Telegraph Hill & Coit Tower – Climb To The Top Of North Beach

From the sky-piercing Coit Tower to a flock of parrots who've made their nests in urban San Francisco, Telegraph Hill is home to a surprising range of attractions that make this tiny corner of North Beach well worth a visit. Largely ignored by locals, Telegraph Hill's Coit Tower offers some of the best views of San Francisco's downtown and the surrounding bays.

Now mostly a cozy residential neighborhood, Telegraph Hill got its name during the 1849 Gold Rush when it was used as a hilltop visual telegraph to alert city merchants what type of cargo ships were arriving through the Golden Gate strait. If you've got a half day to spare, make your way over to Telegraph Hill. The hike to the top of the hill will get your heart racing and the views will take your breath away. To prepare, let's go on a virtual tour of Telegraph Hill.

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Coit Tower

Coit Tower

Coit Tower is the quintessential attraction on Telegraph Hill. Built in the 1930s during the Art Deco craze, this classic structure boasts spectacular views of the city and the bay. The tower is officially named the Lillian Coit Memorial Tower. This 210-foot tall tower was built using money from the estate of Lillie Hitchcock Coit.

The original Ms Coit was an enigmatic character in early San Francisco history. Despite being a woman, she felt called to help the city's firefighters, subsequently becoming the mascot of the San Francisco Fire Department. During an era when it was uncommon, Coit also wore pants and snuck into all-male gambling halls. When she died, she left a third of her estate for civic beautification and officials decided that Coit Tower was an appropriate use of the money.

It's hard to argue with their decision. Coit Tower is fluted — ivory glamour reaching into the sky on one of San Francisco's many hills. Rumour says that the tower was built like a firehose nozzle to pay homage to Coit's affinity for putting out fires. The original plan for the tower featured a restaurant at the top, but instead an exhibition center made the final plans.

Inside the tower you can climb the stairs to the observation deck, which affords stunning panoramic views of San Francisco. Even if climbing the stairs doesn't take your breath away, the scene at the top surely will. Watching the sunset from the top is one of the most romantic things you can do in San Francisco.

The view at the top isn't the only beautiful sight you can see at Coit Tower. Inside the tower, you view murals painted by 27 different artists who were famous in the 1930s. This mural project was sponsored by the Public Works of Art Project, which was a New Deal program to stimulate the economy and give artists jobs. Many of the artists on the project were left-leaning, concerned with racial equality and Marxist politics that celebrated the working class. You can see this influence in the murals that pay homage to the farm workers and laborers of California.

  • 1 Telegraph Hill Blvd
  • 10 to 6 May through October and 10 to 5 November through April
  • It costs about $9 to ride the elevator to the top
  • Website

Pioneer Park

Christopher Columbus

Resting at the base of Coit Tower is the equally beautiful Pioneer Park. Covering nearly 5 acres, the park was established in 1876 to celebrate the centennial of the founding of the United States. In addition to Coit Tower, the park also features a bronze statue of Christopher Columbus donated by San Francisco's Italian-American community. If you can't be bothered to climb the steps at Coit Tower or pay for the elevator, the views at Pioneer Park are almost as stunning as from the top of the tower. When planning your visit to Pioneer Park, it's far better to walk instead of drive as there is always a long line of cars waiting to climb the hill.

Gardens and Stairs of Filbert Street

Filbert Steps

Coming down from the dizzying heights of Coit Tower, you find the steep steps of the famous Filbert Street stairs, flanked by the Grace Marchant Garden. This seemingly endless staircase was featured in the classic noir film, Dark Passage, when Humphrey Bogart stumbles down them. With over 400 steps, this staircase is a heart-pumping adventure for all ages.

The stairs wind from Sansome Street below, up to Coit Tower as they pass Art Deco buildings and beautiful houses that are only accessible via the stairs. What used to be the old trail of dock workers heading to their Telegraph Hill homes is now a hidden gem of San Francisco.

The Grace Marchant Garden that surrounds the steps was maintained by an eccentric failed film actress, Grace Marchant, during her lifetime. The brightly colored flora and arching green trees of the garden are now managed by the friends of the garden whose ornate houses can be found along the pathway.

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Wild Parrots

Wild Parrots

Flying from tree to tree along the Filbert Stairs are flocks of wild parrots that make this garden area their home. These feral parrots are descended from pets that have either escaped or been released. The birds are known as cherry-headed conures are are native to Peru and Ecuador.

They are now a breeding colony who are supported by some of the residents of Telegraph Hill. In 2003, a documentary, The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, was made about a homeless musician who finds meaning in his life when he starts a friendship with these dozens of parrots hiding in these hills. Technically, there's a San Francisco city ordinance that prohibits the feeding of parrots in public spaces, but you'll still be able to search for these elusive birds hidden among the canopy.

Levi Strauss Plaza & Park

Levi Strauss Plaza Waterfall

Only one block east of the Filbert Steps, you can find the Corporate Headquarters for the Levi Strauss clothing company. Levi Strauss himself invented canvas jeans during the Gold Rush because the miners needed a sturdy pair of pants for their work. In the building there's a store and a small museum about the history of blue jeans. Across the street is a small, well maintained park known as Levi's Plaza Park.

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