Stairway to Coit Tower: San Francisco

I was a cold, dreary day in Santa Clara. So we hopped a train to San Francisco.

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How do these things make it up the hills?

It was a warm Saturday in the city. We packed hats, gloves, and extra jackets but were pleased to find them unnecessary. We had a plan to complete Walk 1 from Stairway Walks in San Francisco by Adah Bakalinksy with Marian Gregoire.

We have done one other walk from the book and found it enjoyable so we ventured for another hitting up Yerba Buena Cove and Telegraph Hill before completing the day with excellent grub and beer.

Grabbing a guidebook for your home city might seem mundane, but much goes overlooked by locals. Guide books point out historic locations, lead to interesting art projects, and have funny tidbits about past inhabitants.

Pacific Heritage Museum

1st and Market marks the start of the walk. We crossed the street to take in Mechanic’s Monument, read a plaque about the Bank of California, and followed a trail of sidewalk signs along the early 1900s coastline. The first REALLY interesting stop came at 608 Commercial Street. The Pacific Heritage Museum (Tues-Sat, 10-4) was “in-between exhibits” so artwork was scarce but it was quiet, free, and clean. We examined the few pieces that were on the first floor and learned the history of the building. The building served as the first U.S. Mint branch in California. From behind glass, we saw the old vault and a collection of silver dollars. This place would be interesting to coin collector and history buffs (not to mention budget travelers or bank robbers).

Transamerican Pyramid Area

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The Columbus Building and Transamerica Pyramid.

From there, we made our way to the Transamerica Pyramid, the tallest building in San Francisco. When it was erected in 1972, it was one the five tallest buildings in the world. Visitors are only welcome in the lobby; there is a display of ship artifacts – yes there was a shipwreck at this location – that were excavated during construction at 655 Montgomery (Washington Towers, M-F, 9-5). And why is the building a pyramid? Shadows, of course. The architects had to adhere to the city’s strict shadow ordinances, allowing as much sunlight to hit the ground as possible.

Adjacent to the pyramid is Redwood Park, a small park opened on weekdays with a couple art installations and a plaque about Bummer and Lazarus, a pair of dogs that once wondered the streets. Bummer and Lazarus were loved by the newspapers as well as the public. They were excellent rat killers and adopted by the city, exempt from kill-the-stray-dogs laws. So loved was the pair that when Bummer was kicked by a drunk (leading to his death) the culprit was promptly arrested and punched by his cellmate! San Franciscans remember you well!

Then we saw the Stars of David commemorating the location of the first Jewish service in the city. Then we saw Lucas Turner & Co. Bank, once run by General Sherman. Then we saw some more historic stuff. THEN we got coffee at The Station, serving Blue Bottle coffee, the beloved San Francisco roasts. Delicious! Some of the best coffee (home roast exempted) I have had in a while.

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“If as they say, God spanked the town for being over frisky, why did he burn the churches down and save Hotaling’s Whisky?”

We explored the Jackson Square Historic District of which A.P. Hotaling distillery was the most interesting. The sign makes a point.

Coit Tower and the Stairs

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We’re free, to do what we want, any old time.

We continued to see interesting historical (and sometimes recent) sites before heading up to Coit Tower. The stairways around the tower are my favorite spots in the city. They wind through private-ish gardens with lots of local flavor. The tower, looking like the tip of an extremely large fire hose, is interesting I suppose. It was built in 1933 with funds left to the city by Lillian Coit to beautify the city. Inside there are lots of murals. We have never been to the top of the tower as we (mostly) refuse to pay for tourist traps. But it is worth a visit for the murals and views around the tower. There are also parrots that live in the trees. The 350 or so birds are descendants of former house pets. They do not affect the local ecosystem much so they are allowed to co-exist.

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Lawn ornaments, SF style.

At the bottom of the staircases, the Levi’s Plaza has a store and a small museum. The museum is VERY small and free and worth the 15 minutes it takes to explore. I only wear Levi’s jeans so perhaps I am biased, but they really do make the perfect jeans.

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The words of the prophets are written on the sidewalk squares.

The walk along Sansome shows the East side of Telegraph Hill. This part of the hill was badly battered due to poor mining practices but the community stepped up, took charge, reclaimed ownership, and made it pretty again.

Food and Beer Recommendations:

  • Ananda Fuara on Market Street (take a cab at night)
  • Thirsty Bear Brewing – short walk to Caltrain

Other San Francisco Adventures:

SF – Yerba Buena Cove, Telegraph Hill, & Chinatown at EveryTrail