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Coit Tower & Telegraph Hill: An unmissable walk in San Francisco

One thing I highly recommend to anyone visiting San Francisco: a walk up and down Telegraph Hill to see Coit Tower, its murals and the view. Read all about it here! #sanfrancisco #coittower #telegraphhill #travel #california via @rachelsruminationsOne thing I highly recommend to anyone visiting San Francisco: a walk up and down Telegraph Hill to see Coit Tower, its murals and the view. Read all about it here! #sanfrancisco #coittower #telegraphhill #travel #california via @rachelsruminationsOne thing I highly recommend to anyone visiting San Francisco: a walk up and down Telegraph Hill to see Coit Tower, its murals and the view. Read all about it here! #sanfrancisco #coittower #telegraphhill #travel #california via @rachelsruminationsOne thing I highly recommend to anyone visiting San Francisco: a walk up and down Telegraph Hill to see Coit Tower, its murals and the view. Read all about it here! #sanfrancisco #coittower #telegraphhill #travel #california via @rachelsruminations

There’s so much to see in San Francisco, but there’s one thing I recommend to anyone visiting San Francisco: a walk up and down Telegraph Hill to see Coit Tower.

a view of Telegraph Hill with Coit Tower on top: a cluster of buildings on the side of the hill, all multi-story. Trees on the top, and the cylindrical, white, Coit Tower on top.
Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill

Back when I lived in San Francisco, when things got a bit much for me, or just when I needed some time for myself, I would take this walk, and it would always be enjoyable, meditative, calming. It was also good exercise.

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Pinnable image Text: An Unmissable walk in San Francisco: Coit Tower and Telegraph Hill Image: the same view as above of the hill with Coit Tower on top.

Getting to Coit Tower

Telegraph Hill is the one with the big odd-looking tower on top of it: Coit Tower. You can see it from Fisherman’s Wharf and the Piers below. You might think it’s some sort of lighthouse or water tower on first glance, but it’s not. It was built just to be a tower. That’s how they roll in San Francisco.

That's how they roll in San Francisco! #sanfrancisco #coittower #telegraphhill Click To Tweet
a view of downtown San Francisco seen from Coit Tower, with the Transamerica pyramid in the center. Lots of skyscrapers
a view of downtown San Francisco seen from Coit Tower (I took this picture more than 20 years ago, so the skyline is different now.)

Walking up there is tough if, like me, you’re normally not much of a walker. Start from Washington Square Park and just walk up hill. Take it slowly. Stop often and look at the views that appear between the houses. Admire the increasingly upscale homes.

If you don’t want to huff and puff up the hill, by the way, you can catch the number 39 bus from Washington Square Park to Coit Tower and then spend your energy on the walk down.

view of Fisherman's Wharf: the wharf is covered with buildings. ON the left and the right of it are harbors. The one on the left is mostly empty while the one on the right is crowded with boats. Open water beyond that, with Alcatraz Island at the top of the picture.
Another bit of the view from Coit Tower. That’s the touristy Pier 39, with Alcatraz in the center and Alcatraz Island behind that.

Coit Tower inside and out

Coit Tower is two destinations rolled into one. One is, obviously, the view. Both from the base and the top ($8 for the elevator) you can see magnificent views in all directions: the downtown big-city skyline, the hilly residential areas, the bay, the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz—everything is visible from up there if it’s a clear day.

Coit Tower mural city scene: lots of people in 1930's clothing. ON the left some are reading a sign or reading a newspaper. IN the middle a woman holding a child's hand. A policeman speaks into a call box on a pole. ON the right, a worker uses a handcart to move crates. Sailors in the middle backgorund, advertising on the buildings: city lights (the film), rooms.
One of the murals inside of Coit Tower

The other is inside the tower, but on the ground floor. The walls were painted in 1934 by WPA artists with murals of life in California during the Great Depression. The murals have been restored and are free to view. Their typical 1930’s deco style with elements of socialist realism are definitely worth seeing, and it’s interesting to discover the Marxist messages expressed by them.

Two women sit on high stools at a lunch counter while another prepares a milkshake. Two people behind the counter, a man and a woman, read a paper. Behind them is a music shop.
Another one of the Coit Tower murals. All the walls on the ground floor are covered in them.

The Filbert Street steps

When you’ve finished seeing Coit Tower, ask someone where to find the Filbert Street steps, a huge flight of steps down to the Piers. Along the way, you’ll pass a lush garden that’s absolutely magical: Grace Marchant Garden. The Steps descend along the garden, and “streets” branch off of it. These streets are essentially wooden boardwalks, wide enough for two people to walk side by side, creating leafy corridors between the small cottage-like houses, many of which appear to be Victorian or Edwardian-era constructions.

A wooden walkway straight ahead with a brown-shingled house on the right and trees and bushes obscuring a fence on the left.
One of the “streets” off the Filbert Street Steps.

Take your time. Admire the plants and houses, and the views you glimpse through the overgrowth. It’s a lush, green island in the middle of the city.

Parrots

And speaking of lush, green islands, Telegraph Hill is also home to a flock of colorful parrots. Originally pets that were, intentionally or not, released, the flock has grown into a bit of a San Francisco institution. You’re likely, on this walk, to hear their raucous chirping at minimum, and you might spot them as well.

I took this walk just a couple of times a year when I lived there, usually alone, and always finished it tired and satisfied. Something about it charmed me and calmed me. I think it will do the same for you.

This three-hour walking tour starts at Coit Tower and focuses on the parrots as well as Telegraph Hill’s history.

This guided “urban hike” climbs up the Filbert Street steps, visiting the tower and then moving on to Lombard Street (“the crookedest street”) and North Beach.

Do you have any particular walks that are special to you? Add a comment below!

Coit Tower: Open daily April to October 10:00-18:00 and November to March 10:00-17:00. Admission $9/€8 for non-residents.

Pinnable image Text: Coit Tower and Telegraph Hill: An unmissable walk in San Francisco Image: mural from Coit Tower of a street scene.

10 Comments

  • Natalie

    December 23, 2014 at 4:25 pm

    How fun! I haven’t been to San Francisco since I was 5, so I remember very little of it. However, it’s stuff like your post that make me realize that I need to make the cross country trek from South Carolina to California again as an adult! Pinning this post for my future SF trip! 🙂

    Reply
  • Milan Bardun

    December 23, 2014 at 9:52 pm

    My last visit of Sanfran has left me confused. The city itself is really beautiful and I will always look forward to come back, but what about those homeless people? There is no city in the US where I have seen more homeless people, than in San Francisco.

    Reply
    • rachel75

      December 23, 2014 at 11:14 pm

      Really? I haven’t traveled enough in the US lately to judge. There were an awful lot in New York City when I was there a couple of years ago, and very few in Bellingham, Washington, but I haven’t visited anywhere else in the US in years.

      Reply
    • rachel75

      December 24, 2014 at 12:06 pm

      Where’s back home for you, Robson? When I was a kid I used to go ‘exploring’ in the woods where we lived. Didn’t go home again till I got hungry or it started getting dark!

      Reply
  • Trisha Velarmino

    December 26, 2014 at 7:13 am

    My ‘special walks’ will always be in Sao Paulo and Buenos Aires because of the graffiti you’ll see everywhere! I don’t see much of that where I came from so it’s really amazing how these things are allowed here in South America.

    Reply

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