San Francisco, California audio tour: Sand Castles: The Remarkable Story of the San Francisco Embarcadero

Sand Castles: The Remarkable Story of the San Francisco Embarcadero

Walking Tour

90 mins

About the Tour

Journey along the San Francisco waterfront, and through time, to hear an amazing tale about the ground beneath your feet on this walking tour.

The Embarcadero is a broad pedestrian walkway at the water’s edge of downtown San Francisco. It hugs the Financial District’s skyscrapers on one side and the glistening Bay on the other. Once part of the Bay, in 1849 this area was filled in to create the city’s downtown area. Now, climate change threatens to reclaim this land.

On this walk from Rincon Park to the Exploratorium, you’ll hear about how rising seas and increasing storm surges are predicted to flood streets, and the infrastructure above and below. Learn what we can do to save this magnificent jewel, and what the future might look like.

With most of the world’s cities built along water, climate change is a challenge for us all.

Tour Producer


Claire Schoen

Award-winning producer Claire Schoen creates stories in sound for radio, podcast and audio-tour. She has taught audio production at Stanford, U.C. Berkeley and Duke University.

How VoiceMap Works

Focus on your surroundings, not the screen

VoiceMap’s audio tour app uses GPS to play audio automatically, at the right time and place. Just install it, then download your tour and go to the starting point to begin your walk, drive, cycle, train trip or even boat ride.

Follow a route with turn-by-turn-directions

Tours follow a route from a fixed starting point. This is how we provide turn-by-turn directions. It also helps publishers tell a story greater than the sum of its parts. But you can use Resume to pick up a tour from the closest location whenever you like.

Listen as many times as you like

You can listen to your tours as often as you like using both the VoiceMap app and the VoiceMap website. Your access to tours doesn’t expire.

Take virtual tours anywhere

Just select Virtual mode in the VoiceMap app to listen to tours at home – or anywhere else. You’ll see the option after you download the tour. You can also listen to the whole tour here on the website.

Buy for less on and sync

Once you’ve purchased a tour, it’s added to your VoiceMap library. If you sign into the app using the same method you used on the website, you’ll have access to your full library of tours in both places.

Use VoiceMap offline

The VoiceMap app works entirely offline if there’s no data connection, so you don’t have to pay roaming fees. Just download the tour over WiFi before you get started.

Major Landmarks

  • The Bay Bridge

  • The Audiffred Building

  • The Ferry Building

  • The TransAmerica Pyramid

  • Coit Tower

Directions to Starting Point

This walking audio tour begins on the Embarcadero to the south of the Ferry Building. There is a giant sculpture of a bow-and-arrow with red feathers. Stand right beside the water, directly in front of the bow-and-arrow. And push Start.

Show Directions
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Places to stop along the way

An unofficial skate area:
Just after Pier 7 is a spot where skateboarders show off their talent while others videotape their tricks. It's fun to watch them!

On the Exploritorium Pier:
We'll be walking up one side of the Exploritorium's pier and ending the tour on the other side. Exhibits located on both sides of the pier will challenge you think about the Bay in new ways.

The Exploritorium:
This hands-on science museum for children and adults sparks the imagination and the mind.

After the tour, come back to the Ferry Building for a ride to some other great spots such as Jack London Square and Sausalito.

Bicycle rickshaws and refurbished antique trollies:
These run up and down the Embarcadero providing interesting ways to experience the waterfront.

Water taxi:
Look out for signs for water taxi stops. For $10 you can hop on and off this small boat and check out the shoreline close-up.

Best time of day

The Embarcadero is interesting and beautiful anytime!


Make sure that Auto Lock is NOT enabled on your phone. Otherwise, the picture will turn off repeatedly and you will have to put in your password each time to open it back up.
• On an iPhone:
Settings / Display / Auto Lock
• On an Android:
Settings / Screen or Display / Screen timeout


I loved the Sand Castles tour! I learned so much about the present and the history of this area. I loved how the piece was put together -- the interesting people who spoke, the clear directions on where to walk, the warmth, humor, engagement, music, and sounds that all made me feel like I was on a live tour. I understand more now about how sea level change affects this area of San Francisco that is so special.

Posted by Anonymous Explorer , 3 months ago

This gets five stars for production value and for completedness on its main topic: sea level rise. What it does not do at all is give insight on what is around you. The have you start at a huge bow and arrow statue but not a word on why it is there and it’s significance. None of the buildings get any context. The Gap headquarters , the importance of the company in 80s San Francisco, the loma Prieta earth quake and the demolition of the highway right in front of the ferry building, what is the history of The Ferry Building, how it almost got demolished, how it is a symbol now of farmer’s markets everywhere. None of the other Piers get any mention in terms of their history. So it gets a lower rating from that missed opportunity. I’m not sorry I purchased it and took the walk although being local I didn’t really learn anything new

Posted by Anonymous Explorer , 4 months ago

I'm glad you liked the story that Sand Castles tells. I'm sorry that you were expecting something different. We try to be clear in the description that that this tour is specifically about the impact of climate change on the Bay coastline, rather than being a more general information piece. Thanks for listening!
Claire (San Castles producer)

Posted by Claire , 4 months ago

Claire is a master story weaver, bringing together an engaging mix of San Francisco waterfront history, modern day stories and insights. The tales of exploration, explanations of the science, and ordinary citizen reactions to it all open up new ways to experience the sights and sounds of the bay while revealing the way climate change is affecting the landscape.  It is humorous at times, eye-opening at others, and inspiring throughout.

Posted by Anonymous Explorer , 5 months ago

I really liked the different voices and perspectives. It was an enjoyable experience to listen to. I highly recommend it!

Posted by Anonymous Explorer , 6 months ago

Even though i have lived here for years i learned so much about my city. The narrators were excellent . I left feeling that there is hope in the world.

Posted by Anonymous Explorer , 7 months ago

Using engaging stories and up to date information, this tour audio tour made the S.F. Embarcadero come alive for me! I love living-history experiences that acquaint me with the sights I am seeing like this one did as I strolled along the Embarcadero experiencing the past and present at once!

Posted by Anonymous Explorer , 7 months ago

This is a terrific tour! I learned so much about the history and ecology of this beautiful, fragile place. I particularly appreciated the sound quality. Highly recommended!

Posted by Anonymous Explorer , 7 months ago

This is a well-made, carefully thought-out presentation that explores a beautiful yet threatened urban landscape in a friendly fashion... listeners will never see the San Francisco waterfront in quite the same way again!

Posted by Paul , 8 months ago

Best self-led walking tour I have ever done. I learned so much! It was like a walking podcast that was so well produced. Stories and voices wove together seamlessly telling me all about the history of the San Francisco and Bay shoreline. Fascinating!

Posted by Christine , 8 months ago

This tour was a walk along the beautiful waterfront of San Francisco. I learned many interning things about the waterfront that, even as a 30 year resident of San Francisco I hadn't known before. The stories were very interesting with many voices giving a different perspective on the things being seen. I highly recommend this tour as an opportunity to learn and see the historic waterfront of San Francisco.

Posted by Anonymous Explorer , 8 months ago

I was led on a beautiful walk along the Embarcadero, and "met" interesting voices along the way, including a hilarious kayaker. Despite having lived in SF for decades, I was impressed by how much I learned about the history of the city and the science of of the bay, past and present.

Posted by Anonymous Explorer , 8 months ago

This was great! It was a fun way to get to know the Bay and its history, but I really liked the message beyond what you’d get from a typical walking tour and the actionable information on climate change.

Posted by Anonymous Explorer , 8 months ago
Preview mode limited to first 3 locations.
Sand Castles: The Remarkable Story of the San Francisco Embarcadero