Guide Spotlight: LeAnne – San Francisco

This blog series allows us to get close and personal with Walks’ guides all over the globe. This blog usually focuses on Italy but we wanted to show some of the incredible people who walk with us from Rome and New York. We recently launched tours from home and hope that this blog series will bring you more travel inspiration.

LeAnne J.Smith is our bright, bubbly Operations Manager in San Francisco. LeAnne was born and raised in San Francisco and has many things to share about the city and life in general. You’re certain to get an honest answer when you ask her questions. But one thing is for sure: you won’t be bored.

We hope that you enjoy LeAnne’s views on everything, from art to the best places to visit.

LeAnne. Tell us about yourself:

My parents were Italian and I was raised in San Francisco. It was the best of both worlds! I studied Classics in Rome and San Francisco, and Humanities in San Francisco. I live, breathe and work to connect people to history and culture. It’s why it matters and why it is important for our global community.

Tell us your favorite story about your tour guests.

It is a joy to talk about the Golden Gate Bridge. This piece of orange steel does the majority of the work on a tour. It is so fun to ask people, as they stand in front of this amazing modern marvel, “What do like about it?” They have incredible reactions. It’s a pleasure to introduce Walks guests Gertrude Irving to them, who was the only woman to have been a major contributor to the construction of the GGB. Her firm, a veteran architect, was hired to describe the design details and the aesthetic characteristics of the building. Irving, her husband, is often credited with this. Gertrude’s vision was the inspiration for all Art Deco elements, which make this bridge look amazing. Gertrude even chose the famous color. It is just beautiful to imagine this woman, far ahead of her time in 1930s, sitting behind her desk creating the Golden Gate Bridge today.

Do You have a favorite piece of art that you treasure?

Judith and Caravaggio, Head of Holofernes. It’s not in San Francisco, but in Rome, my second home. It would be the obscure triptych in Legion of Honor called “The Damned in Hell”, by a Tyrolean master. Very Bosch. Monsters all around.

Judith at the head of Holofernes. Image credit:

Daily Art Magazine

What is the biggest challenge you face as a tour guide?

Ask any guide anywhere in the world and they will tell you that our greatest challenge is not meeting new people every day on our tours. Making “instant friends” is a huge part of being a guide. You have a captive audience and a chance to get to know your subject. The people who visit you for a few hours can and will make a huge impact on your life. The other side (the joy), is the opportunity to research. I have been digging deeper than ever before into topics I never had the time or the desire to explore – currently I am interested in the Beat Poets from the late 1950’s. Talk about an intellectual bunch! One part middle finger to “traditional American Life”, one part conscious and one part fashion icons. It was six blocks from my home that the geographic focal point of this movement took place, which is super interesting!

How do YOU see the travel industry changing during and after these times?

This is a difficult question because I don’t like to make assumptions. We can only predict the outcome and hope that we are correct. Travel will thrive. That silly saying: “Travel is the one thing that makes you richer.” Travel is the only thing that can make you richer. People will always long for foreign lands. The lesson I have learned from all of this is that we can live on so little and can use those funds to travel. To learn and meet people and share their experiences, it’s possible to make a living with less. The younger generations are so inspirational – they don’t need a mortgage or every household tech item and a large SUV. They want to connect with people and places. They see travel as an opportunity to discover, learn and take great Instagram photos (which, I believe, inspires others). We believe that travel will flourish and are available to help you whenever you’re ready to visit.

What is your favorite place to visit outside of your hometown?

It is a great blessing to have been able to grow up in San Francisco and have a second home in another city. Two degrees have been awarded to me in the fields of Rome. My entire home library is filled with Italian history, art, and architecture. It has been home for more than 10 years. I also have SPQR tattooed to my wrist. Paris is my favorite city. There isn’t any other city that compares to Paris. She is the perfect combination of beauty and evil, good and bad, good and worse. She is fascinating, will break your heart, and she does so with such elegance that you would be proud to be associated with her.

If you’re able to go, make sure you find the right company. (Hint: it’s Walks). Take a deep breath and then take a walk through the streets. Learn how to make a good cup of coffee. You can wander through museums and ancient sites during the day, enjoy a glass of wine at lunch, and then eat at a busy ristorante in the evening. Then, you can walk around the city until the early hours. You can take a mental picture of how the night lights illuminate the stones. It is an essence and a memory that you will recall on your deathbed.

Where would your next dream vacation be?

I would love to be able cross the bridge to visit my Grandfather. Sorry, I do have a list. Travelers should not be restricted to one destination. Quebec City is on my top list. For the most part, I have traveled throughout Europe, so I am interested in the Middle East, especially Israel, Lebanon, Jordan and Jordan.

Which city or country in the world do think is most underrated?

Two answers to this question: First, I cringe whenever I hear people saying they hate Naples. Naples may be the best example of a beloved, but maddening city. Naples is culture with a capital C. It is the heart of many dichotomies. The city’s history as one of the most ancient urban centers in the world is amazing. Its heavy Christian symbolism is paired with its pagan superstition. Its architecture is a mixture of small spaces where absurdity blends into a perfect vision. Motorini are seen hopping the streets to move around while children kick the soccer ball in the nearby vicinity. A few years back, I was brokenhearted and ran to Naples. I was in a fancy hotel for a week and fell in love with Napoli.

Second answer. Second answer. The country has the most delicious food I’ve ever had, and it is filled with joy and healing. The governments determine what we learn about others, not everyday people like us who live, love and lose.

Case in point. As ashamed as I am, my father was a Vietnam veteran and had biases against Vietnam and its people. My mother gave him the responsibility of managing a trip a few years back. They arrived at their destination for the two-week-long trip and entered the bus to discover that all the other passengers were Vietnamese. My father had booked a group trip to Vietnam! It was a great time! But I knew what was coming. Within 24 hours my mother had sent photos of my Dad smiling and enjoying every historic site. Because of the friendships he made, he now brags that it was the most memorable trip of his entire life.

Which city has the best food?

Don’t be hard on yourself or condescending. Italy is home to the best food. It’s a tradition cycle of seasonal products, locally sourced meals and recipes that have been perfected for millennia. It is what? It is all.

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