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How to Hack San Francisco

Explore the city in a vintage VW bus, see the sights through a literary lens, and soak up the views on Treasure Island

On this episode of the California Now Podcast, host Soterios Johnson speaks with three San Francisco insiders and uncovers some great ways to experience the City by the Bay.

First, Johnson speaks with Josh Armel, owner of the Painted Ladies Tour Company. Armel discusses the city’s rich past and the unique advantages of touring San Francisco’s historic neighborhoods in vintage Volkswagen buses. Each of the lovingly restored vehicles have their own personality, not to mention eyelashes that adorn their headlights.

Next, Johnson learns how to plan the perfect literary-inspired weekend with Erica Messner, co-founder and editor-in-chief of The San Franciscan magazine. From taking in poetry readings at a local pub and tasting out-of-this-world focaccia in North Beach to whale watching around the Farallon Islands, Messner has no shortage of hidden gems to explore.

And finally, Johnson connects with MeeSun Boice, owner of the bar/restaurant Mersea on Treasure Island. The island, Boice points out, is one of San Francisco’s best-kept secrets and well worth a visit. And with a new ferry service coming soon, it’s about to become much more popular.


Josh Armel, owner of Painted Ladies Tour Company

Erica Messner, co-founder and editor-in-chief of The San Franciscan magazine

MeeSun Boice, owner of Mersea


Josh Armel is the owner of the Painted Ladies Tour Company, which provides tours across the San Francisco Bay Area in a fleet of brightly colored vintage Volkswagen buses.

Painted Ladies Tour Company

San Francisco

Painted Ladies

Golden Gate Bridge

Palace of Fine Arts

Russian Hill

Lombard Street

Tony’s Pizza

North Beach

Vesuvio Café

Café Zoetrope



The Presidio

Muir Woods National Monument

Mission District

Twin Peaks

Erica Messner is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of The San Franciscan, an independent magazine that showcases the diverse subcultures of San Francisco and the Bay Area.

The San Franciscan

The Racket

The Sycamore

The Little Shamrock


Potrero Hill

Liguria Bakery

San Francisco Historic Literary Tour

City Lights Bookstore

The Beat Museum

Neighbor Bakehouse

Crane Cove Park

Dogpatch Paddle

Oracle Park

Farallon Islands

MeeSun Boice is the owner of Mersea restaurant on Treasure Island and former commodore of the Treasure Island Yacht Club.


Treasure Island

Yerba Buena Island

Treasure Island Museum

Clipper Cove Beach

Gold Bar Whiskey

San Francisco Bay Ferry

Treasure Island Yacht Club


Soterios Johnson, formerly the local host of National Public Radio’s Morning Edition on radio station WNYC, moved from New York City to Davis in 2016. By combining his journalistic instincts with his personal curiosity, Johnson uses the California Now Podcast platform to develop a deeper understanding of his adopted home. 

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