Obscura Society SF: A Crook's Tour of the Barbary Coast - Atlas Obscura
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San Francisco

Obscura Society SF: A Crook's Tour of the Barbary Coast

Join local crime expert Paul Drexler for a walking tour over San Francisco's original criminal playland: the bad old Barbary Coast

** Please note time change - tour now starts at 7pm**

The Barbary Coast possessed “more viciousness, depravity and glamour than any other area on the American continent.”  This tour will take you through the lurid history of the city's original den of iniquity.

Walk where Shanghai Kelly kidnapped sailors, learn about the Bull Run Saloon, the toughest bar in San Francisco, how a whiskey warehouse saved Jackson Square from the 1906 Earthquake, and visit the sites of the legendary Hippodrome and the Bella Union Theatre.

Highlights include

  • “The Old Ship Saloon, in operation since 1851, where shanghaiing flourished
  • Shanghai Kelly, Chicken Devine and other noted criminals
  • The legendary Bella Union, which featured some of the strangest acts in theatrical history
  • The Billy Goat Saloon, one of San Francisco’s most dangerous bars, and The Hotel Nymphia, the largest and most notorious brothel on the West Coast
  • Madame Bertha’s elegant brothel on Commercial Street
  • The wild jazz clubs and dance halls that changed music in America

Our guide for this 90 minute walk will be local historian and crime expert Paul Drexler. 


  • Date: Wednesday, March 19, 7pm
  • Address: Meet at Café Prague, 424 Merchant Street
  • Wear comfortable walking shoes for exploring.
  • Tour starts promptly at 7pm, please allow time for parking and finding your way to the meeting spot.

Advance tickets requested - walk up tickets may not be available.