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Coit Tower and Telegraph Hill

Awesome views, Wild Parrots, Important Art Works and Secret Garden Walks


Coit Tower and Telegraph Hill
San Francisco Travel Association Photo
The 210-foot art deco San Francisco icon that graces the top of Telegraph Hill is one of the city's most striking landmarks. Coit Tower's observation deck offers visitors sweeping unobstructed views of the San Francisco bay and it's base houses a collection of historical murals by several different California artists. Stick around for a bit to explore the surrounding park and Telegraph Hill's hidden stairwalks and you just might be lucky enough to spy the area's most exotic residents - a bright green flock of wild parrots.

Visiting Coit Tower

Telegraph hill is located above the North Beach neighborhood, just inland from the San Francisco waterfront. It is a steep walk up the hill, but the views, the stairway walks and the charming architecture of the neighborhood are well worth the effort. Take the Filbert Steps (See Below) for a flower-filled and traffic-free experience.
  • Hours: The tower is open 10am till 5pm daily. Pioneer Park, which surrounds the tower, is always open.

  • Admission: $7 for Adults, $5 for seniors and students and $2 for kids to take the elevator to the top of the tower. San Francisco residents pay less.

  • Parking: There is a small parking lot at the top of the hill but a line often forms during the summer.

  • Public Transportation: The Muni 39 Coit Bus runs between Fisherman's Wharf and Coit Tower every 20 minutes, seven days a week, stopping at Washington Square en-route.

The View from Coit Tower

It is not necessary to pay to enter Coit Tower to enjoy the magnificent views, as even at the base of the tower the panorama is incredible and there are several coin operated telescopes near the parking lot that provide magnified views in certain directions. This area is very popular at sunset as the whole bay turns golden-orange and sparkly.

Up the in the observation deck of the tower, there are 360-degree views of the San Francisco skyline and the bay. Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Bay Bridge and the east bay cities of Oakland and Berkeley are all visible from here.

The Historic Murals of Coit Tower

Inside the base of tower, which is open to the public free of charge, the walls are covered with depression-era murals. These were completed by 26 different California artists, many of them student of Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, as part of the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Many of the murals are strongly socialist in style and content and depict the struggle of workers against a corrupt system, look for Bernard Zakheim's Library, which depicts a fellow artist reaching for Karl Marx's Kapital from the shelf as he crumples a newspaper with his other hand.

There are more murals in the spiral stairway, which is usually closed to the public but is open by way of a free guided tour from the San Francisco City Guides every Wednesday and Saturday of the year at 11am.

For a great in-depth exploration of the murals and history of Coit Tower check out the book Coit Tower: Its History and Art by Masha Zakheim, who is the daughter of one of the original muralists.

Exploring the Filbert Steps

Some slopes of Telegraph Hill were too steep to build roads on and instead were turned into pedestrian-only pathways by running stairs up and down them. There are in fact hundreds of different stairway walks on the 43 hills of San Francisco, most of which are described in Adah Bakalinsky's classic book The Stairway Walks of San Francisco.

Almost everyone would agree that the Filbert Steps are the prettiest of them all however, and any visit to Coit Tower would be incomplete without wandering down the stairs for at least a glimpse of the tranquil gardens that line the stairway. The cottages that are tucked into the greenery were once modest worker's housing but now rank among the priciest real estate in the country. Keep going through the semi-tropical foliage and you will eventually find yourself high on a cliff over Levi Plaza and the Embarcadero, with another staircase leading all the way down to the pavement.

There are also scenic stairs down Greenwich Street, which is parallel to Filbert a block to the north. This makes a good round-trip return route after exploring the Filbert Steps.

The San Francisco City Guides offer a free guided walking tour of the stairwalks of Telegraph Hill every Saturday at 1pm and on the first and third Thursdays of the month at 5:30pm.

The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill

Native to the tropical dry forests of western South America, the Red-masked Parakeets that make Telegraph Hill their home are hard to miss with their tropical green bodies and bright red heads. The large flock that lives on the hill are all the offspring of an original couple that escaped captivity and seems to have bred very well in this tiny and specific ecological niche.

There is a very good chance you will spot the parrots as you explore Telegraph Hill and North Beach, as they usually travel in a large flock and are often noisy. Also check out the multiple award winning documentary film - The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill - which follows the story of a local resident who makes a close bond with the birds, almost like a modern day Saint Francis.

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