Ride the Ducks: A unique view of San Francisco

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When we visit my parents in the Bay Area, we are always on the look out for new things to do to give our girls a unique view of America. So when we spotted the Ride the Ducks former WWII DUKW vehicle driving around the street of San Francisco, we had to try it.

Our tour began at Taylor and Jefferson in the heart of Fisherman’s Wharf. We got there a little early to check out the rows of tourist shops and pick up some postcards to send back to our friends in the UK.

Is that it mummy? My 8-year-old daughter pointed at the large white metal boat/bus vehicle, with safari–like open windows and a big yellow duck printed on the side.

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It must be. It is a strange-looking vehicle, and was already getting stares from passer bys.  I had read about the DUKWs before the tour, they were originally used in WWII to deliver ammunition from ship to shore. At their height, there were 2,000 active DUKWs in France. Now they have been refitted and are all over the world carrying tourists from land to shore.

As we boarded, we were handed duck bill-shaped kazoos and the girls immediately blew into them. So did all the other kids on the tour. I could tell this was not going to be an ordinary tour.

Then Captain Jeff boarded and started reading off a script.  Hi My name is FILL IN THE BLANK. Welcome to the CITY NAME Ride the Ducks tour. Then he grinned and said Nah, just kidding. He reminded me of the class clown in 6th grade.

He told us all about the duck bills we had around our necks. Precision musical instruments! You need to make sure you shake out all of the water, he said, shaking his. The last tour was really active! But don’t worry, I sanitized them! Another grin. My 9-year-old laughed.


We drove through Fisherman’s Wharf, and Capt Jeff pointed out all kinds of things and gave us loads of tips (we must try the Carmel Valley food truck and stop by the Spy shop where you can get teddy bears with cameras). He also pointed out the most popular restaurant in the world – Subway! Again, my daughters laughed.

I was wondering how Scottish hubby was taking all this. He doesn’t see the point in American humour. But I’m sure I saw him grinning along with my daughters.

The tour continued and we made our way past Pier 39 (Capt. Jeff’s favourite restaurant is Bubba Gump, because they always show the film). Then we drove along the Embarcadero, the area of the city which is a mixture of industrial Piers, restaurants, and even offices (you pass the Hummer Winblad VC office).  We passed the America’s Cup area, and the Ferry Building. On the right was a gorgeous view of San Francisco’s financial district, including the Transamerica building, the city’s tallest structure which famously has a point.

Ride the Ducks SF - Pier 23 on the Embarcadero

Capt. Jeff told us when it was built, that it was controversial. But you know, without it many say the city would be pointless. I’m used to this type of humour; my dad always told me that the person who has the office on the top floor of the Transamerica Building had a pointed head.

More gorgeous views of the Bay and all the Piers on left as we went under the Bay Bridge, then passed the boats at South Beach Harbour and the news(ish) AT&T Ball Park (where the Giants play).

We passed a few car parks, and saw police motorcycle training and then after a safety briefing, we all put our hands up, blew into the kazoos, and splashed into the water.

Capt Jeff explained that the wheels don’t retract, they were still turning beneath us. They were just wet. Since we were offshore, Capt. Jeff offered to marry anyone for $40.  When he didn’t get any takers, he offered divorces.

Then we all got a chance to drive the Duck!

Ride the Ducks Sf - driving the boar

After about a ½ hour, we were back on land, and soon on our way downtown, passing through the financial district, passed the convention center and Yerba Buena Gardens. As we crossed Mission Street, we all looked left towards the mission district, and made a tribute to Carlos Santana, with one of his 70s hits blaring from the Duck. People on the street started dancing. We kazooed back at them.

Through Union Square, Chinatown (Kung Fu Fighting), North Beach (right past Molinari’s, which is a fabulous Italian deli), past Lombard Street (2nd crookedest street – the 1st is Wall Street, hahhaha). Hubby groaned and my 8-year-old just looked at me.

After 90-minutes, we were back at the heart of Fisherman’s Wharf.

As we got off, I discreetly gave the tour guide $10, though I would have handed him a $5 bill if I had one on me. British people don’t really understand tipping. My husband always says we’ve already paid, why should we tip? Having worked in the service trade while going through University, I always tip.

The girls were still buzzing. And they tooted on their kazoos as we walked along the Embarcadero to check out the Americas Cup US store and stop at local hot spot Pier 23 for a bite to eat (so much better than eating on Pier 39).

If you go:

San Francisco Ride the Ducks 2766 Taylor St  San Francisco, CA 94133 +1 (877) 887-8225 sanfrancisco.ridetheducks.com Follow the Mythic Mysteries story www.mythicmysteries.com

Pier 23 Café Pier 23  San Francisco, CA 94111 +1 (415) 362-5125 www.pier23cafe.com. It’s a self-proclaimed local hot spot. I used to come here in the 90s when I lived in SF as a young upwardly mobile dot com professional. It hasn’t changed much, attracting an after work crowd. Burgers, fish tacos, calamari and clam chowder, all at reasonable prices and if you sit on the deck, a fabulous bay view. Good kids menu.

Boudin at Fisherman’s Wharf 160 Jefferson St San Francisco, California +1 (415) 928-1849 http://www.boudinbakery.com/ Come here to watch bakers at work through a floor-to-celling glass window. Also has a restaurant, museum and deli/bakery. I always come here to pick up a 1 lb long sour dough loaf for my dad, it’s his favourite.

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19 Comments

  1. Susanna
    13/08/2013 / 17:05

    I would love to go on the London one, wonder where it goes in the water?

  2. Susanna
    13/08/2013 / 16:45

    Don’t! (deep breathes)

  3. 13/08/2013 / 15:50

    Oooh this is reminding me of my honeymoon. We went on a boat trip in San Francisco – it was really foggy but so beautiful. No ducks though!

  4. 12/08/2013 / 21:40

    I’ve done the Duck Tour in London and it was great fun so if I ever get across the pond this would be on my list! It looks just as quirky and a great way to see the sights.

  5. Alexander Residence
    12/08/2013 / 21:17

    Aw I love it, looks like you are having so much fun. I am pretty sure I did this in Boston, but I don’t remember having a duck kazoo, or getting to drive. Love the vine and the shot of you at the wheel!

  6. MummyNeverSleeps
    12/08/2013 / 20:30

    Looks like SO much fun! I’ve been on a duck tour, but it was in the Channel Islands and was nowhere near as cool as this at all!

  7. 12/08/2013 / 20:15

    ok! ok! thats enough i’m about to explode 😉 x

  8. 12/08/2013 / 18:31

    The kazoos are still in use. Not sure that is a good thing.x

  9. Mammasaurus
    12/08/2013 / 18:24

    Oh this looks so much fun! The duck kazoos would be a big hit with mine too! I’ll be back to read the other posts later on this evening! x

  10. 12/08/2013 / 18:20

    They are pretty cool!

  11. 12/08/2013 / 18:17

    Sounds and looks great! I had no idea about the history of these vehicles! 🙂

  12. 12/08/2013 / 18:16

    You NEED to visit Sonya. It has you’re name all over it. x

  13. 12/08/2013 / 17:53

    San Francisco is TOP of my list of places I am desperate to visit, being my name sake and all. I always thought I should wait until I can go sans kids, but actually this looks like brilliant fun, so maybe I could take them after all!

  14. 12/08/2013 / 17:05

    Oooohh, I’d love to do a Boston one. That’s my 2nd favourite US city (after SF). x

  15. 12/08/2013 / 17:00

    SF is one of my very favourite cities (next to London of course). x

  16. Andrea @loveandcake
    12/08/2013 / 16:27

    This looks brilliant! We did a duck tour in Boston and loved it.

  17. 12/08/2013 / 16:12

    I LOVED San Francisco. I did a real Thelma and Louise trip when I was 21 and we had a day in ‘Frisco. We couldnt spare any longer but Fisherman’s Wharf was a must see. It was brilliant.
    I sat on the edge swinging my legs singing “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay” trying to be cool.
    Great post
    Brings back happy memories

  18. 11/08/2013 / 15:03

    Thanks Greta, yes we did have fun. It was certainly different.

  19. Mums do travel
    11/08/2013 / 03:53

    This sounds like great fun for families.