Enjoy panoramic views of the San Francisco skyline from the heights of Coit Tower! At the lofty height of 210 feet (64 meters), Coit Tower offers unobstructed views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman’s Wharf, Alcatraz, Angel Island, the Bay Bridge, and the financial district of San Francisco.
By car: Parking is free but very limited. Instead of driving, visitors should take a bus or walk up to Pioneer Park. Walking or busing allows faster entry into the park as opposed to waiting in a long car line. Muni: Line 39 runs from Pier 39 or Washington Square and drops off by Coit Tower.
Visitors can walk to Coit Tower from a variety of nearby locations, but the trek is uphill. For those seeking a bit of exercise with their vacation, choose from a variety of staircases that wind up Telegraph Hill and bring you to the base of Coit
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Built in honor of wealthy socialite Lillie Hitchcock Coit, Coit Tower is made of unpainted, reinforced concrete. The tower was built in her honor after she specified that one-third of her fortune go to beautifying the city she loved. Construction on the tower began after her death in 1929 and finished in 1933.
Lillie spent her life helping volunteer San Francisco firefighters. From the age of 15, when the teenage Lillie witnessed a fire engine crew in need and sprang into action, Lillie was a fervent supporter of the volunteer fire engine crews of San Francisco until her death in 1929.
In her will, Lillie set aside an entire third of her fortune to go toward the beautification of the city of San Francisco that she loved. Two memorials were built in honor of her contribution to the city: Coit Tower and the firefighter sculpture in North Beach’s Washington Square. Coit Tower is the more famous of the two, nestled amongst the trees on the peak of Telegraph Hill.
The shape of Coit Tower resembles the nozzle of a fire hose, but the designers Arthur Brown Jr. and Henry Howard explained that the resemblance was not intentional; the similarities between the tower and a fire nozzle were purely coincidental. Today, many tour guides have noted the resemblance and mistakenly passed on the popular lore as fact.
The interior of the tower has been painted with murals by 26 different artists of the Depression era. The massive project was funded by the Public Works Project under the New Deal, designed to create positive public cultural attractions. These fresco murals depict working-class citizens in the midst of daily life and criticize the politics and society of the time. As with many artistic creations, the content of certain murals caused a public outcry. The tower was closed at one point to remove the Communist hammer and sickle in one of the murals, which was originally included to depict the range of American philosophies.
Stairs inside of the tower used to allow visitors to climb up the tower under their own power, but time has taken their toll and the stairs are closed. Instead, take a short elevator ride to the top for a fee of $8.00/person. The price is worth it for first-time visitors and for seasoned tourists who have never seen the city from the heights. Visitors should be aware that there is no panoramic observation platform, so the view is appreciated through the small cut-out windows. The window size does not matter when you’re enjoying the view, however, so hop on the elevator for a ride to the top!
Note: If $8.00/person is too steep a price for your group, you can still enjoy the view from Pioneer Park for free. Remember to bring quarters for the viewing machines, which afford close-ups of the city minus the crowding one might experience inside of the tower itself. Access to the ground floor of Coit Tower and to the Gift Shop is free, allowing a complete experience without having to pay the entry fee. Here, visitors can purchase postcards, figurines, pencils, and more while they wait to ascend the tower.
Coit Tower is located on Telegraph Hill in Pioneer Park. If you are feeling adventurous or want some exercise along with your view, take the Filbert Steps from Sansome Street up to Coit Tower. The stairs are steep and pass through a series of sculpted gardens as well as past incredibly beautiful homes. The stairs end near the base of Coit Tower in Pioneer Park. The steps on Greenwich Street are also on the backside of Telegraph Hill, closest to the water. These steps afford beautiful views of the city from a perspective few will see on their visit to San Francisco. The steps are well-maintained, and benches sit in nooks to the side for people to pause and take in the view.
To get a look at the levels inside of the tower not usually open to the public, sign up for a free City Guides tour of the tower (tips appreciated at the end of each tour.) These tours operate on reservations only, so be sure to research tour times and sign up before your visit.
Coit Tower may soon face indefinite closure to revitalize the fading, crumbling murals on its interior, so be sure to visit as soon as you can. The unique historical experience may only be available to the public for a short time, and this is an experience you do not want to miss.
Nearby Points of Interest
Chinatown and North Beach are a 15-minute walk away. Embarcadero Street is a ten-minute walk down the steep side of Telegraph Hill, where visitors can catch the F line to travel up and down the street to reach Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 39, or the Ferry Building.
Crooked Street/Lombard Street is a short jaunt from Coit Tower. This world-famous street is a must-see for every visitor! From the Crooked Street, Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39 are only a short bus ride away.