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What To Expect When You Visit Coit Tower

What To Expect When You Visit Coit Tower

The Coit Tower in San Francisco is a famous landmark dominating the city skyline. It’s a popular observation deck because it offers stunning views of both the city and the bay. This is one attraction in San Francisco, you don’t want to miss.

In this guide, we’re going to tell you everything you need to know about visiting the Coit Tower to make the most of your time.

Our Coit Tower Experience

Woman looking at the murals on the second floor of Coit Tower
Kristen walking down the stairs past the beautiful murals

We’ve visited San Francisco two times. Once during our 2019 road trip across the US and then again in October 2022 before we flew to Asia. During our second trip, we climbed to the top of the Coit Tower and we think it’s one of the best things you can do in the city.

In October, the weather was comfortable and we could walk around in t-shirts. All of the photos in this guide were taken by us and we’ll share everything we experienced climbing to the top. Unfortunately, the elevator was not working so the only option was to take the 13 flights of stairs. Read more about us.

What Is Coit Tower?

Exterior view of the front of Coit Tower
Exterior view from the front of the tower

The Coit Tower is a slender white fluted column rising 210 feet from the top of Telegraph Hill in the middle of San Francisco. It was built as a monument to Lillie Hitchcock Coit, who was a passionate firefighter and well known for pushing the boundaries of her time.

After her death, Coit left a substantial amount of money to the city of San Francisco “for the purpose of adding to the beauty of the city I have always loved.” In 1933, the tower was constructed to honor the volunteer firefighters from Washington Square on her request.

There is an observation deck at the top of the tower which you can visit via a set of stairs or an elevator. When you get to the top, you’ll be rewarded with beautiful 360° views of the San Francisco Bay including the Golden Gate Bridge.

Coit Tower is open daily from 10:00am to 6:00pm daily from April to October and 10:00am to 5:00pm from November to March. It’s closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.

How To Get There

View of Coit Tower from Lombard Street in San Francisco
The famous Lombard Street in San Francisco
  • Address: 1 Telegraph Hill Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94133
  • Location: Google Maps

Coit Tower is located in the Telegraph Hill neighborhood of San Francisco in Pioneer Park. It’s relatively easy to visit because it’s such a visible landmark and you can see it from almost anywhere in the city. However, parking is very limited so we recommend you walk or use public transportation.

There are two main sets of steps to use when visiting Coit Tower, the Filbert Street steps or the Greenwich Stairs. You can go up one way and then down the other so you don’t have to go back on yourself. Click on the Google Maps link above and you’ll be able to see where each staircase is compared to your location.

During our trip, we decided to walk to the tower first thing in the morning after eating breakfast at Mama’s on Washington Square. It was a very scenic route and we recommend you walk if possible because the views only get better as you climb. From Washington Square Park, we followed Filbert St about two blocks until we reached the Filbert Stairs. Then after our visit, we exited via the Greenwich stairs. You’ll see signs for the tower along the way no matter which way you go.

If you don’t want to walk, you can rent an electric bike or take the MUNI bus line #39 which travels between Coit Tower and Fisherman’s Wharf. If you’re in North Beach, you can catch this bus at Washington Square Park. The bus runs from 9:00am to 7:00pm daily and it costs $2.25/person. Here’s the official schedule.

READ: The perfect San Francisco itinerary

Where To Park

View of the parking lot with a few cars
The small parking lot as seen from the top

If you have a car and you drive to the tower, there are a few different places you can park. It may be very difficult to find a spot in the small parking lot near the tower because there’s only room for about 25 vehicles. However, if you can snag a spot here, you’ll have 30 minutes of free parking during posted hours.

Unfortunately, the parking spots near the tower are also limited to residents with SFMTA issued “A” permits on weekends. So if you plan to visit during the weekend, there may be a long line of cars because there is less space.

The next best option would to find one of the many paid parking garages located nearby or search for a metered parking spot. Keep in mind, you might have to walk up Telegraph Hill after parking your vehicle.

Travel Tip: Be sure to take all personal belongings from your vehicle as break-ins are common near Coit Tower, Fisherman’s Wharf and Golden Gate Park.

Tickets For The Tower

Elevator not working sign with 250 steps to the top
A ticket booth is located on the ground floor

The ground floor of the Coit Tower is free for anyone to visit which also includes the gift shop. You can see some of the beautiful murals on this main floor, but if you want to go to the top of the observation deck, you’ll have to purchase a ticket.

We bought our tickets onsite on the ground floor at the small ticket booth. They took both cash and card for payments. If you’re a San Francisco resident, you’ll receive a small discount and children under 4 receive free entry. Here are the current prices:

SF Residents

  • Adults – $7.00
  • Seniors 62+ – $4.00
  • Youth (12-17) – $4.00
  • Child (5-11) – $2.00

Non-Residents

  • Adults – $10.00
  • Seniors 62+ – $7.00
  • Youth (12-17) – $7.00
  • Child (5-11) – $3.00

If you don’t want to visit on your own, you can book this walking tour which includes a stop at Coit Tower.

Coit Tower Walkthrough

In this next section, we’re going to walk you through exactly what to see during your visit. Most people spend about one to two hours here so make sure to give yourself plenty of time. If the tower is busy, you might have to wait awhile for the elevator if it’s working.

The best time to visit Coit Tower is early in the morning when it opens at 10:00am between the non-peak season months of October to February on weekdays. This observation deck is very popular and it can be extremely busy during the weekends so try to visit midweek to avoid the crowds.

Without further ado, let’s climb to the top:

1. The Murals

Murals depicting life in San Francisco from the 1930's
An examples of a ground floor mural

The best place to start your tour is with the beautiful murals found along the ground floor. These 19 frescoes were implemented by Dr. Walter Heil, the Director of the Legion of Honor Museum. Heil selected 25 of the best Bay artists to create murals depicting life in California during the depression. You can see a full description of the murals here.

At the time, the frescoes were quite controversial and some of the artwork was painted over before the murals were opened to the public. You can view the first floor murals for free, but you can only see the stairway and second floor murals through a docent-led guided tour or if you pay for a ticket to the tower.

Mural tours last about 30 to 40 minutes and are limited to groups of 6 people. There is a fee of $10.00/person for a full tour or a $5.00/person for a second floor tour. San Francisco City Guides also offers tours on Wednesday and Saturday which you can book here.

2. Ascent

Woman climbing the 250 stairs to the top of Coit Tower
Kristen climbing the stairs with her Peak Design backpack

In order to get to the top of the Coit Tower, you can climb the stairs or take the elevator. When we visited, the elevator was unavailable and every visitor had to climb the stairs even though we technically paid for an elevator ticket. However, it was great exercise so we can’t complain and we counted about 250 stairs one way.

The stairs are divided into various sections with murals painted along the first and second floor. If you’re wearing a backpack, you’ll have to place it on your front as you walk through the sections with murals to avoid damaging them. Even if you use the elevator, there is a small section of stairs you’ll need to climb at the very top.

View of the Golden Gate Bridge and the San Francisco Bay
View of the Golden Gate Bridge from the top of the observatory

3. San Francisco Bay

The top of the Coit Tower observation deck offers stunning 360° views of the surrounding city including the San Francisco Bay. There are several small windows you can look out from each side to experience different vantage points.

We love this high vantage point because you can see all the piers located along the Embarcadero and Alcatraz Island. You can also watch the ships come in and out of the bay so it’s easy to imagine how busy this port must have been during its prime.

If you’re into photography, it’s important to know there are glass panels in the windows and it can be difficult to take a photo without glare. But after enjoying the views, you can make your way down the tower via the stairs or the elevator.

READ: How to visit Alcatraz Island

4. Gift Shop And Café

Gift shop selling many small trinkets
Min entrance to the gift shop from the ground floor

After you climb to the top of the observation deck, you’ll pass through a small gift shop on the way out. Here you can find all sorts of gifts related to San Francisco.

If you’re hungry from all the steps, there is a small café near the parking lot outside. You can stop here for a hot or cold drink, pastries, paninis, pizza and frozen yogurt. However, there is no food or drinks allowed in Coit Tower.

Coit Tower view from a distance
View of Coit Tower from a distance

5. Pioneer Park

As you exit the tower, you’ll be at the summit of Telegraph Hill in Pioneer Park. The hill has an interesting story because it once housed a marine telegraph station to help relay messages when ships entered the Bay.

But it’s also home to some of San Francisco’s noisiest residents, a large flock of parrots. This flock was even featured in the 2005 film, The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill. See if you can spot one of these colorful birds during your visit.

The Morgan Conclusion

Woman looking out the windows at Coit Tower
Kristen looking out from the top of the observation deck

The Coit Tower dominates the skyline in the Golden City and it’s a very popular observation deck. But is it worth visiting?

Yes, we think the Coit Tower is worth it because you can see amazing views of the San Francisco Bay including the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island. It’s a unique perspective in the city because it sits on the top of Telegraph Hill. You can take an elevator to the top, however sometimes it’s broken so you’ll have to climb about 250 stairs. We also like the $10.00 entrance fee because it’s one of the cheapest attraction in San Francisco.

To help you decide if this is something you should do during your visit to San Francisco, we’ll tell you what we liked and didn’t like about the tower.

Pros

  • Beautiful views of San Francisco Bay
  • Tickets are quite cheap for the area
  • Ability to see 19 beautiful murals

Cons

  • Tower can be crowded
  • Elevator may be out of service
  • Glass panels at top can make photography difficult

Our Coit Tower Photos

We enjoyed our climb up to the top of the tower and took many photos. Here are some of our favorites so you know exactly what to expect:

Vibrant murals in San Francisco California
The gorgeous murals found along the ground floor
Aerial view of San Francisco streets
Aerial view of San Francisco’s famous streets
Views from the top of Coit Tower in San Francisco
Perspective shot of the San Francisco Bay
Coit Tower dedication plaque to Lillie Hitchcock Coit
Dedication plaque located on the exterior of the building
Visitors looking out the top of Coit Tower
Visitors enjoying the views from the top
Vibrants murals painted on the stairwell walls
Murals on the second floor along the stairs
Elevator in Coit Tower San Francisco
Elevator taking you to the top of the tower
View of the Bay Bridge in California
View of the Embarcadero and the Bay Bridge
View of Coit Tower from Alcatraz Island
Coit Tower view from Alcatraz Island
View of the transamerica Pyramid from Coit Tower
Transamerica Pyramid view from one of the windows at the top
Floor 7 inside the Coit Tower
The stairwell leading to the top of the observation deck
Backpack sign in the front of Coit Tower
If you visit with a backpack, you’ll have to wear it backwards near the murals
View of Alcatraz Island from the top of Coit Tower
Alcatraz Island view from the top of the observation deck

More From San Francisco

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Want more California content? Head to our California Travel Guides to explore National Parks, popular road trips and things to do in major cities of the sunshine state.


We hope our guide featuring Coit Tower helps with planning your visit to San Francisco!

Please let us know if you have any questions about visiting the tower or San Francisco in the comments below.

Happy Travels,

Mark and Kristen

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