miss this tour
    Fantastic tour of San Francisco. The guideis so very well-informed and brings the history of the city, neighborhoods, buildings, and historic personages to life! The guide is friendly and very interactive I would go a second time!!!!
    Written March 8, 2018
  • Johnny V
    0 contributions
    5.0 of 5 bubbles
    The emperor is simply Charming
    This was a wonderful review with full of history and knowledge of San Francisco. Damper is simply charming and very knowledgeable. However if Mobility is a concern of yours this might not be the tour for you for there is quite a bit of walking. But don't let the walking discourage you this is a must do in San Francisco
    Written January 7, 2018
  • Lisabeth B
    0 contributions
    5.0 of 5 bubbles
    We love the Emperor!
    Traveling through time with Emperor Norton was the highlight of our trip to San Francisco. He led us through the streets and alleys of the city to explore its colorful history and vibrant present. We were on the downtown tour and covered so much ground seeing everything from handmade fortune cookie production to contemporary architectural marvels. Be prepared! The Emperor draws lots of attention as you make your way through the city. He is an anachronistic delight offering up a perspective on the city that you will never forget. Beth and Walter Bennett, Rhode Island.
    Written November 8, 2017
  • mmul21
    0 contributions
    5.0 of 5 bubbles
    Great way to explore SF!
    A very enjoyable and informative afternoon spent walking the streets of downtown San Francisco with Emperor Norton. We learned a lot about the city, its history, and got to visit some fun spots off the beaten path. Emperor Norton is quite the character - he even stopped by Ghiradelli to get us chocolate samples while we walked! Highly recommend for visitors to the city and for those who live in the area and want to learn something new. Good walking shoes are a must!
    Written October 30, 2017
See all 221 reviews
These reviews are the subjective opinions of Tripadvisor members and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews as part of our industry-leading trust & safety standards. Read our transparency report to learn more.

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Popular mentions

5.0
5.0 of 5 bubbles60 reviews
Excellent
60
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David K
Calabasas, CA320 contributions
5.0 of 5 bubbles
Oct 2022
One of the best walking tours we have ever taken. Emperor Norton is an expert on San Francisco history and makes the city come alive with tales of the earthquake and city live before and after. He gives you so much information that even a city native is going to learn new fun and historical facts about the city. The three hours flew by and we appreciated the restaurant recommendations at the end. The perfect way to spend some novel time a little time in SF! (don't call it Frisco:) Thank you Emperor for sharing your vast knowledge of the city with us today.
Written October 22, 2022
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews as part of our industry-leading trust & safety standards. Read our transparency report to learn more.

SlowMachine
South Carolina3 contributions
5.0 of 5 bubbles
Sep 2023 • Couples
Emperor Norton shares San Francisco history in an entertaining and genuine way, bringing the past to life, one block at a time. The City never looks more beautiful as you stroll along the old Barbary Coast with SFPD saluting the Emperor along the way.

The nuts and bolts: He’s a fantastic storyteller. The information is well-researched and easy to understand. The pace of the tour is perfectly balanced, not strenuous and not lethargic. The path is through the essential historical areas without being too touristy. The route is also very safe and clean. You’re pretty much guaranteed to have “only in San Francisco” magical moments. It lasts about 2.5 hours, but that flies by.

San Francisco is a city like no other — constantly reinventing itself and encouraging citizens and visitors alike to be open, free, kind, and curious. Let Emperor Norton show you the beauty and the story of the City by the Bay.
Written September 10, 2023
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews as part of our industry-leading trust & safety standards. Read our transparency report to learn more.

Carolyn K
1 contribution
5.0 of 5 bubbles
May 2021
The tour was informative, very fun, refreshing + a delight. As someone who lives in SF I learned so many new things, the editing of the stories told was excellent, very engaging, interesting + for a tourist or sf native that may pass by some of these landmarks daily + didn't realize the history. The only shame is that Giradelli Chocolates does not have the Emperor Norton's sundae on the menu any longer. Bring it back!! I would recommend this tour to my friends + family, and you too. 3 cheers to emperor Norton tour! The guide is clearly passionate, a history buff + eccentric channeling of the spirit of the Emperor!!
Written May 17, 2021
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews as part of our industry-leading trust & safety standards. Read our transparency report to learn more.

Artie B
2 contributions
5.0 of 5 bubbles
Jul 2022
Emperor Norton was a revelation! His knowledge of San Francisco is encyclopedic. The tour was great good fun, and the Emperor never missed an opportunity to demonstrate his ample wit and delightful sense of humor. We learned more than we ever could have imagined, and laughed more as well. It was immensely enriching to spend a few hours with this costumed cicerone! We can't wait to return to San Francisco so we can take another one of his tours!
Written July 23, 2022
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews as part of our industry-leading trust & safety standards. Read our transparency report to learn more.

Joan J
Lakewood, CO65 contributions
5.0 of 5 bubbles
Dec 2019
Walking tours are the best, especially when you get an "authoritative" narrative from a local, and nobody's more San Francisco local than Emperor Norton. You will see things and go places you'd never think to see on your own. My only complaint is that the Emperor did not have good control of the weather. But this was great fun even in the rain.
Written December 14, 2019
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews as part of our industry-leading trust & safety standards. Read our transparency report to learn more.

MerryZ21
Windsor, CA37 contributions
5.0 of 5 bubbles
Jul 2019 • Friends
We enjoyed the tour of Emperor Norton's Fantastic San Francisco Time Machine. The Emperor greets you in the middle of Union Square and takes you for a back alley, historical tour of old town San Francisco. This is not the usual information you would find on a tour. Rather the interesting story of man that declared himself the Emperor of the United States, who lived in the 1800's in San Francisco. Fascinating details of the gold rush and more. Lovely stroll down Maiden Lane, Montgomery St. and the financial district. Explore a smugglers tunnel in an old building. We all had a fantastic , enjoyable journey back into history.
Written July 22, 2019
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews as part of our industry-leading trust & safety standards. Read our transparency report to learn more.

Danielle S
Lafayette, CA21 contributions
5.0 of 5 bubbles
My husband and I spent four days in San Francisco. As lifelong East Bay residents we decided to go and be tourists and see places in the City we had not seen before. Emperor Norton's tour was highly recommended by friends, and we were not disappointed. For 2 plus hours we walked with the Emperor and heard not only about his own fascinating history but many interesting facts about early days of San Francisco. The Emperor is informative, amusing and offers a wealth of knowledge and recommendations for touring the City. We left our tour with many ideas for future visits across the Bay, including other opportunities for tours with the Emperor. Highly recommend.
Written July 18, 2019
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews as part of our industry-leading trust & safety standards. Read our transparency report to learn more.

TravelTrooper1026
Orlando, FL164 contributions
5.0 of 5 bubbles
We thoroughly enjoyed this tour. Luckily the weather was perfect. Even though we walked approximately 2-3 miles, the Emperor's narrative was so fascinating that the time flew. He brought the Emperor to life while giving us facts about San Francisco history. Note: there are two restroom breaks. We found cheap parking 2 blocks away at the Hilton Union Square ($10 for 10am to 4pm) by prepurchasing on ParkWhiz.com, there's also a ParkWhiz app. Other close garages are also available through parkWhiz.
Written June 21, 2019
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews as part of our industry-leading trust & safety standards. Read our transparency report to learn more.

PeterEfromNJ
Bloomfield, NJ51 contributions
5.0 of 5 bubbles
Sep 2018 • Friends
Your guide impersonates a real character from San Francisco's well-known history of accepting odd balls and quacks. Before the Civil War, the original Emperor Norton declared himself the Emperor of all the United States and eventually the "protector of Mexico." Our present day Emperor leads you on a 2 & 1/2 hour, 2 mile tour around Union Square eventually ending up in Chinatown. Along the way, he regales you with tales of San Francisco's history as you stop a various locations. You learn a lot about the devastation of the horrendous earthquake & fire of 1906. But my favorite spot was the remnants of a tunnel in the old Barbary Coast area where drunken, drugged victims were abducted & put aboard ships bound for the Orient, which became the derivation of the verb "to shanghai." We found a Groupon coupon for $20 for the two of us. Even if you're a veteran San Franciscan you'll learn a lot and enjoy a leisurely afternoon. GO!
Written October 2, 2018
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews as part of our industry-leading trust & safety standards. Read our transparency report to learn more.

Stephanie L
Pennsylvania29 contributions
5.0 of 5 bubbles
Sep 2018 • Family
A phenomenal tour. We had kids 15 & 12 (with Asperger's) who trouped along and really enjoyed the experience. Unless younger kids are history buffs, they may drag by the end. The tour is not a grueling walk but it is a nearly three hour walking tour at a comfortable pace. There is a midway bathroom stop and a brief sit-down spot further on. The tour is not a full circle but it's close enough to walk back to your starting spot.

The level of immersion and detail provided a unique tour experience. Other pedestrians played along with greeting the Emperor and our group. The Emperor not only gave us a personalized tour of the city but also a theatrical performance. When I told local friends about what we experienced on the tour, they didn't know about some of the stops we made and things we learned and said they should take the tour (they should). They also couldn't believe what we got for the price.

I can't recommend the tour enough. If you have the slightest interest, go for it. A truly unique experience worth every penny and more.
Written September 30, 2018
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews as part of our industry-leading trust & safety standards. Read our transparency report to learn more.

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