From 7th Ave. to the Pacific was once windswept open dunes; find out how and why it was transformed on a Golden Gate Park Outside Lands tour.




SmartPhone apps


Talks & Slideshows


Deep SF Quiz

Enough FAQs. What about facts?


Q1: What is Thinkwalks about? TOP

A: Thinkwalks is a tumble of fun and nerdy projects about exploring San Francisco’s geography, public art, politics and culture. All Thinkwalks projects, from the hilltop tours to the lowly postcards, are about discovery, enhanced by groups of curious people bouncing ideas together.

Q2: What are the various Thinkwalks projects? TOP

A: We do scheduled walking tours, bike tours, group tours, custom tours, team building, talks, publications, historical displays, streetcorner slideshows, electronic resources, apps, original research, and of course we also have goodies for sale on the site and through Zazzle.

Q3: Can I participate, even if I’m not a nerd? TOP

A: No! Rather, yes, but you are a nerd! A nerd is a hard thing to define. If you sometimes wonder “What the heck is under this sidewalk?” and you take a glance when a crew is digging, then you should come—even if you’re not a self-proclaimed nerd. If you’re thinking “Why would anyone care about that?” then don’t come unless you’re ready for a change. But be warned: the recent rapid increase in nerdification in San Francisco is due partly to acclimation (26.2%) and outright epiphany (1.4%). You could be next!

Q4: What if I’m not a San Franciscan? TOP

A: Since you’re curious enough to look at the FAQs, you may come. Joel mixes in references to nearby locations and other common local knowledge, so you should be prepared to speak up to get the low-down on key bits you weren’t able to follow. If you’re a visitor or newcomer planning to go to Alcatraz, ride the Cable cars, see Pier 39 or Fishermans Wharf, or if you chafe at the numerous homeless people, then please read Advice for visitors and newcomers to make the most of the touristy parts of the city.

Q5: Sure, it’s a dot-org, but is Thinkwalks a nonprofit organization? TOP

A: Yes, but not a 501(c)3 tax-exempt charitable approved blah blah blah. Thinkwalks is set up purposely in a way best described as not-for-profit. Legally donations to Thinkwalks are probably tax-deductible, but only if you can show that the recipient uses the funds for certain charitable purposes. It’s not as easy to show that in the case of Thinkwalks, since there’ve been no 501(c)3 or other papers requested or granted. No government has sanctioned the Thinkwalks nonprofit status or .org domain.

Q6: Does Thinkwalks want a sponsoring 501(c)3 organization (fiscal agent) to get grants? TOP

A: Whatcha got to offer? (Grants aren’t our main funding source, but we’re always open to specific proposals about this or anything else you care to collaborate on.)

Q7: Why is Joel the perfect guide? TOP

A: Who? Joel? Oh! Me!? I design and constantly redesign Thinkwalks not just to spew info, and not primarily to entertain, but rather to excite passion. I’ve been told that my passion is contagious, but mostly I think it’s just that curious people like you can easily be set off toward gleeful inquisitiveness once the oppressive mantle of anti-intellectualism, gifted to you so dearly by our society, is lifted. Allow me.

Q8: What the heck are Joel’s credentials, anyway? TOP

A: He won first place in the Masters Level of the Chinese New Year Treasure Hunt, back in 2001, when there weren’t so many teams competing. He won first place in the 2009 West Marin Guac Off! Guacamole contest, if you ignore the two entries awarded the official first and second prizes—they were the event organizers! He won a hilly footrace on the streets of Boulder, against a bunch of people twice his age, back when he was half his age. He whacked National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski with a large, heavy object—a door—while entering a bathroom in the Whitehouse. He was among the first to discover a new, natural sea-cave at the north end of Ocean Beach. Impeccable credentials.

Q9: Is Thinkwalks just Joel Pomerantz? TOP

A: Largely, but not just. Joel leads the tours. Amy Conger does graphics and web stuff. Ben Adair and John Adair are the iPhone apps department. Hani Shehadeh is the infoboard department (Coming soon to 380 Divisadero St). Various wonderful volunteers, co-operating researchers, special requesters, financial backers and project staff have helped make Thinkwalks what it is. Most notably, this includes David Powers, Chris Carlsson, Christopher Richard, Vanessa Amessa, Martina D’Alessandro, Jesse Eisenhower, Stacey Swimme, Morgan Fitzgibbons, Nancy Botkin, Caesar Napolitano, Kerry McGuire, Stan Flouride, Barbara Cannella, Chris Dichtel, Masha Zackheim, Anna Sojourner, Miles Epstein, Cheryl Brinkman, Mary Brown, Pi Ra, Cynthia Cadua, Irwin Pomerantz, Joan Straumanis, Greg Braswell, Amy Farah Weiss, Greg Gaar, Juliana Gallin, Karin McClune, Mona Caron and Beate Flach.

Q10: What’s the connection between Thinkwalks and ShapingSF? TOP

A: We’re similar. Joel has worked for years with Chris Carlsson and LisaRuth Elliott of Shaping San Francisco. Both projects are about empowering you to connect with other people and with the place where you live through historical exploration. We both try to create a people’s culture that’s more effective in shaping our collective future. We did a multimedia people’s history and compilation (ShapingSF) that’s now called FoundSF. We meet regularly to encourage one another and exchange information.

Q11: Can I volunteer to help? TOP

A: Yes, if you have skills we need: Graphic design, event planning, web calendar publicity, flyer distribution, or if you want to play a bouncy and loud instrument in public. Helpers get free tours and lots of cool opportunities, plus you’ll meet amazing people.

Q12: Do you take tour reservations? TOP

A: It’s great when you RSVP, but it’s not necessary unless you have your own group, choosing your own date and time. For tours on the schedule, you can just come to the meeting point. Bring friends. There’s never any need to prepay.

Q13: How many people are on a tour? TOP

A: The best is 8 to 12, but that’s not your question. It’s hard to predict group size, since we got rid of the reservation system.

Q14: How do reservations work? TOP

A: We adore you for letting us know you are coming. But you decide what to pay after experiencing the tour. The purpose of the RSVP is so the guide doesn’t waste any time waiting.

Q15: The weather’s looking bad for tour day. Is it still on? TOP

A: Probably. We never cancel if there’s just general bad weather predicted for the day, only if the hour of the tour is looking especially bad. Since it’s last minute, please call (415-505-8255); don’t email. Reminder: Even locals forget that standing in the wind for hours requires special layering. If it’s cold or windy, bring a hat, scarf or warmer layers. We use these weather indicators to see whether a tour should be canceled.

Q16: How much does a Thinkwalks tour cost? TOP

A: Everything is sliding scale from $10 to $40 (for individuals), based on these principles.

Q17: How are Thinkwalks different from other tours? TOP

A: Unlike most SF tours, Thinkwalks are based on sharing the excitement and frustrations of discovery that emerge from Joel’s mostly original research. Other tours are too often just rote recounting of “facts.” Thinkwalks are not about Hollywoodish details of cute incidents in the “colorful” past. Thinkwalks are about the bigger questions: Why is the city as it is today—and so different from other cities? What are the connections between natural processes and human events that create our unusual culture? Thinkwalks are also an econmoic experiment in Gift Culture, with you deciding what to pay.

Q18: Where do Thinkwalks go? And how far? TOP

A: Mostly in the center neighborhoods of San Francisco. These include the Mission District sweeping over and around the hills through the Castro, Haight Ashbury and Golden Gate Park to the Pacific. The Water Walking tour is the only one with steep streets to climb. Unless they’re bike rides, most tours don’t go very far, as the discussion makes it hard to walk far.

Q19: Rides? Aren’t Thinkwalks on foot? TOP

A: In keeping with the name, Thinkwalks tours are generally short, thinkful walks. Scheduled bike rides will be marked clearly. For a specially arranged Group tour, we can use bikes, be on foot or use a motor vehicle, if you provide one.

Q20: What if I want to join a bike tour but have no bike? TOP

A: If you need a bike, Joel may be able to help. If his spare doesn’t fit you, there are rentals in convenient locations, like Stanyan Street.

Q21: What’s a custom tour? What’s a group tour? What’s team building? TOP

A: They’re all the same thing. We’re not using the term ‘custom’ to show how ’boutique’ it can get, but to mean your choice. Read this description and then call. We’ll come up with a good plan together.

Q22: How much will that group tour cost? TOP

A: Depends on what planning effort and time the tour takes, plus what your budget can handle. Prices are outlined here.

Q23: My friend went on a Water Walking tour. It didn’t sound like the one I attended. Why were they so different? TOP

A: Joel won’t cover the same material as on any previous tour, even a tour by the same name. To keep the material fresh, not rote, he’s constantly discovering new stuff to add and dropping less accurate or less researched parts. Also, everyone on a tour steers the content.

Q24: Is there a Thinkwalks app? TOP

A: The Thinkwalks apps, launched February 1, 2012, are part of the Know What App system of city guides. First you buy a Know What sampler guide for $2.99 from the Apple app store. It includes more than a dozen Thinkwalks map points and their corresponding photos and write-ups. Then you can buy the Thinkwalks add-on guides for $2.99 each. You buy those within the Know What app.

Q25: What platforms will it work with? TOP

A: At the moment, an iPhone (Apple) app is the only one on offer. The plan is to offer for other platforms later on.

Q26: What specific Thinkwalks apps are available? TOP

A: Everything Explained is the Thinkwalks app for visitors, newcomers and locals that highlights 72 locations in SF with amazing explanations of how things you take for granted came to be the way they are. And after you’ve adored that one, graduate to Local Nerd, the Thinkwalks app for, well, you know, local nerds. It has 74 out-of-the-way places and nerdy resources examined in detail. Both apps have photos and location mapping, plus practical info like open hours and phone numbers.

Q27: What apps are in the works? TOP

A: There’s an opportunity to take some of the information from the Know What apps and make audio versions in the HearPlanet app. If you want to work on it too, get in touch.

Q28: What are current Thinkwalks print publications? TOP

A: For now, see the Goodies page. More details coming soon.

Q29: What print publications are in the works? TOP

A: Details coming soon.

Q30: What print publications are just distributed by Thinkwalks? TOP

A: For now, see the Goodies page. More details coming soon.

Q31: What online resources do you offer? TOP

A: Advice for Visitors, Weather Prediction, more coming soon.

Q32: How much is Joel’s speaker fee? TOP

A: $250 for a local talk with slides, but that’s discounted or waived for most educational groups.

Q33: Does Joel offer free presentations? TOP

A: Yes, but rarely.

Q34: Can Joel speak to my class? TOP

A: Yes. Happily, for whatever compensation you can arrange, but none is necessary. If the class is shorter than 90 minutes, the topic should be very specific.

Q35: What workshops does Thinkwalks provide? TOP

A: We’re developing a series of workshops to help newcomers get to know San Francisco culture, places and resources. If you’d like to help, get in touch.

Q36: Is the Deep SF Quiz a “pub quiz”? TOP

A: Only with the quotes.

Q37: When and where is the Deep SF Quiz? TOP

A: Once it comes into existence, probably mid-2012, it will be like a pub quiz, but probably in a restaurant.

Q38: I found what I think is a missing piece or an error in your research. How should I proceed? TOP

A: Email me, please! Be prepared for me to either be extremely excited (if I’ve been personally researching that topic) or just politely thanking you (if it’s not one of the areas I’ve become obsessed with). Or maybe your enthusiam’s contagious, too!

Q39: Did Joel coin the term “the Wiggle”? TOP

A: Nobody’s sure. Joel wrote the article first popularizing the term. We’ve tried to track down which of us in the early bike activist circles coined it, to no avail.

Q40: What the heck is a TwirlyUp? TOP

A: It’s still evolving.

Q41: What was nydgie missing? TOP

A: That’s what everyone wants to know! For that matter, what was idgie missing? (Sadly, ‘nydgie’ was a typo!) Read the book to find out.