Coit Tower in San Francisco is named for Lillie Hitchcock Coit, a gambling, smoking, pants-wearing, all around awesome proto-feminist. Her family moved to San Francisco in 1851 when she was 8 years old. When she was 15, she jumped into action to help volunteer firefighters battle a blaze (see we told you she was awesome). This event sparked a life long association with the fire department – and for her ardent support she was named an honorary San Francisco firefighter, and later the mascot for Engine Co. 5. She loved her city so much that upon her death in 1929, one-third of her estate was donated to the San Francisco to be “to be expended in an appropriate manner for the purpose of adding to the beauty of the city which I have always loved.” The city responded, and in 1933 a 210-foot tower was built in Pioneer Park on top of Telegraph Hill.
Climbing Telegraph Hill is a feat in itself. Take the Filbert Street Steps off of Sansome St and approach the park from the east. At first glance, the steps resemble ones you may find near a highway overpass, but keep going. Soon you find yourself in a lush garden with houses on either side of the steps. These amazing houses have small yards with dense gardens and they are only accessible by foot. Walking past them you feel as if you are in Rivendell (nerd alert). What is a house that is only accessible by foot worth? If you have to ask, well, you can’t afford it. Continuing up the steps, you come to Pioneer Park. The view from here is well worth the climb. Take time to wander around the tower and explore some of the paths. Take a seat on one of the many benches and catch your breath. It is quieter up here and if you close your eyes, it is easy to forget you are in the middle of a bustling city.
Inside Coit Tower, the walls boast impressive WPA-era frescoes from 26 different artists. These frescoes depict scenes from California life and are the true draw of the tower. Should you desire, you can go to the top. The stairs are free, but the elevator will cost you ($7 for non-resident adults, cheaper for everyone else). When I was there, the stairs which I had planned on taking were closed, so I was faced a decision. In the end, I spent the $7 and went to the top. (Hey-when am I going to be back here?) After seeing the view from the top of the hill and the paintings inside the tower (both free), the $7-view really took a backseat.
Both the tower and the hill are worth a visit, and at only a few blocks from the Alcatraz Ferry Pier, pretty convenient.
Coit Tower is open from 10-530 March through September and 9-430 October through February. The stairs to the top are free, but the elevator is not.
In a city filled with iconic landmarks, Coit Tower holds its own.