Coit Tower provides photo op and art appreciation in San Francisco

Coit Tower (photo: Steve Mullen)

Coit Tower is a beloved landmark in San Francisco, a 210 foot cylindrical tower that sits atop Telegraph Hill.  Every local knows that the eccentric socialite Lillie Coit, who funded the building of the tower through her will after her death, was an avid supporter of San Francisco Firefighters and the tower was designed to look like a fire hose nozzle. Except, apparently, we are all wrong and the design had nothing to do with fire hoses. If you look at the shape and know her history it seems impossible so I’m sticking with the myth.

Lillie Coit was ahead of her time, smoking cigarettes, wearing pants and gambling in a time when women usually showed more decorum in public. Her will specified that a third of her significant fortune was to be spent beautifying the city she loved, leading to the construction of the art deco tower and art gallery that graces the ground floor in 1933.

 As one might expect from its lofty perch Coit Tower provides inspiring 360 degree views of downtown, San Francisco Bay, residential neighborhoods and both the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges. Telegraph Hill, one of the seven major and more than 47 minor hills that comprise the famously undulating topography of San Francisco, is located near the Embarcadero and Fisherman’s Wharf.

Mural at Coit Tower

Mural at Coit Tower (photo: Mastermaq-CC 2.0)

It doesn’t take long to take in the views from the top of Coit Tower and snap a few photos, but allow at least an extra hour to take in the beautiful murals on the first floor of the tower. Created by over 26 local artists through the Public Works of Art Project they depict scenes of early San Francisco, the labor movement and Great Depression.  Most are frescos, with a few oil paintings and one egg tempera.

Free walking tours to Coit Tower are offered by SF City Guides year round. Check the website to confirm times, but at the time of this writing they occur on Wednesdays and Saturdays at 11 am and last an hour. Tour participants get the benefit of viewing some of the murals that aren’t open to the public.

Parking at the end of the narrow winding road, Telegraph Hill Boulevard, to the tower is very limited, with frequent backups, so take advantage of public transportation or a take a brisk walk up the steep Filbert Steps to solve that problem.

Nearby attractions:

Lombard Street

Lombard Street (photo: David Ooms-CC2.0)

Lombard Street:  The famous twisty Lombard Street (between Leavenworth St and Hyde St.) is a popular attraction due to its steep gradient and many visitors take photographs of this location and drive down its zig-zag course. The twisty party of Lombard Street is only one block long, located eight blocks west of Coit Tower, the rest of it being a regular (and rather uninteresting) city street. Lombard Street connects with Telegraph Hill Boulevard, which leads to Coit Tower.

Filbert Steps

Filbert Steps (photo: Mastermaq-CC 2.0)

Filbert Steps and Feral Parrots:  Filbert Street runs from Telegraph Hill to the Presidio to the west and is one of the steepest streets in the city at a maximum gradient of 31.5%. The street, which parallels Lombard Street two blocks south,  terminates on Telegraph Hill in a pedestrian stairway. Comprised of a network of wooden stairs and footpaths  the steps travel through attractive gardens that are maintained by residents of the neighborhood. An unusual feature of the Filbert Steps is the presence of a flock of feral parrots, described in the 2005 documentary, The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill. The Filbert Steps offer pedestrian access to Coit Tower.

Getting There:

Parrots at Filbert Steps (photo: Mark Bittner)

Parrots at Filbert Steps (photo: Mark Bittner)

To reach Coit Tower, located at 1 Telegraph Hill Blvd, can be accessed from many directions in San Francisco. From Fisherman’s Wharf there are several options:

Bus: Take MUNI Line 39 from Fisherman’s Wharf or North Beach -departs every 20 minutes

Walk up the hill on the Filbert Steps starting at KearneySt. and Filbert St.

Take a taxi

Drive from Fisherman’s Wharf:

  • Start at Taylor St
  • Turn left at North Point St
  • Turn right on Powell St
  • Turn left on Lombard St
  • Turn right on Telegraph Hill Blvd, arrive at Coit Tower
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