One of the reasons I love Coit Tower is that its purpose is public space. It doesn’t have what is generally considered a practical purpose, such as a conduit for commerce or a city building for storage or business. It was built with seed money from Lily Coit who left a third of her estate to San Francisco “to be expended in an appropriate manner for the purpose of adding to the beauty of the city which I have always loved.” Coit Tower has much to offer the visitor. From the parking lot, there are views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Russian Hill, and Alcartaz. Inside the tower are murals from the 1930’s PWA project.
Here’s an insider tip: if you need a bathroom, there are art deco toilets inside don’t stand in line at the toiler kiosk outside. All are free.
A $7 elevator ride takes you 15 stories above the city.
The line to get up to the top can be long and daunting, especially during holidays, summer, and weekends. Either go early or later in the day to avoid what can be a 45 minute wait. Getting down from the top can be difficult as well, as the elevator only holds 7 people.
If you don’t get out and go inside while on your private tour in the convertible MINI Cooper, you should make it part of your day when you visit North Beach. After coffee in the the morning, take one of the many staircases on the Western (North Beach) side up to the tower. Then take another staircase back down to North Beach for lunch and a glass of wine.
Since January of 2003, neighborhood volunteers and artists have transformed a drab western hillside staircase into a beautiful and inspiring creation of public art. It was, and continues to be a community project, bringing over 300 people together to enhance this neighborhood. Each of the 163 steps are decorated with a tile mural. Though the city had little to do with the stairs, other than giving permission, a stipend, and staying out of the way, since they are on city property they are for the enjoyment of everybody.
But appreciating the beauty of the tiles is just part of the fun. Climb the stairs and there you get an amazing view of the Pacific Ocean few visitors experience.
Big Tour buses are not allowed in the neighborhood, and it is located just far enough away from Golden Gate Park that few people bother to make the trek to discover the 16th Ave. steps. But for the adventurous willing to walk the 10 blocks it is worth it, and will be one of those experiences to brag about back home. Of course, if you don’t want to walk, I can take you there on a custom private tour as well.
San Francisco has over 670 staircases that are public walkways.
Some, like the imposing Filbert Street steps, are obviously open to everyone. But there are many staircases that appear as if they are private, such as being part of an apartment building or a walkway leading up to a house. Thus these public treasures, which make San Francisco the special place it is, are passed up or unnoticed by visitors and locals.
One of my favorite staircases is Macondry Lane. Tucked away on Russian Hill, it is a block long walkway with beautiful gardens and landscaping, and wonderful views of the Bay. Guests on Small Car Big Time Tours like to be dropped on at the Taylor St. stairs and get picked up on the other side at Jones.
This is a true San Francisco secret and not to be missed.
Riding a ferry from Sausalito is a popular way to end a tour. After seeing San Francisco, many guests like to cross the Golden Gate Bridge (even more spectacular in a convertible MINI), and spend a little time in quaint Sausalito, then ride a ferry back to the city. You get a view of San Francisco surprisingly too few guests experience.
There are 2 ferries. The Golden Gate Ferry drops you off at the Ferry Building, which is also something you should see. The Blue and Gold Ferry drops off at Pier 41, on Fisherman’s Wharf.
Many people bike to Sausalito, and ride on the ferry tired and sweaty. Fine–if that’s your thing. But the other option is to be driven to Sausalito in style, and dropped off in time for a stroll around Sausalito before getting on what has been called the #2 best ferry commute in the US. (And I don’t know what is #1. Reports vary. Suggestions?)
There are many POPOS (Privately Owned Publicly Occupied Space) in San Francisco. They include open plazas, indoor areas with tales and chairs, and, everyone’s favorite, rooftop gardens with great views.
This is the view from 1 Kearny, a beautiful, and perhaps the least known rooftop POPO. It’s a bit of a chore finding it, but well worth the effort. Though the address is 1 Kearny, enter through the lobby on Geary St. Tell the security guard you want to go to the rooftop garden. Inside the elevator is the only sign that lets you know there is a POPO in the building. Go to the 11th floor. Chances are, you will have these great views all to yourself.
If you are interested in discovering more POPOS, go the the SPUR website
You can download a map, and get the APP, showing where all the POPOS in San Francisco are.
These are your spaces. Discover and enjoy them.
Here’s a secret few people know about: the observation deck in tower of the De Young museum (in Golden Gate Park) is free, and open to the public during museum hours. Just tell museum staff you want to go into the tower, and they will direct you to the elevators, which take you up nine stories to the 360 degree glass enclosed observation deck. There are amazing views of the park, the Golden Gate Bridge, and western side of San Francisco—all without an admission fee.