Why you should care
This tour is Parts Unknown meets the History Channel for marijuana.
When I went searching for the bus for a new cannabis tour in San Francisco, I didn’t find what I expected. It was not a bright-green, psychedelic-rainbow vehicle decorated in peace signs and giant marijuana leaves. Instead, it turned out to be an ordinary black minibus with the simple signage “Green Guide Tours.” Much more understated, yes, but that’s the point.
Green Guide Tours is on a mission to destigmatize cannabis — via the most educational and fascinating marijuana tour in the country. The company, which started in 2016, was founded by fourth-generation San Franciscan Stuart Watts — a man profoundly excited about both weed and the city of San Francisco. But Watts isn’t just some goofy stoner. His love for cannabis comes from a desire to educate people about its powerful therapeutic benefits, as well as the rich history of cannabis hidden throughout many neighborhoods in the city.
When you first climb aboard the bus, Watts excitedly greets you with a handshake and a basket of snacks (this is a weed tour after all). Next, there’s an overview of the neighborhoods and the three cannabis dispensaries you’ll visit. “But remember, consumption is totally optional!” Watt exclaims at the start of the four-hour experience.
Some of America’s first settlers were mandated by the British crown to grow hemp plants.
This is not just a tour for pot smokers. It’s about the compelling history of a city whose relationship with weed stretches back to the 1800s. “To truly understand and appreciate San Francisco today, one has to look at its 150-year love affair with cannabis,” Watts says. You’ll learn that marijuana had a curious journey to the U.S.: Some of America’s first settlers were mandated by the British crown to grow hemp plants, which were turned into rope and clothing. There are cannabis connections to the gold rush era, 1950s beatnik culture, the development of Chinatown and the iconic hippie revolution during the Summer of Love and beyond. “From the city’s inception, San Francisco has been home to subversive thinkers, contraband and ideas from all over the world,” says Watts.
The first dispensary stop is Harvest in the Richmond neighborhood. Harvest is unique, Watts says, because all of the products are displayed on accessible shelves for customers to look at or touch — unlike many dispensaries that keep their offerings behind glass. At Harvest, there are cannabis-infused drinks, snacks, tinctures, vape pens, lotions and, of course, the basic green stuff, which the industry now refers to as “flowers” in a further attempt to destigmatize cannabis culture. “Budtender” Watts is nearby with his trusty iPad, ready to answer any questions. This is part of the Green Guide Tour’s mission to help both the “cannacurious and the cannaseuers navigate this complex and evolving new industry,” he says. There’s also a cozy smoking lounge in back where you can partake in your purchase. There are two more dispensaries en route — BASA (Bay Area Safe Alternative) in the NoPa neighborhood and Sparc in SoMa — but Harvest’s leather chairs offer the most pleasant on-site consumption experience.
Again, if partaking isn’t your thing, the Green Guide Tour is still a fascinating experience, as you travel the winding, hilly streets of the city learning how its own narrative is interwoven with the story of cannabis. Another goal of the company, Watts says, is to “carry on the torch of San Francisco’s rich history of cannabis activism and social justice.”
The tour, which was bootstrapped by Watts and his co-founders, is funded primarily by ticket sales. And while $79.95 per person might seem pricey, it’s cheaper than most other cannabis tours in the U.S., which can often cost upward of $200 per person. Marijuana tours in Colorado, for example, are plentiful, but Green Guide is the only one that spends extensive time exploring the culture and influence of marijuana on a city with an already compelling history.
If you’ve never considered a cannabis tour, try this one. If nothing else, you’ll spend a few hours learning little-known facts from a passionate entrepreneur who loves his city as much as he loves the green stuff.