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Coit Tower

Visiting Coit Tower

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coit tower

Coit Tower, San Francisco

©2013 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

Visiting Coit Tower

Built to fulfill the bequest of Lillie Hitchcock Coit, who left funds to be used to beautify the city she loved, Coit Tower is an icon on the San Francisco skyline, a simple tower crowning Telegraph Hill overlooking the San Francisco waterfront.

Coit Tower visitors come here mostly for the views: sweeping waterfront vistas from the parking lot and observation deck, and for cityscapes best seen from the small park behind the tower.

Not to be missed are the murals decorating the lobby, considered to be one of California's best examples of depression-era public art. Part of a Public Works of Art Project, they were painted in 1934 by 25 artists. Done in Diego Rivera's social realism style, they are sympathetic portrayals of the daily life of working class Californians during the depression.

Because some people felt the murals were subversive and depicted "Communist" themes, the authorities delayed the opening of Coit Tower for several months. Already outraged by the shooting deaths of two strikers during the Longshoremen's Strike of 1934, the working community was upset even further by this delay, adding to the general distrust of authority.

The lobby murals continue behind a door next to the gift shop, up the stairs and around the second floor. This area is closed to the general public, except during free, guided Coit Tower tours given by City Guides.

You'll often hear tour guides and others claiming that Coit Tower is supposed to look like the nozzle of a fire hose, but designers Arthur Brown Jr. and Henry Howard always denied it, and in fact, it looks more like the towers at London's Battersea Power Station, completed one year earlier.

Despite the fact that Coit Tower has an elevator, it is not wheelchair accessible because of the steps at its base and a short staircase between the elevator landing and the observation level.

Coit Tower Review

We rate the Coit Tower 3.5 stars out of 5. It's worth a climb to the top of Telegraph Hill for the views, and if you catch a Saturday City Guides tour so you can learn about the murals inside, you'll find it interesting. The views from the top of the tower are not significantly better than the ones from the parking lot, so save your money for something else.

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Coit Tower Details

  • Hours: Vista point open any time, check current tower hours
  • Reservations: Not required
  • Cost: Lobby murals and outside vista points free, but admission charged to go up in the elevator
  • Location: Atop Telegraph Hill in North Beach, directions below
  • How Long: Allow a half hour to walk around and enjoy the scenery, and one to two hours if you go up in the elevator or take the City Guides tour
  • Best Time to Visit: Any time, but the parking lot may be crowded during peak tourist season; views are best near sunset
Coit Tower
1 Telegraph Hill Blvd
San Francisco, CA
415-362-0808
Coit Tower website
To drive to Coit Tower, follow the signs uphill from Stockton Street in North Beach. Parking in the lot outside Coit Tower is limited to area residents only on weekends (with a permit). Visitor parking is limited to 30 minutes during the week and waits can be long.

Although it's a bit of a steep climb, you can walk up Telegraph Hill to Coit Tower, following Lombard Street from North Beach. If you're feeling less energetic, the #39 MUNI bus goes to Coit Tower, leaving from Pier 39 or Washington Square.

Written in association with Martha Bakerjian.

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