Visitors flock to Coit Tower to take in views of downtown San Francisco, Alcatraz Island, the Golden Gate Bridge, and other landmarks. With its perch in Pioneer Park atop Telegraph Hill, the 210-foot-high (64-meter-high) tower, built in 1933, offers some of the best panoramic photo ops in the city.
Coit Tower was built with money left to the city by Lillie Hitchcock Coit, a philanthropist and firefighter groupie who wanted to beautify her city. Visiting the park at the base of the tower is free and still provides good views of San Francisco Bay, but if you want the ultimate vista, head up the elevator to the summit of the tower for a fee.
First, though, stop to admire the 1930s-era murals in the lobby that depict the history of California. Controversial when they were painted, the frescoes were part of President Roosevelt’s Public Works of Art Project. Some city tours include a drive-by of Coit Tower but most do not stop there, so look for a more specific tour such as a North Beach urban hike if you want time to visit.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Wear comfortable shoes if you plan to walk—it’s a steep climb to get to the base of the tower from any direction.
- Restrooms are available.
- Tickets for the tower can be purchased in advance if you wish to skip the line.
- Docent-led tours are available on-site for small groups.
How to Get There
Taking public transportation or walking is recommended, as parking is very limited on Telegraph Hill and the only road to the top—Telegraph Hill Boulevard—can get backed up. MUNI bus 39 takes you right to the base of the tower, while the 45 and 30 go to Washington Square in North Beach a few blocks away. For a thigh-burning workout that gives you an up-close look at neighborhood homes, take the lovely Filbert Street Stairs.
When to Get There
Coit Tower can be quite crowded on summer weekends. To avoid the masses, visit early in the morning or at sunset for golden views of the Golden Gate Bridge, and remember that the area at the tower’s base can be accessed even when the tower itself is closed. Coit Tower is particularly popular on the Fourth of July, when the city puts on a fireworks display over the water, and during Fleet Week in October.
The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill
As you walk up to the base of the tower, watch for the local band of parrots who spend much of their time in the trees that surround the park. Made famous by the documentary The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, the red and green birds are noisy but generally beloved.