An unmissable walk in San Francisco

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.

a view of Telegraph Hill with 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.

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 was 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.[tweetthis]That’s how they roll in San Francisco![/tweetthis]

a view of downtown San Francisco seen from Coit Tower

a view of downtown San Francisco seen from Coit Tower

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

Another bit of the view from Coit Tower. That’s the touristy Pier 39, with Alcatraz in the background.

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

One of the murals inside of Coit Tower

The other is inside the tower, but on the ground floor. The walls inside were painted in 1934 by WPA artists with murals of life in California during the Great Depression. The murals have been restored recently 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.

Another one of the Coit Tower murals. All the walls on the ground floor are covered in them.

Another one of the Coit Tower murals. All the walls on the ground floor are covered in them.

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. 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.

Filbert Steps side street

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.

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.

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

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


  • 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! 🙂

  • 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.

    • 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.

    • 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!

  • 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.


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