Coit Tower: Murals, History & Tips to Visit the Famous San Francisco Tower

Jill at the Golden Gate Bridge

by Jill Loeffler

Updated: January 25, 2024

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.

Coit Tower at the top of the hill in Telegraph Hill near North Beach

What I like most about visiting this local landmark is the amount of history it offers. I love checking out the historic murals on the first floor and learning more about them. I will often visit just to check these out in more details.

It's also great to check out the small display dedicated to Lillie Hitchcock Coit to see pictures of her and learn more about her life.

The final thing to do here is to head to the top for the amazing views. This is the paid part of the attraction and I typically spend about 30 minutes up here.

You can find Coit Tower on the top of Telegraph Hill on the eastern side of the North Beach neighborhood.

You might recognize this San Francisco tower from movies such as Sister Act II: Back in the Habit, Doctor Dolittle and from the TV show The Streets of San Francisco.

Disclaimer: I receive a small commission from some of the links on this page.

The Story of Lillie Hitchcock Coit & The Building of Coit Tower

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.

The picture of Lillie Hitchcock Coit hanging in Coit Tower

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.

Coit Tower Murals

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.

The Coit Tower Murals were revitalized in 2014 and restored to their former glory. This is the first time they were reworked since they originally finished the murals in the 1930s.

They look even better now, and you can see some of the additional details that had started to fade away a bit.

Here are just some pictures I took of a few of the murals during one of my last visits.

One of the first Coit Tower Murals you see when you enter the tower.
One of the politically motivated murals at Coit Tower.
A mural at Coit Tower depicting the streets of San Francisco in the 1930s.
A mural at Coit Tower showing life on the streets of San Francisco
A portion of a Coit Tower Mural with details on it's history

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 Observation Deck

As of March 2024, Coit Tower is facing some challenges with their historic elevator. This means it could be out of service during your visit until they find a longer term solution to keep it up and running consistently. The walk to the top is up 13 flights of stairs, so if you want to visit the top floor on a day the elevator is out, this is the only alternative option.

The main level of this attraction is free. You can walk around to view the murals at no cost and you can learn more in the books I recommended above. 

However, that is all you will find here. You can also head up to the top of the tower for 360° views of the area.

There is a cost associated with this portion of the visit.

The pricing is as follows:

  • Adults: $10 for visitors, $7 for SF residents
  • Seniors (62+) & Youth (12 - 17): $7 for visitors, $4 for SF residents
  • Children (5 - 11): $3 for visitors, $2 for SF residents
  • Children (4 & Under): Free

This part of the visit starts by heading over to the elevator. It's an old fashioned elevator so only fits a few people and is run by a Coit Tower employee.

When I visit on the weekends or holidays, I find there is usually a line. It typically goes quickly and you can admire the murals while you wait in line. 

Once the elevator gets to its top floor, you will need to climb about 40 or so stairs to the Observation Deck.

The stairs are pretty steep and usually a little crowded, so plan a little time to make your way up to the top. Due to the age of the building, there is no way to get to the Observation Deck other than taking the stairs.

The windows in the observation deck are small but give you great views around the city.

This picture I took is from a distance, so you can get an idea on what the windows 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.

Windows in Coit Tower's Observation deck

The top is also open in the Observation Deck, so prepare for this on rainy days.

Looking up at the opening of the Observation Deck on Coit Tower.

You can stay on the observation deck for as long as you like. I typically stay for about 30 to 45 minutes. They only allow a certain number of people up here, so I find it's never really too crowded.

When you are done, you will take the steps back to the elevator. In my experience, there is usually a line for the elevator to get back down to the first floor.

Hours & Prices

Coit Tower is open from 10 am to 6 pm from April to October. It is open from 10 am to 5 pm from November to March.

The tower is closed on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year's Eve.

It's free to visit Coit Tower's main level. On this level, you can take a close look at its WPA murals and visit the gift shop.

If you want to head up to the Observation Deck, you will need to buy tickets in the gift shop. They are currently $10 for adults, $7 for seniors (62+) and youth (12-17), and $3 for children (5-11). Kids 4 and under are free.

Guided Tours

There are a few different tours that include a stop at or near Coit Tower. 

A great tour that I've been on several times is the free tour with SF City Guides, a part of the SF Public Library. They offer a couple of free walks a week and they cover the controversial (at the time) murals on the first floor of the building.

You can find out more about this tour on the SF City Guides site. Even though these tours are free, they do ask for a donation. I typically offer anywhere from $7 to $15 per person in my group.

Here are a few additional tours that include a visit to Coit Tower or the surrounding areas.

San Francisco Urban Hike

This 5-mile urban hike will take you to Coit Tower, through North Beach and over to Lombard Street. The hike is steep with plenty of stairs, but the views and the history provided by your knowledgeable guide is worth the effort.

It starts with a hike up the Filbert Street steps to the top of Telegraph Hill and Coit Tower. You will then descend down into North Beach and then make your way up the hill again to Lombard Street.

The tour leaves at 1:30 pm most Saturdays. It does not include a ticket to the Observation Deck. 

>> Learn more about this tour and find tickets today

Telegraph Hill & The Old Waterfront

This is a cool tour starts at the Ferry Building. As you walk along the waterfront, your knowledgeable guide will tell you about the important history of this area.

You will then walk to the top of the Filbert Street Steps as you learn even more about Telegraph Hill's history.

You'll make your way up to Coit Tower and then descend along the Greenwich steps.

This tour is about three to three and a half hours long with lots of steps. It runs several days a week.

>> Find out more and pre-book your tickets today

San Francisco City Tour

The final guided tour I recommend to visit Coit Tower is the San Francisco City Tour in a VW bus. Due to limited space to get up to the parking lot, not many tours offer a stop at this attraction.

However, this one does! It's one of six stops on this 3.5-hour tour.

You won't stay for long, but you can get a quick look to see if you want to come back for a more in-depth visit. 

>> Find out more about this fun SF tour

Getting to Coit Tower

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.

A map showing Coit Tower and its relation to both Fisherman's Wharf and North Beach

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.

Take the Bus

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.

Here are some options if you are staying in Fisherman's Wharf: 

  • Embarcadero at Stockton outside Pier 39
  • Powell and Beach Streets
  • Powell between North Point and Bay Streets

All three of these options will take about 15 minutes to reach the parking lot for Coit Tower.

If you are in the North Beach area already, then I recommend catching the bus at the stop on Union Street and Columbus Avenue near Washington Square Park.

The bus picks up about every 30 minutes. It runs from around 9 am to 7 pm daily.

Walk the Stairs

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 staircase along the road that will take you the final distance to the top.

Another popular option is to take the Filbert Street 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.

The beginning of the Filbert Street Steps to Coit Tower.

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.

Napier Lane in San Francisco
The filbert stairs leading up to Coit Tower.
A view of the Bay Bridge from the Filbert Stairs

Greenwich Steps: There is a second set of stairs just one block north of the Filbert Street Steps along Greenwich. These aren't as famous or as crowded. I love walking up on and down this set too. Find out more about these steps here.

How to Get Here from Other Top Attractions & Districts

You will find several ways to get from our top attractions over to Coit Tower. The directions below are to get to the tower. If you plan to visit Coit Tower first and then these locations, just reverse the directions to find your way.

Don't hesitate to ask the bus drivers a question when you get onto the bus.

They will often help. Just don't ask them questions as they are driving as the streets of SF can be tricky.

Union Square

Coit Tower and Union Square are just over a mile away from each other. You can either walk (it's quite a hike with a few steep hills) or take public transportation.

The Powell/Mason Cable Car will drop you off about a 10-minute walk away (you do need to climb the hill to the top).

You can also take the 30 or 45 from Union Square, which will also drop you at the bottom of the hill.

You can walk up the hill or transfer to the 39, which will drop you right at the front door of this SF attraction.

Fisherman's Wharf & Pier 39

Fisherman's Wharf is about a mile away from Coit Tower. It's an easier walk from Fisherman's Wharf, but you do have the steep hill to climb once you arrive.

An easier way to get here is to head to Powell and Beach Streets to pick up the #39 bus.

This will take you right up to the top so you can easily visit.


If you plan to come into San Francisco on BART, you have two options. If you stop at the Embarcadero, you can take the F Streetcar to the bottom of the Filbert Street steps (see my details above about this walk).

It's a gorgeous walk, but there are about three full blocks of stairs and they are quite steep.

The other option from BART is to get off at the Montgomery Street stop. From here, make your way to the corner of Sutter & Kearny to pick up the #30 bus. Get off on the stop at Columbus and Union Streets.

From here, you can either walk up to the top or wait on Union Street for the #39 bus which will take you to the top and the entrance to Coit Tower.


San Francisco's Chinatown is less than a mile away from Coit Tower. You can walk or take the bus to the top.

Once you exit Chinatown, make your way through North Beach to the corner of Union Street and Columbus.

From here, you can wait for the #39 bus.

Golden Gate Park

Golden Gate Park and Coit Tower are on opposite sides of San Francisco. If you plan to take public transit between the two, you will need to make a few transfers. You will first pick up the N light rail in the Inner Sunset.

You will take this to the Montgomery Street Station. From there, head over to Sutter & Kearny for the #30 bus. Take this to Union and Columbus.

You can then either walk or wait at the bus stop on Union Street for the #39 which will take you to the entrance steps.

Pier 33/Alcatraz Landing

Pier 33 where you pick up the ferries to Alcatraz is about a half mile away from Coit Tower. You can walk along the Embarcadero to Filbert Street and climb the stairs.

You can also walk from Pier 33 to the corner of Lombard Street and Grant Avenue.

This is where you will find the bus stop for the #39, which will drop you off at the entrance.

Parking Near Coit Tower

As I mentioned above, there is a small parking lot right at the top of Telegraph Hill where you enter to visit Coit Tower. However, with more than 2,000 visitors a day, it can be a bit difficult to get a spot and/or you will have to wait a bit for one of these coveted spots.

You will also find a couple of garages down the hill. You can then either walk up the hill for your visit or you can take the #39 bus. Here are a couple of options.

North Beach Garage

This parking garage is run by the city and a popular spot to park in North Beach. It's at 735 Vallejo Street and about six blocks away from Coit Tower. 

If you don't want to walk the steep hills to get here, then you can easily head over to Columbus and Union Streets to catch the #39 bus. 

535 Green Parking Lot

Another option is just a couple of blocks from where the #39 bus picks up. It's on Green Street between Grant and Stockton.

Levi's Plaza Garage

This is a good pick if you plan to climb the Filbert Steps to get to the top. There is no bus on this side that will take you to the top, but you will find plenty of parking here.

Where to Eat Nearby

The closest places to eat near Coit Tower are in the North Beach district. This is right down the hill and there are plenty of options.

Since this is the Little Italy area of town, you will find dozens of Italian restaurants serving up pizza (full pies or by the slice), pasta and other favorites. Here are some of my go to places.

Tony's Pizza Napoletana

You are in for a treat at Tony's. He is the 12-time World Pizza Champion and offers up a huge selection of pies. His kitchen is decked out with a variety of ovens to make pizzas that you will find around the world.

You will find American, Classic Italian, Napoletana, Romana, New York and others on the menu.

Make sure to leave a little time as some of the pizzas take an extra 15 to 20 minutes to cook.

1570 Stockton Street.

Golden Boy Pizza

This is the best place for pizza by the slice. They are popular with the locals and serve focaccia pizza. They offer just a handful of types including vegetarian, cheese, pepperoni or sausage, and combination.

One of their most popular and unique pizzas is the clam with garlic. It's delicious and I highly recommend it.

They are located at 542 Green Street.

Original Joe's

Another great place to eat near Coit Tower is Original Joe's. They have a large menu with both American and Italian cuisines. You can grab some pasta, a burger or even a steak.

They are located at 601 Union Street.

Comments? Questions? Suggestions?

I would love for you to join me in my private Facebook group

It's a great place to interact with me and others who know the area well.

You can ask questions, get advice for your upcoming stay, and then share your photos and advice with others when you return home. It's a great community and the fastest way to get answers to those nagging questions about your visit!

Come join the fun here!

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