Coit Tower & Crooked Lombard Street


I’ve visited San Francisco twice before in my life.  The first time I was a kid, and my family took a guided bus tour around town.  We got to see a lot of things, but didn’t really experience the city.  My second visit was in 2004, when I spent one night and the following morning in town, before heading off to Yosemite.  I hit a lot of the usual tourist attractions that time: the cable cars, Fisherman’s Wharf, crooked Lombard Street, and the Golden Gate Bridge.  So on this visit, I was determined to re-visit a couple of my favorites, while exploring some new ground.  But once again, I only had a day.

I considered my options, and found a few attractions rising to the top: Coit Tower, Haight/Ashbury, Twin Peaks, the Golden Gate Bridge (again!), the Presidio, and Golden Gate Park.  With some planning, I figured I could hit all of these in one day, starting with Coit Tower.

Telegraph Hill is located in the northeast corner of San Francisco.  If you want to take the steps, take The Embarcadero (that’s the name of a street) to Green to Sansome, and look for a place to park at the bottom of the hill.  If you want to drive to the top, find Lombard Street (this will be easy if you’re coming from the crooked part) and drive toward Telegraph Hill.  Lombard turns into Telegraph Hill Blvd, which ends at the base of the tower.

The best way to appreciate Coit Tower is to walk up one of the two long staircases that rise from the Embarcadero area up to the top of Telegraph Hill.  The steps are named Filbert and Greenwich, to correspond with the roads that would run in their place, if the hill wasn’t so steep.

Because I had heard that parking was often difficult at the top of Telegraph Hill, and the only road to the top (Telegraph Hill Blvd.) was often congested, I decided to park at the bottom of the Greenwich steps, and climb.

Parking and traffic might be bad at peak tourist times, but it wasn’t a problem on the day of my visit.  It would have been better had I parked at the top, instead of the bottom, since parking is free near the tower.  I had to hurry back down to make sure my parking meter didn’t run out.

While it’s a little time consuming and lung-straining to hike up the steps, it does give you a unique impression of this hilly city.  I was amazed to find that the front doors to many small apartments and homes connect with the steps, meaning the people who live here have a long walk (either up or down) whenever they leave the house.

Finally, you near the top, and the tower comes into view!  Unfortunately, I was visiting San Francisco during some lousy, cloud-covered weather, making most of my pictures less than impressive.

Step inside the base of Coit Tower, and spend a minute enjoying the mural that covers the walls, depicting San Francisco’s history.  The WPA murals were completed in 1933.


Coit Tower stands 210 feet tall.  It was built in 1933, and named for Lillie Hitchcock Coit, who left a third of her estate to the city, asking that the money be spent in a manner that would beautify and benefit the city.

Above, you see the view from the base of Coit Tower.  In the distance is Lombard Street–it’s a little tough to make out in this picture.

I’ve read that the view from the top of Coit Tower isn’t much better than the view from the base.  That was enough to convince me not to shell out the money for an elevator ride.

On the way down, I chose a different set of steps–this time, the Filbert Steps.  But, about halfway down, I got lost (the stairs end and begin again at cross streets), and by the time I made it back to the bottom of the hill, I was back on the Greenwich Steps.

After gazing across from Telegraph Hill to Lombard Street, I decided it wouldn’t hurt to re-visit the Crookedest Street in the World.

From Coit Tower to the crooked part of Lombard Street, simply take Lombard Street.  Just take note: the crooked part of the street is one way, downhill, so if you want to drive through the crooked part, you’ll need to hop over one block, drive up, then return to Lombard for the drive down.  There’s plenty of side-of-the-street parking all around this area.

I only stopped for a minute, just long enough…

… to confirm that the road is, indeed, still crooked.

By the way, note the picture above: that’s Coit Tower in the distance.

Ok, that burned off a couple of hours of my day in San Francisco.  Next stop: Twin Peaks!

I visited San Francisco again in 2015. You can read about that visit here.

Note: This trip was first published in 2007.

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