Clyde Always' 'Surreal San Francisco' walking tour - Enjoy local tales and folklore

  • by Jim Provenzano
  • Tuesday May 28, 2024
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Surreal San Francisco Walking Tour guide Clyde Always in front of Mona Caron's Church Street mural. (photo: Jim Provenzano)
Surreal San Francisco Walking Tour guide Clyde Always in front of Mona Caron's Church Street mural. (photo: Jim Provenzano)

If you have friends or family visiting, and they want to have some unusual entertainment, set them up on a tour with local folklore storyteller, comic artist and author Clyde Always. His amusing "Surreal San Francisco" walking tour navigates Duboce Park, The Mission and Castro districts with amusing bits of trivia, stories and recommendations for dining and drinking.

The two-hour tour kicks off at Church and Market streets, where always points out prominent and not so well-known bits of architecture stories and myth in our community.

Clyde Always and a walking tour guest on Castro Street. (photo: Clyde Always)  

Starting off with referencing a few points in Mona Caron's Church Street mural, Always leads his guests to the edge of the Mission Dolores Park for a bit musical trivia about Mission High School, and one of its prominent alumni.

As the tour moves west to the Castro, Always blends some mythical tales about the ivy-covered alleged home of a witch coven, and further west, the former home of rainbow flag cocreator Gilbert Baker. Stopping at the heart of the Castro, the tour offers a brief break for a bit of shopping or a snack from Hot Cookie or other nearby establishments.

In his own affable style, Always, 37, tells his tales in a voice it's both gruff and mellifluous. His stories are accompanied by strumming his tiny ukulele.

And while he would be probably be comfortable at the Lone Star Saloon, Always, while straight and recently married, acknowledges his potential bear status. He points out a few different Pride flags flapping in the breeze hoisted above the nightclub Beaux.

"When my wife and I go for walks in the Castro, she really enjoys the fact that I get so much attention," Always said.

While most of the guests on the walking tour I attended were visitors who didn't know much about San Francisco history, they did venture guesses about the history of Mission Dolores, and even the naming of California and San Francisco.

Surreal San Francisco Walking Tour guide Clyde Always at Dolores Park (photo: Jim Provenzano)  

"I get all kinds of people from all walks of life, young and old," said Always.

What inspired the cartoonist, author and actor to create his walking tour? Having performed a solo show at The Marsh, and hosted numerous poetry readings and open mic nights, Always wanted to find a way to blend his talents, including his cartooning, which he shows on occasion when describing certain characters like the mythic Emperor Norton.

Yet he found that his style didn't fit in with formal theater settings, and was too poetic for stand-up comedy. "I didn't necessarily fit in anywhere," he said.

So, he created the San Francisco Surreal Walking Tour, whose guests include locals but a lot of visitors. The tour is easily walkable and wheelchair-accessible.

"I've always been an artist, but to keep the roof over my head I've waited tables and done other jobs," he said. "A few years ago, I figured out how to combine my talent and put the tour together. This is the first time I've been able to combine my talents and almost make a living at it."

Always prides himself on being able to maintain his artistic sensibility while not conforming to any specific genre. He also manages to maintain the storyline of his tour, despite local distractions like traffic noise.

"Storytelling is something that's universal to everybody," said Always. "That's why instead of saying it's a poetry tour or a history tour, I just say it's a storytelling tour, with history, architecture and more. I'm kind of a social chameleon."

Even if you're a long time local, some of the trivia and spots pointed out are intriguing and informative.

Booking the tour ($32) can be found on Airbnb Experiences, TripAdvisor, and other websites, all linked on his website.

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