Surprise surprise. Another San Francisco landmark I have never visited in all my years living in the Bay Area. Not everyone knows this, but you can walk to Coit Tower, and it’s actually better than driving.
Read on . . .
HISTORY LESSON: The tower is named after Lillie Hitchcock Coit, who is described in the brochure as “eccentric,” which I don’t know if by that they mean “crazy” or “unusual.” Anyways, this lady was rich and had a fascination with firefighters. I overheard one of the docents talking about how, as a child, Coit could always be found at the local firehouse. She also (as an adult) apparently liked to smoke cigars, wear pants, and dressed as a man so she could gamble. Either that or the docent was talking about a completely different lady and I’m confusing the stories.
Anyways, like I said, this lady was rich. When she died in 1929, she left a good chunk of her estate to the city for beautification purposes, and they responded with this tower named in her honor.
I started off my journey at The Embarcadero. Why? Because I hate driving in the city and I can take the ferry in from my home. I was also interested in taking a set of stairs off Sansome Street that I saw on a random walk and were noted to lead to Coit Tower. So I set off from the Ferry Building down to Sansome St., which took me about 20 minutes or so.
Presenting the Greenwich Steps. I first noticed these a few months ago. Actually, I just noticed the Asian tour group that was walking up them. I had the stairs all to myself on this day.
If you decide to take this walk from Embarcadero to Coit Tower, know that the steps are steep. I’m pretty sure this is what it’s like to walk up Kilimanjaro. I started sweating and was short of breath about halfway up the first set of stairs. Props to the mailman I ran into on the way up, huffing and puffing as he delivered post to the residents along this route. Please remember that these stairs take you through a residential area, so be courteous as it is already expensive to live in the city and it’s even more irritating to have a bunch of noisy strangers in your backyard.
The first portion of the Greenwich Steps ends at Montgomery Street. Here I learned that there are two sets of steps that will take you to Coit Tower from this area: the continuation of the Greenwich Steps to the right, which take you to the front entrance of Coit Tower, and the steps along Filbert Street on the left, which take you around the back of the tower. I watched several people get to the top of the first set of Greenwich Steps in confusion, expecting to see the tower, but you’ll need to climb up a second set of stairs to reach it. You literally come off the top of the first set of Greenwich Steps, face Montgomery Street, and walk left or right down the street. Look along the wall covered in greenery for stairs and keep climbing.
Because I’m determined to do without any help, I turned left and wandered a few feet before I found the Filbert Street steps. They led me up the backside of the tower and up what I think are the donors steps, or basically stairs inscribed with the names of various people. I’m thinking they’re donors, because why else would someone take the time to carve your name on something that isn’t a headstone? I was about halfway up these steps, drenched in sweat and trying to decide whether to call for an ambulance or a medevac, when I finally saw the tower. Oh, and all this walking from the first set of stairs to the tower? Took me no longer than 15 minutes. Yes, I was that exhausted. I think it was the altitude.
Trying to look normal after flopping down with a face full of sweat next to a random family, I lined up for the elevator ride to the top of the tower. It costs $8 for one adult, a lower price for children, but I don’t remember the exact number. The line was quite long for the elevator, about a half hour wait, but I busied myself by looking at the floor-to-ceiling murals and some great views out of the beautiful windows on the ground floor that look out over San Francisco. I also eavesdropped on a scandalous conversation between the ladies behind me about an acquaintance of theirs that was recently arrested for some sort of monetary issue.
Up the elevator and two more flights of stairs, I found myself at the top of the circular tower lined with a row of windows. This is by no means the highest point in San Francisco, but it’s still a pretty sweet view and there was no fog to block my way on this day. The staff here do a great job of controlling the amount of people who are at the top of the tower at one time. We all have to share the windows, but I was never waiting more than a couple of minutes to peek out of one. The windows are set in threes, and one of the windows of the three is unlocked and open, allowing you to lean yourself outside for a better picture. But don’t be like me and stick half of your body out of the window, because you get weird stares from the other tourists. Oh, and you can also fall headfirst some 200-ish feet onto concrete.
So one thing I forgot to mention about Coit Tower is that the parking SUCKS. That picture above is the entire parking lot. When I was leaving, there was a line down the street of cars waiting to get in. I highly recommend you get dropped off here or walk if you want to visit.
I took the Greenwich Steps back down towards The Embarcadero. I think these might be the original entrance leading to Coit Tower because they look much older, the bricks felt uneven, and I felt like I was going to topple over half the time.
Overall, Coit Tower is great to visit if you’d like some beautiful views of San Francisco. There’s also a nice grassy area around the back of the tower that I think would be nice for a small picnic. However, besides the views, there’s not much else to do here. In total, I think I only spent about 2 hours here, including walking time. Definitely is not an all-day activity, but is a nice add-on if you’re looking to fill your day and are wanting to know what it feels like to be completely winded.
And here’s my favorite picture from that day: