Coit Tower sits on a hill that rises high above the streets of San Francisco, and has been a city landmark and tourist attraction since 1933.
The story of this San Francisco tower starts with a woman by the name of Lillie Hitchcock Coit. She was a wealthy San Francisco socialite who donated money to the city to build a landmark in her name.
You can find Coit Tower on the top of Telegraph Hill on the eastern side of the North Beach neighborhood.
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Lillie Hitchcock Coit was the San Francisco resident who donated the money to build this beauty. She was an eccentric character, a little rowdy, but well-liked by the community.
She was from a wealthy family and moved to San Francisco when she was young. Shortly after moving to San Francisco, the firemen from Local #5 saved her from a fire. From then on, Lillie spent most of her time at the firehouse. She was around so often that they named her their official 'mascot'.
In 1868, she married Howard Coit. They separated seven years later, but never divorced.
After a close family member was murdered, she fled the country and lived in Europe for more than 20 years. She finally returned to her beloved San Francisco after the murderer died.
Shortly after her return, Lillie became sick. She died in 1929 and donated one third of her money, $118K, to the city of San Francisco.
Rumors about Lillie Hitchcock Coit and the real meaning of the tower continue to swirl. Many believe the tower is in the shape of a fire hose, since she spent so much of her time with Local #5.
The reality is that the board of supervisors for the city made the decision on the final landmark that would bear Coit's name. She did not give any guidance except to use the money to increase the beauty of her adored city, San Francisco.
Local Secret: You can learn even more about Lillie Hitchcock Coit at the Fire Museum. They have a small, dedicated exhibit with a few of her items and additional information on her life here.
After the completion of the building in 1933, the city commissioned the US Government's Public Works Art Project to add murals on the inside. The murals showcase stories of life in California and San Francisco in the late 1920s and 1930s.
The artists assigned to the project created Diego Rivera-inspired works of art. After their completion, many of the murals received quite a bit of press. They were highly controversial and many questioned the stories told throughout the murals.
Here are just some of the murals.
Each mural has its own story and has a small write-up next to it that describes what it is all about.
You can also hear more about them is by joining the one of the free Coit mural walks given by the San Francisco library. There are two a week. Check the full SF Public Library calendar to join one of these or other free walks during your visit.
Another great way to learn more about the murals is from the book Coit Tower San Francisco: Its History and Art. The book will give you more details into its history and has a great overview of some of the most talked about murals.
The main level of this attraction is free. You can walk around to view the murals at no cost, but I recommend learning more about the artwork through one of the two options listed right above.
You can also head up to the top of the tower for 360° views of the area. It's $8 ($6 for residents) to go up the elevator. From there, you will need to walk 40 or so stairs to the top. The stairs are pretty steep and usually a little crowded, so plan a little time to make your way up to the top.
The windows in the observation deck are small, but give you great views around the city. This picture is from a distance, so you can get an idea on what they look like. Most of the time a few of them are open, so you can get a clearer view and photos of some of SF's top attractions.
The top is also open in the Observation Deck, so prepare for this on rainy days.
You can stay on the observation deck for as long as you like. When you are done, you usually have to wait in line again for the elevator to get down to the first floor.
Coit Tower is open from 10am to 6pm from May to October. It is open from 10am to 5pm from November to April.
The tower is closed on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year's Eve.
Coit Tower is on the top of Telegraph Hill. You can see it sitting high on the hill from both Fisherman's Wharf and the North Beach neighborhood. On the map below, Coit Tower is the blue star, Pier 39 in Fisherman's Wharf is the pink star, and the heart of the North Beach neighborhood is the green star.
You have a few of options to get to Coit Tower. Here are the best options:
There is a small parking lot located right in front. You'll sometimes see a line of cars waiting to get in, so be patient as others are finishing their visit inside. I've never had to wait too long, as the turnover is pretty quick. However, you'll want to anticipate at least a small wait if you decide to drive.
The second option is to take a bus from North Beach San Francisco to the front doors. Muni Bus #39 circles down the hill to pick up passengers in North Beach San Francisco. There are only a handful of stops and I'd recommend catching the bus at the stop on Union Street and Columbus Avenue.
The bus picks up about every 30 minutes. It starts in the morning around the time when Coit Tower opens.
The last option is for those who are looking for a little more exercise: hike up the hills and stairs until you reach the top! This is quite a walk, so I'll warn you now. It's great exercise, but it's not for the weak of heart.
There are a couple of options if you choose to walk. If you are walking from the west or the North Beach side, walk up Lombard Street to the top of the hill. The street will curve and begin heading up the final portion of the hill to Coit Tower. There is a stair case along the road that will take you the final distance to the top.
Another popular option is to take the Filbert stairs to the top of the hill. The stairs are located on the southeastern side of Coit Tower. They start near Montgomery and Sansome Streets. This is the first section of the stairs.
This first section is very steep. However, the rest of this stair climb offers steps that are a mixture of brick, wood, and concrete surrounded by beautiful gardens and flowers. Each section also offers a great view of the SF Bay Bridge.
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