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The SFTGG Certification Program

Why Certification?

  • Certification recognizes experienced members of the San Francisco Tour Guide Guild who have demonstrated proficiency and excellence as local tour guides.
  • The program is a key way in which the organization achieves its mission to foster a standard of quality, ethics, and professionalism among its members.
  • Certified guides are justifiably proud of this career achievement, and other tour guides look to the Certified guides as models of excellence.
  • Finally, tour operators and others in the tourism industry can be confident that Guild-Certified guides are very well qualified to deliver excellent tours.

We invite you to begin your journey to Certification!


Step 1:
Commitment and Education

Establish a solid commitment to the program, laying the groundwork for success. Dedicate yourself to each step, ensuring a strong foundation for certification and future growth as a tour guide. Constantly build your knowledge of San Francisco history and the logistics of leading tours.

The easiest way for candidates to keep track of their tour experience is to use this form. Once completed, the form will be submitted as the application to take the Certification examination.

The Guild can offer you training, mentorship, and support. Please call on us!

Step 2:
Prerequisite Tours and Programs

Candidates must gain experience leading a minimum number of tours. This real-world experience is essential in developing deep knowledge of different areas of the city, the sites along the way, and a variety of potential routes. 

The prerequisite is a minimum of 25 tours. At least 20 of these must have been conducted in San Francisco on a vehicle (bus, van, SUV, etc.) and be considered a “general city tour,” “highlights tour,” or similar.

Candidates must also have attended a minimum of five training programs, at least two of which must have been sponsored by the Guild.

Step 3:
Written Examination

Candidates will sit for a comprehensive, multiple-choice exam (approximately 150 questions) covering various aspects of San Francisco history, sights, culture, etc. There are many ways to prepare for the exam (see the Education section, below), including the following training exercises:
Training Exercise A

Training Exercise B

Training Exercise C

Training Exercise D

Training Exercise E

Training Exercise F

Step 4:
Vehicle Routing

This step focuses on guiding tour vehicles between locations. During the oral exam, candidates will be asked how they would go from "Point A to Point B." There is no single right answer, but candidates should demonstrate familiarity with logical routes, and knowledge of restrictions such as streets that are too steep or off limits for motor coaches.

Candidates can utilize the provided PowerPoint to see examples of some routing options, but we encourage you to explore various routes in a car to see them in person. The experienced motor coach drivers you work with are a great source of knowledge about typical routes that work for large vehicles.

PowerPoint with routes for Certification Test

Step 5:

The Narration portion of the exam is the final step. Candidates are asked to deliver several minutes of accurate commentary as if on a live motor coach tour. This demonstrates knowledge of the landmarks along the routes and ability to tailor commentary to the time constraint of a moving vehicle. Evaluators will choose four of the following for the exam:

1 - Hyatt Regency to Grace Cathedral
2 - Pier 39 to The Hyde Street Pier
3 - The Cannery to Broadway & Columbus
4 - Union Square to City Hall
5 - Ferry Building to Pier 39
6 - The Palace of Fine Art to the Golden Gate Bridge
7 - Haight & Masonic to Haight & Stanyan
8 - Ninth Avenue and Lincoln to the Japanese Tea Garden
9 - The Hyde Street Pier to the Maritime Museum
10 - Union Square to Broadway & Columbus

Certification Documents


As a professional organization, the Guild and its members recognize the importance of constant learning. From new members just starting out in the industry, to mid-career professionals preparing to take the Certification exam, to our most senior Certified Tour Guides, education is continuous. In fact, the Guild's active members pledge to complete at least two Continuing Education activities each year (most probably do far more than that).

Educational Resources

There are dozens of ways to build knowledge about San Francisco history, culture and sights, but here are a few recommendations:

  • Books—there are (of course) hundreds of good books about San Francisco history, but here a few that we find especially useful in preparing to lead tours:

  • Cool Gray City of Love, 49 Views of San Francisco, by Gary Kamiya. Each chapter describes a different area of the city, with detailed history.
  • Tour Guide's Guide to San Francisco. Written by the Guild’s own Jason Cohen and published by The Trip School, this guide was written specifically for tour guides, and includes logistical information such as routes that work for motor coaches as well as history and descriptions of attractions.
    • Guild members receive a $5 discount using code SFGUILD at checkout.
    • Disclaimer: The author (who is the Guild’s Certification Chair in 2024) receives a commission on the sale of this book.
  • The Guidepost—the Guild’s newsletter, published since the 1980s, has dozens of articles about relevant topics and a useful index.
  • The Guild's training manual:   San Francisco    East Bay    Marin County    Wine Country    Peninsula/Monterey  — These documents (available free to Guild members) provide an overview of various areas of the city and surrounding areas. However, the manual is no longer being maintained and has not been reviewed since 2012.